A hint of courtroom drama

We do not yet have the rules and regulations which will govern the independence referendum, but it would appear that we have a pretty fair indication of the shape of the campaign.

Indeed, both sides were rehearsing their arguments at Holyrood today.

The first minister founded his pitch upon the concept of self-determination. That issue was further highlighted in the main debate when the SNP chose to hark back to the Claim of Right (the 1988 version, that is).

This asserted "the sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs".

Only the very churlish would recall that the SNP did not actually sign said claim, having withdrawn from the cross-party Constitutional Convention at an earlier stage, on the grounds that the initiative effectively precluded the option of independence.

For the Nationalists, it was an understandable decision at the time - and enabled devolved consensus which was then underpinned by SNP support in the 1997 referendum.

But it still jars just a little with some in SNP ranks.

Nevertheless, support for Scottish self-determination is at the core of the Nationalist offer, and their tactics today were to remind rival parties of that issue, particularly with an eye to encouraging the concept of a putative second question on devo max in the referendum.

More than that, though, Alex Salmond sought to translate that concept into practical application when he was questioned by Labour's Johann Lamont.

What, she queried, did independence mean?

Was there just a touch of contrived weariness in Mr Salmond's voice as he explained, with mock patience, that independence meant the right to stand on one's own two feet: the "normal status of some 200 nations across the planet".

Further, he argued that it would give Scotland to pursue an alternative economic strategy - and to avoid what he regarded as the iniquitous curbs upon welfare payments to those with disabilities.

We then had a series of substantive exchanges on the issue of the currency - already emerging as a key attack line for those of a Unionist persuasion, rivalled only by defence.

It is SNP policy that an independent Scotland would keep the pound, at least in the first instance and, one presumes, for the immediate future given the toxic image currently attaching to the Euro.

That would mean, said Ms Lamont, that monetary policy would continue to be determined by the Bank of England which would also be expected to act as the lender of last resort for Scotland, by then a foreign country.

It was, she argued, taking Mr Salmond's self-declared stance as an Anglophile a little far.

This time with a touch more impatience, Mr Salmond explained that the Bank of England was already independent, that its policies were not determined by Westminster politicians, that Scotland currently had zero influence in Threadneedle Street (hence, no change) and that there were some 67 countries around the world in currency unions or informal monetary arrangements.

They then exchanged sundry insults about Sir Fred Goodwin (you praised him, your party knighted him) before each arriving at their core arguments.

Job prospects

The early substance of the referendum campaign.

Mr Salmond argued that an independent country would be the sixth wealthiest nation in the OECD - but went on to stress that the fundamental case for independence rested with self-determination.

Ms Lamont relied upon voicing uncertainty.

She said that Mr Salmond's claims were founded upon "hope and belief" - insufficient, she said, when the people of Scotland wanted confidence with regard to their pensions and mortgages.

Set aside for a moment the question of whether there is widespread confidence at present. Instead, consider the nature of the argument.

Johann Lamont is not saying that Scotland could not be independent. She is not saying that an independent Scotland would inevitably be impoverished.

Rather, she is relying upon uncertainty. What guarantees would there be for hard-pressed families, worried about their job, their home and their prospects?

What assurances?

It was more than a little like a court-room advocate seeking to sow a sense of doubt in the minds of a jury.

As things stand, it will be the autumn of 2014 before Scots are invited to go and consider their verdict.