THEY say that if you’re in danger of drowning, your entire life flashes before you. It felt a bit like that watching the Holyrood Sources event devoted to 25 years of devolution. The trio behind the eponymous podcast certainly assembled a fascinating cast list. All those familiar faces from the politics of yesteryear.

Plus, those who had safely left ­office ­behind them came over refreshingly ­honest and rather more likeable than when they were trapped in tribal warfare. In fact, all bemoaned the toxic nature of the ­contemporary scene, perhaps ­forgetting that they too had battle lines drawn for them.

The war between Scottish Labour and the SNP has a long and ignoble history; so much so that Alex Salmond suggested he was invited to Dover House – Scottish ­Labour’s London premises – only when Donald ­Dewar could be sure he wouldn’t run into arch-anti-devolver Brian Wilson.

That was the period when there was a much-choreographed formula which would allow both Salmond and Dewar to ­campaign together for a Yes-Yes vote in the referendum for the Holyrood parliament.

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The guests were unanimous that the ­original vision for a grown-up ­parliamentary chamber was never fully realised. And some of them must have thought – though carefully didn’t say – that the calibre of the current intake was less formidable than the class of 1999.

Certainly, it’s difficult to envisage the kind of accommodation across party lines which Dewar and Jim Wallace signed up for. Or to imagine that their contemporary successors are cut from anything like the same durable, essentially decent cloth.

Susan Deacon spoke of a “capability gap” and I doubt that observation was confined to any one party. Salmond, for instance, reminded us that few of that initial intake were political novices. All had laboured in assorted political vineyards, largely ­unheralded, in the days before – in those memorable words of Winnie Ewing – Scotland’s parliament was “reconvened”.

Only one contributor, the Conservative’s Liz Smith, is still an MSP and there was the arresting sight of her sharing a cosy sofa chat with erstwhile Labour ­minister Deacon (below).

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Deacon was frank about the fact that her party had used a vetting process which prevented many talents from ­standing. (As I recall, they tried to prevent her too.) Having said which, they also devised what, in my view, is an imperfect form of proportional representation but one which was designed to prevent any one party ruling the roost. Not just the SNP, as is widely reported, but also the then high-flying Labour troops. Hence the ­coalition.

Former first minister Jack ­McConnell got plaudits for his smoking-ban ­legislation and came over as a rather ­genial elder statesman.

McConnell repeated his suggestion that there should be one secretary of state for all the devolved nations, a notion which died a death the first time round and is ­unlikely to be resuscitated.

Salmond’s shadow grows no less. He ­reprised his cheeky chappy routine, ­winding up former chief of staff Geoff ­Aberdein, the right-of-­centre former aide to the late David McLetchie Andy Maciver, and journalist Calum Macdonald to be the architects of Holyrood Sources.

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There were notable absentees; the late Dewar (above) who was much-quoted – mostly ­appreciatively – throughout and Nicola Sturgeon who wasn’t. She was apparently invited, but declined.

A pity, since in the pantheon of former first ministers, she would have been able to raid the largest memory store. Not that she might have wanted to share too many recollections whilst still an MSP.

You would certainly have wanted to be a fly on the green room wall if Nicola and Salmond were in it at the same time.

Salmond paid tribute to the response Dewar gave to the question of what ­Scotland meant to him in a debate held by The Scotsman in 1992. It was a debate which Salmond was widely held to have won, not least because he was known to have rehearsed for it, whilst Donald, ­typically, assumed he could wing it.

In a week which saw the first ­anniversary of Humza Yousaf’s arrival in Bute House, also present was his near nemesis Kate Forbes. Asked, inevitably, about the likelihood of her hat returning to the ring should a vacancy arise, she proved to have perfected the art of the non-denial denial.

In short, she wouldn’t rule it out, but if and when she failed to be inspired by life on the back benches, “there are always other jobs”.

I’m betting that if a vacancy fails to ­arrive during the lifetime of this ­administration, one of those other jobs will beckon. Which would be a loss to Holyrood which is not over-adorned with similar intellects.

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Several folk concluded that we shouldn’t judge Holyrood too harshly since it was still effectively an adolescent compared with other parliaments. The problem with such an observation is that most people by the age of 25 have ­managed to leave ­adolescence behind.

Just the same, the overriding ­sentiment was that our parliament, with all its faults and failings, was a massive improvement on what had gone before. And what had gone before was a tiny posse of Tory ­ministers responsible for governing a country which had serially rejected them at the ballot box.

No party would now wish to disinvent Holyrood, and it’s an interesting thought that the generation who have grown up with it always being in existence is also the most enthusiastic about completing the job with independence.

Ironically, it was the very devolution the Conservatives had so strenuously ­opposed which ultimately saved the Tory bacon, since PR ensured that they would always have a presence in Holyrood which dwarfed their previous Scottish ­Office contingents.

Our report card 25 years on would ­inevitably include “could do better”. That applies to all the party leaders currently in post too, since collectively they have reduced First Minister’s Questions to an ill-tempered, all-too-predictable facsimile of the Westminster variety.

They might do well to remember that no one party, and no one politician has a monopoly of good ideas. They might lament – as the Holyrood Sources guests unanimously did – the lack of consensus, a commodity which oils the wheels of any successful legislature.

You only have to glance across the pond to see the desperate fate in store when consensus dies a political death.

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My own tribe is not remotely blameless either. Sometime when I see a byline in another publication, I don’t have to read on to guess the content pretty accurately. Sometimes pretty much word-for-word.

Plus we are poorly served by a media which is almost universally hostile to building on devolution, and having an honest debate about independence. When devolution was first mooted, the media thought it would be the end of the corrupt lobby system where governments dropped tempting morsels into the waiting mouths of a favoured few correspondents.

In the event, some of the same ­correspondents swapped that system for one in which they would foregather in a handy watering hole to decide the line. That’s particularly true of those who ­tailor their views to what they assume will find favour with their employers. It’s why we get so many ludicrous “news stories” in the likes of the Mail and the Express, many of which have the most tenuous ­relationship to actual facts.

Anyway, props to Holyrood Sources for assembling so many players in the ­Scottish political game to mark our scorecard after the first quarter century. And for drawing it all together with the help of two veterans of my trade, Messrs ­Bernard Ponsonby and Brian Taylor, who can be complimented on their public, ­televised neutrality no matter what ­private ­prejudices they may harbour.