Mutual difference of opposition parties

An intriguing set of responses from opposition parties in the Holyrood chamber this afternoon to John Swinney's final budget proposals - intriguing not because of their similarity but because of their mutual differences.

Mr Swinney is adamant that he has done the best with limited resources, emphasising capital expenditure, providing extra money to limit the cuts in housing and reversing to some degree the extent of the cuts faced by colleges.

Taking the lead from their spokesman Ken Macintosh, a succession of Labour MSPs lined up to attack the budget package in its entirety.

Insufficient, misplaced, wrong priorities, not a budget to tackle youth unemployment.

In response, Mr Swinney, Bruce Crawford and SNP backbenchers challenged Labour to say what they would cut to meet their spending commitments.

So far, so predictable.

But the criticism from Gavin Brown of the Tories was more nuanced, more modulated.

He said that all the extra largesse on offer from Mr Swinney had originated with the UK government (chief proprietor, Mr Brown's party.) And he condemned in particular the continuing (albeit reduced) levy on large retailers. It would, he said, make Scotland more uncompetitive.

Then we heard from Willie Rennie of the Lib Dems. Would he too laud the level of cash made available by the UK government? To the contrary, he praised Mr Swinney for coping with a very tight settlement in tough times.

His entire speech was a model of gentle, emollient oratory. He praised the partial concession on colleges. He praised the effort to improve the housing market.

To be clear, he stressed that the Lib Dems would have done certain things differently, but his tone was one of cautious praise, rather than strident condemnation.

UPDATE: In the vote on Stage Three of the Budget, the Lib Dems backed the SNP Government. That late decision by the Lib Dems involved close internal discussion.