First Minister's Questions: Slaying dragons and lizards

St George's Day Image copyright PA
Image caption The battle for votes continued on 23 April - St George's Day

St George's Day - and are there dragons still to be slain? The Institute for Fiscal Studies inclines towards a yes although they appear to detect qualities pertaining to a large lizard in each of the competing parties' offers.

They urge the Conservatives to provide more detail with regard to their proposed spending cuts. They say that Labour has been "vague" about the extent of planned borrowing. The Liberal Democrats are reckoned to be somewhat optimistic about efficiencies.

At Holyrood, the immediate focus was upon the SNP. Such is the nature of questions to the First Minister. But Nicola Sturgeon ensured that she drew attention to other aspects of the IFS report too.

First, though, Labour's Kezia Dugdale wanted to spotlight injudicious remarks made - pseudonymously, on Twitter, need you ask - by Neil Hay who would be the SNP MP for Edinburgh South, should the voters so choose.

Ms Dugdale wanted Mr Hay sacked. This Ms Sturgeon cannot, entirely, do in that his name is now on the ballot paper and cannot be withdrawn. The SNP could suspend him or withhold support from him. Ms Sturgeon opted rather to condemn his remarks but to suggest that it might be sensible, given the proximity of the election, to let the voters decide.

The First Minister also noted that Labour was not entirely guiltless on the topic, citing a Labour activist - not a candidate - who had been less than complimentary about the SNP.

On then to the IFS. They say of the SNP that they would prolong austerity inasmuch as their plans are designed to extend the period over which the deficit would be driven down.

They say further that the SNP plans would, under the illustrative scenario deployed, result in a reduction in the Scottish block grant, mostly on the basis that the Nationalists have issued no formal pledge to protect education spending.

SNP rhetoric

Labour say this undermines the SNP's core argument. Ms Sturgeon said the IFS reckoning was flawed in that it used incorrect assumptions, most notably on projected borrowing under SNP thinking.

Ms Dugdale insisted that SNP rhetoric did not match the reality, as exposed by the IFS. Ms Sturgeon argued that Scottish Labour had attempted to pretend that they would not introduce spending cuts, only to be "slapped down" by the party's UK leadership.

Image caption Ruth Davidson quizzed Ms Sturgeon about the government's decision to change its mind on corroboration
Image copyright PA
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon defended her party's approach to public spending and the economy
Image caption Kezia Dugdale picked up on the social media activity of an SNP candidate

Unfortunately for the Liberal Democrats, this was their fallow week at Holyrood - when their leader misses out on the chance to pose a question to the FM. Nevertheless, Willie Rennie - out on the campaign trail - argued that his party would offer a middle way between excessive borrowing and over-zealous spending cuts.

The Tories argued that their approach was best - and would most readily eliminate the deficit. However, in questions to the FM, Ruth Davidson opted to pursue an issue of Scottish government policy. And to do so with vigour.

She referred to the SG's U-turn on the issue of abandoning the requirement for corroboration in Scottish court cases. The initial pursuit of this policy, she said, had been driven by a sense that government knows best, that criticism can be ignored.

Ms Davidson said those who raised objections had been traduced in public. However, Nicola Sturgeon insisted that her government took great pains to heed public and expert opinion. Decisions were based upon accumulated evidence. Bit like an election, really.

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