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'Apparent clarity'

Brian Taylor | 13:28 UK time, Thursday, 13 January 2011

A somewhat staid session of questions to the First Minister, enlivened by occasional linguistic and oratorical techniques.

Iain Gray's attack was choreographed to reach the conclusion that the FM was indecisive - with regard to policing structures and other matters.

It was a little, indeed, like a police interrogator trying to get a suspect to confess with persistent questioning.

C'mon, Salmond, your prints are all over this single force business. And you've got form. Public sector reform, higher education, climate change - all mouth, no action. Look, just sign this and it'll all be over.

Patiently, the accused man explained that it was important to get things right with police reform, given that it was the "greatest change in policing in a generation."

He repeated that defence later. Twice.

To Mr Gray, he listed a rival sequence of decisions taken by his government: the council tax freeze, the end to prescription charges, 1000 extra police.

Big hit

Mr Gray's attack was carefully structured and part of an emerging Labour narrative.

But he occasionally seems burdened by the requirement to pose umpteen questions: it can sometimes appear a little contrived rather than constructed.

By contrast, the Tory and LibDem leaders are more restricted in their question opportunities. So they tend to get the big hit right up front.

Today, Annabel Goldie and Tavish Scott both pursued the issue of policing. Mr Salmond dealt with both, deftly.

Miss Goldie, assuming her most stern demeanour, inquired whether the FM would continue to match the Tories' pledge on police numbers.

Mock meekly, Mr Salmond replied: "Yes I will." And promptly sat down, grinning happily.

Only faintly discomfited, Miss Goldie praised his "apparent clarity."

Budget votes

Apparent? What bit of "yes I will" was opaque? Ah, continued Miss Goldie, the FM had tried to break a comparable commitment four years ago - "and that was naughty."

Duly chided, the FM - still in mock meek mode - conceded that "matron knows best."

Mr Salmond has resolutely ruled out a post-election coalition with the Tories, despite Miss Goldie's new-found readiness to coalesce.

But, hey, he might still need their votes to get the Budget through. Doesn't do to be rude to Matron.

Tavish Scott for the LibDems pursued the party's line on policing - which is that the cost case for a single force has yet to be made and may not trump the loss of democratic accountability which they say would result.

He did so forcibly and effectively.

But, with equal force and effect, the FM deflected his comments into an attack upon what, he said, was the mishandling of police reorganisation by the former Labour UK Government in England.

If, he said, the LibDem leader was referring to that (he wasn't), then the FM was able to declare: "I agree with Tavish Scott." It was, of course, a conscious echo of Gordon "I agree with Nick" Brown.


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