FMQs: The perils of political predictions

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Image caption Kezia Dugdale may be regretting her prediction that Labour would finish second in the Holyrood election

The purpose of the occasion, of course, is that questions are posed to the first minister. However, at Holyrood Nicola Sturgeon took the opportunity to refer to another question which had been posed earlier in the week.

Labour's Kezia Dugdale was appearing on the BBC's Daily Politics programme. She was being interviewed by my esteemed colleague Jo Coburn.

The topic was the forthcoming Holyrood elections. One part of the exchange, as quoted by Ms Sturgeon, went as follows. Jo Coburn: "Will you be second?" Kezia Dugdale: "Yes."

In the Holyrood chamber today, Ms Sturgeon deliberately kept this little sally until her final exchange with the Labour leader, affording Ms Dugdale no chance to reply.

Indeed, the next word on the topic of a possible Labour second place went to Ruth Davidson of the Conservatives who commented drily as she arose: "And I think even that may be in doubt."

Dissing Tory claims

Context is all in such matters. Ms Dugdale was being asked about repeated claims by the Conservatives to the effect that they are set to supplant Labour as the principal opposition to the SNP.

In that zone, the Labour leader was dissing Tory claims. She was, she thought, establishing her party's credentials in contradistinction to an opposition rival, not the incumbent government.

One can understand. But, of course, she should have said: "No, we will come first." I expect Ms Dugdale knows that only too well.

Other than that, today's exchanges were mostly All our Yesterdays, a rerun of arguments which had featured earlier in the week.

Nothing wrong with that. The adept politician knows that a message often has to be repeated several times before it embeds itself in the public consciousness.

So Kezia Dugdale listed job cuts at local authorities across Scotland. Ms Sturgeon rebutted sundry claims - and insisted that the outcome was often less severe than the early forecasts.

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Image caption Nicola Sturgeon, Ruth Davidson and Kezia Dugdale put their differences aside at a Holyrood photo call to raise awareness of Motor Neurone Disease

Then it was citation time. Ms Dugdale quoted public sector union leaders on the topic of cuts in a tone which suggested that their pronouncements were tantamount to Holy Writ, that they could not be challenged or questioned.

In return, Ms Sturgeon quoted Labour council leaders who had argued that they had contrived to defend services and jobs in their patch.

The clear implication of Ms Sturgeon's argument was that these said leaders were, in effect, endorsing the government line.

Is it not perhaps more likely that they were trumpeting their own endeavours in the face of central stringency? That they were explaining what they had achieved themselves - not because of Ministers, but despite them?

For her part, Ms Davidson raised once more the topic of central government payments to farmers. These have been held up while IT and administrative problems are addressed.

Ms Davidson excoriated Scottish government actions - or, rather, inactions. Ms Sturgeon said everything was being done to sort the problem. Which satisfied nobody - especially the farmers waiting for their money.

Greatest Hit

Still, you can bet that the FM will be raising this topic with colleagues and officials - to the effect that she would rather not face this particular topic again. Might have an effect.

Then on to another Greatest Hit from earlier in the week. The topic of the fiscal framework. How, asked Linda Fabiani with a smile, was that going? (She knew, of course, that it was signed and sealed and had already been claimed as a victory by Scottish Ministers.)

With a matching smile, the first minister said there had been "good progress." She then repeated the arguments we heard on Tuesday about Treasury guile and the powerful negotiating talents of John Swinney. (An alternative interpretation, naturally, is available from HM Treasury.)

For the Tories, Gavin Brown - we will miss his humour and insight - noted that an element of the deal was that the Scottish fiscal commission will generate independent tax forecasts. Such a prospect had been rejected by SNP members on a parliamentary committee.

Mischievously, Mr Brown asked the first minister to "work with me" on solving this dilemma. It was mischievous because Mr Brown suspects that the committee vote against independent forecasting perhaps followed a degree of ministerial arm-twisting - which then created space for a concession to be made.

The issue will undoubtedly be resolved - and that right swiftly. But, for the moment, Ms Sturgeon declared - in a comparably mischievous tone - that the notion of working with Mr Brown "brings me out in a cold sweat."

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