Birthday girl takes centre stage

So, how did Alex Salmond handle the Birthday Girl, she who now leads the Scottish Tories, she who was confronting him for the first time?

No rousing chorus of Happy Birthday, Dear Ruth - but, equally, no attempt to blow out her 33 candles and kick over her cake.

Indeed, Mr Salmond reserved his battling stance for Iain Gray - with contention back and forth over whether an independent Scotland would require to adopt the Euro.

For Ruth Davidson, he opted for tiptoes - rather than kick-boxing, the new Tory leader's sport of choice.

She smiled and smiled but, to transfigure the Dane, she allocated the role of villain to Mr Salmond.

He was, apparently, "feart". (Mrs Thatcher would have said "frit" but this is Scotland and these are different times.)

Feart to address the Euro issue, feart to name the day for an independence referendum and feart to choose the question(s).

Mr Salmond rose with a practised weariness like an experienced QC about to explain the contents of the Scotland Bill to the office intern.

He was, deliberately, neither aggressive nor patronising. No votes in dissing the new kid on the block. (Who said "he'll leave that to Tory MSPs?" Take that person's name.)

Pausing for the merest second to refer to the apparent dischord which had accompanied her rather bruising front-bench reshuffle, he noted that he would be sticking to his election pledge to hold a referendum in the latter half of the present Holyrood session.

There would, he said, be a "straight yes or no question" on independence. Aha and oho, trumpeted opponents later. (They talk like that in the Garden Lobby.) Was this Mr Salmond conceding ground?

In short, no. Calm down at the back. He has always said there would be a vote on independence. This formulation in no way precludes offering a further straight yes or no on Devo Max.

So, how Ms Davidson do? She did fine. She survived. A decent start - especially considering that the bulk of those around her had voted for another contender for leader.

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