Tom Peterkin: Season’s greetings offered through gritted-teeth are all part of the Christmas spirit at Holyrood

Johann Lamont wished everyone a Merry Christmas at First Minister's Questions
Johann Lamont wished everyone a Merry Christmas at First Minister's Questions
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“I WISH everyone in this chamber and everyone in the country a merry Christmas and a happy and more prosperous New Year,” said the Labour leader Johann Lamont at First Minister’s Questions yesterday.

It was a sentiment that was not welcomed by those who go to Holyrood’s weekly Punch and Judy show in anticipation of a good old fashioned dust up.

Fortunately, hostilities were swiftly resumed and, as ever, the punters were treated to yet another fractious session.

The prospect of sweetness and light raising their ugly heads was dismissed by Lamont’s follow-up remark. “And in the First Minister’s case I wish him as good a year next year as he has had this,” she said.

Clearly, the Labour leader felt 2012 had been a year to forget for the SNP.

The Christmas gospel, according to Johann, decreed that 2012 had seen Salmond “tell us he had legal advice on the EU when he hadn’t.

“That college funding was going up when he was cutting it, and that we would have a seat on the monetary policy committee of the Bank of England when he hadn’t spoken to them.”

Certainly, Lamont’s version of 2012 in miniature reflected the fact that the SNP has not had its troubles to seek.

Maybe 2012 was always going to be a tricky year for the SNP compared with the astonishing highs of 2011, when the Nationalists returned the first majority at Holyrood.

But it is particularly striking that serious questions about Salmond’s vision of independence, and the way it can be achieved, were raised almost as soon as the ink was dry on the Edinburgh Agreement.

As soon as the arguments about process (the number of referendum questions, the timing of the poll etc) were settled, the Scottish Government found itself on challenging terrain.

The SNP’s failure to do its homework on EU membership has been particularly damaging.

Needless to say, Lamont did not get it all her own way at FMQs, with Salmond having a go at her admission that students could have to pay tuition fees.

In that regard, Salmond’s line of attack was further evidence that yesterday’s FMQs was 2012 in microcosm. Ever since Lamont announced that she wanted to end Scotland’s “something for nothing” culture and review the universal services, the SNP has pounced on this as an Achilles heel.

Coupled with this have been the SNP’s efforts to constantly portray Labour as a party entangled in an unholy alliance with the Tories – both in the Better Together campaign and on policy, a stance that Salmond described as a “disgrace” yesterday.

In 2012, the arguments trotted out yesterday became as predictable as turkey at Christmas. The bad news is that we can expect more of the same in 2013.