Talking the talk

Autumn Statement Image copyright PA
Image caption The Autumn Statement fed into talk of how to fund childcare

Alex Salmond is fond of quoting Robert Burns. He resorts fairly frequently to "A Man's a Man for a' that". And he regularly notes that "facts are chiels that winna ding."

On one occasion in the past, the FM was the recipient of a Burnsian onslaught - rather than the protagonist. David Cameron called him a "wee, sleekit, cowerin' tim'rous beastie" for deferring his referendum.

The PM's pronunciation on that occasion was perhaps more courageous than demotic - but, nevertheless, it is always good to find the Bard's words getting a wider audience.

On which topic, Alex Salmond might be inclined to turn to another quote from Burns to describe the current political situation: one, indeed, that he has used in the past.

The quote? "The mair they talk, I'm kent the better." (In this particular instance, Burns was referring to his own reputation as a lothario but no matter.)

And just why is it apposite? Because everyone, just everyone, seems to be giving Mr Salmond advice on the big offer in his independence White Paper, the proposed enhancement of childcare post independence.

Detail call

Facing questions on the issue at Holyrood, Mr Salmond voiced his delight that the debate had apparently shifted onto the potential benefits of independence. This, he plainly implied, could only help his cause.

Which prompted an angry response from Labour's Johann Lamont. She said his response was "disgraceful"; evidence that the FM cared only about independence, not about childcare.

Which prompted a further rebuttal from the FM. Labour, he said, had conspicuously failed to set out any detailed proposals for improving childcare. Which prompted... you get the picture by now.

Ms Lamont's core point was that there was an absence of detail in the childcare offer - particularly with regard to the anticipated revenue return from additional concomitant employment. How many jobs? At what salary? Bringing back what in tax?

Mr Salmond essayed a reply. A cost of £700m a year by the end of the first post-indy Parliament. Some 30,000 new jobs. And tax revenue that would accrue to Scotland, not the UK Treasury. Ms Lamont depicted his answers as insufficient.

At which point we might usefully turn to the Chancellor's Autumn Statement. It was predicated upon the argument that the economic statistics are improving but that further constraint is required in order to avoid a return to disaster.

With regard to Scotland, the Barnett consequentials of new spending plans mean an extra £308m for the next two years. More dosh, then, although not enough to compensate entirely for the cuts announced in the spending round in June.

The Scotland Office, however, stressed the additional cash - and helpfully suggested that it might be used to "fund some of the commitments to childcare set out in the recent White Paper". That topic, again. The mair they talk…

In response, John Swinney, the Finance Secretary, said he would announce the disposal of the new cash in due course - but that a transformational attitude to childcare was only possible within the full financial powers of childcare, balancing tax take and expenditure.

Today was another example of the next phase of the independence debate. Nationalists and Yes Scotland will want to "customise" the White Paper, drawing attention to individual items targeted at particular sectors of the population. Unionists and Better Together will want to pick the White Paper apart, exposing what they believe to be flaws.

To talk, to understand, to vote.