SCOTTISH Labour's plan to stop evictions due to the so-called bedroom tax was shot down by the Scottish Government within 24 hours.
A day after MSPs Jackie Baillie and Iain Gray and Mark Macmillan, the leader of Renfrewshire Council, held a Holyrood press conference, the proposals they outlined were dismissed as "pure hypocrisy" and "political opportunism" by Housing Minister Margaret Burgess.
If there remained any lingering doubt where the SNP stood after that, Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon delivered the coup de grâce during Thursday night's ill-tempered TV debate with Scottish Labour deputy leader Anas Sarwar when she ruled out any co-operation over a Bill to protect tenants unable to pay their rent and rejected a call for £50 million to be made available to support councils and housing associations struggling with soaring arrears.
Far from being a one-day wonder, however, the row is just beginning. Like everything else, these days the bedroom tax, actually a reduction in housing benefit for those deemed to have surplus rooms, has become a proxy for the independence debate.
For the Nationalists it is a prime example of an unpopular UK Government foisting an unwanted policy on Scotland and proof of the need for independence. For Labour it is a prime example of an unpopular UK Government foisting an unwanted policy on Scotland of the kind devolution was designed to tackle. Holyrood can do much more to help, insists Labour. The SNP, it claims, has no interest in alleviating the impact of the bedroom tax because it is a central plank of the independence campaign. That's the not- very-sub subtext to this week's manoeuvring and highly dispiriting it must be to the 82,500 people in Scotland whose benefits have been cut by between 14% and 25%.
They must look on as the two sides continue to slug it out. At a guess, Labour will go through the motions of drafting a Member's Bill, introducing it and complaining bitterly when the SNP blocks it. It also looks like Labour MSPs are positioning themselves to vote against Finance Secretary John Swinney's pre-referendum Budget if he refuses to come up with the £50m required to mitigate fully the impact of the cuts.
These skirmishes will give Labour at least six months of attacking the Scottish Government for failing to do all it could to tackle the bedroom tax. Don't expect it to be one-way traffic, though. The £50m figure may amount to a relatively trifling 0.2% of the Scottish Government's budget, but Labour will come under intense pressure to explain what spending should be cut to pay for it. The Nationalists are itching to revisit Scottish Labour leader Johann's Lamont's "cuts commission", as they call it, the group of Labour MSPs and experts looking at the affordability of free prescriptions and other entitlements.
Labour's attacks are also likely to be blunted by Ed Miliband's painfully nuanced stance on the bedroom tax. The UK Labour leader says the UK Government should scrap it now, but refuses to confirm he will abolish it himself if he becomes prime minister after the General Election in 2015. It's a fudge Ms Sturgeon exploited easily in her clash with Mr Sarwar and it will be thrown back in Labour faces at every opportunity.
Away from the Holyrood chamber and the television studios, Labour's plans met a mixed response from the housing sector. Homeless charity Shelter was broadly supportive as it launched a campaign against the "bedroom tax monster", which called for an immediate £20m package of support from the Scottish Government. However, the Scottish Federation Of Housing Associations warned compensation for landlords could only be a short-term solution and efforts should be focused on reversing the benefit cuts.
Finally, with the bedroom tax starting to look like a political war zone, in stepped the United Nations.
Special envoy Raquel Rolnik, a Brazilian architect and housing expert, arrived in Scotland as part of an investigation into whether the benefits cuts breached the UN's charter on human rights that safeguards "the right to a standard of living adequate for health and wellbeing".
If Scotland's tenants are looking on bamboozled, we can only imagine what she makes of it all.
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