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Forest's night at the museum

We had a great night at the National Museum of Scotland on Tuesday.

Following similar roundtable events in Dublin it was Forest's first 'Burning Issues' dinner in Edinburgh.

Joining me were 16 guests including our speaker, former MSP Brian Monteith, plus journalist and novelist Allan Massie, a revered figure in Scotland and the father of Spectator columnist Alex Massie.

The event was organised to mark the publication of a new Forest report: 'The McNanny State: How Scotland is becoming a puritan's playpen'. Written by Monteith, it features a foreword by Massie senior.

I'll write about it in my next post. In the meantime I'm pleased to say that the evening was a great success. I can't reveal the names of any other guests (the dinner was conducted under Chatham House rules) but they included journalists, politicians and one of Scotland's leading civil rights campaigners.

We began at 7.00pm with drinks on the Museum's roof terrace which is accessed via a narrow staircase from the sixth floor and offers views of Edinburgh Castle, the Old Town and the Firth of Forth.

Smoking was allowed (which is why we chose it) and a surprising number of guests lit up – cigarettes, cigars and roll-ups with Allan Massie smoking his favourite Gitanes sans Filtre.

Dinner was served on a magnificent burr maple table in a private dining room with similar panoramic views.

The format of these occasions is always the same. Between the starter and main courses the guest speaker gives a 10-15 minute address on a given theme. This is followed by a roundtable discussion on that same theme.

On Tuesday the subject was 'The nanny state we're in' and the evening fairly raced by. Everyone contributed to the discussion, opinions were shared and occasionally there were conflicting views, which is how I like it.

One or two guests had to leave 'early' (10.30) to catch trains to Dundee and Glasgow but most stayed until it was past eleven. At midnight the last guests were asked to vacate the terrace, where they'd retired to smoke, because staff wanted to close the building!

A few of us then went to a bar across the road but I was back at my hotel and in bed shortly after one. However a hard core, including a leading councillor, stayed until 3.00am. Their names shall remain anonymous.

Most guests have been in touch since the dinner and I reproduce some of their comments:

"Very many thanks for last night’s dinner which was hugely enjoyable. And a lively debate too."

"Many thanks for last night. It was great fun in a wonderful venue with good company ... and very thought-provoking."

"Thank you for a wonderful evening. Good and entertaining company in a spectacular setting."

"Thanks v much for an excellent evening. Most impressed by the group you had put together."

More specifically:

"There was an interesting division between those who, understandably, and wanted to talk about the impact of government policies on their own line of business, and those who were more concerned with the political-philosophical questions."

And finally ...

"Thank you for your kind invite to dinner last night. It was much appreciated and a most interesting and informative discussion. Keep up the good work as you really are at the cutting edge of the freedom debate."

Special thanks to Brian Monteith for giving the address and providing the cigars.

And thanks to Allan Massie, 79 years young and ageing very well on his Gitanes!

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