Brief and to the point

Alex Salmond at FMQs Image copyright PA
Image caption Mr Salmond told the chamber that Scotland was better off than the rest of the UK

The presiding officer has plainly been brushing up her Shakespeare. Inviting opposition leaders to question the first minister, Tricia Marwick urged brevity, presumably on the basis that it comprises the soul of wit.

Ruth Davidson of the Tories took her at her word - and promptly accused the FM of being a liar.

To be precise, she said he had misled the chamber on a previous occasion with regard to the issue of legal advice on Scotland in the European Union.

Either way, it was blunt - and brief. Ms Marwick, one must assume, welcomed the brevity. However, she was discontented with the bluntness of the comment and duly intervened, chiding.

Ms Davidson looked puzzled for a moment - before opting to lengthen her comment. The first minister, she qualified, had been "unadjacent to the truth".

Favourite guru

That, seemingly, was better - or, at least, it passed without further comment.

Mr Salmond has previously dismissed the complaint re: his advice to the chamber - and he declined to rise to the bait today.

The substance of the exchanges was a suggestion from a former top EU lawyer to the effect that an independent Scotland could not expect a short-cut arrangement to continue in EU membership but would have to apply afresh.

In response, Mr Salmond assumed his most ironic, mock-sombre tone when he said that he was citing no less an authority than Better Together's own favourite guru and academic, Professor James Gallagher - who had apparently previously suggested that a deal could be done to admit Scotland without insisting upon adopting the Euro or the Schengen rules on borders.

The exchanges between the FM and Labour's Johann Lamont were comparably intense. Ms Lamont resorted to sums and, being a former teacher, set an exam paper.

Question 1: If Scotland contributes 9.9% of UK taxation and receives 9.3% of spending, who gets the better deal?

Question 2: What are 9.9% and 9.3% in pounds and pence?

Question 3: Why is a raven like a writing desk?

Candidates should not attempt to write on both sides of the paper at once.

(Actually, she didn't ask Question 3 - although I wish she had as it has always intrigued me since my earliest days of political research via the pages of Lewis Carroll.)

Mr Salmond replied that Scotland was relatively better off than the UK. Ms Lamont retorted by saying that she was unwilling to take lessons from a "former RBS economist" and produced her own figures to the effect that the revenue percentage is worth £56.9bn and the spending £64.5bn.

Potential safeguards

QED, she plainly implied. Scotland needed the Union.

The former RBS economist assumed his most exasperated, mock-weary tone. Scotland, he said, operated a deficit - like most countries, including the wider UK. The point was that Scotland's deficit was proportionately less than that of the UK. Scotland was, relatively, more prosperous. QE, once again, D.

In many ways, the gutsiest exchanges were with Willie Rennie of the Liberal Democrats. Perhaps sensing a degree of uncertainty on the government side, he had a real, solid go at the proposal to abolish the requirement for corroboration in Scottish criminal cases.

In particular, he challenged the suggestion by the justice secretary that the bill for abolition should be passed - but that there should then be a delay in implementation, pending a review of further potential safeguards against wrongful conviction.

Mr Rennie sidestepped the subtle language of the law and opted instead for the blunt argot of the street. The plan, he said at various points, was "crackers" and "cack-handed". Brief, Ms Marwick, and to the point.

Assuming his most genuine, persuasive demeanour, Mr Salmond argued that the requirement for corroboration in all cases had prevented some prosecutions from taking place, particularly with regard to complaints of sexual abuse. The review was designed to offer reassurance.