The Times, June 20, 2008
It is 4.30pm and time for a little something, yet, as he gazes at a pile of cakes, Alex Salmond looks vaguely mournful. Perhaps it is because Sophie Elm, a graduate art student, has told just him that the food isn't real, but made from cotton wool, glue and acrylic paint. She has created a Mad Hatter's Tea Party. The First Minister laughs - had he known he would have worn a boater and a big pair of white trousers.
Mr Salmond has come to Edinburgh College of Art to open a £20.6million new wing. Usually occasions like this are a cakewalk, but it's less than 24 hours since his government suffered its first defeat in Holyrood, the loss of the Creative Scotland Bill, and all around there are arty people who now have absolutely no idea where the Scottish government's cultural policy is heading.
At the grand plaque-unveiling ceremony, Mr Salmond offers a brief disquisition on the Edwardian architect James Pittendrigh MacGillivray before he is moved to address matters of policy and Wednesday's events in parliament.
“Running a minority government is like levitation. You have to keep the opposition parties in a state of suspended animation,” he explains to an audience of shaggy-haired professors, who look somewhat askance at the imagery. The balance, he complains, has been disturbed by the “dancing up and down” of the opposition parties. “The impertinence of it, the audacity of it,” he fumes.
Mr Salmond says that he understands the importance of the creative industries. They produce £4billion for the nation's wealth and sustain 60,000 jobs. But what he can't accept - despite growing evidence to the contrary - is that anyone other than his Holyrood opponents are against his Bill. Indeed - turning logic on its head in a Mad Hatter-ish way - his opponents are in favour of it, too! They just couldn't agree to support him. Curiouser and curiouser.
On Wednesday, Mr Salmond says, his culture minister had announced £5million of new money for the arts. “Are we actually saying that we are going to have a six-month delay in setting up an organisation that everyone supports, which will have more money in real terms, because they are worried about which pot of money it is coming from?”
Can Mr Salmond see that some people in the arts are confused? They can't work out who is driving the creative industries, the behemoth that is Creative Scotland, or Scottish Enterprise, the business development agency, which seems reluctant to release its grip on all those digital and TV industry fiefdoms that generate so much work for its bureaucrats.
“Responsibility has never been in doubt,” he snaps. “To regard these excuses for issues as the pretext for the sort of shambolic obstructing we saw is beyond belief.” If the Mad Hatter's tea cups hadn't been glued down, Mr Salmond would have started throwing them about.
“Furthermore,” he says - always a sign of impatience - “we had an agreement with the business managers which was respected by the Tories and the Liberals that if we withdrew the financial provision of the Bill, they wouldn't object to it being debated next week. All these things tell you that the behaviour of the Labour Party was the most abject piece of irresponsibility that we have witnessed in recent times in parliament. I put it down to end-of-term madness and the fact that the labour leader is no longer in control of her backbenchers.”
He sounds bitter. “I don't feel bitter. I feel concerned for the creative communities of Scotland.” And with that concern ringing in creative ears, the First Minister has sidestepped into a lift and gone.