Eddie Barnes: This is one high-profile scrum the SNP will not want to lose

AT FIRST glance, the question of whether Alex Salmond should be a Calcutta Cup match pundit would not appear to be the stuff of constitutional fury ahead of the 2014 independence referendum.

That is not the way the SNP sees it, however.

Mocked by Conservative leader Ruth Davidson about his dubious credentials as a rugby expert, the First Minister did not respond in a light-hearted way yesterday. This issue is serious.

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The importance of the broadcast networks to politicians is paramount: the most recent Ofcom data suggests that 74 per cent of people put TV as their main source of news. And despite the rise of the web, this figure is growing, up 6 per cent from 2005.

For all political causes, therefore, it is TV – with its strict rules on impartiality – that provides the best chance of punting the message. And with a consummate broadcast performer like Mr Salmond in charge, it is the case with spades for the SNP.

That was illustrated last year when, during the election campaign, an appearance on the network-wide Question Time and a series of spats with Jeremy Paxman were hugely beneficial to the cause, serving further to highlight the profile gap between him and the lesser-known Iain Gray.

With the referendum campaign under way, it was no wonder that Scottish Government civil servants were busily ringing up the BBC last week, offering Mr Salmond’s services to appear on the Calcutta cup match. And little wonder his spinners were so determined to kick up a stink when the offer was knocked back.

The weeks before the independence referendum in 2014 will see the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Ryder Cup in Gleneagles. The SNP will not want its lead man frozen out.

Last night, it appeared Mr Salmond has chosen his battleground wisely. A formal complaint is now heading Auntie’s way: this is one scrummage the SNP will not want to lose.