The combative, consensual and dismissive Mr Salmond

We witnessed three sides to Alex Salmond in the chamber today. (I nearly wrote "faces" but that would have implied something completely different - and not in a Pythonesque fashion.)

Those sides were, in order of appearance, combative, consensual and dismissive.

Of course, it is possible to be all three at once, even in a single answer. For example, a Minister might declare: "I will pay no heed to that argument. It is complete and total bilge - and I feel sure that, on wiser reflection, my opponent will agree."

However, Mr Salmond decided to scatter his talents around, in Parable fashion. (And, yes, I do know that the word has two meanings.)

To Labour's Johann Lamont, he was dismissive. In fact, both were in rather good form - perhaps one might chalk the encounter down as a scoring draw. With, of course, prolonged extra time yet to be played.

Ms Lamont raised the issue of child care. Why (oh why), she inquired, were the struggling families of Scotland being forced to wait for a further two years before the FM's pledge of enhanced provision was enshrined in law and enacted?

Mr Salmond's reply was to the effect that he was doing much more than Labour had, either at Holyrood or Westminster. Except that he put it rather more elegantly than that - and with more sums.

There were good lines on either side. Ms Lamont quoted Mr Salmond's conference speech, duly prompting cheers from the SNP benches. That, she riposted, had been "for the children at the back."

When the topic of Glasgow Council was raised, Mr Salmond advised his opponent against pursuing that route, noting that Labour was losing councillors in the city more rapidly than they had shed votes in the Holyrood election.

Then to the consensual - or pained consensual - bit. Ruth Davidson for the Conservatives raised the topic of the drug abiretarone. The drug may prolong life for prostate cancer sufferers but the Scottish Medicines Consortium has ruled that the balance of costs and benefits meant it was not value for money.

Rich and powerful

Ms Davidson argued for Scottish Government intervention. Mr Salmond said it would be wrong to interfere and over-turn expert advice. Ms Davidson said she was arguing for a Scottish cancer drugs fund. Mr Salmond cited significant flaws with such an approach.

Perhaps he was tempted to suggest to his opponent that she was flat wrong - but he resisted, only too aware that there can scarcely be a more sensitive subject than the availability of medical treatment.

Image copyright AP
Image caption The Scottish government has been consulting on gay marriage

And so he urged the entire chamber, Ms Davidson included, to consider the substance of the issue.

Finally, to Willie Rennie of the Liberal Democrats, we witnessed Salmond dismissive. Mr Rennie - in an eerie echo of comparable claims made by Johann Lamont - started by linking the FM's name with the rich and the powerful.

Then to the substance. Would Mr Salmond ignore the likes of Brian Souter (prominent SNP financial backer) - and agree to gay marriage on an equal basis?

Mr Souter was duly ignored - in that Mr Salmond did not answer that point at all. Rather, he urged Mr Rennie to await the outcome of the Scottish consultation exercise while noting that ministers had begun the process minded to endorse the plan.

The Lib Dem leader tried again, citing a veritable hierarchy of "serious forces" ranged against the idea, notably in the Roman Catholic Church. Stand firm, he urged. Again, Mr Salmond declined to play to the rules laid down by his opponent. Consultation meant just that -and was not helped by overblown rhetoric.

The Scottish Government's consultation closed at the end of last year - and its 50,000 replies are now being assessed. A decision is promised "in the spring". But then these days, in climate change Scotland, the seasons are so malleable.

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