What did we learn from the last FMQs of the summer?

The last First Minister’s Questions before MSPs go on holiday until August was another groundhog day in the Holyrood chamber.

Despite Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement of her intention to hold an independence referendum on October 19, 2023, perhaps predictably the main opposition parties steered well clear of the central issue of the week.

Opposition focused on domestic issues

Pre-recess sessions of FMQs are regularly a rehash of old ground and based on the most comfortable angles for parties wanting an easy headline before MSPs disappear off on holiday.

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It is therefore no surprise that both the Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Labour stuck to their areas of comfort, namely justice and health respectively.

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The question of independence – the big story of the week by anyone’s measure – was relegated to snipes and allusions.

This allowed the opposition to keep the pressure on in terms of domestic priorities.

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Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon answered questions at the last First Minister's Questions of the year.

SNP not under serious pressure

However, it hardly landed on the First Minister.

It’s not as if Nicola Sturgeon is used to simultaneously defending her domestic record while beating the independence drum.

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That’s been her modus operandi since before she was First Minister and it is almost a reflex for the SNP leader to dismiss concerns raised by opposition with a quick reference to comparative performance.

This FMQs highlighted one challenge for opposition they will be glad of the recess to consider.

Namely, how do they get past the independence bluster and truly damage Ms Sturgeon on a domestic record while also preventing her from talking about the constitution or force her into a tactical error of doing so on a serious, salient public issue.

Sarwar sending people to sleep with stats attack

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There is something very worthy about turning up at every FMQs with a list of statistics as long as your arm and using them against your political opponent.

The problem is that any politician worth their salt knows how to use their own helpful statistics to dull any attack on that basis and the audience will almost always switch off.

Anas Sarwar’s approach on cancer waiting times works when the First Minister acknowledges the problem, but only if people are still listening.

Too often the key question comes after he sends most people at home watching to sleep.

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Want to hear more from The Scotsman's politics team? Check out the latest episode of our political podcast, The Steamie.

It's available wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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