A rhertorical skelping

From Democracy Live: Alex Salmond returned to Scotland for first minister's questions

Perhaps Alex Salmond should consider giving evidence to legal inquiries more often.

Certainly, his appearance in Court 73 on the Strand seems to have added decided vigour to his persona which, it should be said, has not lacked self-confidence in the past.

At Holyrood today, Mr Salmond offered a rhetorical skelping to each and every challenge, deploying satirical humour extremely effectively in the bygoing.

Understandably, both Johann Lamont and Ruth Davidson wanted to stage Leveson, the Sequel.

They were not, it seems, content with the answers given by Mr Salmond to the inquiry in the Royal Courts of Justice. They detected gaps.

Far from being defensive, Mr Salmond went on the attack. At all points, he said, his concern had been to protect the thousands of Scottish jobs associated with BSkyB and News International.

Both the Labour and Tory leaders made substantive points, challenging the scope of the potential advantage to Scotland by comparison with the effort undertaken by the First Minister.

But, on the day, Mr Salmond successfully contrived to make their complaints sound like an echo in a cavern by contrast with the clear succinct message he was delivering: that jobs were at stake.

Plainly buoyed, Mr Salmond directed his carefully targeted ire elsewhere. Michael McMahon raised a constituency jobs issue - but then turned it into a political attack, suggesting that the FM was selective in his offers of help. This drew a furious response.

Labour's Kezia Dugdale raised the issue of modern apprenticeships - and argued that the FM had been economical with the truth as to how many recipients of such programmes were already in work.

The First Minister pointed out that the rules had not changed since Labour's day, that a much lower percentage now entered the scheme from existing employment - and that the number of apprenticeships had increased hugely. Ms Dugdale's question, he growled, amounted to "effrontery".

Ditto in responding to Willie Rennie, who questioned the well-paid directorship taken up by Lena Wilson of Scottish Enterprise. Such a move, he said, would expand her expertise and thus benefit Scotland. There were no conflicts of interest - and she had voluntarily given up public sector bonuses, negotiated by the previous administration of which Mr Rennie's party had been a member.

At sundry points, there were grumblings - including from Ms Lamont - that the First Minister's delivery was rehearsed and preplanned: that his gags were scripted. To which one might make two points. No senior politician enters a rhetorical contest unprepared. And, on this evidence, rehearsal sharpens the performance.

Fun and games.

Brian Taylor, Political editor, Scotland Article written by Brian Taylor Brian Taylor Political editor, Scotland

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