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Question time

Brian Taylor | 13:50 UK time, Thursday, 2 October 2008

So how did the opposition leaders perform at FMQs? I think Tavish Scott of the Lib Dems will be pretty well satisfied with himself.

He exposed a simple disparity between SNP opinion in opposition and government. In opposition, they were urging ministers (including T. Scott) to host talks in an effort to prevent a rail strike.

In government, they say it's not their role to intervene.

Alex Salmond brushed aside the attack - and I don't suppose it will trouble him overmuch. But it was, nonetheless, an effective point.

As to Iain Gray of Labour, I think he will be generally happy with his showing - with one exception.

Mr Gray pursued Mr Salmond on the topic of alcohol off-sales. He did so with wit and vigour.

Substantive answers

But then he cited Mr Salmond's appearance in Private Eye's Colemanballs column. That enabled Mr Salmond to respond by quoting a less than flattering profile of Mr Gray in The Sun.

Mr Salmond, therefore, ended on an upnote in those exchanges - but still faces the issue of how to deal with the clear opposition in parliament to the off-sales restrictions.

One option for ministers could be to shelve plans for a blanket, nationwide ban on off-sales to under-21s - replacing that with discretionary powers for individual local authorities to introduce such measures, perhaps on police advice.

As to Annabel Goldie, she was reasonably sound on the serious topic of prison overcrowding.

However, the first minister had substantive answers with regard to government action, while noting that only reform of the penal system would offer long-term solutions.

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