Scotland politics

Supreme row continues

It is a truth universally acknowledged, to adapt Miss Austen, that a politician who wants to "move on" is one who is in trouble, to some degree.

Alex Salmond is currently in that condition with regard to the controversy over the role of the UK Supreme Court in Scots criminal law cases.

Mr Salmond would like us all to focus upon the dispassionate, governmental steps he is now taking to address the issue.

Has he not set up an expert team to advise on possible action? Is this not sensible and wise? Is this not ministerial? Move on.

Ah, say his opponents, we recognise there is an issue to address.

But how about the FM's attack upon a judge, a newspaper and a human rights lawyer in an interview with Holyrood magazine?

Do those comments - variously described by opponents as "crude", "bellicose" and "outrageous" - not act as an obstacle to calm, moderate consideration?

It is fairly evident at Holyrood that Team Salmond would prefer that these comments had not been delivered.

One can surmise this from the fact that the Scottish government is anxious to draw attention to their relatively dusty pedigree: they featured in an interview two weeks ago when the controversy was in lively form.

Move on.

So why not apologise? Point one, Mr Salmond does not do contrition easily. Point two, he believes it might undermine his substantive case that the legal structure requires redress.

During questions to the first minister, Iain Gray made the most effective attack.

He repeatedly challenged Mr Salmond over the impact of his "ignorant" remarks, suggesting they had undermined the independence of the judiciary.

Annabel Goldie made a powerful contribution too - although she perhaps went a little too far in suggesting, en passant, that Mr Salmond might be liable to prosecution for "murmuring" a judge.

Set aside the fact that he did not so much murmur as yell. Can you imagine the scene? "Put up the Right Honourable Alex Salmond".

Maybe he could appeal to Strasbourg.

Willie Rennie of the Liberal Democrats was a little disadvantaged by coming late to the exchanges, after constituency questions.

Still, he piled in with gusto, only slightly weakening it by diverting onto the topic of prison numbers at Cornton Vale.

In response to each, Mr Salmond resolutely declined to apologise.

He had a duty, he argued, to defend the integrity of Scots Law which was now under threat from unwarranted interventions by the UK Supreme Court.

On Mr Salmond's behalf, it was stressed later that he had not described Lord Hope's judgements in the Supreme Court as "extreme". That adjective had attached to the political consequences on such matters as slopping out and the presence of lawyers during police questioning.

Still, he was scarcely complimentary.

Mr Salmond pointed out that a 2008 Holyrood statute had entrenched judicial independence.

In response, critics - including the Scotland Office Minister David Mundell - pointed out that that same statute placed an explicit obligation to support and protect the judiciary upon, among others, the first minister.