AT least one portion of the Chancellor’s Budget began to take shape as soon as the ink dried on the Conservative Party’s deal with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

The Scottish Conservatives, flush with success after electing a dozen more MPs, got it in the neck for failing to “Barnettise” the cash from this deal. It mattered not that an additional “bung” for Northern Ireland had nothing to do with the Barnett Formula; the “optics” were terrible.

Ruth Davidson, after all, had promised that her Westminster contingent would “stand up for Scotland”, and here they were apparently standing idly by as Scotland lost out to keep the DUP happy.

After the row had died down, Scottish Tory strategists realised the Budget offered an opportunity to try to repair the damage. Over the past few months, Ms Davidson made it known that she had been lobbying the Treasury to secure something for Scotland in Philip Hammond’s Budget. And that something had to be outwith the normal Barnett consequentials automatically arising from increases in UK departmental spending.

Thus, the key line in Mr Hammond’s statement was about exempting Scotland’s police and fire services from VAT as of next April, bringing them into line with their counterparts elsewhere in the UK. Mr Hammond blamed the Scottish Government for letting this disparity arise in the first place (the SNP, naturally, blames him) but said his “Scottish Conservative colleagues” had “persuaded” him “the Scottish people” shouldn’t lose out due to the “obstinacy” of the SNP Government (there would, however, be no rebate on VAT already paid, as demanded by the First Minister).

Now it seems unlikely that Scotland’s pubs were full of rejoicing police officers and fire service personnel last night, but the Scottish Tories will be happy, content that their claim to “stand up for Scotland” won’t sound as hollow as in the immediate wake of the Tory-DUP deal. An additional £2 billion through Barnett consequentials, progress on City Deals for the Tay Cities and Stirling, as well as a growth deal for the “Borderlands”, were also announced.

The Chancellor armed his Scottish Tory colleagues with sticks with which to beat the SNP in the years ahead. He also took aim at Scottish Government criticism of the Treasury’s approach to the North Sea oil industry by announcing a “transferable tax history” for oil and gas fields. Again, he credited 13 Scottish Conservative MPs with convincing him to support such an “innovative” move.

That was the Budget’s Scottish dimension; what of the overall package? It was what it was always going to be, a damage limitation job amid the extraordinary external pressure of what Harold Macmillan called events, dear boy, events. Usually the first Budget of a new Parliament is the defining statement of that term, an opportunity to set the course of the Government’s economic strategy for the next four or five years.

Had Theresa May secured her anticipated landslide majority that might have been possible, even in the context of Brexit, but the resulting psychodrama meant that, instead of implementing manifesto pledges, the Chancellor had to fend off various competing demands, not only cash for the DUP deal but also something to give the Scottish Conservatives a good press release and, naturally, some goodies to keep millennials (rail cards for the under 30s), Brexiters (£3 million to prepare) and natural Labour voters (£1.5bn to deal with Universal Credit issues) happy.

It’s worth remembering that everything started to go wrong for Spreadsheet Phil even before the “snap” General Election. In his March Budget the Chancellor had attempted a reasonable (yet badly presented) reform to National Insurance but a media-political backlash forced him into a U-turn. Then he tried to tackle inter-generational inequality by scrapping the pension triple lock in the Tory manifesto but a backlash put an end to that, too.

While this might appear an unfashionable view, it has always seemed to me that Mr Hammond gets what needs to be done but lacks the agility (and all-important presentational skills) to see it through. The Chancellor is also regarded as a realist as to the course of Brexit negotiations, although it seems he’s as much a prisoner of events as his boss in that respect. That realism, however, didn’t prevent a Brexity moment when he claimed the UK economy continued to “confound those who talk it down”, that being a euphemism for what used to be known as legitimate fact-based criticism. Furthermore, Mr Hammond said he was ready to allocate more cash to prepare for “every possible outcome”, although by most analysis £3bn seems small beer under even the best-case scenario.

More broadly, what the UK Government still lacks (much like the SNP as to its own constitutional project) is a convincing economic strategy for life outside the European Union, its customs union and single market. Instead (much like Labour), it continues to make new spending commitments without making it entirely clear how they’re to be paid for.

Yesterday’s Budget, therefore, could be seen as the UK Government’s last credible opportunity to regain the political initiative following a turbulent 18 months. Frankly, it doesn’t look as if it has succeeded.