The Nolan committee on standards in public life dipped its toes in uncharted waters during its Edinburgh hearings last week. Members became particularly excited on learning that Edinburgh University once had a "pop star" as rector. Not only that, he even chaired its governing body, the "court", another peculiarly Scottish artefact.
"Who was the pop star?," enquired a Nolan voice. "Donnie Munro of Runrig," replied Martin Lowe, the university's secretary.
The committee affected to look suitably baffled, although there was a hint of recognition from Lord Thomson of Monifieth, its only member from north of Hadrian's Wall and guide to all matters Scottish. But at least none of the committee had the courage to ask: "What is Runrig?" Later, four Scottish Office officials were questioned on the office of "visitor" in English higher education. Was there anything comparable to this ultimate court of appeal in Scotland, they were asked.
Tom Kelly, head of the HE division in the Scottish Office, said officials had discovered that Glasgow School of Art had a visitor. He was the Prince of Wales, Kelly said, "although we are not sure what his duties are".
As his three junior colleagues fielded the questions, Ed Weeple, the under-secretary in charge of HE and FE, sat in silence which drew an apologetic comment from Lord Nolan. Weeple, the very model of a self-effacing civil servant, was happy to acknowledge to the committee that "you clearly wished to direct your questions to the experts".