The last FMQs before the Christmas break featured the new all-female line-up as Kezia Dugdale joined Ruth Davidson and Nicola Sturgeon at the Holyrood lecterns.
‘Consensus’ was the buzzword of the afternoon. Both the SNP and Labour leadership have sought to hark back to one of the original principles of the Scottish Parliament – cooperation. However, it was all talk and no action from the opposition leaders as Dugdale sought to make a flying start by attacking the Government on their response to dropping oil prices. It begged the question, how long can the First Minister stay clear of the normal ding-dong of exchanges?
Dugdale led on the dropping oil price warning of cuts in wages and jobs which was already beginning in the North-East of Scotland. She called for an emergency plan from the Government to save jobs and demanded an inquiry into the politicisation of oil prices, which has been pursued by Labour members. (Labour has criticised the SNP Government for forecasting such a high oil prices during the referendum and not predicting the slump.)
Sturgeon persisted with consensus and the need for all MSPs to get behind calls to the UK Government for a more favourable tax environment. She defended the Government’s actions sighting skills investment, a commitment to 500 Modern Apprenticeships annually for the sector and the creation of the Energy Skills Academy. The First Minister invited suggestions from the opposition stating that they would be seriously considered. She coarsely commented that she hoped Dugdale’s talk of a consensual approach would last beyond the first FMQs. No such luck.
Suggestions mattered little to Dugdale as she picked holes in the First Minister’s approach. The Labour leader stated that Sturgeon would get the support when she went to the UK Government, but the Scottish Government were responsible for such things as “onshore business taxes, support for finding markets, supporting infrastructure”, and action was required now to prevent a crisis. Swinney shouted in frustration and Dugdale and Marra purred and grinned in the realisation that they had roweled up the Government front bench in their opening week.
Davidson entered the fray by calling for a reconsideration of the new stamp duty rates proposed for introduction by John Swinney. The Tories have called for new bands which include a higher starting tax rate of £140,000 and a drop of 5% on homes valued between £250,000 and £500,000. Davidson described the current SNP plans as a £80m tax grab which was contrary to Swinney’s announcement in which he said the proposals would be tax neutral.
Sturgeon again tried at consensus. But then shot right to the heart of the Tory proposals by questioning the fairness of banding in which 80% of people who buy houses under £250,000 would be £100 better off, against 2% who buy houses over £500,000 who would be £12,600 better off. It was an equality wrecking ball straight through Davidson’s plans.