Many of the country’s top celebrities, journalists, religious leaders and broadcasters have dined with the McConnells in the Georgian splendour of their official residence in Edinburgh’s Charlotte Square.
The First Minister and, more particularly, his wife, Bridget, have grabbed the chance to cultivate the great and the good of Scotland. As one of the guests put it: "They are very much Bridget’s affairs. She is the host."
The dinners start with a drinks reception in the upstairs drawing room, the 14 guests getting to know each other while musicians from the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama play quietly in the background. Then it is down to the candlelit dining room on the ground floor, where the large dining table is decorated with contemporary silver ornaments commissioned by Donald Dewar when he was the First Minister.
The food is usually of a very high standard. Mr McConnell likes to invite catering students in to prepare the food, often under the watchful eye of a top chef. Menus of orange and asparagus salad, and loin of wild boar on polenta, have been known to be served up, followed by a fantasy of chocolate with herbs and avocado cream, all of which are accompanied with well-chosen wines.
After dinner, the guests are taken back upstairs for more entertainment; sometimes, this is provided by Mrs McConnell, who is an accomplished piano player.
Until now, the dinners have been recorded on official documents only as "working dinners" for the First Minister.
Now, though, the Freedom of Information Act has changed all that. Yesterday marked the 21st working day since the act came into force and, on that day, the Executive was required to publish all the information requested by the public and the media before the legislation came into effect - the list of the First Minister’s dinner guests had been asked for by a journalist last year.
On the list are the actors Sir Sean Connery and Robbie Coltrane, religious leaders such as Archbishop Mario Conti and Cardinal Keith O’Brien, editors of several national newspapers and entrepreneurs, including Michelle Mone.
The dinners used to take place only every month or so, but Mr McConnell has started to hold them more regularly. There were 16 in the eight months to December last year - one every couple of weeks. These cost a total of 17,930, a little more than 1,000 per event.
However, not everyone was impressed by Mr McConnell’s choice of guests.
Roddy Martine, a journalist and long-time Edinburgh socialite, said he did not regard the First Minister’s guests as "the great and good of Edinburgh or, indeed, Scottish society".
But he added: "At least he’s trying."
From Sir Sean to McColgan, the list of those to grace Scotland’s high table
13 November 2004
Hazel Irvine, broadcaster, and Graeme Horne; Keith and Lee Miller, Bill Gammell, chief executive of Cairn Energy, and Geraldine, his wife; Richard Walker and Ginny Macdonald; Margo MacDonald MSP and Jim Sillars, her husband; Mark and Tara Simpson; Robbie Coltrane, actor
4 September 2004
Timothy O’Shea, principal of Edinburgh University, and Eileen Scanlon; John Beattie, broadcaster and former Scotland rugby player, and Jill Beattie, his wife; Liz and Duncan Cameron; Carol Wallace; Archbishop Mario Conti; David Murray, entrepreneur and Rangers owner; Sir Sean Connery; Tom Devine, Aberdeen University academic, and Katherine Devine; Alistair Darling, Scottish Secretary, and Margaret Darling
19 June 2004
Vladimir and Tatiana Malygin; Charan and Parminder Gill; Rob and Louise Dalton; Lord (Irvine) Laidlaw and Lady Laidlaw; Lesley Thomson and Colin McGilvrary; Susan Rice, head of Lloyds TSB Scotland, and Duncan Rice, principal of Aberdeen University; Ross Finnie, minister for environment and rural affairs, and Phyllis Finnie
24 April 2004
