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A delicate quadrille

Brian Taylor | 13:50 UK time, Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Don't expect you remember the BBC comedy series, ITMA. Dating from the 1940s, it is, in truth, a little before my time too.

However, as well as entertaining Britain during troubled times, ITMA (or "It's That Man Again") generated a few lasting catchphrases.

There was Colonel Chinstrap who would inevitably turn every discussion round to the subject of drink by muttering "I don't mind if I do".

There was the standard valediction: "TTFN". Standing for Ta Ta For Now.

Then the ineffably polite pair of gents, each reluctant to oust the other from the limelight.

"After you, Claude". "No, after you, Cecil". "No, after you...." Well, you get the concept.

I wonder whether the spirits of Claude and Cecil may be hanging over the talks today between Alex Salmond and Jim Murphy.

What's occurring? Mr Murphy is meeting the members of Alex Salmond's Cabinet in advance of the regular weekly meeting of the Holyrood top team.

Team Salmond have held several such events - although, of course, this one has added piquancy in that they are meeting a declared political rival.

And why the reminiscences about ITMA? Because Claude Salmond and Cecil Murphy are both eager to insist that, if there is any discord, it won't come from them.

More in sorrow than anger, Mr Murphy tells GMS radio listeners that he's only too eager to co-operate - if only Mr Salmond, the brute, would stop complaining about forthcoming cuts in public spending. Which don't, you understand, exist. Over to you, Claude.

Meanwhile, Team Salmond stresses that - while they might mention spending cuts and the Calman Commission in passing - their real objective is to brief Mr Murphy on the Scottish Government's urgent economic programme which, of course, is only needed because You Know Whose government has made a mess of things. Your call, Cecil.

It's a delicate dance. An elegant political quadrille. Knife your opponent while hiding the blade and protesting, mildly, that your only objective is to stay in close step.

Come and trip it as you go, on the light fantastic toe.


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