Alex Salmond's final First Minister's Questions

alex salmond leaving Holyrood chamber Image copyright PA

Every melody has its own rhythm, every symphony its leitmotif. Perhaps one might exempt John Cage's 4'33" - which features resolute silence. Even there, though, there is a structure. Three movements of proudly untouched instruments with shuffling feet, provided by the stoical audience.

Similarly, it has been a consistent theme of Labour at Holyrood that Alex Salmond tends not to provide a direct answer to questions posed by his opponents.

Week after week, successive Labour leaders - and there have been quite a few of them - could be seen plaintively appealing to the chair. Successive officers presiding have noted that the content of answers is a matter for the respondent.

So Jackie Baillie thought she would try just one last time. She is the stand-in at Holyrood for the departed Johann Lamont. Not the acting leader: that is Anas Sarwar. Not the next leader: perm one from three.

Final kick

Aside from that issue of entitlement, Ms Baillie faced a problem. She had not come to praise Caesar. That happens next Tuesday when Mr Salmond makes his departing statement.

However, it was his last shottie at First Minister's Questions. She could not entirely ignore that. So she essayed a blend. Acknowledging his departure - but with one final kick as he prepared to exit.

It was not entirely a comfortable combination. Her shout of "cheerio" at the end sounded a tad curious, like an unwarranted yelp during one of the silent bits in Pinter. However, she mostly contrived to criticise with a smile, to carp with a grin. It was, mostly, effective.

Back to her opening salvo? The FM had been in place for seven and a half years. He had faced questions in the chamber on two hundred and fifteen occasions. Could he sum up his contribution in a single word?

His reply? "No". OK, you had to be there. But the deft delivery and droll demeanour made this a winner - although the raucous laughter on the SNP benches was perhaps a little disproportionate.

The FM explained that one word was "hardly adequate" for the task of describing Salmond, S.

Image copyright AP
Image caption John Cage's work 4'33" is performed in silence

Ms Baillie persisted, reverting to another Labour leitmotif: that Mr Salmond had been so obsessed with the pursuit of independence that he had neglected the day job of using existing devolved powers in the interests of Scotland.

Mr Salmond responded with a list of achievements, laying most emphasis upon free higher education. Then he switched to attack mode. Rather effectively, as it happened.

Folk in Scotland, he averred, no longer knew what Labour stood for. But they did know who they stood with. With the Tories, in the referendum. That, he suggested, left Labour "destined for destruction".

He concluded by suggesting that Jackie Baillie might usefully pass this on to the next elected Labour leader. Free, gratis.

By contrast, the exchanges with Ruth Davidson seemed a mite formulaic. You ruined the economy. No, your lot did. The only element which caught attention was when Alex Salmond drew attention to remarks made by the First Sea Lord to the effect that naval orders might not be destined for the Clyde.

Ms Davidson noted that such decisions were taken not by admirals but by elected politicians in the Ministry of Defence. Mr Salmond said he would be writing to the PM. And that was that.

The Liberal Democrats are so depleted in numbers at Holyrood these days that they are not entitled to a question every week. Today had been due to be an "off day" for Willie Rennie - who looked, one is pleased to report, fighting fit on his return from minor surgery.

Biggest laugh

However, sagaciously, the Presiding Officer opted to let him in on a supplementary question in order that he could join the final day fun.

Inevitably, this meant that his contribution was brief. But that very brevity perhaps enlivened him. In any event, his question produced the biggest laugh.

Mr Rennie noted that Mr Salmond had resigned as party leader on a previous occasion. Further, Mr Salmond had stated firmly that he would not return. Mr Salmond then duly returned. Assuming his best mock-solemn face, Mr Rennie insisted on checking that the FM was definitely going this time.

In response, Mr Salmond offered a droll explanation for his previous comeback. He told a lengthy story about the former National Liberals, noting that they had been swallowed up by the Tories. A lesson to bear in mind, he counselled Mr Rennie.

It was all very fine, all very entertaining and all in keeping with the mood. It was not, however, an answer. Not, at least, to the precise question posed by Mr Rennie.

As the chamber waited, Mr Salmond noted that he was being heckled on the subject by Nicola Sturgeon, his heir decidedly apparent. Not, he said, a common experience.

And the answer? You know what. It never came. He never quite got to it.

Displaying her second bout of sagacity for the day, Tricia Marwick in the chair presumed that he had - and added her congratulations to Mr Salmond on surviving his final session of questions as FM.

For the avoidance of any doubt, Alex Elliot Anderson Salmond will stand down as SNP leader tomorrow and as first minister next week.

After that, on to the election of Nicola Sturgeon as the new FM, the publication of the Smith Commission report, the choice of a new Scottish Labour leader. And the UK General Election. Rhythm, cadence.