Nostalgia can be a powerful emotion. Perhaps Holyrood’s quarter-centenary is having an impact but there seemed to be a few backward glances on display in Scottish politics this week. The Tories are disinclined to emote about devolution: they never really wanted it in the first place. But they depict themselves as the stalwart defenders of Scotland within the Union. Labour and the Liberal Democrats understandably hark back to the days of their governing pact, right at the outset.

The Greens also recall their years in office. The influence, the impact, the electric Ministerial car. Was it only just a fortnight ago?

And John Swinney, our accidental First Minister? He too was in nostalgic mode. As he accepted office, he praised each and every opposition party for their endeavours over the past 25 years. But there was a significant off-script mention for Baroness Goldie – Bella to her numerous chums. He recalled that, as Scottish Conservative leader, she had frequently sanctioned deals during his early years as Finance Secretary which enabled SNP budgets to carry.

The Herald: Kate Forbes and John Swinney Kate Forbes and John Swinney (Image: free)

I too remember those days, from 2007 on. If memory serves, it was Derek Brownlee from the Tories who negotiated the annual deals, enabling Annabel Goldie to take credit for projects such as investment in Scotland’s struggling High Streets. The Tory thinking then was that they needed a dog in the Holyrood race. That they needed to shed their image as devolution deniers. That they alone could make self-government work, firmly within a UK structure.

Those days have gone, as Mr Swinney well knows. Hence presumably the tone of mild regret as he recalled the golden Goldie years. Still in nostalgic mood, it has become habitual to suggest that Scottish politics has become more toxic over the past quarter century. Ah, those early years of blissful co-operation. There is a degree of truth in this.

The plebiscites in 2014 and 2016 have tended to create somewhat entrenched silos. But there is a fair degree of baloney on offer too. Politics in Scotland has long involved sharp and fundamental division. It is, frankly, a bit tricky to compromise when one lot wants to retain the Union and the other wants to end it.

Admittedly, that division has grown since the SNP acceded to devolved power. However, it has always seemed to me a mite specious to blame the Nationalists solely for that. Presumably, they won because they offered a prospectus which appealed to the electorate – which means their opponents failed. Further, it is frequently argued that Holyrood would run like a dream if only the SNP would abandon their “obsession” with independence. Mischievous Nationalists might equally invite their rivals to end their stubborn adherence to the Union. Neither argument is valid, nor takes us a single step forward.

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John Swinney intends to govern as a minority, seeking solace where he can. He has swerved away from the Greens: by stressing economic growth, by adding a caveat of popular consent to climate action – and by appointing Kate Forbes as his deputy.

I feel certain that Ms Forbes will strive to avoid restating the socially conservative views which so upset Patrick Harvie and the Greens. She will have enough to do, seeking to stimulate the economy, presumably on the entrepreneurial lines she advanced when she was last in office.

En passant, I note that her stated role is “the economy” – no longer the “well-being economy” of earlier years, a phrase which few understood. I note too that she is rejoined in government by Ivan McKee, who is comparably keen on business growth. It may be possible – if exceptionally difficult – to finesse climate action.

But budgets are another matter. Tax involves annual published numbers. Mr Swinney has defended the tax hikes on middle and upper earners. The Greens want more. Could be trouble ahead. So could he turn to other parties? The big problem is that they will be reluctant to sustain in office a party whose avowed aim is to end the Union.

Mr Swinney will essay two strategies. Firstly, he is unlikely to lay overt emphasis upon that aim of independence. Not, you understand, that he will ever sideline it: he is a passionate Nationalist. Instead, he will focus his government upon the concerns of the voters – the cost of living, the NHS, education – rather than the prime concern of his party, independence. So no mention of independence in his list of priorities, headed by eradicating poverty. The role of Minister for Independence is quietly dumped, with the incumbent, Jamie Hepburn, shifted to run Parliamentary Business.

Instead of being in your face on independence, Mr Swinney will hope once more to cajole by governing moderately and consensually within devolution. And the second strategy? Play nicely. Politesse. Courtesy. An absence of insult. As he tried this out during First Minister’s Questions, he seemed to me like an office-worker trying to avoid the swear box.

The Herald: Anas Sarwar, of Scottish Labour, has a new First Minister to confrontAnas Sarwar, of Scottish Labour, has a new First Minister to confront (Image: free)

He came close when Craig Hoy, senior Tory prefect, teased him over UK policies. Growling just a fraction, he advised Mr Hoy that the insidious impact of inflation was “elementary arithmetic”. But he swiftly regained his composure. At which point, enter nostalgia once more. Apparently, our education system was once the envy of the world – and John Swinney wrecked it. Personally. Mr Swinney’s past Ministerial record is a valid and productive target for opponents. But perhaps a declining one, as attention shifts to what he can do as FM. Mind you, even he had to grin as he boldly declared: “The fresh leadership has arrived.”

After sixteen years in office? Aye, right.

His options, of course, are limited by sums – that elementary arithmetic, again. Understandable to blame UK austerity and years of stagnation. But will voters lay the blame for spending constraint solely at Westminster’s door?

It may be tough for the new model FM to sustain this endless niceness. But it could also present a challenge to his opponents.

Politicians relish banter and bombast. Folk generally prefer their elected tribunes to behave and work together for the common good, however unrealistic that may be, given their competing standpoints.

I look forward to the new/old politics.