'They're behind you'

As an ambush, it was rather effective.

Labour's Johann Lamont raised the case of two pensioners, Helen Macbeth and Jack Barr, who were allegedly left without blankets while in the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley.

First Minister Alex Salmond duly offered reassurances that any such cases would be examined by the Health Secretary while stressing the extent of his government's commitment to the NHS.

Only at that point did Ms Lamont disclose that the two individuals were in the public gallery. "They're behind you", as she was undoubtedly tempted to yell.

Ms Lamont then demanded that Mr Salmond should meet the pair - in her office - to apologise and explain.

They duly met the first minister - in his office.

Well, what are you going to do? You're the FM. You can't meet every single Scot with a grievance.

But you've been put on the spot by a ruse. So, of course, you take the meeting.

Elderly patients

Both pensioners emerged, pleased that they had had a chance to state their case - and reassured, to a certain extent, by the promise that their grievance would be investigated.

So what do we learn? It is asserted by the government and health authorities that there is no issue with resources - contrary, say ministers, to claims previously made by Labour.

Blankets? We got 'em!

Rather, it is claimed, the problem lies with the distribution of bed linen from the relevant central store. Not, one would fancy, a great source of comfort to shivering patients.

Perhaps this is how democracy works. A complaint works its way up the pyramid to the first minister. Then ministerial displeasure works its way back down to the linen store, brushing past sundry eager officials in the by-going.

One can only, sincerely, hope that the health authorities find a way to match elderly patients with blankets in future.

So a successful - if, one presumes, unrepeatable - initiative by Ms Lamont.

Budget concerns

Ruth Davidson who heads the Tories faced a rather more difficult task.

She wanted to talk about the money "diverted" within the health budget to fund free prescriptions which, by definition, benefit those on decent incomes as well as the dispossessed.

Alex Salmond, of course, wanted to talk about the Budget - and, in particular, the removal of additional personal allowances from the elderly. (Are you listening in the gallery, Helen and Jack?)

The more Ms Davidson pursued the inequity of free prescriptions, the more Mr Salmond cited the impact of the budget change.

In vain did Ms Davidson and colleagues list good things in the budget - such as the overall hike in personal allowances plus the increase in the state pension.

Right now, it would seem that the pension allowance switch is playing badly.

I would not be at all surprised if we have a relatively swift initiative from the UK government to mitigate the issue or seek to deflect attention.