Not the finest hour
All in all, not the first minister’s finest hour in the Holyrood chamber. Indeed, notably uncomfortable as he faced persistent questioning over the Trump golf resort application.
To recap, the plan affects Alex Salmond’s own Holyrood constituency. He is therefore barred from intervening as first minister. As a minister, he cannot comment either in favour or against the plan.
The scheme was rejected by an Aberdeenshire Council committee on the casting vote of that committee’s convener.
Mr Salmond subsequently met representatives from the Trump organisation at their request, at the Marcliffe Hotel in Aberdeen where the Trump team has based itself. Mr Salmond says he was duty-bound, as a local MSP, to respond to that request.
The following day, the application was called in by the Scottish Government for decision. Mr Salmond is adamant he played no part in calling in the application and did not know such a move was happening.
It has now emerged that the Scottish Government’s chief planner, Jim Mackinnon, made a call to the chief executive of Aberdeenshire Council while members of the Trump team were in the room with him at government HQ.
Alan Campbell, the council chief exec, requested that the Trump team leave the room.
In a further, separate call, a couple of hours later, Mr Mackinnon informed Mr Campbell that the planning application was being called in.
In response to the BBC, the Government’s media office initially denied there had been a call with Team Trump in the room.
That statement was, they say, inadvertently mistaken.
Equally, Aberdeenshire Council clarified their position to stress there were two calls - but hours apart.
The first call was about procedure. It was only during the second call - with the Trump team long gone - that the question of call-in was raised.
See elsewhere on this site for reports on the full controversy.
Politically, what is happening?
Does Labour welcome a diversion from the controversy over Wendy Alexander’s campaign funding? Yes - although the lead in the chamber today was taken by the Tories and, most sharply, by the Liberal Democrats (who claimed to detect a whiff of sleaze.)
Perhaps Ms Alexander didn’t feel entirely ready, just yet, to challenge the FM on issues of probity.
Is it right that Mr Salmond should be pursued on this issue? Yes.
It is parliament’s role to subject government ministers to scrutiny. Further, it is claimed that the controversy itself may jeopardise the project by opening an avenue to legal challenge.
It is up to Alex Salmond and his government colleagues to provide answers. They accuse their opponents of “inaccuracy and innuendo” and of “scraping the bottom of the barrel.”
Are others under scrutiny? Yes. John Swinney took the decision to call in the project. He is now being questioned over a visit he paid to the Trump Westchester golf village in the USA on Monday 3 December.
The government points out that Mr Swinney was there attending the first regional conference of the Globalscot network in New York, which was held at Westchester.
He didn’t meet anyone from Trump. He has never met anyone from Trump.
As of tonight, that is where we are. Opposition critics believe the rules have been bent. The government insists that correct procedure has been followed by all, including the first minister.