Joe Quinn of the Press Association is the most gentle and, indeed, genteel of individuals.
He is dedicated, diligent and dogged, pursuing a fact like a hound after a fox (or the modern equivalent in these post-ban days.)
So, when Joe speaks of “fiery exchanges”, as he did in his account of First Minister’s Questions today, it is sensible to pay heed.
The topic was primary class sizes.
Joe, you said a mouthful. There was indeed an incendiary element on display – or, perhaps, a long, slow burn.
Opposition leaders, of course, believe we are witnessing the incineration, one by one, of the SNP’s manifesto pledges.
It has become a ritual at FMQs. Formulaic, almost. Opposition leader forecasts betrayal, FM issues denial – and insists that things will be, at the very least, better than under the previous administration.
In truth, we’re slighly in limbo here. (Or, rather, we would be, had this centuries old concept not been abolished by the Pope. My source on this is Frank McAveety MSP. Many thanks to him.)
We’re in hiatus until we get the Budget statement from John Swinney on November the 14.
However, there are indications. It would appear that the promised £2,000 grant for first time home buyers may not be an early target for implementation.
It would appear that the promise of 1,000 new police officers may not be exactly as billed.
It will, we are told, now be redeemed by recruitment, retention and redeployment.
There are comparable queries over the pledge to stand in the shoes of Scottish domiciled students who have incurred debt.
And, from today’s exchanges, it would appear that there are implementation issues in the way of the promise to cut class sizes in Primaries One to Three to a maximum of 18.
These issues include - cost, teacher numbers required and the reluctance of some local authorities to commit funds to this objective.
Ministers say they are in discussion with councils – but remain committed to their aim.
Fire can be attractive, almost hypnotic.
Post November 14, we will need clarity.
Herewith, a cut out and keep guide to worthwhile questions.
Q1) Are SNP Ministers doing what they promised?
Q2) If not, have they changed tack for sensible reasons – and/or because their original promises were dumb?
Q3) If they have changed tack, are their new policies nonetheless likely to make Scotland a better place?
Opposition leaders will be, rightly, most interested in Question One.
Ministers, I suspect, will seek to focus our attention upon Question Three, without conceding that they have changed tack.
Joe Quinn will be asking these questions. I won’t be far behind.
PS: Update. You’ll remember Alex Salmond’s weekend assertion that Scotland was potentially the third wealthiest nation in Europe. You’ll remember that he based this on Scottish Government advice. I’ve been pursuing this – and am now advised said data from the SG will be published today or tomorrow.