Dennis and Charlotte Stevenson; Jack Perry, head of Scottish Enterprise, and Lydia Perry; David and Helene Williams; Cardinal Keith O’Brien, head of the Catholic Church in Scotland; Angus Grossart, financier, and Gay Grossart; Cecile Shea; Liz McColgan, former athlete, and Peter McColgan; Jim Wallace, deputy first minister, and Rosie Wallace
6 March 2004
Mike and Fiona Greig; Chris and Mary Gorman; Kerry Gill, journalist, and Andrea Gill; Donald Anderson, leader of Edinburgh council, and Kirsty Anderson; Alf Young, journalist, and Carol Young; Fred and Jill Coalter; Peter Peacock, education minister; Baroness Meta Ramsay, Labour peer
24 January 2004
Ian and Fiona Russell; Professor Bernard and Maura King; James Boyle, head of the Executive’s cultural commission, and Marie Boyle; Bruce Waddell, editor of the Daily Record, and Cathy Waddell; John Campbell, lawyer, and Mary Campbell, corporate financier; James and Julia Ogilvy; Margaret Curran, then minister for communities, and Rab Murray
11 January 2003
Michelle Mone, bra tycoon, and Michael Mone; Alan Rennie, editor of the Sunday Mail, and Margaret Rennie; Iain Martin, then editor of The Scotsman, and Fiona Martin; Colin Boyd, Lord Advocate, and Fiona Boyd; Muriel Gray, broadcaster, and Hamish Barbour, producer and company director; Iain MacMillan, director of the CBI Scotland, and Guiseppina McMillan; Eric Milligan, former Lord Provost of Edinburgh, and Janice Milligan
26 October 2002
Kirsty Wark, broadcaster, and Alan Clements, her husband and director of Wark Clements; Andrew Jaspan, then editor of the Sunday Herald, and Karen Jaspan; Colin McLatchie, head of News International Scotland, and Claire McLatchie; Willie Haughey, businessman and Labour party donor, and Susan Haughey; Cathy Jamieson, then minister for education, and Ian Sharpe; Lord (George) Robertson, former general secretary of NATO and defence secretary, and Lady Robertson; Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the EIS teaching union, and Mae Smith; Elish Angiolini, Solicitor General, and Dominic Angiolini
21 September 2002
Sir Muir Russell, then permanent secretary of the Executive, and Lady Russell; Lord Macfarlane, industrialist and peer, and Lady Macfarlane; Charles McGhee, editor of the Glasgow Evening Times, and Mrs McGhee; Ruth Wishart, columnist with the Herald, and Rod McLeod; Patricia Ferguson, then minister for parliament, and Bill Butler MSP; Brian and Marie Gilda; Jim and Janice Forbes
24 August 2002
Stuart Cosgrove; Mark and Jane Thompson; Tim Gardam; Gillian Taylor; Ian Ritchie; Angus McLeod; Graham Stuart; Nicola Black; Jeane Freeman, special adviser to Jack McConnell; Angus Lamont; Steve McIntyre; Craig Armstrong; John Newbigin
8 June 2002
Mark and Collette Douglas Home, editor of the Herald and his wife, a columnist for the Scottish Daily Mail; John McCormick, then controller of BBC Scotland, and his wife, Jean McCormick; Sir Robert and Lady Allison Smith; Fred Goodwin, chief executive of the Royal Bank of Scotland, and Mrs Goodwin; Elizabeth Holt, European Commission representative in Scotland, and and Richard Holt; Iain Gray, former Scottish Executive minister, and his wife, Gillian Gray; Campbell Christie, former general secretary of the STUC, and Betty Christie
18 May 2002
Mike Watson, Labour MSP, and his wife, Claire Thomas; Peter Cox, then editor of the Daily Record, and Kay Cox; Tom Hunter, entrepreneur, and Marion Hunter; the Rt Rev John Miller and Mary Miller; John and Fiona Boyle; John McLellan, then editor of Scotland on Sunday, and Patricia McLellan; David Edgar and Jill Miller
16 March 2002
Andy Kerr, health minister, and Susan Kerr; Alan Cochrane, Scottish editor of the Daily Telegraph, and Jenny Hujl, Scotsman columnist; Stuart and Shirani Cosgrove; David Moulsdale and Caroline Johnstone; Brian and Pamela Taylor; Ian and Juliette Robson; Marian Keogh and Mark Irvine