When I watch Nicola Sturgeon exercising her newfound charm and confidence, I experience a pang of intimate regret. Some 15 years ago — when she was a new MSP and the SNP’s shadow education minister — we both appeared on a late-night Scottish television show in Aberdeen, in which guests were invited to defend controversial propositions in front of a live audience of students. My task was to argue that poorer countries should not have their debts forgiven (then the theme of the Millennium ‘Jubilee’ movement, now a key argument about Greece) as a result of misplaced rich-world guilt; needless to say I took a pasting. The future first minister made a worthy but jokeless case for teaching Gaelic in primary schools, and provoked a lot less shouting.
Afterwards we drank with the production team at the hotel where we were all staying. Well after midnight, the bedside phone rang in my room and I answered it. Silence, then a Scottish male voice growled, ‘Is Nicola there?’ My regret is not that Nicola had barely directed a word or glance in my direction all evening, but that the response I made to the unknown caller was ‘Wrong room, pal’, and not one of several hilarious alternatives that occurred to me over the following few days. I think my favourite was: ‘Can she call you back in the morning? We’ve lost the key to the handcuffs.’