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FMQs Sketch: Salmond maintains a poker face as the opposition look for tells

In theory, Alex Salmond should never play poker.

He has too many "tells", those little subconscious tics that betray a player's hand.

Take the sausage-weaving, for instance.

Whenever the FM starts locking his fingers into a porky palisade you know he's in a sweat.

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At FMQs today, the mass of defensive digits was raised repeatedly, as for a second week he was quizzed about the currency prospects for an independent Scotland.

But the FM also has a nifty line in bluffs.

Or "cobblers" as they're known in politics.

Today was a master class in "cobblers".

Anxiety about independence is all the fault of Unionists, it seems.

The prompt for this revelation was Bank of England governor Mark Carney confirming the bottom drawers of Threadneedle Street now hold contingency plans for stabilising the pound if there's turmoil after a Yes vote.

With Westminster refusing a currency union and various Yes campaigners touting alternatives, Labour leader Johann Lamont asked where the market jitters and "confusion" identified by Mr Carney could possibly be coming from?

From the Westminster parties, of course, said the FM, because they had a "vested interest" in causing maximum uncertainty for voters.

"The First Minister needs a reality check!" shot back the woman who says Ed Miliband will be Prime Minister within a year.

Ms Lamont tried a different tack.

Mr Carney had said currency union meant a joint fiscal arrangement, yet Mr Salmond had told Jackie Bird on TV last night that independence would mean "100 per cent fiscal control".

Wasn't that a misleading statement?

Now this was a serious charge.

You can lie to the people willy nilly, but cheeking Jackie Bird remains a capital offence.

Up went the sausage fingers.

None of this was his fault, oh no, it was Unionists spooking markets with "a deliberate attempt to create uncertainty and fear".

It was like a fox blaming the chickens for screeching at him, but SNP MSPs loved it.

Equally furious, but a tad more effective, Tory Ruth Davidson accused the FM of "heroically trying to spin the governor's words as a win".

Yet Mr Salmond was "the reason the governor is now being forced to prepare contingencies, and the reason why the headlines this morning are talking about capital flight and chaos".

Was the First Minister really suggesting this was the fault of everybody else?"

"No," replied the FM airily, "I'm suggesting it's the responsibility of the No campaign, who are deliberately trying to create instability as a campaign tactic."

Ms Davidson resorted in vain to logic.

"The First Minister's problem isn't that he doesn't get it, it's that he can't sell it.

"Every option that he has on the table, from a currency union without a willing partner to sterlingisation to an 18-month transition to who knows what, is something that is less than we have now, and the people of Scotland understand that."

She was on a roll. Then she fell off.

"Why should we settle for second best on the currency when a simple No vote lets us keep everything we already have?" she asked.

Finance Secretary John Swinney let out a long oooh as he spotted what was coming next.

"The people of Scotland will not believe a David Cameron government is worth keeping," Mr Salmond grinned as expected.

LibDem Willie Rennie, bless him, had a final crack at it.

Bank governors tend to be a cautious lot, he observed, so for Mr Carney to discuss crisis plans for a run on the banks was serious.

"It's really quite simple," Mr Salmond told him.

"The Unionist campaign, Better Together - himself, Labour and Conservatives - are trying to destabilise financial markets."

Mr Rennie sulked off with a complaint that "only the FM could claim a warning of a run on the banks was a triumph for his cause".

But by then Mr Salmond had won hands down.

Later, on an unrelated topic, the First Minister asked Tory Liz Smith to consider she might just be wrong.

Her restraint in the face of such irony verged on the superhuman.

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