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The Alex Salmond show

Brian Taylor | 13:21 UK time, Thursday, 24 September 2009

Notably sharp exchanges at first minister's questions on the issue of class sizes.

Labour's Iain Gray was succinct, pointed and pertinent. In response, Alex Salmond shone with his customary burnish.

He said that progress was being made year on year in trimming the numbers in individual class rooms.

He referred to the economic crisis. He challenged local authorities, notably Glasgow, to improve their performance - which should make for an entertaining exchange when he meets Glasgow council leader Steven Purcell this afternoon.

It was good, substantive stuff, powerfully delivered. However, there is still an underlying challenge facing Mr Salmond's government on this issue.

Cast an eye back to the SNP manifesto for the Holyrood elections in 2007.

Here's what they said on class sizes: "We will reduce class sizes in Primary 1, 2 and 3 to 18 pupils or less to give children more time with their teacher at this vital stage of their development."

Not "we will reduce class sizes" - if economic circumstances permit. Not - if the councils do their bit. And not "we will make progress year on year."

Appearing exercised

That may have been the tenor of the concordat with councils. It did not, however, feature in the manifesto upon which the SNP were elected.

Annabel Goldie also pursued the topic of class sizes.

Tavish Scott, fresh from Bournemouth, appeared exercised by the future of broadcasting.

Perhaps that's what happens when your party's internal policy disputes are shown live on telly.

Anyway, Mr Scott was decidedly droll on the likely TV schedule in an independent Scotland.

With an eye to the FM's speaking style, he suggested Mr Salmond would welcome the return of Grandstand.

FMQs would become "Only an Excuse". And the star of the Weakest Link? Fiona Hyslop, the Education Secretary.

Ouch and ouch

In response, Mr Salmond reckoned the Lib Dem leader had been indulging in the sea air and Pina Coladas.

But the best gag of the day undoubtedly goes to a sedentary heckler. (Sounded to me like Margo MacDonald - but undoubtedly she'll put me right one way or t'other.)

Answering a formulaic question about his engagements, Mr Salmond said he had no immediate plans to meet the Prime Minister.

Heckler: "Neither does Obama". Ouch. And, again, ouch.


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