FMQs is usually a display of brimstone, bluff and bluster from our imitiable showman of a First Minister. Occasionally he surprises and behaves like a grown up, just to remind us (or maybe himself) that he still can. Increasingly, though, he's been all over the place in recent months. He knows that the SNP's star is most definitely waning. Their election was pretty much a disaster - they didn't increase their seats at all despite boasts of a target of 20 seats. Maybe if nothing else the experience has taught them about expectation management. Next May looms closer and the Government normally has to fight on its record - but it's hard to see exactly what the SNP has actually been doing since May 2007.
Today when he was replying to Iain Gray's questions about business rates, he seemed distracted and subdued. Mind you, it's an issue his Government has been found well and truly wanting on. Basically, there's been a business rates revaluation which has resulted in some businesses see their rates bills go up by 200%. There's a particular issue with pre-school nurseries in Fife which have seen huge rises. The revaluation is carried out by an independent assessor so Salmond tried to do what he always does - find someone else to blame. Not so fast, though. In England the rises have been brought in gradually, whereas here it's come as a huge shock. Mr S might want to think about that when he delivers two years' cuts for the price of one next year, by the way.
Anyway, it's good to see that our Leader of the Opposition has finally caught up with an issue that Tavish Scott and the Scottish Liberal Democrats have been campaigning on for months. Maybe he wanted to make a good impression on one David Miliband who was watching from the public gallery.
The best question came from Tavish Scott, though. Listing, at some length, the various crises in education at the moment - the debacle of the curriculum for excellence in secondary schools, teacher numbers falling, class sizes rising, manifesto pledges broken (although of course that's the Councils' fault, not the SNP Government's according to, er, Mr Salmond), he asked the First Minister to say what he'd written to Education Conveners about recently.
For a fraction of a second, I thought Salmond looked a trifle shamefaced as he realised that he looked like Nero fiddling as Rome burned before he admitted that his letter was encouraging the Councils to make St Andrew's Day a school holiday. Now, I have no problem with that in principle, but when my Council is thinking of cutting £198 from the amount of money they spend on my daughter, I would hope that my local education convener, SNP member or not, would have more important things to think about.
Salmond, though, did try to pin the blame on Denis Canavan who had apparently been encouraging him to ensure that the holiday was adopted. Why can he never just take responsibility for things? Honestly. Tavish's follow up question was brilliant, though. He basically pointed out that the Government had had precious few responses from Councils, even SNP ones, to its efforts on this issue. This seemed to spark Salmond into life and he launched into a bizarre tirade accusing Tavish of being unpatriotic for not supporting the idea of a holiday on our national day. I have to say that really annoyed me. To me it's an abuse of the word patriotism to bandy it about in political debate like that - utterly poisonous. I said so when Jim Murphy used it on the SNP and I do so again now.
Tavish was on very, very good form, though and he certainly landed a significant blow today, showing up the First Minister's lack of sense of priorities. I doubt the electorate of Scotland will be very impresseed next year if his key achievement is a new bank holiday as they're coping with job losses and spending cuts.