ALEX Salmond stayed away from Westminster as the Prime Minister set out the case for bombing Syria – in order to unveil a portrait of himself.

The SNP’s foreign affairs spokesman was at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh as MPs quizzed David Cameron.

He unveiled a new likeness painted by one of his favourite artists, Gerard Burns, one of whose works decorated his study when he was first minister.

The portrait was one of 14 pictures by Mr Burns marking the Commonwealth Games. It was acquired by supporters of Mr Salmond and went on show at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery this week.

Mr Salmond and Mr Burns were both present when it was unveiled - and Mr Salmond took as his guest a schoolboy impersonator of himself.

Ryan McGuigan, 13, became an internet sensation when he performed a hilarious impersonation of the former first minister at a Scotland Malawii Partnership event earlier this week.

The youngster, a pupil at St Margaret’s Airdrie, was pictured with Mr Salmond and the artist.

Mr Salmond defended his decision to attend as he left Holyrood, where he took his seat for First Minister’s Question, for the gallery.

He said: “It’s a statement by the Prime Minister therefore it is responded to by the leader of the party. That’s the way it should be.”

He also said he had been briefed on the contents of the Prime Minister’s statement as a member of the Privy Council.

The SNP’s Westminster leader Angus Robertson spoke during the Commons question and answer session.

The portrait depicts Mr Salmond in the main reception room of the First Minister’s official residence, Bute House in Edinburgh.

Scots Tory leader Ruth Davidson said: "There is nothing more serious than the potential deployment of our service personnel abroad.

“The fact the SNP's foreign affairs spokesman would apparently prefer to unveil a portrait of himself in Edinburgh, than take his seat in the Commons during the Prime Minister's statement on UK actions in Syria speaks volumes.

"Alex Salmond has form in unveiling vanity projects to himself but he needs to remember he's paid - twice over - to be a parliamentarian, not an art critic." 

A Labour spokesman said: "If Alex Salmond was chocolate he would eat himself. On the day that he had a job to do in Parliament over Syria it's ridiculous that the SNP's Foreign Affairs spokesperson was in Edinburgh to look at a picture of himself."