Alex Salmond bought me lunch

I was struggling with what will be the next post on this blog – Why I’m voting No – when an exchange on social media reminded me that Alex Salmond once bought me lunch.

I tweeted the news to a grateful world and promised that if I got twenty retweets I’d reveal all, the amuse bouche if you like before the main course.

The magic number has now [almost] been reached and although my avid followers may be disappointed with the truth, there is something to be learnt from it.

More years ago than I care to remember, I was settling into a new job with Grampian Regional Council in Aberdeen (pause for reflection – what happened to the regional councils?). One of my colleagues was responsible for the then authoritative forecasts of the UKCS oil and gas sector that the council used to produce. Even all these years later they’ve left a faint trace on the web and you will find that Amazon lists some of them in their book section, although sadly they have no copies for sale.

Each year, we would decide who we wanted to interview in and around the oil industry to assess its prospects. One year someone said ‘You should have a chat with the Royal Bank’s oil economist, a young guy named … ‘

Yes, you’ve got there before me.

We always travelled in pairs, a good practice pre-recorder days if you were interviewing people and wanted a correct record of what they said. So, getting a favourable response from the young man concerned, the two of us set off for Edinburgh.

Those who remember the Royal Bank before its decline and fall (rescued by the UK government but don’t tell) will know its HQ was a wonderful town house on St Andrew’s Square on the edge of the New Town. It’s still there, although reduced to the registered office of the bank and a branch lost beneath the main central dome.

I have to say Alex Salmond was excellent value. He was tucked away in a small room somewhere near the eaves of the building but obviously had a good handle on his brief and was able to talk authoritatively about his then area of professional interest. We learnt quite a lot to supplement our sometimes wearisome interviews with oil operators suspicious of our motives in asking about their future intentions.

At the start of our exchange he asked if we’d like lunch afterwards. Well, it was that or a sandwich on the train on the way back so we accepted gratefully.

The chosen venue was a Swiss restaurant on Queen Street called Denzlers now departed or transformed into a boutique hotel in Leith, I’m not sure which. I’ve never heard of a cheap Swiss restaurant but to be fair this was on the Royal Bank and we all chose modestly from the menu.

What was striking, although the mists of time may have embellished my memory, was that our man seemed to know everyone dining in the place. In its modest way, it was a bit like being with a celeb. People from other tables dropped by to say ‘Hi’ and as they came and went would wave to him from a distance. We of course, being teuchters from the North East, knew none of the worthies concerned.

When we got on the train there was a moment’s silence until one of us said something like ‘Crumbs, he’s well connected.’

Obviously a man who was going places.

Well, that’s it. My lunch with Alex Salmond. I said you might be disappointed.

Oh, just one other thing. He did go places, not least to Harvard University where he gave a speech in 2008 about what was then fondly believed to be the ‘Arc of Prosperity.’ It included confirmation of his prescience with these words

With RBS and HBOS – two of the world’s biggest banks – Scotland has global leaders today, tomorrow and for the long-term.

It seems mean to mention it after the nice lunch, but I thought you should know.

PS – the New Statesman has an interesting tale of how the text of the speech appeared, disappeared and reappeared on the Scottish Government web site. Just saying.

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