First minister's questions: "Pants on fire"
- 10 October 2013
- From the section Scotland
You could see the frustration evident in Johann Lamont's demeanour.
What she wanted to do was to leap to her feet and yell, in the general direction of the first minister: "Liar! Liar! Pants on fire!"
But Parliamentary rules preclude such language. So, instead of suggesting that Alex Salmond was sporting flammable trews, she noted en passant that honesty was an alien concept for his administration.
However, that wouldn't do either. From the chair, Tricia Marwick uttered a warning growl. Twice.
Ms Lamont subsided while querying what word she ought to use to describe a government allegedly saying one thing in private and another in public.
As ever, Ms Lamont might have turned to a fine Dundonian MP for advice. Winston Spencer Churchill. He it was who classed a particular utterance as being a "terminological inexactitude." (Try saying that without your best teeth in.)
Still, if Ms Lamont was mildly rebuked, she was far from thwarted in her aim. She was pursuing the FM over the issue of Scottish government ambitions to establish an oil fund in the event of independence.
It had emerged civil servants had advised ministers last year that such a fund could only have been sustained in recent tough years by increased taxation, lower spending or higher borrowing.
There was, she said, a "central deceit" at the core of the SG promise. (Somehow that one slipped through.)
Mr Salmond dissented from this perspective, you will be astonished to learn. Ministers had always said that an oil fund was only feasible when circumstances permitted.
But the advice from the SG's fiscal commission was that such circumstances might not be as stringent as previously thought.
Government thinking thus far (that civil service advice) had been that an oil fund was only practicable when there was a fiscal surplus: spending less than receipts.
But the commission had now advised that it would be feasible to set aside some revenue from the North Sea as long as the deficit was small, containable and on a discernible downward trajectory.
A bit like repaying a mortgage while still setting a little aside in a savings account, as Finance Secretary John Swinney put it on the wireless this morning.
However, Ms Lamont was unconvinced. She felt ministers had been less than frank. And that scepticism extended to the Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson.
She said she had put the two reports (last year from civil servants, last week from the fiscal commission of economists) into university cheating software. (How magnificently modern of her.)
Apparently, this is a device for checking whether young Jimmy's thesis on epistemic uncertainty is entirely original - or lifted from the Beano and the Sporting Post.
From this exercise, she calculated that Mr Salmond's most recent dossier was decidedly dodgy. The good news was underlined, the bad stuff chucked in the bin.
The FM looked magisterially dismissive. By his side, John Swinney looked like a bear who had just spotted that his porage bowl was somewhat devoid of content.
As Mr Swinney harrumphed, Mr Salmond said that the complaints from his opponents were of a piece: that they were insulting the intelligence of the people of Scotland in suggesting that oil was somehow a liability.
Stand by for much more terminology from both sides, exact or otherwise, between now and September next year.