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I'm Spartacus!

Brian Taylor | 13:47 UK time, Thursday, 25 November 2010

Alex Salmond's friends and critics (including those who occasionally move from one camp to the other) are wont to try to define their man, to pin him down.

Is he statesman? Is he passionate patriot? Or economic calculator? Is he mischief-maker? Is he ballad singer, manqué?

Today, facing first minister's questions, he offered his own answer.

Turning to Annabel Goldie, he declared: "I am Spartacus."

Spartacus? You know, the novel? Turned into a film by Stanley Kubrick? Starred Kirk Douglas as the eponymous hero? Spartacus.

Today's movie was a rerun. Swinney 2: the FM Strikes Back.

Each opposition leader pounced, understandably, upon the apology delivered by the finance secretary for failing to disclose to parliament the condition of the Tartan Tax (none too healthy.)

Revolt leader

Iain Gray wanted Mr Salmond to apologise too. He duly shared in the (limited) contrition offered by his colleague.

Then Annabel Goldie had a go. Sorry wasn't enough: Mr Salmond should abase himself before the people of Scotland.

Which prompted Mr Salmond's Spartacist statement.

You remember the scene in the film, I am sure, where, one by one, the slaves declare that they are Spartacus in order to confuse the Romans in their search for the leader of the revolt.

Mr Salmond was, I think, identifying himself closely with the actions taken by his finance secretary.

Either that or he thinks he is Kirk Douglas.

Whichever, there were some pretty angry opposition legions in the amphitheatre today. They sense weakness and, again understandably, pursued it.

Lots of money

In response, Mr Salmond made three broad points. Yes, the state of unreadiness of the tartan tax should have been disclosed to parliament.

But the issue could be traced back before 2007. And it would have been wrong to spend money, lots of money, on sustaining a tax which was not going to be used.

Against which, opposition leaders - entirely rightly - stress that was a decision which should have been placed before parliament.

It was Holyrood's call.

Where does this go now? Again rightly, to a committee investigation in order to establish the facts. Culpability, perhaps, but primarily the facts.

Also to an investigation by the former Presiding Officers, David Steel and George Reid? Maybe: Alex Salmond says he will study the request from Labour and the Liberal Democrats (not, in this one, joined by the Tories.)

But maybe not. There have been three such referrals, each covering Mr Salmond himself, on the constitutional grounds that he rules on the ministerial code - and, therefore, has nobody to rule with regard to him. He has been exonerated on each occasion.

Committee hearing

From his remarks, Mr Salmond does not appear to feel that a ministerial code question arises. His opponents dissent.

Perhaps it is an issue which might be encompassed within the committee hearing.

So, while the heat of the issue may abate somewhat, the issue has not vanished.
Next up, in the same vein, the Calman report with its plans to alter Holyrood's tax powers, extending the proportion of income tax under devolved control.

Mr Salmond said he was seeking urgent talks with both the prime minister and the Scottish Secretary to discuss the implications.

Intriguingly, he also noted in passing that, while he could not disclose any details, he knew what was in the Scotland Bill to be published next week. And what was not.

A suggestion, perhaps, that certain of the tax powers proposed in the original Calman Commission report may not survive into the UK Government Bill?

PS: What happened to the slaves who supported Spartacus? Crucified, every one.


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