Controlling the game
How could he do it? How could he? Such shameful neglect. Wilful, almost. Believe it or not, Alex Salmond opened First Minister’s Questions without a word of praise for Scotland’s magnificent triumph at football. I mean, I know this is new politics. But does he have to show such utter disrespect for long established tradition?
Let me remind the first minister. If Scotland win - at anything - it is customary to refer to said triumph at FMQs. This produces a satisfactory harrumph of agreement from the chamber. Honour is served. Past FMs have contrived to sound proud, for example, at young Tracy grabbing the Egg and Spoon trophy at the Ecclefechan games. (Well done, Trace, your country is counting on you for the finals.)
Alex Salmond claims to be a football fan. (He supports Hearts: there’s a difference.) Could he not have squeezed out a word or two about Scotland’s 2-0 annihilation of the might that is the Faroes? We manage to beat loadsa big guys, all called Johannsen. And does the FM give it a mention? He does not.
Mind you, he skipped over a few other matters too. Mr Salmond was evasive. Brilliantly, wittily evasive. But evasive. Faced with tough ones, he frequently resorted to ad hominem drollery - or appeals for support from the toughs in the cheap seats. (Actually, they aren’t all that tough - and no seats are cheap at Holyrood. But you get the image.)
The only one who got anything like a straight answer today was Jack McConnell - and it was the last thing he wanted. JMcC laid what he thought was a well-sprung trap designed to place the FM on the side of evil-doers. He wanted the executive to agree, as in England, to keep the DNA of non-convicted people who had been interviewed by the police.
Alex Salmond’s answer? Pausing only to query why this hadn’t been done by the previous executive (Prop: J. McC), Mr Salmond said, personally, he could see merit in the notion - and would work with Mr McConnell, now that he was freed from those pesky Liberals. Jack could be seen muttering “thank you”. Or maybe it was “blast you”.
But others? Ross Finnie was neatly lampooned when he tried to ask about executive spending. Andy Kerr asked about health policy – and was told that his visage had improved since the “greetin’ face” he had displayed to the world yesterday.
And Nicol Stephen? He tried, gamely, to pin down whether the exec would ignore parliament over Edinburgh trams and the airport rail link. The answer, of course, is yes: if it comes to it. But Mr Salmond was too smart to give that answer.
Instead, he tied Mr Stephen up in knots trading quotations from an earlier, comparable controversy. Again, it was brilliant. It was well worked. It was witty. But it was evasive. And he still hasn’t mentioned the Faroes score.