A good day for Derek Mackay

Brian Taylor
Political editor, Scotland
@tannadiceladon Twitter

Image caption,
Derek Mackay was congratulated by Nicola Sturgeon after securing a budget deal

There was a discernible pattern to events during the Budget debate at Holyrood this afternoon. Indeed, a mischievous Murdo Fraser suggested that the entire affair, the deal with ministers and the Greens, had been choreographed.

And then didn't Patrick Harvie, he of the Greens, refresh the entire business with a string of contentious proposals at the very end of his speech?

Mr Harvie suggested that, instead of last-minute haggling, opposition parties should be obliged to submit their ideas for scrutiny by Parliament's finance committee? Being a member of that esteemed body, perhaps he could question himself?

As Mr Harvie pursued this notion, John Swinney shouted from a sedentary position: "They won't like that!" Actually, when I say sedentary, the deputy first minister was rocking about eagerly in his chair.

In response, Mr Harvie declared: "No names, no names." What did it all mean? Well, of course, both Mr H. and Mr S. had Labour in their sights, who produced a detailed tax plan on the eve of today's stage one vote.

Perhaps it all affected the demeanour of James Kelly, Labour's finance spokesman. When he rose, he characterised the deal with the Greens as "grubby", suggesting that communities across Scotland would be disappointed.

Image caption,
Patrick Harvie's Greens supported Mr Mackay's budget for the second year running

But back to Mr Harvie. He wasn't finished. He said that there must be reform to local authority taxation so that councils raised more of their own resources. Without that, he warned he wouldn't do a deal next year.

Next year? Steady on. How about the deal this year? More for local government, more to fund public sector pay and a renewed emphasis on low carbon investment.

It was, to be frank, all fairly predictable. But only because the Greens made their demands quite explicit - and Derek Mackay, the finance secretary, left room for just such a deal in his draft proposals.

For example, there was an "anomaly" whereby those earning around £50k actually benefited from the draft budget, because of the increase in thresholds. It was an anomaly inviting action. And so today it was duly removed, raising an extra £55m.

Image caption,
Tory MSP Murdo Fraser said taxpayers would pay the price for the budget

For the Tories, Murdo Fraser warned that hard-pressed taxpayers would pay the price of the deal between ministers and the Greens. Rather than higher taxation, Scotland needed a focus upon growth.

In response, Mr Mackay said that the majority of people would be paying less tax than elsewhere in the UK. In response, later, the Tories noted that some 400,000 people would be affected negatively by today's tax decision, albeit by relatively small amounts.

And the Liberal Democrats? They ended up dividing as a group, by agreement. Mr Mackay announced extra money for inter-island ferry services in Orkney and Shetland.

This had been a key demand from Tavish Scott (Shetland) and Liam MacArthur (Orkney). The relative salience of this issue for their constituencies prompted them to support the budget, despite their considerable reservations about wider content.

For the remainder of the Lib Dem group, those reservations took priority. They voted against the budget. Willie Rennie, the party leader, stressed this was an agreed position. However, he still took the chance to lambast the minister for what he regarded as divisive tactics.

On the front bench, Mr Mackay smiled benignly. All in all, for him, a confident performance. A good day.