ANDREW Marr posed the question in a wide-eyed, slightly awestruck way. This must have been what it was like to miss The Beatles on the roof, or one of Sinatra’s last comeback concerts.

On this occasion the performer was Alex Salmond, the artist formerly known as Scotland’s First Minister, and Ol' Brown Eyes was appearing before a Scottish Parliament inquiry last Friday.

“What was it like?” Marr asked his younger BBC colleague Nick Eardley yesterday during the newspaper review.

“Incredible,” replied the 32-year-old.

Other reviews were available, and every one was five stars. The word “masterclass” was used often. “Coherent, unemotional, authoritative and convincing,” wrote Iain Macwhirter in The Herald on Sunday. “Measured, considered, across all the detail,” BBC reporter Kirsten Campbell told The Sunday Show.

Reviews for the committee were decidedly one star. Former MP George Galloway compared Mr Salmond to “Monarch of the Glen surrounded by scarcely audible yappy dogs”. Broadcaster Andrew Neil called the committee “Numpty Nursery”.

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Towards the end of the six hours one did wonder how things might have been had Mr Salmond been facing the likes of Gordon Brown, Tony Blair, the late Charles Kennedy, Michael Forsyth, George Galloway – all of them part of the “class of the 1980s”.

When it comes to today’s Scottish politicians, is it really a case of "They don’t make them like they used to", or are we looking at the past through a rose-tinted rear view mirror? How do the class of the 1980s differ from today’s MSPs?

First and most obviously, the class of the 1980s learned their trade in the bear pit of the Commons. The cramped chamber encourages adversarial politics, and in the Thatcher era there was a lot to be angry about. Light, bright, airy Holyrood is a haven of tranquility in comparison, a spa next to the spit and sawdust pub that is the Commons.

In the 1980s, as now, there were various ways a new MP could get noticed. Charles Kennedy, elected 1983, came to prominence because there were fewer MPs in his party and he had more chance to shine. Young, personable, and a champion debater, the media adored the Commons’ youngest MP and he returned the affection. Ditto Alex Salmond who arrived in the Commons in 1987.

Blair and Brown, both born in Scotland, were easily among the stars of the 1983 intake. Blair was a lawyer with experience of local politics in London. Brown went to the University of Edinburgh at just 16, and was a journalist at STV.

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Among the first to spot their potential was Conservative Minister Alan Clark, who praised them in the first volume of his diaries and predicted they would go far. Salmond was another committee star, with his background as an economist put to good use on the Energy Select Committee.

Michael Forsyth, elected 1983, benefited from being one of relatively few Conservative MPs from Scotland. Taken on as a bag carrier by Geoffrey Howe, by 1987 he was in the Scottish Office. Like Kennedy, he was an old hand at debating.

Already, various traits are emerging in the class of the 1980s, but there are notable differences as well. George Galloway, elected in 1987 with Salmond, was working class and determined from the start to go his own way rather than climb the career ladder like Blair, Brown and others. He worked for a charity before becoming an MP.

Robin Cook was first elected in 1974, but moved constituency for the 1983 General Election following boundary changes. Among the class of the 1980s it was Cook who took the crown of best parliamentary performer. He was not previously a lawyer, an accountant, in journalism or business. Nor had he been in politics all his life, moving from researcher or party worker to MP without ever dipping a toe in the real world. Cook was a teacher.

In his day, on his game, he was brilliant. If you think the Salmond saga can be complex at times, it had nothing on the arms to Iraq scandal. British companies, backed by the Conservative Government of the day, were selling arms to Saddam in violation of an embargo. There was a judicial inquiry and finally, in 1996, the Scott Report was published.

As Shadow Foreign Secretary, Cook was due to give the Opposition response. But the Government timed it so that he had just a couple of hours to digest the 2,000-page report. He did it, with time left over to craft a speech that neatly eviscerated John Major’s Government and its sleazy ways.

So yes, in some ways last Friday might have been different if there had been a few more on the committee of the calibre of Cook.

But then again, the class of the 1980s would have been taking on one of their own in Salmond. He was, and is, a formidable opponent, whether he was on Question Time or taking on the Government at Prime Minister’s Questions. He has lost none of his edge. As for his being in command of detail, he has had little else to do for the past few years but study the case.

Perhaps a fairer comparison between the class of the 1980s and their current Holyrood counterparts can be made this Wednesday, when Nicola Sturgeon appears before the committee.

When Alex Salmond became an MP she was 17. When Blair and Brown were elected she was starting secondary school. The First Minister differs in so many ways from the class of the 1980s. The coming week will show whether she is ultimately made of the same, or better, stuff.