FOR an historic event, Derek Mackay’s draft |Budget statement was distinctly short on drama.

The first such statement by Mr Mackay was also the first by any Scottish Finance Secretary since the Scottish Government gained powers to vary income tax.

But there was little theatre and no pulling of rabbits from the fiscal hat of the sort practised by former UK chancellor George Osborne, for example.

Instead, perhaps out of a sense that the electorate craves some political and economic stability, it was a cautious Budget, delivered without spectacle.

The most controversial aspect was the local government settlement, with Mr Mackay insisting he had increased the funds available for local services by £250 million. Opponents called this a con, saying the true outcome would be a £327m real-terms cut for councils.

This is a major gulf in perception. The reality depends partly on how ring-fencing is viewed. There is a cut to local government’s income from Holyrood of £450m in 2017-18, offset by £357m from the NHS to pay for the spend on joint health and social care care. But it still looks like a reduction and Mr Mackay conceded that there will have to be cuts, or “efficiencies” , across the public sector.

A lack of willingness to use Scotland’s new tax-raising powers was another feature of the Budget. Despite freezing income tax, the Scottish Government will encourage local authorities to increase council tax, although only by a maximum of three per cent.

This, along with Mr Mackay’s refusal to replicate a tax cut for high earners brought in by the Conservative Government at Westminster, led to criticism that Scotland would have the highest taxed middle classes in the UK.

That is perhaps true but the electorate might not object if there are successes in key areas. There is to be a £20m increase in the £100m available to help tackle the attainment gap in schools and a commitment that the money will be in the gift of headteachers to use as they see best.

Taxpayers may also be tolerant if the Government can mitigate the worst consequences of austerity and make headway in dealing with pressures on health and social services.

The Conservatives and some business owners were less sanguine, accusing the Finance Secretary of risking a choking off of economic recovery. But companies were largely reassured by the fact that Mr Mackay had not chosen to increase income tax while he reduced rates for many businesses and increased the threshold for the Small Business Bonus Scheme. Yet with a reduction in growth forecasts to one per cent this year and 1.3per cent next year, blamed on Brexit, it is still not clear quite what it is in this Budget that will drive economic vibrancy.

One question that will occupy Mr Mackay into the New Year is this: who will help the minority SNP Government get this Budget through Parliament?

The Scottish Conservatives and Scottish Labour immediately rejected supporting his plans, while the Greens’ Patrick Harvie was unconvinced. Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, perhaps Mr Mackay’s best option, said there were “miles to travel” before there could be any agreement; such is politics.

Assuming the Budget is ultimately passed, the real challenge for the Scottish Government will be to deliver on the promises the measures are designed to address. Against a backdrop of further major cuts to local services, the public will be looking for clear progress in education, particularly in cutting the gap in outcomes between children from poor and wealthy backgrounds.

Nicola Sturgeon has made education her Government’s focus but progress has not been rapid, with Scotland achieving disappointing results in the international Pisa survey of educational performance and domestic figures showing a fall in the numbers achieving expected levels in numeracy and literacy as they progress through the system.

Voters will be looking for evidence that the challenges facing health and social care can be met head on, without the turmoil being endured by the NHS in England.

Mr Mackay offered a £500m increase for the NHS above inflation, including a £72m next year for primary care and GP services and more than £150m for mental health, over five years.

Most importantly, the public will look for signs that the Scottish Government can deliver economic growth. The Budget included a £500m Scottish Growth Scheme in 2017, offering financial support for business investment but apparent cuts to enterprise funding.

Should he be successful in these areas, Mr Mackay will have a powerful argument against gripes that Scots face higher taxes than their near neighbours. But if the Government fails to deliver, despite higher levels of taxation, Mr Mackay and his party will be all too aware that a price can be paid at the polls.