Comedy and comrades

comedy masks Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The comedy on offer in the Holyrood chamber does not always match that at the Fringe

Gavin Brown rose slowly and with a solemn demeanour. Fixing the first minister with the extra serious gaze reserved for extra important matters, Mr Brown intoned: "Will the first minister promise to keep the Local Income Tax rate secret until after the referendum?"

OK, maybe you had to be there - or maybe the bar for comedy is set a little lower at Holyrood than at the Fringe. But the non-Nationalist sections of the chamber guffawed supportively.

For a moment - but only a moment - Alex Salmond seemed a mite discomfited. He said the SNP manifesto had promised to consult on a fairer, more progressive system of council taxation - after the referendum result had defined Scotland's future tax powers more generally.

To this, he would adhere. Mr Brown, a Conservative MSP with a reputation for dry wit, subsided, smiling.

Educational standards

It was a theme of the day: the suggestion that Scottish Ministers are averse to anything which might provoke a contrary reaction from voters at the referendum.

Labour's Johann Lamont implied that the Scottish government might have intervened to "water down" a report by Audit Scotland on educational standards in school.

According to Ms Lamont, an early draft contained criticisms which did not survive to the published version.

She wondered what had happened to them, noting en passant that "the first casualty" of the Scottish government was truth.

Mr Salmond said this was "impugning the integrity" of Audit Scotland. He said that Scotland's scholastic performance had been declining under Labour - but that this had been reversed.

Audit Scotland later issued a statement to the effect that the draft had been sent to various bodies to check for accuracy.

This, said both they and the Scottish government, was entirely standard practice. Ministers demanded a retraction from Labour.

'The comrades'

The day generated another theme: Alex Salmond's assertion that his opponents were in active collaboration with each other.

He referred regularly to them as "the comrades" and went so far as to draw attention to the attire sported by Ruth Davidson, she of the Tories.

It was a jacket of scarlet hue, comparable to the colour of the standard raised high in the anthem sung with varying degrees of enthusiasm at the conclusion of Labour conferences.

Mr Davidson noted drily that she was content to take compliments where she found them - before pursuing the first minister assiduously over the issue of the start-up costs of independence.

Willie Rennie followed the same course, prompting Mr Salmond, once more, to proclaim the existence of a Unionist cabal.

The session ended in extra time with Ms Davidson joining a late flurry over the question of whether alcohol should once more be allowed in Scottish football grounds.

The Tory thinking is that fans should be allowed to buy a beer along with their burger inside stadium concourses. They do not envisage a return to the days of fans lugging a rucksack replete with carry-out.

Mr Salmond noted that the police were less than convinced and he was inclined to take guidance from that quarter.