Back on the beat

To be inclusive is a given for our leaders. It is to behave like the very model of a modern politician.

All must win and all must have prizes. Policies must embrace everyone. In extremis, a political leader may even pronounce that "we are all in this together".

Which, as long as they don't sing the song, is tolerable. Commendable, even. Today at Holyrood there was a startling departure from this fixed rule of political life.

The First Minister deliberately set out to exclude a sector of society from his beneficence. He cast them into outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth.

It was, declared Alex Salmond, "the worst time in Scotland to be a criminal".

In the public gallery, a small coterie of chaps in striped jumpers and black masks groaned, audibly. One even walked out in protest, slinging his Swag bag over his shoulder in a perceptibly resigned fashion.

Mr Salmond produced evidence to back up his assertion. Crime rates were well down, fear of felony was low and the citizenry could scarcely move without bumping into bobbies on the beat.

But Labour's Jenny Marra detected a flaw. There is to be a single police service from the 1st of April - and you know the foolish thing? The rules of engagement have still not been finally agreed.

Ms Marra noted that the new sole Chief Constable, Stephen House, is still involved in a dispute with the chair of the Scottish Police Authority, Vic Emery, over who has day-to-day control of matters such as personnel and finance.

Briefly, the lags in the gallery looked hopeful. Would there be a chance for a little constructive thieving while the cops were busy with an internal squabble?

Legal advice

Not a chance, said Mr Salmond. In a notably emollient tone, he said that the pair in question would meet next week and would, he forecast, resolve any differences. The lags looked at their feet, downcast once more.

More generally, Mr Salmond was ebullient. He had beaten a rap. An independent expert, Sir David Bell, had ruled that the First Minister had not broken the ministerial code with regard to the issue of legal advice on Scotland in Europe.

Mr Salmond did not exactly punch the air and yell "freedom". But there was a hint of a chuckle as he advised the chamber, en passant, that he was off the hook. Not, it was stressed, that he had expected any other outcome.

In sharply worded news releases, both Labour and the Conservatives drew attention to other elements of the report - to the effect that Mr Salmond's initial comments on the topic in a BBC interview had been "muddled and potentially confusing."

But, in the chamber, neither party leader chose to turn these sharp words into direct attacks upon the FM. Labour's Johann Lamont returned to the topic of health service provision while Ruth Davidson of the Conservatives concentrated upon community payback orders.

In each case, Mr Salmond responded with what he called a "gentle reminder" of his government's policies. Inclusive, you see. Reaching out.

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