FMQs: Nicola Sturgeon still knows which buttons to push despite pressures

First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood can often feel like a recurring nightmare for those who watch the spectacle of political theatre each week, but for those at the centre of the drama it is often where momentum is won and lost.

Nicola Sturgeon faced down her two main domestic foes in Douglas Ross and Anas Sarwar and reprised her role as Scotland’s most adept politician.

This is not to say that either of the two opposition leaders were underwhelming as both were in fact on strong ground and had acceptable performances.

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon attends First Minster's Questions in the debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh.

But it is the First Minister who continues to know exactly which buttons to press to remind the wider electorate why they continue to prefer the SNP over the Conservatives or Labour.

Take the Tories. Their biggest weakness during the election was the fact they campaigned not to win – they discounted that possibility before the gun had even fired – but to stop indyref2.

Ross performed well and came out of the election stronger for it by not losing any seats.

He is therefore a useful foil for the wider unionist movement to mobilise supporters and continue to dent the hopes of independence supporters – a role in which, so far, he has acquitted himself well.

However, he does not appear a serious contender to ever become First Minister.

Sturgeon knows this and she knows the electorate agrees.

In the face of legitimate criticism of a rushed and confused vaccine passport scheme, she resorted to reminding Scots that she is serious about running the country, while her opposite number is not.

It is cheap, but it lands and reinforces public opinion that she is the safest pair of hands to lead Scotland.

Sarwar also fell into a similar trap, with Sturgeon focusing squarely on the constitution to avoid the serious politics.

Asked why she couldn’t give the poorest £70 extra this winter, the SNP leader responded with asking Labour to back further financial powers for Holyrood.

In an instant, the discussion is lost to the maelstrom of the constitution – hardly strong ground for Labour – and the chances of any political damage are nullified.

Sturgeon is canny enough to know this approach plays well with her existing support. It’s up to both opposition leaders to find ways around it.

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