MSPs thoughts drift to Another Place

Westminster Image copyright PA
Image caption Removal vans have already been spotted at Westminster

It was the final session of questions to the First Minister before the Easter recess. Did they feel demob happy? Was the comradely banter sparkling? Were they anticipating holidays and recreation? Friends, the answer is no, thrice.

Because, of course, these proceedings at Holyrood were completely consumed by concerns about Another Place - as the two Houses at Westminster traditionally and charmingly style each other.

You may be focusing upon Easter or the weekly shop or your offspring's prospects in upcoming exams. Or United's chances on Saturday. For politicians, it is all about the election.

Further, it is about tonight's seven-party televised leaders' debate - itself a handy rehearsal for the big one in Aberdeen next Wednesday.

Even as Labour's Kezia Dugdale posed her customary opening question - about the First Minister's engagements for the day - she smiled, noting that she already knew the answer. That debate.

Nicola Sturgeon caught the mood, laying huge stress upon her busy day in Scotland before, she added, she was due to undertake a wee trip to Manchester. For the debate.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A television broadcast from Manchester was next stop for the First Minister

At which point, the temporary good nature evaporated. Ms Dugdale pursued, once again, the topic of full fiscal autonomy, the system by which Holyrood would control almost all Scottish taxation and expenditure.

Plainly, Labour feels it is on to a good thing. Ms Dugdale said that Labour in office at Westminster would table an early Bill to implement the Smith Commission report on more powers for Holyrood. And maybe more, in line with Labour's thinking.

Would, she asked, the SNP table amendments in line with full fiscal autonomy? Ms Sturgeon said that her party would always back new powers for Holyrood - and would always seek to strengthen them still further.

But, Ms Dugdale pressed, how about those amendments on full fiscal autonomy? The FM had, however, given her own answer in her own way.

Any more, she indicated, would be one hypothesis too far. Would Labour win power? Would they carry out their pledge on more powers?

Rather than being over-specific, she said that Nationalists in the Commons would also be seeking to counter austerity and oppose the upgrade of Trident. At which point, each subsided, appearing content.

Politics can frequently be described as a game of multi-dimensional chess. These exchanges owed more to bridge, to attempts to finesse a trick, to lure your opponents into defeat.

Nicola Sturgeon lumped the Unionist parties together, suggesting they cared little for Scotland's economic prospects. Labour reckoned the SNP were following Tory precepts on public spending.

And the Tories? Ruth Davidson condemned the parties "to the left of me". For one brief moment, I thought she was about to burst into Tennyson.

But, no, the Light Brigade stayed unmustered. She was referring to Labour and the SNP. Apparently, their plans were set to wreck the economy.

Willie Rennie of the Liberal Democrats pursued a topic he has made his own: the stewardship of Police Scotland. On which topic, he was less than complimentary about the bosses. Mind how you go.

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