At just before 9.30am on a May morning that generations of Scots had only dared to dream might ever come to pass, a PA system in a church hall crackled into life.

The air was electric, the tension tangible, and the wait – 300 years long – was within touching distance of finally being over.

The Herald: Neil Smith (left, the Chairman of Scotland Forward), Alex Salmond (then SNP leader), Donald Dewar (the then Scottish Secretary) and Menzies Campbell in Edinburgh today for the launch of the YES campaign devolution countdownNeil Smith (left, the Chairman of Scotland Forward), Alex Salmond (then SNP leader), Donald Dewar (the then Scottish Secretary) and Menzies Campbell in Edinburgh today for the launch of the YES campaign devolution countdown (Image: PA)

This was the first meeting of the new Scottish Parliament, history was unfolding before the nation’s eyes and yet there would be no great patriotic flag waving, rousing cheers or, for that matter, particularly lavish ceremony.

Instead, it would fall to a Yorkshire-born 37-year-old father of two and civil servant, Paul Grice, to step up to microphone in Edinburgh’s the newly decorated Assembly Hall to declare the ‘first meeting of the Scottish Parliament, established under the Scotland Act” was in session.

For Scots who had felt the pain of Thatcher and the hated Community Charge, the divisions of the miners’ strike and demise of Ravenscraig, who saw post boxes blown up in protest over the new Queen’s 'EIIR' insignia and debated whether it was Scotland’s oil, this was history, hopes and dreams, future possibilities and distant wrongs wrapped in a single sentence.

For the 129 new MSPs – 56 of them Labour who would form a coalition government with 17 Lib Dems – it was time to get this show back on the road.

And what a long and winding road this had been, stretching all the way from 12 May, 1999 to the early 13th century and the reign of Alexander II.

At Kirkliston – not far from the Assembly Hall, meeting place of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland now given over to Scotland’s new MSPs – noblemen and clergy had congregated in 1235 for the nation’s first parliamentary gathering.

For the next 472 years it laid down laws, locked horns with the Crown, emerged from Cromwell’s Protectorate to raise taxes and pass acts on everything from bankruptcy to Pocknet Fishing Upon the Water of Forth, to trade, bankruptcy and the Act Against Clandestine and Irregular Marriages.

The 1707 Acts of Union brought it to a close; temporarily, at least.

As the nation emerged from the Second World War and the Scottish National Party gained pace, seeds for a new parliament were sown.

Of course, it was far from straight-forward – it wouldn’t be Scottish politics otherwise. There was the 1979 devolution referendum, Tam Dalyell’s sticky West Lothian question and a 52% vote in favour that, because not enough of the electorate had turned out, wasn’t enough to get it over the line.

The Herald: Nicola Sturgeon was officially sworn in as Scotland's First Minister in the Court of Session, Edinburgh, making her the fifth person to hold the top job in 2014Nicola Sturgeon was officially sworn in as Scotland's First Minister in the Court of Session, Edinburgh, making her the fifth person to hold the top job in 2014

Against a backdrop of the winter of discontent, the SNP’s withdrawal of support for Labour Government’s Scotland Act 1978 led to a General Election and paved the way for the Thatcher years.

Calls for Scottish devolution championed by the late Labour leader John Smith were deafening by the time fresh-faced Tony Blair’s New Labour arrived in 1997.

The next referendum, in September that year, returned a resounding: “YES”.

And so to May 1999, the crackling PA system, the freshly laid blue carpet and the new MSPs with their fancy push button voting systems sitting sat desks carved from light Scottish sycamore that seemed to shine against the dark panelled walls of a hall which once housed the United Free Church of Scotland.

Cost to kit it all out? A snip at £7.5 million.

It would be a day drenched with symbolism and a smattering of petty politics, of gestures for the cameras and a few grand entrances.

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There was Scottish Labour leader and soon to be inaugural First Minister Donald Dewar, tall and gangly like a secondary school geography teacher putting differences aside to press flesh with a cock-a-hoop Alex Salmond.

