FMQs: Nicola Sturgeon goes straight to the point

FMQs Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Many of the exchanges at FMQs followed up on the budget deal struck the previous day

Elected politicians are customarily the gentlest of souls. Polite and restrained. So it was startling to discover at Holyrood today that they can be somewhat rude to each other.

Frankly, most of the insults came from the first minister. She said, inter alia, that the Tories were a "waste of space", that Ruth Davidson was "feeble" and that the Labour offer on tax was "incompetent".

Ok, so Frankie Boyle does not yet have a challenger for his blunt talking crown. It was scarcely a flyting in the ancient Scottish literary tradition.

But it was certainly to the point. And remember that the topic was the budget - where Team Sturgeon won the day yesterday, in tandem with the Greens. Heaven knows what she would have said if she had lost.

Perhaps she's worried that Ayr United are about to face the might of Rangers in the cup, the Gers having ousted Fraserburgh. OK, perhaps not.

Perhaps then it was the protracted nature of the budget discussions - ending only hours before yesterday's vote - which provoked the FM.

More probably, it was the fundamental importance of the issue - tax and spending - which stimulated sharp exchanges.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ruth Davidson raised the issue of taxes with Ms Sturgeon

Certainly, the discourse between Ruth Davidson of the Tories and the FM got right to the nub. Ms Davidson suggested that increasing the overall income tax burden upon Scotland, as the budget does, would deter investment and stall growth.

Ms Sturgeon replied that the Fiscal Commission had detected no such prospect, that the majority of taxpayers would be better off and that those on the highest salaries could afford to pay the amount which would be requested.

To emphasise, this is a core philosophical and political argument which will be hugely salient to Scottish politics in the period ahead. Will the economy be boosted by stimulating productive public spending, as Ms Sturgeon would attest, or will it be hindered by taxation?

Leonard struggles

The exchange with Labour's Richard Leonard was of a rather different nature. To be frank, this was a somewhat faltering performance by Mr Leonard - and the FM seized upon that.

The Labour leader was adducing his argument that the budget fell short, that there should have been higher spending funded by higher taxation, particularly upon the top earners. But this resulted in a blizzard of figures - which, arguably, reduced the impact just a fraction.

I would not want to make too much of this. Mr Leonard will have better days. And Labour believes that it is building up a store of political weapons to unleash against the SNP later. Is a particular spending budget under pressure? Labour will blame the SNP - and the Greens.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Richard Leonard did not have the best day in the chamber

But, on the day, Ms Sturgeon derived political sport from lampooning the Labour leader. She drew upon the alternative budget, produced by Labour the day before the stage one vote.

She noted that it featured no testing for behavioural change. In short, the anticipated revenues from Labour's tax plan might not survive. This, she said, amounted to a promise to fund Scotland's public services with "Monopoly money".

Mr Leonard protested that he did not agree with this analysis, and cited academic support for his position. But, again, with his rivals jeering, the argument somehow failed to make the required impact.

Willie Rennie of the Liberal Democrats chose to pursue the topic of Police Scotland, perhaps slightly bruised by the budget vote in which his group had divided because the Northern Isles MSPs felt constrained to back a package which contained support for ferries in their patch.

And the Greens? Patrick Harvie treated the chamber to a speech in support of his party's position before closing with a question. But, as he had done yesterday, he warned that root and branch reform of local government finance was required.

And with that off they all went. No doubt to wash their mouths out.