Hold the front page

The first minister and his principal opponent, it seems, have been reading their newspapers and reaching rather different conclusions as a consequence.

Such an endeavour - reading the blatts, that is, not falling out - is undoubtedly to be encouraged, not least to provide succour to my journalistic colleagues and friends who strive in another part of the news forest from myself.

Labour's Johann Lamont had been reading the Washington Post. In an editorial, the Post had queried whether an independent Scotland was a good thing. For the Scots, it reckoned probably not. For the Americans, it concluded definitely not in that it would "significantly weaken the foremost military and diplomatic ally of the United States" while creating another European mini-state with minimal clout.

In particular, the Post pondered the prospect that the remainder of the UK, sans Scotland, might face a challenge to the current set-up which affords Britain permanent membership of the Security Council of the United Nations.

Regular readers of this blog will know that this is a thought which has also occurred, albeit obliquely, to diplomats in the UK.

Then the clincher from Ms Lamont, aimed directly at the first minister. She offered the view that the Washington Post - which exposed Richard Nixon's corruption - was well able to spot a "chancer" in the person of the FM.

Fervant appeals

Cue outrage on the SNP benches, some of it authentic. Mr Salmond looked serene and just a little sad. But his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon, appeared notably exercised.

Ms Sturgeon appeared to be suggesting that the Presiding Officer, Tricia Marwick, might intervene to chide Ms Lamont for her choice of language.

Certainly, only this week the PO had felt it necessary to advise MSPs to choose their words with care in these troubled times.

Despite Ms Sturgeon's fervent appeals, the PO sat silent on this occasion. We learned later that she had thought the comments tolerable - in context. The FM, it seems, had been depicted as a contextualised chancer.

Mr Salmond arose and we then learned the cause of his evident calmness. He too had been reading the papers.

He first quoted a string of other US newspapers which had apparently been rather warm towards Scottish independence - or, at least, not averse. One had talked of Scotland being "master of its economy".

Then he turned back home to an interview given to the Guardian a year back by Ms Lamont. In it, she had seemingly lamented the tendency in political debate to "play the man" rather than the issues. She would, apparently, desist.

Mr Salmond recalled that, in recent weeks, she had called him "stupid Wee Eck, a sucker, devious and a corkscrew." The contrast drawn, Mr Salmond subsided to raucous supportive laughter from the SNP benches, only faintly inflated for the occasion.

In comparable fashion, both Ruth Davidson of the Tories and Willie Rennie of the Liberal Democrats suggested that the FM was given to assertions which were not supported by evidence.

Starting afresh

Further, they suggested that he had failed to seek such evidence from, among others, law officers, the European Commission, the Bank of England and the Treasury with regard to, among other things, Scottish membership of the EU, NATO and a putative sterling zone.

Mr Salmond - who has now sought formal legal advice from Scotland's law officers on the EU issue - quoted at length from Graham Avery, a senior academic and Honorary Director General of the European Commission to the effect that Scotland would negotiate from within the EU and would be likely to obtain advantages as a small member state.

The FM also noted that the UK government had declined to take up the offer of legal advice from the European Commission on the question (the Commission had indicated it would respond, on this topic, to the member state, the UK).

The UK position is that it does not require to obtain legal advice from the European Commission - but that its own information is that "the most likely scenario" is that RUK would continue as the member state, with Scotland starting afresh.

There is another reason, of course, why the UK will not engage with the Commission on this. The UK government, as a policy position, has decided that it will not countenance anything which looks like preparing for the prospect of independence. No contingency planning - on the currency, the EU, defence or anything else - lest the citizens think that the UKG is contemplating defeat in 2014.

For all of us, for now, back to reading the papers. In my case, at least, studiously avoiding the back pages after events in the vicinity of Tannadice last night.