Tom Peterkin: It’s trying for voters as the media scrum are blind sided by First Minister’s clever handling

THE controversy over Alex Salmond’s attempt to cast himself as a rugby pundit has generated more spin than a scrum-half’s pass.

The unseemly fall-out from his attempt to invite himself on to various BBC sports programmes to share his “expertise” on back-row moves and line-out blocking sent the SNP spin machine into a frenzy.

Unsurprisingly, this has had little to do with whether or not Salmond’s tactical analysis would have enlightened armchair rugby supporters. (Although the First Minister would have doubtless welcomed the chance to explain to his fellow presenters Jeremy Guscott and Andy Nicol what sort of lines of running are required to outfox a drift defence.)

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What it boils down to is that Salmond – like most other successful politicians – is always desperately keen to get on the telly. That is why the First Minister’s office made it known to the BBC that Salmond would be available for Murrayfield punditry.

Salmond’s burning desire to take to the airwaves has been evident throughout his political career. His opponents at Westminster were impressed by his habit of going to Victoria Station late at night to pick up the first editions of the Scottish papers. That would enable him to gen up on the next day’s news so that he could offer his services to BBC Scotland’s early current affairs programmes first thing in the morning.

His obvious delight at finally making it on to Desert Island Discs last year was an indication of how seductive he finds the idea of breaking free from purely Scottish TV and addressing a UK-wide audience.

Therefore the Calcutta Cup presented a golden opportunity for the First Minister to boost his profile north and south of the Border. Although politics was not to be discussed, his appearance would have been a timely reminder of the constitutional battles on the way.

The fact that a high heid yin – or to use Salmond’s language a “gauleiter”– at the Beeb eventually decided that it would be inappropriate for him to appear presented another political opportunity for the First Minister.

As one Labour MSP said yesterday: “This gives him an excuse to have a go at the BBC, to say that he is being hard done by and to put down a marker to try and make sure that the SNP gets what he feels is a fair deal. You just feel that he has chosen the wrong subject to do this.”

For what seemed like hours, yesterday’s briefing with the First Minister’s official spokesman was dominated by the issue with interminable chatter about who invited who to appear on which programmes and why the BBC was in the wrong. Perhaps it says something about the Holyrood village’s priorities that it was almost as an afterthought that the discussion finally got round to the implications for Scottish jobs of awarding Forth crossing contracts to China.