MSPs could only watch on as the reality of the SNP’s draft budget was laid bare by the boss of a leading Scottish anti-poverty charity this week.
Holyrood committees, often dominated by the intricacies of legislation, rarely garner much attention.
But the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Chris Birt’s eviscerating criticism of the spending plans proved a landmark moment, setting out the stark reality of what he described as the “baffling” choices being made by Humza Yousaf’s government.
While SNP members of the committee relied on a well-worn defence, that the money it has available has been cut in real terms, Mr Birt, formerly a senior civil servant, rightly reminded them it was a budget comprised of choices.
And it was the government’s choice to slash the affordable housing budget which faced the most damning judgement from the anti-poverty expert.
As a reporter, rarely a week will pass without someone from across Tayside and Fife sharing a new, heartbreaking story about how the crisis has hit them.
This is especially acute in areas like Dundee and Fife, where rents have sky-rocketed and priced people, including those who have jobs.
The situation will only worsen as housebuilders such as Stewart Milne flounder and fail.
‘Ministers can’t deny carving up affordable housing budget is baffling’
Ministers should find it impossible to deny that, in the face of a serious, worsening housing crisis, the decision to carve up the budget set aside to tackle this crisis is especially baffling.
SNP MSP Kenneth Gibson, who chairs the committee meant to scrutinise the government, appeared keen to absolve his party of responsibility for the choices they had made, instead accusing Mr Birt of a “polemic”.
But he was quick to show why this argument just won’t stand up to the scrutiny of voters who will surely expect much more.
While the economic reality facing the public coffers is undeniable, this makes it all the more reasonable for Scots to expect the government to justify how it chooses to spend every penny.
Poverty targets must be more than words
The committee members were reminded that they continue to run down the clock on anti-poverty and climate targets they had set.
These targets must be more than words or vague ambitions, only to be met when its easy to do so.
They place a duty on the government to demonstrate how each of its priorities will benefit the more than one million Scots battling crippling poverty.
If they cannot do this, then any attempt by the SNP or their Scottish Green coalition partners to brandish progressive credentials will not be taken seriously.
The crisis of poverty in Scotland is deepening.
Studies suggest ministers will only be able to dream of fulfilling these hopes as the nightmare of poverty remains only too real for too many.
And yes, as Mr Gibson pointed out in his defence of the government, this will mean choices that may prove just as unpopular or prompt fierce criticism from opposition parties.
It may force the government to stall headline-grabbing capital projects, or put on hold election commitments made during a sunnier financial climate.
Government is not easy, but the true test of any leader is when hard choices are demanded from them.
If the government cannot provide leadership, they may learn that voters are eager to find it elsewhere.