For a newspaper which campaigned tirelessly for devolution, it was a fitting venue in which to celebrate the past and look to the future.
Key figures from across civic Scotland convened at the Scottish Parliament last night to mark 200 years of The Scotsman.
The gathering, part of a year-long series of events during the newspaper’s bicentenary, drew prominent people from the media and Scottish political life, as well as the arts and business worlds, reflecting the roots of a publication founded in 1817 by lawyer, William Ritchie, and customs official, Charles MacLaren, as a “political and literary journal.”
READ MORE: Historic floral clock marks The Scotsman’s 200th year
Guests included Kezia Dugdale, the former Scottish Labour leader, former justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, author Alexander McCall Smith, and Neal Ascherson, the Orwell Prize-winning writer and journalist.
They were joined at the foot of the Royal Mile by journalists from the title’s past and present – including former editors Magnus Linklater, John McLellan, and Tim Luckhurst – along with MSPs, some of The Scotsman’s subscribers, and its advertisers.
The drinks reception allowed guests to browse historic copies of The Scotsman from the past two centuries and admire the work of the title’s stable of photographers. In true newspaper fashion, those in attendance also took the opportunity to exchange scurrilous gossip.
In his opening address, Frank O’Donnell, editor of The Scotsman, described the evening as “an opportunity to look back, but also to look forward at what The Scotsman means in 2017 and beyond”.
Mr O’Donnell cited the original Prospectus, published on St Andrew’s Day 1816, in which the founders set out their vision of a politically impartial paper, describing it as a document that remains relevant in the modern day.
“I grew up delivering the Edinburgh Evening News and The Scotsman, I have read them since I was a boy,” he said. “I am passionate about the part they can play in making Scotland a better place to live, to work, and to do business.”
There was laughter when Mr O’Donnell recalled making public his decision to rule out The Scotsman’s support for any political party in future elections or referendums. The announcement prompted one inquiring letter which asked: “Has Alex Salmond bundled you into the back of a Range Rover?”
He also drew smiles in the room when he referred to “miracle” of The Scotsman boosting its print circulation by 4.5 per cent for the first six months of 2017, compared to the same period last year
The reception also featured a panel debate which addressed the print and digital media among other issues. It featured Mr O’Donnell, Ms Dugdale, Bill Jamieson, former executive editor of The Scotsman, and Peter MacMahon, ITV Border’s political editor and a former deputy editor of The Scotsman.
The choice of Holyrood for the reception was apposite, given The Scotsman’s long history as a champion of devolution. In the wake of the 1979 referendum, its editorial bemoaned the “doubting cries of the faithless”.
On the day of the 1997 referendum, its leader implored the public to support the creation of a parliament with tax-raising powers. “We have preferred ‘Yes’ from the beginning and prefer it still,” it thundered.
Mr Linklater, a leading journalist during that era and beyond, was among those browsing past copies, including the front page following the Lockerbie atrocity.
Mr Linklater, the editor at the time, recalled: “I raced back to the backbench that night from a black tie dinner in the Borders. It was a truly awful night, but the staff filed five editions, which is testament to the paper’s extraordinary qualities.”
After 53,441 editions, more than one million pages, five offices, nine owners and 27 editors, it was an apt tribute.