Alex Salmond was in a quarrelsome mood for FMQs today, after suffering a nasty nip from a watchdog.

Audit Scotland had reported a trebling of long waits in casualty departments under the SNP, with 104,000 people - some even sober - queueing over four hours to see a doctor last year.

And if there's one thing Mr Salmond hates more than hospital food served up to him, it's hospital statistics, because they always taste of failure.

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There are good NHS numbers, naturally, but the opposition always force feed him the dregs.

Ladling out the first bowl of punishment, Labour's Johann Lamont asked when, having missed target after target, the FM would finally get a grip on his trolley folly.

Mr Salmond's brow furrowed until it resembled one of the NHS's finest month-old bedsheets.

"The year 2012-13 was a hugely tough one for the emergency services of the national health service in Scotland," he harrumphed, in what passed for an acknowledgement of the problem.

But things had got better recently and "if Johann Lamont was fair about it" - how we laughed - "she would note that Audit Scotland remarked on the substantial improvement".

Ms Lamont pointed out the improvement "was against the worst ever statistics in this area."

The FM clamped on the remark like a tourniquet. Oh, the worst statistics ever, you say?

"I will just correct her," he declared, producing a whirl of his own stats to show that back when Ms Lamont was a Labour minister in 2006-07, around 20,000 more people were waiting in emergency for over four hours, and just 87.5% were seen on time, compared to 93% now.

It was about as uplifting an argument as "My bedpan smells better than your bedpan", but at least it resuscitated the Nat backbenches.

The FM upped the rhetorical dosage: "Now that Johann Lamont has heard those figures, will she withdraw the suggestion that 2012-13 was the worst ever year, as clearly it was not?"

Ms Lamont would rather have withdrawn the life support maintaining Labour's election hopes.

"The degree of complacency in that response is staggering," she said. "Let's go back to our comfort zone in which a politician makes a debating point, rather than responding to what patients, staff and Audit Scotland are saying."

It's more than a debating point, roared back the FM, "she is fundamentally mistaken".

When she "makes up figures because she cannot substantiate her points, she and her party are fundamentally lacking in any credibility".

Ms Lamont tried to get back in the game, but the FM simply bludgeoned her with more numbers, throwing in the dismal health record of the Labour-run government in Wales for good measure.

Tory Ruth Davidson was matron-stern. "The First Minister cannot get away from the facts. He missed his target for treating people in accident and emergency, so he lowered his target. Then, he missed it again.

"Does not this failure land squarely on the First Minister's desk? Will he start to take responsibility for it?"

Citing recent cuts to bed numbers, she quoted John Swinney recently boasting of the "absolute control" the government had over health.

"Given that complete control over the NHS, are all the cuts by SNP design or has the First Minister been so busy with the referendum that they have just happened by accident?"

All decent lines, but at the end of the day, no match for Ms Davidson being a Conservative. The Ebola virus is less toxic round here.

Mr Salmond summoned his best synthetic rage. "That a Tory politician can come to this or any other chamber and ignore the dismay that has been caused in the health service across England by the policies of their Government almost beggars belief. We will respond to crisis by investing more and we will meet challenges as they come, but it will be a public national health service for the people of Scotland."

The Better Together three-against-one ended with LibDem Willie Rennie claiming SNP care policy kept people in hospital, blocked beds and contributed to the waits in casualty.

The FM sighed heavily. The Health Secretary will make a statement on the policy soon, he said, "and not the version presented by Willie Rennie. I am sure that Mr Rennie will want to participate."

In other words, you don't know your A from your E, pal.