IN his speech to MSPs, Alex Salmond placed great emphasis on groundbreaking Holyrood legislation from parliaments past - the smoking ban, land reform and his own, as yet unenforced, minimum price for alcohol.

His point was a simple one: the Scottish Parliament, not Westminster, is the place to look for initiatives that will improve the lives of Scots.

There was no equivalent eyecatching bill in his programme for the coming 12 months. How surprised should we be? Was this a piece of canny politics or a missed opportunity?

It's certainly true the Scottish Government wants nothing too controversial to deal with in the run-up to next year's referendum. Ministers are not in the business of making enemies if they can avoid it, especially now.

However, we've seen plenty of previous legislative programmes without a genuinely big idea and many with fewer bills than this year's total of 13. MSPs are definitely not being given a gap year to go off and explore the constitution.

Ending automatic early release, or at least beginning the process for around 100 to 150 of the country's most dangerous offenders each year, will be popular and also highlights the failure of previous administrations to make any progress at all.

Licensing schemes for air guns and lap dancing bars and outlawing the purchase of alcohol on behalf of youngsters hanging around the corner shop also show ministers delivering things people actually want.

Of the business left over from the last session, MSPs still have to pass the referendum bill paving the way for the vote and legislation allowing same-sex marriage, which will bring criticism from religious groups but cross-party consensus in the chamber.

If the year ahead looks a tad unexciting it has at least been judged to complement the real political business in hand. And we all know what that is.