A grand day

Grand, simply grand, to witness the power of poetry playing a large part in the Royal Opening of Holyrood's fourth session.

Image copyright PA

Liz Lochhead's splendid amplification of the Edwin Morgan verses which hanselled the opening of the Holyrood building in 2004.

Robert Burns' poignant yet uplifting bucolic, Now Westlin Winds, beautifully delivered by Karine Polwart. Her own elegaic composition, Follow the Heron.

And the first minister too, evoking the potency of language, the joy of poetry. But, of course, in the case of Alex Salmond, there was a political purpose.

Addressing the Queen, Mr Salmond cited four very different writers: William Shakespeare, James Joyce, Dylan Thomas and Edwin Morgan.

His message? That all on these islands can appreciate the genius of that quartet - while aware that each of them owes his origins to a different nation.

Mr Salmond was making the point that social and cultural links can be sustained without the nations of England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland remaining within a single political structure.

His welcome to the Queen was warm: Her Majesty, he said, had been "the firmest of friends" to the Scottish Parliament.

Yet this was no mere token greeting, no vapid address. There was, as ever with Mr Salmond, real political intent.

He was arguing in essence that the regal union of 1603 can be maintained even if the parliamentary union of 1707 is dissolved.

Why raise this point? What relevance does it have to contemporary politics? Mr Salmond's purpose, again as ever, is to remove obstacles to his objective of independence.

He believes that offering to retain the monarchy, post independence, provides reassurance to some without deterring others.

In similar vein, he stresses the cultural and social links which, he believes, would persist between Scotland and England.

Ditto the argument that Scotland would be an autonomous member of the EU.

It is all about depicting independence in the context of maintaining links, rather than seeing them fracture. It is about Scotland joining, rather than quitting.

Naturally, Mr Salmond's rivals assert that his assurances do not assuage the wider concerns which they posit with regard to independence, principally regarding finance. But they recognise the potency of his message.

A couple of other points with regard to the Royal opening.

Firstly, praise for the presiding officer, Tricia Marwick. She comported herself splendidly throughout - and her own speech was dignified and confident while containing real substance about the challenges which will confront this fourth session.

Secondly, praise for the organisers who genuinely managed to involve the public as much as possible in what is, by definition, a Royal occasion.

Tram trouble

They achieved a carnival atmosphere alongside the chivalric tone, without the join showing.

And what else in Scottish politics? Congratulations to Iain McKenzie, the newly elected MP for Inverclyde.

He has won a good and clear victory - although I believe Labour will be making a mistake if they believe that it in itself offers any pointers to their wider performance in Scotland.

I do not believe, for example, that victory in a Westminster by-election means that the Holyrood momentum of the SNP is stalled or reversed.

But you need not listen simply to me: Iain Gray said on my wireless show this lunchtime that Labour must continue with a full review and a thoroughgoing programme of renewal in order to absorb the lessons of May.

And then the Edinburgh trams. On the same wireless show, Transport Minister Keith Brown stressed, for the avoidance of any doubt, that there will be no more money forthcoming from the Scottish government to rescue the project.

So it will be down to the councillors, officials and citizens of Edinburgh to sort out this almighty guddle. Loadsaluck with that.

And that's it from me for a wee while. I am heading off on leave. I may be gone some time. Don't do anything rash while I'm away. And here's hoping, by the time I return, United are firmly ensconced on a lengthy European run.