FMQs: pre-election manoeuvring at Holyrood

Nicola Sturgeon
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon took questions at Holyrood for the first time since the snap election was announced

Elections tend to develop their own tone, their own leitmotif. Thus far, this UK general election is largely about strategy.

Rather than a contest over a particular policy or policies, it is about manoeuvring to gain tactical advantage.

That is perhaps implicit in the principal motivation for calling an election now - which is to give the incumbent government an opportunity to take advantage of the perceived weakness of the official opposition at Westminster.

That tactical leitmotif recurred in the chorus of contradictory comments which comprised weekly questions to the first minister at Holyrood today.

Yes, there were issues of substance. But those were generally subsumed within the arguments over political machination. Who would ally with whom? Who would disdain whom?

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Why has May changed her mind on an election?

Theresa May Image copyright EPA
Image caption Theresa May had previously argued that an early election was not wanted or necessary

For an event designed to offer political certainty, the prime minister looked just a mite unsettled. And well she might, for two reasons.

Firstly, calling a UK general election is a pretty big deal, particularly in these post coalition days of supposedly fixed term parliaments at Westminster.

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Two leaders, two visions, two aims

leaders
Image caption The images of the two leaders working on their letters were strikingly different in tone

Two leaders. Two different aims. Expressed in two different letters. And two very different images to accompany those missives.

The First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has now formally requested the powers from Westminster to hold a referendum on independence, timed to coincide with the conclusion of Brexit negotiations.

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Mutual suspicion over the Great Repeal

Scottish Parliament Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon fears that not all powers over agriculture and fishing will return to Holyrood after Brexit

Parliamentary exchanges customarily assume a tone, a colour of their own. Perhaps the leitmotif is indignation, authentic or otherwise.

Perhaps it is consensus, when members commonly recognise that they have a task to undertake. Perhaps, again, it is tension, when a significant vote looms. Or joviality, when a respected member is on form, or Christmas is near.

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Solemnity and steel - but what did it tell us?

Theresa May Image copyright Reuters

There were a few comical moments. OK, one or two. OK, one. That came when the Prime Minister declared that the world needed "liberal democratic" values, as protected by the members of the European Union.

Unaccountably, the House chortled. Tim Farron - who is both Liberal and Democratic, albeit in capitals - smiled benignly. And was that a cheeky wink? It was.

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Holyrood and the great Brexit numbers game

A Scottish Saltire (C) flies between a Union flag (L) and a European Union (EU) flag in front of the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh Image copyright Getty Images

Article 50? I'll see your 50 and raise you 30. Section 30, that is. Now, before we get completely lost in an arithmetical jungle, let me explain.

The number 50 refers to the Article in the Treaty of Lisbon which a member state deploys to leave the European Union. The number 30 refers to the section in the Scotland Act 1998 under which further powers may be conferred upon the Scottish Parliament.

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Indyref2 debate kicks off a week of beginnings

debate
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon reopened the Holyrood debate, which was halted after the terror attack at Westminster

Perhaps it was the gravity of the topic. Perhaps it was the reflection that this resumed debate had been postponed last week because of the terror attack on Westminster.

Either way, the debate on an independence referendum at Holyrood was marked, mostly, by a respectful, modest tone.

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A meeting of ministers - but not minds (yet)

Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon and Theresa May met at a hotel in Glasgow on Monday afternoon

A meeting of ministers. But not yet a meeting of minds. Theresa May has been in Scotland for a series of engagements - including talks with the first minister.

Nicola Sturgeon characterised the discussions as "cordial" but also voiced her frustration that there was no sign of concessions in the direction of a distinct Brexit deal for Scotland.

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FMQS: A return to duty

Nicola Sturgeon Image copyright PA
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon spoke of solidarity with the "wonderful city" of London

After the temporary silence of yesterday, there was an unaccustomed noise in the Holyrood chamber today.

Not just applause - that is standard. But multi-party approbation. Leaders and their colleagues all applauding each other, commending the comments of their rivals.

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An attack on democracy

Police officer Holyrood chamber Image copyright PA
Image caption Several MSPs called for the debate to be suspended out of respect for those affected - but some argued it was "giving in to terrorism"

And so an exercise in democracy - indeed a discourse about competing interpretations of democracy - has been interrupted by an attack upon democracy.

The day had started in decidedly normal fashion. Nicola Sturgeon visited a nursery in Edinburgh to meet happy, smiling children.

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