Sketch: It may take two to tango, but Salmond's latest FMQs are more of a minute waltz

Holyrood Presiding Officer Tricia Marwick emerged smiling yesterday from a week of flak, as Scotland's political leaders found themselves hauled back into line.

Ms Marwick has been at the centre of criticism for the way Alex Salmond was given free rein to talk at length last week during First Minister's Questions, the weekly chance for MSPs to grill the SNP leader at Holyrood.

But a behind-the-scenes carpeting ensured that rhetoric levels were kept to a minimum yesterday.

Mr Salmond's exchanges with Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray on the subject on the Southern Cross care home crisis lasted only seven minutes - almost half the time their joust took last week. In fact, it was the shortest exchange between the First Minister and the main opposition leader since early 2007 and across the length of the last parliament.

In fairness to Mr Salmond, the Labour leader took considerably longer - more than a minute - with his questions than the First Minister did with his answers.

It was later confirmed by Holyrood officials that the party leaders had been ordered to toe the line.

"The Presiding Officer didn't speak directly with any party leaders" a spokesman for the parliament said. "But it was made clear through official channels that she wanted to get through more questions.

"The fact that 11 back-benchers got in with questions or supplementaries reflects more closely the balance that the Presiding Officer is looking to achieve at First Minister's Questions."

The transformation from last week was all too clear, both in the length of answers and the measured tone in which the affair was conducted. The exchanges with the Tory leader Annabel Goldie on emergency ambulance responses lasted just three minutes. It took 25 minutes - of the 30 minute session - to get through questions from the opposition leaders last week. Yesterday, it took just ten, albeit without Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie who was not called.

Even the often-rowdy SNP back-benchers were far more subdued than usual. Whether this lasts in the weeks and months ahead remains to be at seen, but at least yesterday saw a greater of breadth of subjects covered with university campuses, newspaper job losses, corporation tax, RAF bases, unpaid carers and the council tax freeze all on the agenda for Mr Salmond to deal with.

Of course it was not all dull but worthy. Mr Salmond was typically merciless with rookie Labour back-bencher Neil Findlay who attempted to take him to task over his expulsion from the Commons back in 1988. Mr Findlay insisted that the official Hansard record of events showed the First Minister was kicked out for a complaining about a cut in corporation tax - which the Mr Salmond now wants to reduce in Scotland to stimulate growth.

Unsurprisingly, the SNP leader recalled a somewhat different version of events.

"I was there - for a time - before I was expelled," he said to laughter from MSPs. His protest had in fact centred on cuts in upper rate income tax and the imposition of the poll tax, Mr Salmond hit back, and he rounded off his attack by pointing out that Labour MPs had backed the Tory chancellor in voting to kick him out of the Commons. His banter with Tory leader Ms Goldie remains undiminished as he used his two meetings in as many days with Scottish Secretary Michael Moore to poke fun at the latter's claim this week that Scotland would need two referendums before independence.

This was part of a new "two meetings" strategy.

"If I don't get the answer I want from the first meeting then I organise another one," the First Minister joked.

"Well it takes two to tango - let's hope it was a mutual pleasure," was the Tory leader's retort.