The SNP leader and his 34 colleagues – including a young Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney - were making their own gesture: each had a white rose pinned over their hearts to symbolise the white cockade ribbon worn by the Jacobites who had followed Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Some couldn’t help but try grab a headline. Dorothy-Grace Elder, a newspaper columnist turned SNP MSP, arrived in a 41-ton truck to raise awareness of fuel tax increases.

Later, she’d be smacked down after altering the strict wording of the MSPs’ pledge to serve, giving it her own tartan trim.

There was the sole Scottish Greens MSP Robin Harper, a modern studies and guidance teacher and the UK’s first elected Green parliamentarian thanks to the regional list vote.

Fresh from dealing with naughty pupils, he rubbed shoulders with giants of Scottish politics – David Steel for the Lib Dems, James Douglas-Hamilton for the Conservatives, and Labour stalwarts Gordon Jackson, Frank McAveety and soon to become First Minister, Henry McLeish.

And there was Madam Ecosse. At 69 years old, as the eldest MSP, the SNP’s Winnie Ewing would be honoured as the first to take the oath.

At the stroke of 9.30am with the Yorkshireman’s formal declaration that the meeting was in progress done, she stood and raised her hand.

She had declined to take an oath before God preferring instead, as did many MSPs who followed, to give an affirmation.

“I do solemnly, sincerely and truthfully declare and affirm that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, her heirs and successors according to law.”

She repeated in it Gaelic, signed her name and in a hushed hall delivered a speech 300 years in the making.

“The Scottish Parliament adjourned on the 25th day of March 1707 is hereby reconvened,” she said.

As applause subsided, she paid tribute to John Smith on what was the fifth anniversary of his death, and to those who “are no longer here, who didn’t live to see the promised land”.

Then she spoke of her hopes.

“The first is that we all try to follow the more consensual style of the European Parliament and say goodbye to the badgering and backbiting one associates with Westminster,” she said.

Perhaps that was just a bit optimistic.

The Herald: The late Queen Elizabeth with Donald Dewar and Sir David Steel at the opening of the Scottish Parliament on July 1, 1999.The late Queen Elizabeth with Donald Dewar and Sir David Steel at the opening of the Scottish Parliament on July 1, 1999. (Image: PA)

She hoped the new parliament would forge better relations with the rest of the UK, and that all in Scotland – whether born here or who chose to live here – may do so in harmony, together.

Finally, she quoted from Lord Bellhaven, an opponent of the Treaty of Union of 1707: “Show me a man who, while he respects all countries equally with his own yet is ready to defend the life of his own against them all, and I will show you a man who is both a nationalist and an internationalist.”

For the next couple of hours one MSP after the other stepped forward.

Some were hardened Westminster politicians, others earned stripes serving local councils, some were fresh-faced newbies.

One or two would go on to have glittering political careers, others doomed to obscurity.

A few opted to make a point. Independent MSP Dennis Canavan - a Labour supporter and campaigner for the parliament but controversially ditched by his party – announced he believed in “the sovereignty of the people rather than a monarch”.

So did Alex Salmond and the Nationalists; their primary loyalty was to the Scottish people, not the Queen.

The most dramatic declaration came from Scottish Socialist MSP Tommy Sheridan, suited and booted wearing a smart three-piece suit.

With a steely gaze, fist clenched and raised, he channelled his inner Wolfie ‘Citizen’ Smith, and announced: “I would like to declare that as a democratically elected socialist, my vision of Scotland is a democratic socialist republic where sovereignty lies with the people”.

With the last MSP sworn in, a new presiding officer – David Steel – was elected.

He echoed the Earl of Seafield, the Scottish chancellor who had declared “thus endeth an auld sang” when the Scottish parliament was adjourned in 1707.

“We must cherish the Scottish Parliament,” he said, “this is the start of a new sang.”

With that, Scotland’s new MSPs retreated to the High Street hostelries to fulfil another promise.

Analysts had predicted the parliament would bring a £40m boost to Edinburgh with 2500 new jobs and roles for lobbyists, researchers,  office staff, lawyers and accountants.

And, they suggested, there would be handsome spin-offs for local hospitality, pubs and restaurants.

The Scottish Parliament was back.