First minister's questions

From Democracy Live: First Minister Alex Salmond was challenged on finances in an independent Scotland

Perhaps the best advice one can give to aspiring politicians is: say what you intend to say, say it, then sum up what you have just said.

Tends to make your view clear - or, if it doesn't, then you've tried your best.

But there are umpteen other rhetorical devices. Assonance, antithesis, alliteration, of course - and onwards to Z.

At Holyrood today, Labour's Johann Lamont thought she would pre-empt Alex Salmond from deploying his customary oratorical devices. Or "tricks", as she called them.

Variously, she anticipated that he would: chuckle at his own jokes, cast a rueful sideways glance, quote selectively and answer, at length, a question he wasn't asked.

Ever eager to thwart, Mr Salmond of course did none of these things. At least not in response to Ms Lamont.

Rather he maintained throughout the doleful demeanour of a character in a Chekhov play who has just learned that grandpapa has hanged himself in the barn.

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Ms Lamont had another tack to deploy. She turned from rhetoric to arithmetic. Mr Salmond, she alleged, was fiddling the figures in order to sustain a case for independence.”

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Ms Lamont had another tack to deploy. She turned from rhetoric to arithmetic. Mr Salmond, she alleged, was fiddling the figures in order to sustain a case for independence.

The Labour leader seemed to feel that Mr Salmond was inclined to "enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought". To quote JFK who is in our thoughts at the moment.

Her essential claim was founded upon the report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies which had suggested that, over the longer term, an independent Scotland would struggle because of declining oil revenues and an ageing population.

But she went further, directly comparing Mr Salmond to a succession of financiers who had either committed fraud or been found wanting in their business dealings.

There was a momentary gasp from the SNP benches as she proceeded but Mr Salmond seemed unmoved.

He deliberately maintained his calm outlook as he made two points: that the IFS report indicated that Scotland, with oil, currently outranked the UK on revenue; and that the future could be improved by growing the population and the economy.

When it was her turn, Ruth Davidson for the Tories deployed a few rhetorical devices of her own.

She said the first minister was "sticking his fingers in his ears", generating "fag packet promises" and delivering a prospectus which had "more holes than Rab C's string vest". I make that caricature, metaphor and simile.

Mr Salmond demurred. Then it was Willie Rennie's chance.

The Liberal Democrat leader characterised the reorganisation of the police as a "grand mess". Mr Salmond demurred again.

Mr Rennie persisted. Police reform, he said, had been billed as a "once in a generation opportunity".

Watch out, he said, for any similarly styled initiative which might be about to emerge from the Scottish government.

I'll put that down as irony.

Brian Taylor Article written by Brian Taylor Brian Taylor Political editor, Scotland

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