Fun and 'political games' at Holyrood council tax vote

Liz Smith
Image caption Tory Liz Smith provoked hilarity when she had to take a seat next to Labour members in order to vote

There was much laughter in Holyrood tonight. And the topic? The council tax - and an increase in charges for Bands E to H.

Not, you would think, a customary topic for laughter - unless you are one of those who find comical solace in the minutes of Audit Scotland.

No, the laughter tonight was of the nervous or satirical variety. Every time an MSP spoke of avoiding "political games", their rivals chortled uncontrollably.

Every time an MSP urged their rivals to "consider the voters", those self-same rivals giggled and pointed fingers.

At one point, when it came to the votes, Liz Smith of the Conservatives complained that her voting console wasn't working.

She had to cross the floor (actually she went round the back of the chamber) to sit with Labour where, apparently, the kit was functioning. This entirely sensible move got a bigger laugh than the last time Morecambe and Wise played the Royal Variety Show.

Curious proceedings

It was all very strange. But then the proceedings themselves were curious. Parliament had allocated a whole twenty minutes to discuss the Scottish Statutory Instrument designed to increase the levy on those upper bands.

The rest of the afternoon was taken up by discussing Scotland's digital future. I am told by those who were there that it was riveting.

To be fair, such SSIs customarily attract minimal attention. They are part of routine government business. But these are not ordinary times. This is not routine politics.

Image caption Derek Mackay accused other parties of "opportunistic opposition"

The SNP is in a minority - and, boy, do the other parties want to emphasise that point. I detect a real difference from the parliament of 2007/2011 - when deals were common, especially between the SNP and the Conservatives over the budget.

Now the Tories, emboldened by their electoral second place, are resisting SNP blandishments - while Labour, the Greens and the Lib Dems are similarly immune to appeals for consensus. This may change - there may yet be bargains to come - but right now the tone is different.

The outcome? Parliament carried an amendment from the Greens which gave the go-ahead to the upper band increases but added some decidedly sharp criticism of the government which, understandably, was inimical to ministers and their supporters.

In vain, did Derek Mackay, the finance secretary, accuse his opponents of opportunism. In vain, did he advance a neutral amendment of his own - offering talks and stressing the twin aims of a progressive and fair local government finance system.

In order to secure those higher band charges, in order to secure the anticipated £100m for spending on school attainment, SNP MSPs were obliged to swallow their pride and vote for an amended motion approving the SSI which criticised their own government.

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