Scotland politics

The many sides of Alex Salmond

We saw three sides of Alex Salmond on display in Holyrood today as he faced his weekly session of questions.

There was the governmental - as he announced a formal investigation into the role of Strathclyde Fire and Rescue with regard to the tragic death of Alison Hume.

He was, of course, serious and solemn with regard to this announcement - while deftly contriving to indicate that he was in no sense questioning the aims and motivations of the officers on site who attempted to rescue Ms Hume from a disused mineshaft.

And the other two sides? These emerged in his varying responses to Labour's outgoing leader, Iain Gray, and the Tory ingenue, Ruth Davidson.

To Mr Gray, he was brutally dismissive, to Ms Davidson lightly so. Perhaps it was down to the topics but, on the day, I felt he was more effective towards Mr Gray.

The exchanges with the Labour leader were loud and acerbic.

Mr Gray accused the FM of talking "MacMince". Mr Salmond suggested that Labour was on the road to extinction.

Mr Gray, perhaps rashly, referred to the awards won by Mr Salmond. (The FM is both the Herald and the Spectator Politician of the Year.)

Rash because it instantly drew attention to the dusty gaps on the Labour leader's mantelpiece.

But it was but a prelude to Mr Gray suggesting that the FM would be a shoo-in for "complacent politician of the year" with regard to youth unemployment, particularly in the light of college spending cuts.

Mr Salmond listed efforts by his government to improve the situation, listed global companies investing in Scotland - and listed the obstacles laid in his path by Westminster cuts which, he suggested, had their origin in Labour's handling of the economy.

It was a substantive attack - and an effective rebuttal.

Ruth Davidson chose to spotlight the strain on the train in the form of suggestions from Transport Scotland for the future of the railways.

In essence, these involve paying more to stand for the duration of the journey on a train with no toilets. Oh, and booze is to be banned too.

I exaggerate, of course, but Ms Davidson detected a "screeching U-turn" by ministers from their "finger's length" transport organisation.

It has been indicated, privately, that the more extreme plans in the report have minimal chance of making it into the station.

Smiling broadly, Mr Salmond was at pains to reassure his inquisitor. Nothing to fret about. Nothing to see. Move on. Only a consultation. Ministers would decide.

Ms Davidson declined to be assuaged - and suggested that the report also hinted at a cloud over long-term investment because of constitutional uncertainty.

Soothing smile

To be precise, the constitutional issue is raised in the report en passant in relation to whether rail contracts might be short or long-term.

It is noted that other factors might in any event point towards short term.

But the point had been made - and Mr Salmond responded. His soothing smile grew ever broader as he stressed, again, that global companies were lining up to invest in Scotland.

He counselled Ms Davidson to hose down her Tory colleagues over the border in North-east England who have apparently been uttering envious remarks about Scottish investment.

From Ms Davidson, it was an effective showing: indeed, the Tories were quick off the mark generally about this controversy.

And was Mr Salmond shaken? What do you think?