First minister's questions

"It ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it", as sundry songsters have trilled down the decades.

Equally, it's not what you say, it's the way that you say it.

Alex Salmond's opponents thought they detected a palpable change in his bedside manner with regard to the issue of hospital waiting times.

According to Labour's Johann Lamont, Mr Salmond's standard demeanour in recent weeks, when questioned on the topic, had been "shouting and bawling".

No longer. Now, she said, he had adopted a "wee quiet voice". Things, she added, must be really bad.

Admittedly, the FM was in solemn, sombre mode. But then, as he pointed out, the exchanges were dealing with a rather serious subject: the provision of health care to needy and vulnerable people.

The particular complaint concerned the wait experienced by folk attending Accident and Emergency. Ms Lamont said that target times were routinely breached, letting patients down.

Mr Salmond acknowledged there had been problems over the winter.

But he pointed to a general and continuing improvement in hospital waiting. He pointed further to £50m switched to A&E. He argued, in short, for a contextual approach.

Ruth Davidson of the Tories also diagnosed a change in the FM's mood. But "no matter what tone he takes", she said, the truth was that thousands of people were waiting too long for treatment.

You could see the first minister steeling himself. His internal voice was telling him: "I will keep calm. I will."

And, indeed, he declared that, in keeping with the overall atmosphere, he would make his point as gently as possible.

But it was all too much. He started off with the now familiar even tone. He noted the overall high levels of patient satisfaction with the NHS.

Pressure rising

But it couldn't last. The Conservative record in the NHS, both at the old Scottish Office and now in England, was one of "disaster".

His voice steadily rising, he said that the "very last people" to defend the NHS were the Tories who, he claimed, had done their best to undermine the concept. (Ms Davidson demurs.)

And the atmospheric pressure in the chamber rose a further notch when Mr Salmond was invited to comment upon the downgrading, by one agency, of the UK government's bond rating.

It was evidence, he declared, of the "utter failure" of Messrs Cameron, Osborne et al with regard to the economy.

Then he dismissively brandished a leaflet from opponents of independence which, he said, cited the UK's credit rating as an argument for the Union.

Around him, his supporters cheered. That, you could tell, was the tone they preferred.