First minister's questions

From Democracy Live: Alex Salmond was again asked about issues relating to Scottish independence

Why, Ruth Davidson complained, was the first minister keeping his poker hand hidden from the chamber?

(Memo to self: suggest an early game of cards with the Conservative leader. Suggest, in sly fashion, that she follows her own advice. Suggest that we make it a friendly contest - with just a few quid at stake "to make it interesting".)

Because, of course, there is absolutely no point whatsoever in having all those delicious governmental secrets if you have to share them, instantly and automatically, with the citizenry. No fun at all.

And so Alex Salmond demurred, assuming his best poker face. (Memo to Ms Davidson: his "tell" is when he looks to one side, sometimes accompanied by a slow grin.)

In this particular case, Ms Davidson was demanding to know the date of the independence referendum. Being, as I am, instinctively averse to secrecy, I share her frustration.

Start Quote

The date would be included in the Referendum Bill. And we would get that in mid to late March. So there.”

End Quote

Some puzzled ruffian on the sidelines might wonder what, precisely, Ms Davidson intended to do with the information; what political gain she foresaw from this line of interrogation.

Still, let us put her down as standing on the side of disclosure and offer two cheers.

But, whatever her motives, there was nothing doing. The date would be included in the Referendum Bill. And we would get that in mid to late March. So there.

Indeed, the theme of the day at first minister's questions - such as it was - focused upon competing sources of information.

No doubt this mood was fuelled by yesterday's report from the Electoral Commission which highlighted the public's appetite for facts.

Labour's Johann Lamont spotlighted, once again, the issue of Scotland in the EU and comments emanating from Ireland which caused a notable fuss at the weekend.

Watch the movie online to get the full gist but, in essence, her conclusion was that Alex Salmond always had to be right and that, under independence, nobody would be allowed to disagree with him.

Mr Salmond confessed he had been wandering in cyberspace. (Watch out, FM, that way lies ruin for your poker game.) He quoted a Labour constituency chair as saying that his own party's performance was mince.

cards The first minister was accused of playing his cards too close to his chest

Again, get the full version elsewhere.

On the day, anent Europe, I rather preferred the very brief exchange between the FM and Margo MacDonald.

Ms MacDonald is not blessed by/saddled with the umpteen questions accorded to the leader of the largest Opposition party. And so she had to get right to it.

The deputy first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has written to Europe's foreign ministers protesting Scotland's undying love for the EU. (Again, I paraphrase, see the full version . . . och, you get the concept by now.)

Had she, Ms MacDonald inquired, offered support for the concept of a sovereign United States of Europe, as favoured by some of Ms Sturgeon's target audience in the letter round?

She had not, Mr Salmond assured the chamber. Scotland favoured EU institutional reform, citing as an example the Common Fisheries Policy.

Myself, I would like to have heard rather more on this topic. But FMQs is not like that. It moves on swiftly. Like backgammon at the highest level.

(Fancy a game, Ruth?) Or snap.

Brian Taylor Article written by Brian Taylor Brian Taylor Political editor, Scotland

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