First minister's questions

The late, great Gerard Kelly told me a tale concerning an occasion when he was indulging in a peregrination along Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow.

Ambling along, minding his own business, he chanced to pass a chap in a bunnet. Said chap, without looking up from his pavement stare, simply uttered the words "behind you" as he passed the actor.

It was, of course, a succinct Glaswegian reference to a core element of Kelly's career. That of pantomime. He was, I believe, appearing at the King's in the city at the time.

Maybe our politicians could usefully adopt the oratorical brevity of Kelly's bonneted chum.

Questions to the first minister went into extra time today - entirely due to exceptionally lengthy exchanges involving the front benches. At one point, there was a danger of penalties.

Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick was driven to remonstrate on a couple of occasions - including a gentle suggestion to the first minister that he might cease and desist from speaking.

This intervention was only slightly spoiled by the fact that the FM, perhaps sensing the chair's disquiet, was in the process of ceasing and desisting even as the rebuke was issued.

Anyway, panto was the theme throughout. Labour's Johann Lamont cited statistics which indicated that teacher numbers were down while class sizes were up.

She depicted the FM as living in a fantasy world in which such issues did not register.

At one point, SNP members cheered her ironically. (She had just indicated she was about to finish.) Ms Lamont looked up and deployed her most ferocious teacherly glare as she growled: "The children are obviously not away to the pantomime today."

In response, the first minister said that the effort to bring down class sizes had been thwarted by the financial crisis (author, he said, Labour) and the subsequent spending cuts (author, he said, the Tories and the LibDems.)

He said further that the figures were still better than under Labour. (Oh no they weren't, oh yes they were, oh no . . . you get the concept.)

Terminological inexactitude

And he said that the reduction in teachers was solely due to one council, Labour-led Glasgow. Ms Lamont demurred and on we went.

The panto spirit returned when Ruth Davidson got to her feet. Not because she was jovial. Far from it. Rather she was exhorting the audience to spot the villain - and to boo.

Challenging the first minister over the issue of Scotland in Europe, she said he had become the "Pinocchio of Scottish politics", his nose lengthening each time he misled the public.

This was too much for Ms Marwick, in the chair. Pinocchio, it seems, is not a parliamentary term.

It implies that the individual in question is guilty of terminological inexactitude, to the evident hazard of his beezer.

Ms Davidson was referring to a letter cited by Mr Salmond.

Image caption An independent Scotland's membership of the European Union was again raised

This missive, from the European Commission, had been scanned from the internet - but no matter. It was genuine and its purport was that it would be feasible to change European Treaties to enable Scotland to negotiate independent membership of the EU from within.

According to the Tory leader, a further letter, clarifying this, had been placed in parliament's information office.

This letter stressed that the commission's position had not changed from that set out by their President, Jose Manuel Barroso, to the effect that seceding territories would not be covered by treaty and thus would have to negotiate membership.

Again according to Ms Davidson, this means the FM was selective in his quotation to the extent of misleading the public.

The adamant response from the Scottish government is that the FM was not aware of the further letter when he cited the first one.

Further, they dispute that the further letter necessarily countermands entirely the potential import of the other one.

At this point, all the party leaders vanished in a puff of theatrical smoke - as an evil, cackling laugh issued from the wings.