WHEN Ruth Davidson described Alex Salmond as the “Pinocchio of Scottish politics” at First Minister’s Questions yesterday, there was a sharp intake of breath across the chamber.
The Scottish Conservative leader’s choice of words did not go down well on the SNP benches as she accused the First Minister of “misleading” the Scottish people by suggesting that an independent Scotland would gain automatic EU membership.
The ticking off from Tricia Marwick, the Presiding Officer, duly arrived.
“I don’t consider that language appropriate,” said the PO, sniffily.
Ms Davidson, however, was undeterred. After offering a half-hearted apology, she ploughed on – making a decent fist of holding Mr Salmond to account.
The Tory leader had produced a letter submitted recently to the Scottish Parliament Information Centre which confirmed the EC’s view that an independent Scotland would have to reapply for EU membership.
The Pinocchio reference was perhaps not the cleverest comparison ever made. Nor was the line of attack the most original.
But overall one couldn’t escape the impression that Ms Davidson got the better of Ms Salmond at FMQs – an outcome that would have been almost unthinkable a few months ago.
It was relatively recently that mere mention of the EU by Ms Davidson would have had Mr Salmond lining up for a slam dunk. How dare a representative of a Eurosceptic party question Scotland’s credentials as a European nation, Mr Salmond would retort. These days, Ms Davidson is not so much of a pushover.
An improved record at First Minister’s Questions has been accompanied by some impressive contributions to parliament more generally.
There was a recent speech in support of same-sex marriage, which received much praise for the honesty with which she tackled an issue which meant much to her as an openly gay politician.
The death of Nelson Mandela saw her make some powerful points at Holyrood.
Critical of those Conservatives who did not back the struggle against apartheid, she talked of a “stain on our party” that some Tories “did not recognise apartheid for the grave violation of human dignity that it was”.
Adroitly, she also took care to offset her criticism of her predecessors with the observation that the Thatcher archive had revealed that the Iron Lady had lobbied for Mr Mandela’s release.
Speaking up for gay marriage in the face of opposition from her own MSPs and flagging up grievous mistakes of the past may not be the way to win favour with the more traditional elements of her party.
But such an approach stands a better chance of winning over those who have grown up under the impression that Tory is a dirty word.
After a rocky start, there are small signs that Ms Davidson is growing into her job.