Holyrood 2016: Campaign in pictures
IT'S the election campaign many saw as being over before it began - although Ruth Davidson, Willie Rennie and Kezia Dugdale were not going to let that get in the way of fun.
Amid predictions of another crushing SNP victory in the 2016 Holyrood vote, the leaders of the Scottish Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour parties were looking to lighten the mood as they visited confectioners, cafes and activity centres across the country.
Ms Davidson - who stood in Edinburgh Central - played football, drove rally cars, downed pints and enjoyed tasty treats at the Capital’s Choco-latte sweet shop.
Not to be outdone, Mr Rennie held falcons, flew planes, mucked out with pigs and paddled a canoe in a bid to boost his electoral prospects.
Ms Dugdale paid a visit to the Portuguese-style Casa Amiga cafe on Leith Walk, learning how to make a decent cup of coffee while deflecting claims she applied to the SNP for a research job.
But alongside colourful photo opportunities, there was serious debate as the leaders grappled with issues such as the named person legislation, higher taxes for the wealthy and securing economic growth on the back of lower oil prices.
And with the SNP riding high in the polls, journalists and political experts focussed much of their analysis on whether the Scottish Conservatives could achieve the previously unthinkable and push Labour into third place.
Unsurprisingly, discussion about the possibility of another referendum on Scottish independence was particularly heated.
During a recent BBC debate, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon was accused of breaking pledges to respect the result of the 2014 vote.
She came under pressure from Labour, the Tories and Liberal Democrats over her planned drive this summer to build support for a new plebiscite.
Ms Dugdale, Labour candidate for Edinburgh Eastern, claimed her rival was “trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the people of Scotland” by resurrecting the chances of another referendum.
Mr Rennie also went on the attack, urging Ms Sturgeon’s party to move away from the constitutional debate.
“By voting for the Liberal Democrats, people will send the message that they want the next five years to be about education, mental health, the environment and civil liberties rather than a ‘groundhog day’ referendum,” he said.
But Ms Sturgeon was quick to hit back, insisting later that her view on an independence vote was about respecting the will of the people.
She said: “My position on a second referendum is rooted in democracy - if there is no demand for it there won’t be one.
“On the other hand if people want independence, if it becomes the preferred option Scottish Election 2016 of a majority, then I don’t think anyone has the right to stand in its way.”
The debate also saw the party leaders clash over the future of defence ship-building jobs on the Clyde - whose safety had been guaranteed during the referendum - and health spending.
SNP leaders have regularly come under fire over what many view as a patchy record on improving educational attainment and public health outcomes.
And with recent rises in Scotland’s unemployment rate, party bosses have faced demands to spell out how they will boost the economy.
Ms Sturgeon has responded by insisting that raising academic performance in schools will be her “number one priority” if she is re-elected.
In an indication that the relationship between schools and councils could be set for dramatic change, she also claimed a new SNP government would hand more power over key decisions to parents and teachers.
Meanwhile, the Scottish Conservatives have become increasingly confident that, even if they appear to have no chance of winning, they are close to replacing Labour as the country’s main party of opposition.
Candidate Iain McGill, who stood in Edinburgh Northern and Leith, said: “People who have never voted Tory before are voting Tory this time.”
The Greens are also expecting a good result.
Alison Johnstone, who campaigned in Edinburgh Central, said: “Greens have a progressive tax policy that would enable us to ensure people have access to great local services. Libraries and sports centres have suffered in recent years and we need to make sure we continue to invest in them properly.”