THEY have executive villas, three cars in the driveway, soaring incomes and conspicuous consumption, so why is it that so many Scots with middleclass lifestyles insist on seeing themselves as working class?

This was the Caledonian class paradox posed last night by George Reid, presiding officer, in a lecture on challenges facing the Scottish Parliament a year after MSPs entered their new home at Holyrood.

He reminded Scots how much their country has changed in recent years as he delivered the keynote political event - the Donald Dewar lecture - at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, sponsored by The Herald and Sunday Herald. His speech contrasted the Clackmannanshire he represented for the SNP at Westminster in the 1970s with that for which he was elected an MSP in 2003.

In the 1970s there were textile mills, seven pits, four breweries and engineering, all now closed down. Councils provided housing for 70-per cent of people, most workers were unionised, and Mr Reid remembered the Red Flag flying on election day and people with pictures of Lenin on their living room walls.

He pointed out that average income had doubled in the past 30 years and is on track to do so again in the next 30.

Financial service and science jobs dominate, there are no jobs for life, council housing is minimal "and there are executive luxury villas going up everywhere, at quite extraordinary prices", said the Ochil MSP.

"There are two and sometimes three cars in the driveway. In Scotland, first-in-thefamily graduates are upwardly mobile, engaging in some pretty conspicuous consumption, but still proclaim themselves to be working class. Why is that?"

The lecture gave more questions than answers, as the officially neutral presiding officer trod carefully round party political issues. He argued that people want to believe in politics, but asked why they do not believe what politicians say.

He also questioned why people are optimistic about their personal futures, but not about that of society.

The lecture addressed whether Scotland's political culture has caught up with changes over the past 30 years, and whether "we are trying to tackle the challenges of today with the tools of yesterday".

He said: "Two-thirds of Scots believe Holyrood is better placed to look after their interests than Westminster, but wonder why so many of them are disconnected and don't bother to vote." Explaining his plans for a Holyrood futures forum, on issues MSPs might face in 10 to 20 years, he said: "If we don't think from time to time out of the box and over the horizon, and if we rely on past experience, the danger is that we shall walk into the future backwards."

While careful not to blame Labour for being backwardlooking, Mr Reid recalled a warning he gave to Mr Dewar, the former first minister, that some of the parliament's supporters "were more interested in taking Scotland back rather than forwards, that their driving dynamic, dressed up in the language of democratic deficit, was to oppose any form of neoliberalism from south of the border and return to the comfortable Scots collectivism of the 1970s".

Mr Reid denied he had set up the futures forum to remain presiding officer after the 2007 election, adding that he had more than enough to do.

'If someone left me GBP100m I wouldn't change'

JIMMY Reid, former trade union leader at Upper Clyde Shipbuilders.

"I see myself as a working class lad, and if someone left me GBP100m tomorrow, it wouldn't change me a jot. You can take a negative attitude to the Scottish middle class, but from my experience, the middle class have become more identified with supporting progressive policies. When I was in the UCS, I looked on the Scottish middle class as potential allies. The middle class recoiled with horror at the crudities of Thatcherism.

"Throughout the Scottish central belt, the industrial working class and the movement that developed from it had a very significant influence on the Scottish middle class of that area. But when I moved to England, I found it was the reverse."

Professor David McCrone, sociologist and expert in Scottish identity, Edinburgh University.

"If we compare people in Scotland and England, who are upwardly, socially mobile through education, compared with what their parents did and how they lived, it's true that people in Scotland describe themselves as working class.

"It's undoubtedly statistically significant. In objective terms, people are middle class, but in subjective terms they describe themselves as working class. Why? It's probably the scale of Scotland. People feel closer to their roots. In part it has to do with the relationship between nationality and class identity, which are not independent of each other. And class doesn't map easily on to politics, as it has done in England."

Annabel Goldie, Conservative West of Scotland MSP and Holyrood deputy group leader

"I don't think of Scotland today in terms of class. Traditionally, we thought of society as structured in classes. That's now a time warp. These identities have diminished in Scotland. And if we are no longer defined by class, there's a huge opportunity for politicians to discuss ideas and issues without preconceived baggage."

Colin Fox, convener, Scottish Socialist Party and Lothian MSP

"People feel extremely vulnerable, with mortgages and cars and a lot are on credit, so their position is perilous and they feel one wage-slip away from penury. Plus there's a cultural tradition, where describing yourself as working class in Scotland brought you no shame.

"It's a label you wear with pride. But when I lived in London for 10 years, it was entirely different. Working class was the bottom of the heap and you aspired to be more middle class . . . Some people talk about class as having gone out with the dinosaur. That's not true, but class consciousness has retreated in the past 20 years."