HOLYROOD will get back down to business after its nine week summer recess on Tuesday. It's probably not a date you have marked in your diary. But then you don't need to.

The return of our MSPs will become all too apparent on Wednesday when you'll read stories in The Herald about them knocking lumps out of each other.

The parties will take up cudgels from the moment Nicola Sturgeon outlines her programme for government. We're about to re-enter the black-and-white, tribal world of parliamentary politics in all its gainsaying, point-scoring glory.

A few days ago an event at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe attempted to administer an antidote to all that.

It was organised by a group of specialist mediators and featured a conversation between John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister, and Bernard Jenkin, the Eurosceptic Conservative MP, two politicians who, under normal circumstances, would be at daggers drawn over most issues.

Their discussion was preceded by a workshop at which guests were encouraged to talk about conflict resolution and negotiation.

It had a rather church-y feel (and not just because it took place in a church) which helped set the un-party political tone. Under the gentle but perceptive prompting of QC John Sturrock, a fascinating encounter unfolded.

To get the ball rolling, both men recounted some formative influences.

Mr Swinney described how his nationalism was inspired by the SNP's 1970s call for self government. An election leaflet that dropped through the letterbox of the family home in 1974 set him thinking. Disappointment at the failure to win devolution five years later led him to join the SNP.

Mr Jenkin, a staunch Unionist who was still opposing devolution when it finally arrived in 1997, felt his proud Scottish heritage and London upbringing were happily accommodated by being British.

He spoke of his experience standing for parliament in Glasgow Central in 1987 and his shock at being told to "go home to England," a nasty attack he laid squarely at the door of his Labour opponents.

"I felt very sad," he said. "I always felt Scottish but I was sent back over the Border to be English."

From there, perhaps inevitably, the conversation turned to the question of identity.

Explaining his political philosophy, Mr Swinney said: "People that choose to live in this country should determine the future of this country.

"That's the fundamental political belief I hold."

It summed up the message at the heart of the Yes campaign and Mr Jenkin challenged it immediately. "I think we can separate the idea of identity from democracy," he said.

"I'm not motivated by the sense of identity," replied Mr Swinney.

"Anyone who chooses to live and work here is as entitled to this aspiration as I am."

This is the SNP's credo of "civic nationalism," which doesn't really address national identity. It's always been hard to see how welcoming incomers and inviting them to share in Scottish identity makes nationalism somehow less about identity. And when he was asked about this by a member of the audience, Mr Swinney was stumped. The question was this. If, for the sake of argument, Scotland's democratic interests aligned with the North of England, why not draw a different administrative line on the map?

"We're not about annexing the North of England," joked the deputy First Minister.

But if the discussion raised questions about the nature of civic nationalism, Mr Jenkin found it impossible to paint a picture of a robust, healthy Union.

"If you are a Unionist, you are looking over a precipice now," he groaned.

Looking back to last year's referendum campaign, he said Better Together "scaremongering" (he used the word) had been counterproductive. "The whole thing was how not to run a No campaign," he observed ruefully.

He happily defended Britain's "proven 300 year track record" of security and prosperity but he had little response to Mr Swinney's claim that Scotland and England were headed in completely different political directions - apart from blaming the SNP for "doing quite a good job of making English people feel fed up with Scotland".

Perhaps surprisingly, he admitted that much of what the Prime Minister said and what the BBC reported on a daily basis had little to do with Scotland. "This is not a good formula for making the country joined-up," he said. UK party leaders and the broadcaster needed to change.

In the end there was no winner, no loser, just a thought-provoking exchange. Things will be very different on Tuesday.