It is Budget time again at the Scottish Parliament.
There is a great deal I enjoy about my role as an MSP. This is my least favourite aspect.
It is not that it is difficult – sometimes unpopular decisions must be taken, defended and implemented when you are the party of government -that goes with the territory.
It is the process that has evolved around the budget in our parliament I find so disappointing.
The public finances currently are the most challenging since the advent of devolution 25 years ago. And that has a knock-on effect on how a raft of public services are delivered.
Tough choices must be made as the Government, in which I am a serving minister, seeks to produce a balanced budget, as it is legally required to do.
I could point the finger at Westminster for this. Other parties will point the finger at the Scottish Government. But let us park that for a moment and simply recognise that the position is difficult, to say the least.
Just like we as individuals have to budget according to our incomes, the Government must seek to do the same.
The opposition at Holyrood has the right to propose alternative choices and put those to the vote – albeit if they are seeking amended spending in certain areas then they are required to balance that by making cuts elsewhere. And that’s where my frustration arises.
When I was first elected an MSP back in 2011, budget time saw lots of discussions between parties behind the scenes. Alternative suggestions are put forward and sometimes, just sometimes support for the government comes from surprising quarters.
I can remember for example two Lib Dem colleagues once breaking ranks and backing an SNP budget because of concessions within it for the distinct communities they represented.
Those days have gone, however. The SNP’s political opponents will claim there is no point because the coalition government commands a majority and will get its budget through regardless.
But democracy is poorly served by the lack of grown-up debate around the budget.
Opposition politicians simply highlighting a list of things within the draft proposals that they don’t like without the semblance of any effort being made to present an alternative case does the reputation of the institution no favours at all. The first stage of the budget has passed. There remain two further stages during which the opposition can advance credible, costed alternatives. Let’s see if they do.