As far as Alex Salmond’s appearance at the Leveson Inquiry was concerned it was déjà vu all over again.
Remember the kerfuffle over the First Minister’s links with Donald Trump, that golf course and suggestions of impropriety? The Scottish Parliament would hold him to account, they would grill him and force him to reveal all.
On that occasion, Mr Salmond toyed with the committee, answered every question without giving anything away and left his political opponents scratching their heads in bewilderment.
So it was yesterday when the First Minister sat before the Leveson Inquiry in London. He was at times gracious to the point of fawning: “Yes, Sir.” “No, Sir.” “You’re right, of course, sir,” he said, almost tugging his forelock in the direction of Lord Justice Leveson.
At other times he was mischievous: “I like the term English Parliament,” he said after Lord Leveson used the phrase inadvertently, causing the inquiry chief to bury his head in his hands in mock frustration.
The First Minister was also deliberately rambling, urging the interrogating counsel Robert Jay to see a play, Black Watch and read a book, Born Fighting, a history of Scots in America.
But he was also gently misleading, too. His assertion that the Scottish Sun used “Holmesian” deduction techniques to uncover the date of the referendum in its first Sunday issue earlier this year – in an edition that featured a prominent column by the First Minister himself – would have raised more than a few eyebrows at Holyrood.
The First Minister also carefully manipulated the news agenda. He was there, ostensibly, to answer a central question about whether there had been a link between his willingness to lobby the UK Government on behalf of News Corp and the Sun’s backing for the SNP in the 2011 election.
And yet, even a cursory glance at this morning’s papers shows that this was not the main news item to come from Mr Salmond’s evidence session.
Early in his evidence, Mr Salmond dropped in the grenade, claiming he had been told that his bank account had been accessed by the Observer newspaper.
He did this extremely well, too. He dressed up his claims with a little humour and an interesting, and very believable story. He talked about going to a shop called Fun & Games on Linlithgow High Street to buy presents for his nieces.
According to Mr Salmond, the Observer became very excited about this, believing that Fun & Games was about more than children’s toys, according to Mr Salmond who then asked the inquiry: “On Linlithgow High Street?”
In doing so, he provided a good, solid news line for the following day, relegating the issue of his links to News Corp to a secondary element and controlling the news agenda.
And, through all of this, the Leveson Inquiry got nowhere on the central claim that there had been some deal over his backing for the BSkyB bid.
Mr Salmond insisted there was no quid pro quo between his willingness to lobby on behalf of News Corp – which he did to protect Scottish jobs – and the Sun’s backing for the SNP in 2011.
That left all his opponents in something of a dead end. Unless something new appears from within the reams of correspondence and documentation being handled by the inquiry, or if that evidence is contradicted by one the Murdochs, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere for this particular pursuit to go.
Like over the Trump case, Mr Salmond has gone into an inquiry with his opponents convinced they can catch him out and, with the skill and ease of argument that have become his trademark, the First Minister has emerged unscathed.
So what are we left with?
First, there is Mr Salmond’s links with the Murdochs and News Corp. Unlike many politicians, Mr Salmond has been remarkably open about this.
Yes, he saw the Murdochs and the editors of their papers. Yes, he tried to influence them – any politician who denied the same shouldn’t be under oath, he claimed.
Why did he offer to lobby on behalf of Murdoch’s bid for BSkyB? Again, the First Minister was open about this, because there were thousands of Scottish jobs on the line and the priority was the Scottish economy, Scottish business and Scottish jobs.
What about the Sun’s backing for the SNP last year? There was no deal, Mr Salmond insisted.
It is hard to avoid the conclusion that he is right on this one. It does appear as if the Sun’s support for the SNP came about because the Sun in Scotland thought this was then right thing to do at the time (and also, importantly, it is likely to have had more to do with the Sun’s bitter rivalry with the Labour-supporting Daily Record than with anything else).
There may have been an unstated, friendly link between the two events. Rupert Murdoch was known to admire Mr Salmond and the Sun’s support for the SNP may well have been a logical extension of that.
But there is no evidence of a formal quid pro quo and, without that, this accusation will probably shrivel away and die over time.
And the lessons learnt?
1 – There is no one better in politics (with the exception of Tony Blair) at talking with ease, confidence and authority – while saying absolutely nothing revealing – than Mr Salmond.
2 – It is very hard, almost impossible really, to pin the First Minister down when he doesn’t want that to happen.
3 – Mr Salmond had close links to the Murdochs. The Murdochs liked him and the Scottish Sun gave him its full support at the last election. There is not, however, anything concrete to link that support to Mr Salmond’s offer to lobby the UK Government on behalf of News Corp.
4 – Editors, proprietors and senior politicians operate in a cosy little world of private meetings and confidential phonecalls, far above the world inhabited by political journalists and ordinary politicians, and it is here that the key decisions are taken.
5 – The Leveson Inquiry has been going on for too long, obsessing the small but influential media and political establishment, and is going nowhere fast. Really, our attentions would be better focused on what is really important. And now that the one big Scottish figure has appeared without revealing anything crucially important, maybe we shall.