FMQs Review – Labour Springs Sturgeon’s Trap

How far we have come and how much closer to the General Election we now are. In November, during her opening FMQs, the new First Minister (FM) stated that she had come to the job with “an open mind and willingness to hear proposals from all sides of the chamber”. She said that she was not standing there “saying things were perfect” but she would work cross-party to “improve matters”. In doing so, she set herself a trap for Labour to spring – and so it seems they have.

As the FM responded with her own politicking on austerity to Labour’s accusations of inaction and inadequacy over falling oil prices, Dugdale stated it was a “new First Minister, but the same old song”. The new style was gone only two months in. The FM’s valiant attempts to bring about her much loved Borgen-style vision for Holyrood had failed.

Even though many refute the idea that the SNP could steal the Scottish Labour rump  from Miliband, the party won’t be waiting for any sort of consensus in Holyrood. The party needs to be on the front foot at all times to fulfil Murphy’s promise of keeping their 2010 MP numbers north of the Border. Dugdale fired into falling oil prices with some rehearsed lines; the length of time it took the FM to find Aberdeen on a map; she was trading the stability of Barnett for the instability of oil prices whilst accusing the FM of being “unable to spend the money she’s got”. Dugdale almost sniggered at her own lines – they were blunt, but this is FMQs. In essence, the Labour leader said the falling oil price was a threat to jobs and revenues and the Scottish Government’s response was insufficient.

Before laying out the Government’s response on oil, Sturgeon highlighted that Labour had voted with the Tories on the “budget responsibility charter” – see “further austerity” in rhetorical terms. Five Labour MPs defied their whips, and some abstained, but Sturgeon re-enacted referendum tactics by blurring the lines between Labour and the Tories. She refuted Dugdale’s accusations, stating the Government had setup a jobs taskforce to provide assistance to those faced with redundancy and were calling on the UK Government to setup a general investment allowance, a reverse in the supplementary charge and the introduction of an exploration tax credit. Westminster had failed to create an oil fund to cope with situations such as this, she said. The cupboard was bear.  It was a strong, policy heavy response with a dash of Westminster bashing, but viewers won’t so easily forget the second oil boom on which the Scottish Government based its plan for an independent Scotland. Sweeping up after referendum promises was going to be harder than promising jam tomorrow.

It was on this platform that Ruth Davidson highlighted previous Government oil and gas bulletins which had boasted of rising prices and improved extraction, and on which they had used to plan a future independent Scotland. She queried whether they would continue to be published. “In due course”, the FM answered to much jeering from opposition benches. The FM reiterated her call to action to Westminster, stating the Government would look at all practical suggestions on addressing the issue.

Willie Rennie later joined the tirade, identifying bodies such as Job Centre Plus and the Department of Business, Innovation of Skills who had been excluded from the Government’s jobs taskforce. Rennie also linked back to Sturgeon’s early promises – she promised consensus Government which was now based on exclusion, he said.  The FM denied that organisations had been excluded from the taskforce whilst lambasting opposition parties for looking to score political points. Again, the irony was not lost, given the SNP’s previous claims. Expect plenty more electioneering to come.

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