A question of power
It is, in essence, a power game. In demanding - and getting - a council tax freeze, John Swinney made local authorities an offer they couldn't refuse.
If they were good, they were spared savage cuts in spending. But if they were bad.......
Again considering the balance of power, one can sympathise with the leaders of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities who are now kicking up a fuss about the sundry freezes on offer to the voters in the Holyrood elections.
Hang on, they say. MSPs don't set the council tax. Local authorities do. Holyrood leaders can promise a freeze for two years, five years or a century. It's still up to councils.
It must be truly galling to watch from the sidelines as one set of elected politicians battle over a power which lies with others.
So, one can sympathise - up to a point. Firstly, it's up to councils, individually, not collectively. Holyrood doesn't set the council tax - but nor does COSLA.
John Swinney's offer as the Finance Secretary in the SNP government was delivered collectively at Holyrood - but it applied individually.
Each council was entirely free to plump for penury instead of largesse in terms of central government grants, thereby pushing up the council tax for their own citizens. It was a fully free - if less than palatable - choice.
Secondly, despite occasional appearances to the contrary, Holyrood is a law-making Parliament, not an over-sized local authority. Holyrood sets the budget for Scottish local authorities.
Holyrood, ultimately, has the power to decide which services are run by councils - or not.
In this election, we have a range of offers which might impinge on local authority clout. For example, the notion of merging social care with the NHS. Or various ideas for giving greater power to individual schools.
So, to be blunt, Holyrood has three options when faced with recalcitrant councils.
MSPs can stuff their mouths with money (to borrow the rather hideous phrase derived from the assuaging of consultants at the foundation of the NHS.)
Or they can legislate to enforce a freeze - or, indeed, a different system of local authority funding entirely. Or they can remove powers from local government, shifting the financial burden to central government - and thereby driving a back-door freeze or cut.
Smiling benignly, the would-be financial godfathers in this election will all stress that they don't want to be so brutal. They don't want to impose. They want to work with councils. They want agreement.
But it goes without saying that they also want to deliver their manifesto promise. Ideally, by concordat, historic or otherwise. Implicitly, by dictat, if necessary.
Here, the parties depart from each other.
Among the majors, the Liberal Democrats are the most reluctant. They dislike the concept of imposing a freeze which breaches local authority autonomy - but offer one, frankly, in order to match the other parties.
Prevailing circumstances, they say, drive their decision.
Their distinctive offer, pending Local Income Tax, is to offer to scrap the tax for the poorest pensioners, those earning below £10k.
The Tories backed a freeze in the last Parliament - and are offering to extend it for a further two years, followed by local plebiscites if a council plans an increase above the rate of inflation.
They are also offering a £200 council tax discount for households where all the adults are pensioners.
Then Labour and the SNP. Labour is a relatively late convert to the cause of freezing the council tax. But, with the zeal of the convert, they insist they would make a better job than the SNP.
They are offering to freeze the tax for the next two years - and say that they would "fully fund" such a decision, arguing that the SNP fell short.
That assertion is disputed by the SNP who say that, in some years, the cost of a freeze was, if anything, over-funded. Their manifesto pledges to extend the freeze throughout the next Parliament.
The SNP's biggest pitch is to say that they delivered a freeze throughout the past Parliament - when there were comparable warnings of doom from the councils and forecasts of failure from others.
Further, they say they would use the five years of the next Holyrood term to prepare the ground for Local Income Tax - once enhanced powers, over income tax and council tax benefit, have been devolved.
Now, of course, these Holyrood elections are not the end of the matter. There are local council elections next year.
If a further freeze is on course, then those councillors who feel especially aggrieved can use the hustings next year to promise that they will contest such a freeze in their locality with all the power they can muster.
No doubt their Holyrood colleagues will wish them loadsaluck with that.