Displays of tone in referendum debate

A disparate display of tone in the Holyrood debate on the independence referendum: both conciliatory and crushing at one and the same time.

The conciliation came in repeated emphasis from the first minister that he would involve other parties - and, of course, the people of Scotland - in his consultation document, due to be unleashed within a fortnight.

The crushing content came in sundry sharp comments sent spinning round the banana-shaped chamber as MSPs exchanged advice and insults with each other.

In one sense, we learned relatively little of practical import. But then that is where the debate is at the moment: the earliest of early days in terms of sorting out the rules for the coming plebiscite.

Labour complained at one point that the government's amendment did not specify that opposition parties would be included in consultation.

John Swinney appeared less than impressed. I am not certain but, from assiduous lip-reading, I thought I detected the phrase "ah, the wee souls" or something to that effect.

In any event, Alex Salmond remedied the defect, explaining later that opposition parties did indeed count among the people of Scotland.

Both in the debate and at question time, Labour's Johann Lamont was effective. She sounded serious, aggrieved and pragmatic at the same time.

It would also appear that she has developed a technique for dealing with heckling. Rather than shouting more loudly or appealing to the chair (which can look weak), she simply glares silently at her antagonist before proceeding.

Clearly, those years as a teacher have not been wasted.

But, as ever, Alex Salmond was on fine form. Droll and dry where warranted. Serious, even elegaic, where suitable.

His opponents claimed that there was little of substance in his speech. But then this was an opposition debate - and Mr Salmond is promising detail in the consultation paper.

And, then, the inevitable row over patriotism.

The SNP's Joan McAlpine said that her party's opponents - Labour, Tory, LibDem - were "anti-Scottish in coming together to defy the will of the Scottish people".

This generated angry protests from said opponents who felt that their credentials as Caledonians had been unfairly traduced. They suggested she reconsider or quit.

In response later, she said she saw no contradiction between Scottish patriotism and the political views of her rivals - but she did resent them "ganging up" against "Scotland's democratic right".

More, I suspect, to come in like vein.