Most mornings I go for a swim at the Leith Victoria pool just off Great Junction Street, an institution I first used while at the old Leith Academy building nearby, probably a quarter of a century ago. This was before my school – not yet rehoused courtesy of the then Edinburgh District Council – had its own facility. I hated it then, mainly because I wasn't a very strong swimmer, but love it now, despite being little stronger.
It hasn't changed much, indeed, part of its charm is the preserved red sandstone Victorian façade and white-painted interior. The writer Irvine Welsh used to swim there, and despite the increasing Brooklynisation of nearby Leith Walk, it hasn't quite reached Junction Place. Mainly it's used by older Leithers, those with the luxury of time, and also the area's immigrant community. It's well outside the political bubble I usually inhabit, which is partly why I go.
Hanging outside is a distinctive red-and-white sign, newer than the adjacent Victorian ironwork and recently featured among Edinburgh's 101 objects, chosen due to its social history. Although a public health act had been passed in 1875, it took Edinburgh a while to open baths all over the city, aimed at working-class citizens who couldn't afford an indoor bath. Long gone now, there used to be an adjacent public registry office and 'steamie'.
It also has a marvellously communal feel, and I love overhearing conversations between the elderly Leithers in the steam room. A few days ago, one regular recognised me from a recent appearance on BBC Scotland, and referred to a Tweet in which I'd highlighted an SNP minister's faulty memory syndrome regarding Scotland in the 1980s – Maree Todd had claimed Mrs Thatcher lacked any Scottish MPs and had appointed a Scottish secretary with an English constituency. This wasn't true, and my fellow swimmer thought she knew the answer. 'That,' she told me triumphantly, 'was actually Tony Blair’s government.'
Talking of swimming, I used to use the modest pool at the Scotsman Hotel on North Bridge, formerly home to the eponymous newspaper. At the time, I lived opposite the publication's old building on Cockburn Street and worked at the Edinburgh Evening News (my first journalistic job) in the Scotsman Publications' then new HQ on Holyrood Road. I was a rarity in that newsroom in actually being from Edinburgh, indeed it was quite a thrill for me to find myself working for a paper I'd grown up reading.
So, a new exhibition at the National Library of Scotland marking the 200th anniversary of the Scotsman also found me engrossed. Although modest, a couple of glass cabinets showcase its first edition from 1817 as well as its long-standing engagement with the constitutional question; beginning in the late 19th century, the paper often carried articles advocating various schemes of devolution (or 'Home Rule') for Scotland, usually republished as pamphlets, a tradition that continued until the late 1960s. One, 'How Scotland should be governed,' set out what would now be described as a 'federal' scheme for the whole United Kingdom. Arguably, it was ahead of its time.
In spite of this, puzzlingly, the Scotsman has since the independence referendum been caricatured as a 'Unionist' organ, presumably because it advocated a 'No' vote in September 2014. This is rather black and white, for its editorial stance remains pro-devolution, even after Andrew Neil (whom I remember as the braces-wearing editor-in-chief 15 years ago) upset many of the paper's traditional (and professional) readers with neo-Thatcherite editorials.
Richard Leonard, the fledgling leader of the Scottish Labour party, recently invited incredulity for comparing Nicola Sturgeon to Mrs Thatcher (in terms of her 'divisiveness') and a separate claim that the SNP believed in trickle-down 'Reaganomics'. Say what you like about Leonard, but few would level the same charges against him.
On Monday night, I saw him speak at the David Hume Institute on 'Scotland After Brexit,' and he doubtless viewed it as an opportunity to rebut criticism that his stance on that pressing constitutional question hasn't exactly been clear (the same has been said of Mr Corbyn at Westminster). Leonard confirmed that he saw Scotland and the UK leaving the 'existing' single market and customs union, which evoked current Tory semantics about whether or not we remain in 'a' or 'the' Customs Union.
Otherwise, Leonard (who has a strong and engaging Yorkshire accent) stressed his Scottish credentials, his time working for the former Mid-Scotland and Fife Labour MEP Alex Falconer and for the Scottish Trades Union Congress. His language was interesting; he spoke of 'reindustrialising' Scotland, a promise I last heard emanating from former first minister Alex Salmond in 2011 (and again in 2014). For what it's worth, this has always struck me as a very rash pledge.
Last week I watched the current first minister read from 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie' at Edinburgh's Usher Hall and speak engagingly about her love for Muriel Spark's writing. Similarly, on Monday night Richard Leonard freely quoted from the work of economists he knew and, perhaps more predictably, the late Eric Hobsbawm (on nationalism). Are we entering a new era of literary-intellectual Scottish party leaders? On being asked questions by the economists Sir Jeremy Peat and Gavin McCrone on Monday evening, Leonard said he felt 'honoured', adding: 'I've read all your books.' For once, I didn't doubt it.