SP16: The Morning After

I’ll confess to being a lightweight. I snuck off for a few hours sleep right after the Clydesdale results were called and woke up right after the Lothian list so unlike virtually every other political pundit in Scotland right now, I’m able to type only marginally less coherently than normal.

So. How about those results?

The Green contingent has expanded three-fold and whilst I’m more than a little upset that neither of the two candidates covered by my branch, Kirsten Robb and Sarah Beattie-Smith, made it in I’m heartened by the success of the others notably Andy Wightman in Lothians. Who Owns Scotland? We’re about to find out!

My hypothesis that the SNP would come back with another majority appear to have been disproven although a clear pro-independence majority remains. Arguably, the Greens could call this a result significantly in our favour as we move to the wrangling over Parliamentary positioning begins.

I’m willing to be wrong again but I can’t see much appetite for an offer of a formal coalition. It doesn’t seem like good game theory for the SNP to offer up a Ministerial position (almost certainly something like Energy or Environment) just to avoid a two seat minority. Especially when they already have form for running a minority government with a fair degree of success.

I could see a discussion over some kind of Supply and Confidence arrangement based on some concessions that the Greens have campaigned on and over which there’s already a substantial level of support within the SNP membership.

I’ll make one prediction on this point. Unless the SNP are willing to rely on Tory support, Fracking will not happen in Scotland. Good.

I’d be hoping that there might be some more movement over local taxation and, perhaps, the Scottish Government will let Andy formally get his teeth and claws into the Land Reform Bill. That’ll be a joy to watch. The Greens campaigned on giving the Scottish Government the courage to be bolder on a range of issues. Here’s hoping it can.

So, on the vote itself. We saw hints of the total flight of the Right and Unionist vote within Labour as early as November last year but even as the last polls came in they appear to have underestimated the depth of that flight. Ruth Davidson’s campaign to get people to vote Unionist, rather than Conservative, appear to have been successful. What shall be interesting to watch now is what she does with that support. How far can they be pushed on Austerity (or how far can blame for it be deflected) before the Union-at-any-cost vote starts to tally up just that?

Where it leaves Labour is another great unknown. They’ve been utterly wiped from their birthplace in Glasgow and Lanarkshire and have retreated to the Morningside Reds of Edinburgh. They appear to have three choices ahead of them. Either ossify as an increasingly marginal voice in Scottish politics; Abandon the Unionist vote and try to out-left the SNP (I don’t think at this stage that even a drastic Home Rule or Federal position would draw back those now set on independence) or try to out-right the Tories (which would mean claiming, adopting and accelerating Austerity). I cannot honestly see a route back to the forefront of Scottish politics for Labour barring some singularity event such as actual independence or some act of self-destruction within the SNP greater even than the one that UK Labour appear bent on.

The proportionality of AMS was stretched rather to its limits last night. Despite narrowly missing out on a majority the SNP, as the largest party, were the largest beneficiaries of the system gaining approximately 9 seats more than their regional vote percentage would have suggested. The Tories though also benefited gaining about two more seats than their regional vote share whilst Labour broke about even, the Greens losing one seat and the Lib Dems being rather drubbed by the system, losing three seats to the maths. This calculation would have been mitigated by the addition of 6 “Other” seats which, on these results, would have more likely have been distributed amongst the sitting parties rather than going to smaller ones. In most proportional voting systems around the world a minimum threshold of 5% is often applied and, in our case last night, no small party achieved more than 2% nationally or more than 4% in any single region.

Seat Allocation

It’ll be interesting to see if there are any calls for electoral reform based on these results the way even the SNP made a mild complaint about their overwhelming success under FPTP last year.

Another topic which will now need to be thrashed out is the position of Presiding Officer. I reckon that this year the wrangling over whether the party/ies of government or of opposition give up an MSP for the post will be particularly intense this year given the slim margins and the tactical situations faced by each of the parties. The SNP won’t want to dilute their minority any further, Labour won’t want to shrink further either, the Tories and Greens will want to capitalise on their gains to maximum effect and if the Lib Dems lose one more MSP they cease to be an official parliamentary group.

Personally, I’m rather disturbed by the concept of choosing the PO from the MSPs in the first place. Why should the electorate who have only just chosen their representatives have to give one up as the PO must remain neutral, must resign from the political party and whip and have severe restrictions on where and how they vote (Only in the event of a tie and only to maintain the status quo or further the debate). To me, this isn’t a job for a Member of the Scottish Parliament. I’d look towards inspiration from the “checks and balances” of the US. Perhaps the PO should be appointed from a pool of senior judges or similar judicial positions? They are already used to applying impartially the rule of law so should trivially be able to manage Parliament in a neutral manner.

Of course, an alternative to a Presiding Officer could be an elected President, but that is likely to be a discussion for a post-independence situation…

Where do we go from here? I honestly have no idea. Going from bracing for a substantial majority and “the most boring Parliament” of the devolution period (as one pundit put it) to back to the days of actual discussion about policy I think the next five years could be one filled with potential…if we choose to allow it. For a last word:



7 thoughts on “SP16: The Morning After

  1. I’m inclined to agree with your proposals for a Presiding Officer taken from outside the parliament.
    I, like you, didn’t get much sleep so I’m running off a little here with ideas/objections that are hitting my half asleep brain. It won’t make good reading…

    A senior constitutional lawyer (judge) or academic, perhaps, would seem sensible.

    Maybe a sub committee could come up with a list of possibles and a final choice be made by the party leaders. (But I wonder how many judges or academics would be prepared to submit themselves to choice [and possible rejection] by parliament or even a parliamentary committee.)

    Politicians may be prepared to submit to that in the Chamber, but whether senior legal figures would seems to be a point of doubt.

    The alternative though, would be an appointment by the FM of the day, and that would lead to accusations of bias.

    And in any parliament there would be an initial period before the appointment could be made.

    I look forward to others’ ideas.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The P.O position has always been curious, made more so by the fact the term limit on the position denies each sovereign parliament the ability to retain a P.O if they’d like. The constant churn has obvious limitations.

    That all said, I’m unconvinced by the proposal for an elected ‘President of the Chamber’ as it were. Who would elect him? Would there be term limits? Would political neutrality be mandatory? Wouldn’t there be a major risk of politicisation of such a post – even more-so than the P.O position suffers now?

    A bigger priority should be reforming Holyroods ‘committee system’. Last parliament the SNP, in lieu of their majority, effectively had no checks or balances facing their way from the committees system. Surely that’s a bigger priority than the position and role of the P.O?


    • I think an elected President of the Chamber would have to have more of the roles of an actual Presidential Head of State to be worthwhile holding a full election for (hence why it’s more of a post-indy scenario and why I think an appointed judge would be better in the meantime) and I would be inclined to demand political neutrality from them. The checks and balances of the role are already more-or-less in place with strict guidelines over how and where the PO can apply their gavel. I don’t know if an formal impeachment process is already in place but, especially in the case of an elected role, impeachment by 2/3rds Parliamentary vote as is used elsewhere seems sufficient.

      You are correct. The Committee reform/Upper House is a larger immediate priority (though I fear it being downplayed now that “it’s not needed in light of a minority government”). The Greens, Common Weal and I personally all have fairly well defined positions on this already (ad hoc Citizen’s Juries guided by a chairing MSP and expert evidencers as required) but perhaps I could make this the topic of a future blog post.


    • I’m not sure that political bias would be any more likely in a judge or legal academic than it would in a serving politician, Dean.

      We’ve been lucky in that the 4 we’ve had so far have been relatively good at adjudicating without much trace of bias.

      Liked by 1 person

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