Crystal balls out at first minister's questions

Politicians always promise to listen to the people. In office, they also consult their civil servants and significant stakeholders.

At Holy rood today, we learned of another avenue open to the aspiring statesperson. If you want to be first, try second sight. If you want to triumph, try Tarot.

This information came courtesy of Labour's Iain Gray.

He disclosed to an astonished Holyrood chamber that there was pictorial evidence of Alex Salmond consulting a fortune teller, one Gypsy Amalia.

Apparently, one of Mr Gray's chums had sought inspiration from Amalia in Dundee. Diverting for a moment from the crystal ball, the friend had spotted a picture of Alex Salmond, displayed as one of Amalia's clients.

The air was instantly thick with fevered speculation. What could this mean? Was the economy really that bad? Or did the FM just need a decent tip for the 2.30 at Doncaster?

Mr Gray plainly felt he had exposed a weakness in his rival.

As is so often the case, there was decidedly less to this than met the eye.

Mr Salmond countered magnificently, provoking a widespread outbreak of chamber chortling.

Yes, he had had a caravan consultation with Gypsy Amalia. In 2006. At the Turra (or Turriff) Show in his constituency.

He had asked her who would win the 2007 Scottish elections. The soothsayer had tipped the SNP. One up for Gypsy Amalia.

Now, he declared with cod sincerity, he would return to Amalia's caravan. To consult her about the Labour leadership contest. Not who would win, he yelled. Just when it would be held.

Nationalists hooted in laughter as if they had just won the election all over again.

Mr Gray subsided despondently, as if Amalia had just told him that he would have to stay on as party leader for another year.