Today hailed the first weekly Holyrood gathering of 2016 as our MSPs and party leaders clarified their outlook for the forthcoming election year in Scotland. The debate started off as usual with ‘thoughts for reflection’ and upon reflection, and after hearing the debate, it seems clear this year will see continued blind attacks on the policy of the SNP from all three unionist parties who uniformly agree it is unacceptable for Scots to have an opinion on constitutional change or challenge London centric politics.

Instead, we are expected to accept their Glorious Union as the single option open to us second class citizens and be thankful for whatever budgets they decide to pass North and consider the austerity measures as an added bonus. Thankfully the SNP have committed to pretty much doing the opposite.

Following some discussion of the recent flooding around the country where the Scottish government said their efforts were magnificent and the Unionists said they were crap, Nicola Sturgeon opened the debate proper by summarising progress made by the Scottish Government and alluding to ambitious future plans in closing the attainment gap, social health care reform, new local taxation and social security mitigations, major road and rail improvements and continued house-building and home ownership.

Importantly, if expectedly, the First Minister promised to lead a renewed positive debate on independence and build a majority support for that position. She wanted to “realise the full potential of a nation” and planned to stand on the strength of their performance on health, education, emergency services and building homes. On this basis she would ask voters for a third term.

Nicola went on to say that equally as important but less tangible is the “Flourishing of democratic debate and renewed confidence” across the country. It was interesting when the First Minister finished on a forward thinking statement on no vote being taken for granted and running an upbeat positive campaign due to the contrast of the next speaker.

The stark contrast was delivered in a Reverend I.M. Jolly style by a Kezia Dugdale who followed the First Ministers positivity with the type of classic #snpbad rhetoric that shows you cannot teach an old ‘Dug’ new tricks and the plan for the Scottish branch of Labour is clearly to continue on the path that has witnessed their near decimation as voters rightly punished them.

Dugdale bizarrely then accused the SNP front benchers of ‘making faces’ especially John Swinney, who was actually sitting there poker faced as the camera was on him at the time. She then told the Scottish nation that their aspirations are arguments are of the past as she decided that the scope of the future political debate should only be based on being ruled from London.

It got worse for Dugdale as she had digs about home ownership, forgetting the SNP beat their target to build 30,000 affordable homes and only months before Nicola Sturgeon had also announced a hugely ambitious 50,000 target should they be voted back in power for a third term. The SNP MSP for Aberdeen Central Kevin Stewart summed Kezia’s speech up well as he described Dugdale’s contribution as

“nine and a half minutes of castigating the SNP government and thirty seconds on the vision [of Labours Scottish branch].”

Tory Ruth Davidson is clearly aiming for a certain voter demographic as she spent most of her slot taking a swipe at Labour and accused them of a failed 9 years of opposition on both their key roles of holding the SNP to account and putting forward an alternative vision.

She then made a pitch for the union and told Scots to change the opposition. On education she promoted the ‘Pleasures of a good book’…I would perhaps recommend to her ‘Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea’ by Mark Blyth. Ruth went on with some old favourites like stating the primary goal and purpose of the SNP is the break up of Britain. Interestingly, like Dugdale though she wanted to deny Scots the right to challenge the system they are governed by as she spoke about ‘false grievance’ and ‘unnecessary division’ demanding that Scots moved on from any desire of autonomy. To this, John Swinney said “they are welcome to the scrap for second place, while the SNP get on with governing”

Willie Rennie then followed, and said Davidson attacking Labour astonished him and he seemed genuinely shocked that she had deviated from the #snpbad agreement of the unionist parties. To bring the Unionist parties back in line together, Willie also dished out some advice to the SNP as he demanded the ‘unity of the country’ and that they ‘move on’ from the damaging constitutional debate.

On education, Willie outdone the comedy of Dugdale’s accusation of people making faces at her by using the great line:

“if this years figures are out of date, let’s use the previous years figures”

He also made a pitch for Green votes and had clearly scoured some old Patrick Harvey speeches for environmental issues. I think he has clearly seen the latest polls for May’s Scottish Parliament election placing the Greens well ahead of the Lib Dems. ‘a bright Liberal Green Scotland’ says Willie.

Patrick Harvey made the most reasonable pitch as a credible opposition by talking about public services, tackling inequality and economic growth which Patrick acknowledged was largely but not exclusively the blame of Westminster. He committed the Greens to documenting ideas on local taxation to challenge the SNP in that area, closing the gap between rich and poor where he firmly did blame Westminster and the market power of big business but challenged the Scottish Government for not being bold enough with minimum wage age bands and resistance to conditionality for public funding for companies to be more ethical, towards which he promised the Greens would bring forward policy.

He went on to say “An economy measured by GDP growth ignores all problems such as fracking and a socially just economy” and continued with pointing out we have a dependency on a fossil fuel economy and demanded an urgent transition towards renewables, as Willie Rennie presumably scribbled down his ideas.

The rest of the debate was pretty much more of the same with attacks from the various Yoons, with nonsense like Labour dinosaur Michael McMahon accusing the SNP of being Tories, that their 30,000 new affordable houses were not enough, although he did concede Labours house building level did fall a little short when they were in power (it was 6 (six) in 4 years).

He then invited the SNP to follow the Scottish Labour lead, which presumably meant he would like to see in-fighting, weak leadership, campaigning with the Tories and have their Parliamentary seats decimated. It’s shaping up to be an interesting build up to May, but don’t presume a change of year suddenly brings change of policy. This will suit the SNP who look set to increase their majority further with the Greens perhaps having their best election to date.

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