Alex Salmond's night at the opera

Alex Salmond Image copyright PA
Image caption Alex Salmond's ministerial appointments were backed by MSPs

What's your number one favourite movie? Mine, by far, is A Night at the Opera, featuring the brothers Marx.

Indeed, I can quote much of the script from memory. Cod indignation from Groucho as he advises his dinner guest: "This bill's a disgrace - if I were you, I wouldn't pay it."

I thought of my favourite film today as I cast an eye in the direction of the Holyrood chamber where new ministers were duly endorsed for appointment by Her Majesty the Queen.

Do you remember the scene where the brothers are on board a liner en route to New York? Groucho is sitting, chin in hand, smiling benignly - but also knowingly, aware of the turmoil ahead.

He lacks the moustache and indeed the cigar. But Alex Salmond resembled Groucho in other regards - the relaxed demeanour, the contented smile, the sense that he knows more than he lets on.

And there was drollery aplenty at Holyrood today.

Much of it from Groucho in his wind-up speech - which was deft and neat.

Still more from Labour's Iain Gray.

His speech was a master class in understatement and wit. Praising John Swinney, he said the finance secretary had once been the "defeated and devastated ex-leader of his party", adding that there was "hope for us all".

Mr Swinney laughed and applauded, as did the entire chamber.

Then Mr Gray turned to the returning Stewart Stevenson. You remember, he had to quit previously after a few little local difficulties with the weather.

Iain Gray ramped up the mock rhetoric as he described the climate which had attended Mr Stevenson's re-appointment.

Gale force winds, transport networks closed, then finally volcanic ash from the "arc of prosperity".

It was well scripted, well delivered - and very well received.

Not so the speech by Willie Rennie of the Liberal Democrats. It did not help Mr Rennie that the division bell sounded as he stood to speak. It was as if the very chamber wanted to bring matters to a close, without his contribution.

Instead of matching the gentle mood of the occasion - now a Holyrood tradition - he launched an outspoken attack on the SNP and "Alex Salmond's new independence army".

I get the point. Iain Gray is standing down: he can afford to be magnanimous. Willie Rennie has just started. He needs to make his mark.

But there will be umpteen other occasions to criticise and condemn: for example tomorrow, when the government's priorities are debated.

Today Mr Rennie sat down to the supportive sound of his four colleagues applauding.

Actually, make that three. Liam MacArthur is stuck in Orkney because of the ash.