From a hard-headed political point of view, it's such a pity that Alex Salmond has had to pull out of tonight's edition of Question Time due to a family bereavement, just one week out from the local elections. But no-one can doubt that he has his priorities firmly in order. And it's noteworthy that he hasn't, as you might have expected, been replaced by another SNP representative. That neatly answers David Dimbleby's sneering question from a few months back about why Alex Salmond only accepts invitations onto the programme when it is held in England. It's now plain for all to see that if he accepted invitations to appear in the editions in Scotland, those would be the only ones in which the SNP were represented at all, and they scarcely happen that often. It's an uphill struggle for the SNP to get their fair share on "national" TV as it is.
One good thing to have come out of Salmond's withdrawal, though, is that I now realise I've totally misjudged the Tory Herd over at Political Betting. They did themselves proud yesterday when the news broke. To be absolutely honest, I would have expected them to make fools of themselves by instantly jumping to silly conclusions, but they didn't - they simply waited patiently until the full facts presented themselves. For example...
Next : LOL
The Watcher : One wonders what Salmond is running away and hiding from.
Slackbladder : And the brave, brave brave Sir Alex bravely ran away...
The Watcher : It's as if he has something to hide.
Chris g00 : Gordon Brown: Author of the book 'Courage'
Alex Salmond: Braveheart
What does it say about Scotland's two most senior politicians, that they prefer to run and hide, rather than stand and fight?
AlanBrooke : non-story, nothing to see [note : intended as hilarious sarcasm]
The Watcher : Is Alec [sic] making time for a 'date night' with Rupert?
Chris g00 : BBC Question Time
"Question Time is in Romford tomorrow with Chris Grayling; @HackneyAbbott ; @pollytoynbee ; @Nigel_Farage and Simon Hughes. #bbcqt"
No Alex? Leadership brought to you by the SNP.
And then, just after that, the news filtered through that the reason Salmond had withdrawn was because he was attending a family funeral. Any expressions of contriton or mild embarrassment? No, curiously enough, they all suddenly found they had other subjects to discuss as a matter of some urgency.
* * *
Sticking with the subject of Question Time, I was reflecting on the discussion during last week's show about the proposal to dock the child benefit of parents whose children persistently truant. It made me think back to the last few months of my own time at school, when the following sequence of events occurred more than once or twice -
1) My mother drove me to the front door of the school.
2) She watched me enter the front door.
3) I nipped out the side door.
4) I hid in some bushes for 40 minutes to avoid late-arriving teachers.
5) I made my escape.
I'd be fascinated to discover how the likes of Blair and Cameron reckon my mother could have been held criminally responsible for all that. Admittedly, it would be harder to get away with it these days, with the sudden influx of technology that can track the movement of pupils every second of the day. But that's scarcely progress - it just makes schools look even less like places of learning, and even more like day-prisons for non-criminals.