"One of the reasons I'm such a nice chap is because I've never had power, " he confessed, obviously desperate not to be seen as such a fine fellow. He backed education decisions being taken in an Edinburgh parliament and could not understand why people in Northampton or Sussex had a say. "They only come to Scotland to shoot or go to the Festival - if they can read books," he remarked.
Malcolm Chisholm, Labour's frontbencher, who was due to speak for the party on education since Jack McConnell, the general secretary, was enmeshed in the "two-three questions" referendum stramash, was himself delayed. This rather unnerved Elizabeth Maginnis, Cosla's education spokeswoman, who was chairing the event.
"If he doesn't turn up," she told delegates "you'll have me to speak on education for the Labour party and I don't agree with half of it."
Chisholm duly arrived. A former Edinburgh secondary teacher, he beat Maginnis for the Leith nomination. For once, she was grateful for his victory. A second prize for honesty went to David Hutchison, president of the Scottish School Board Association. "Telling someone you're a member of a school board does not make you more attractive at parties," he said.