CONSIDER THIS little exchange at last week's First Minister's Questions at Holyrood...
Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie asked: "How many civil servants are working for the new minister for independence and how much is it costing?"
Alex Salmond: "Somewhat less than are working in Downing Street trying to argue the case against the Scottish people…
"Moving somebody of Alex Neil’s formidable talents into the health service indicates and vindicates the strength of feeling of this party in favour of a National Health Service that is free at the point of need. Would that the Liberals in England would resist the Tory attempts to dismantle the national health service in England…
"There was a time in Scotland when members of the Liberal Party actually believed in genuine home rule and controlling the finances of Scotland. Under the leadership of Willie Rennie and his immediate predecessor, that enthusiasm for genuine self-government has disappeared. That is probably why the party is reduced to a rump in this Parliament."
Rennie: Can it really be justified for taxpayers to pay her and for so many civil servants to be devoted to the SNP’s cause? Come on, tell us."
Salmond: "I consider Willie Rennie’s allegations “preposterous and his interpretation of the incidents fanciful”."Those are not my words but the words of Alison Elliot, the former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, who had to respond to a similar ridiculous and nonsensical attack from Willie Rennie."
This little exchange says so much about the corrupted and debased state of Scottish public life under Nationalism. Let us take a step back and examine this exchange for what it really says. First Minister's Questions is a chance for opposition politicians to ask questions of the First Minister. It is hardly likely that they are going to be clapping him on the back and applauding his every action but nevertheless a courteous and clear question deserves a courteous and clear reply.
That is what was asked. What came back was a bullying, contemptuous, arrogant, inaccurate and abusive tirade. The sort of tirade which if it happened to you in the street would have you shaking with anger, a kind of political road rage that anyone dare challenge you. You would give anyone a bodyswerve who did this to you and yet this is the behaviour of the First Minister of Scotland in the formal setting of his Parliament.
Note too that no restraint whatsoever was placed on him. He simply was allowed to use up precious time in abuse and irrelevance. The Presiding Officer did nothing.
This short exchange says so much about the First Minister's contempt for others, his belief that democracy has no application to him, his dislike of challenge and free speech. And, without meaning too, it says so much about his Scotland. It is an embarrassment.
But it says something deeper too. The sheer aggression, the sheer ‘Cmoan ya bampot’ style, actually bespeaks a real and deep insecurity. The answer that is not an answer is covering up the First Minister's knowledge of just how much he is spending, how much of the civil service he is subsuming, and the deep and uneasy knowledge that this is wrong.
Perhaps I attribute too much sensitivity to the First Minister. Brutal monstering has always been a susbstitute for debate in his eyes and it is a methodology which he has done his best to teach his party. Who of us on disagreeing with a Nationalist has not been subject to Cybernat assault, personal abuse, discrete briefings against, and the full weight of a thuggery that substitutes volume and quantity of noise for argument?
Who of us has not noticed that Nationalist arguments proceed so often by assertion followed by reiteration, whatever arguments are presented against. It is a depressing prospect for the next few years and a deep warning as to the future that is planned for us when in an independent Scotland all controls can be ridden over, all dissent stifled and free speech turned into a hollow mockery.
No doubt, like so many decent questions before, it will take a Freedom of Information request to get the truth out of the SNP government. Will this one be denied yet again, will this one end up in court like others before it?
In the meantime Willie Rennie's question hangs in the air. Will anyone answer it?