Monday, May 28, 2007

It's Early Days

Well, that's two weeks into an SNP government and the sun still rises in the east; the earth still turns on its axis; no-one's been forced to sell their first born son into slavery; and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse seem curiously absent from the horizon. More prosaically, business confidence appears to be on the rise, exposing those who claimed to foresee a flight of business from an SNP-run Scotland as the charlatans they always were. With no-one leaping out of the top floor windows of a burning Standard Life building, or running for the first shuttle to London (Michelle Mone's gone awfy quiet, don't you think?), it looks like another demon has been exorcised.

I had my doubts about minority government, but thus far, the signs look reasonably promising. Having to build up consensus for policies instead of being able to railroad them through, might spare us the legislative diarrhoea which afflicted the first eight years of devolution. Fair enough, after 300 years of being a legal afterthought, much needed done. But banning fur farms which don't exist or getting into a fankle over fox hunting? I mean, come on.

Although it will probably take the Lib Dems a while to get used to not being in government, oddly, it seems to be the Tories, the last bastions of FPTP winner takes all absolutism, who have best grasped the possibilities offered by minority government. Sure, the potential is there for the other parties to bring everything to a grinding halt, but with a 2/3rds majority needed to bring down the administration and the SNP having over 1/3rd of the MSPs, it ain't going to happen unless a few SNP MSPs decide to vote against their own side in a confidence motion.

No, while Labour still chunters away as if Scottish voters have somehow conspired to cheat the party of its birthright, the Tories are the ones bringing forward proposals to the SNP on which they'd be prepared to co-operate. Together with the Greens on ship-to-ship transfers, and potentially the Lib Dems on council tax, a coherent program for government should be possible with sufficient give and take on all sides. Only Jack McConnell is left arguing for a demolition derby of unamended manifesto proposals.

There's been a marked improvement in the quality of ministers, and so far partisanship has been at a premium. Keeping Elish Angiolini as the Lord Advocate but out of Cabinet was a shrewd move, allowing the SNP to retain a talented member of the government while responding to concerns about the politicisation of the prosecution service. As Iain MacWhirter writes in today's Herald, it might come back to bite the government later, but it was still the right thing to do.

It's not all good, though. I'm still trying to stifle a yawn at the myriad 'conflict with Westminster' stories which have cropped up to date (is it too cynical to wonder if most were drafted in advance?). If revisiting the issues of attendance allowance; fishing representation in Europe and reminding people that nuclear power is neither economical nor necessary in Scotland can be seen as provoking 'conflict', it just goes to show how unambitious previous administrations must have been.

Nothing that the SNP has said so far in government would have raised so much as an eyebrow in Flanders, Bavaria or Catalunia. But the relationship between Edinburgh and London does need to be tested, if only to establish some ground rules on how the two governments will deal with one another in future. Labour's informal networks could allow differences to be resolved privately in the past, but with both Blair and Brown apparently refusing to lift the phone to the First Minister, some government protocols and political lines of communication need to be established.

Conflict for its own sake is a waste of everyone's time and energy. However, honest dialogue which establishes boundaries, clarifies relationships and resolves areas of contention, can only be of benefit to Scotland and Whitehall. Having government ministers who won't always feel compelled to keep their counsel when differences appear between Holyrood and Westminster is a huge step forward for the good governance of Scotland. Handled properly, it can be a maturing process for both parties.


Anonymous said...

Where do you get the two-thirds majority required to dismiss the Government? GREAT news if this is indeed the case, I had a quick scan of the Scotland Act but couldn't see any reference. Could you provide the link?

Great blog, by the way :-)

Richard Thomson said...

Hi, Anon.

Thanks for your kind comment. The 2/3rds rule is set out in Part 1, 3(1)a, under the section headed 'Extraordinary general elections'.

"3. - (1) The Presiding Officer shall propose a day for the holding of a poll if-

(a) the Parliament resolves that it should be dissolved and, if the resolution is passed on a division, the number of members voting in favour of it is not less than two-thirds of the total number of seats for members of the Parliament".

That means you would need 86 votes to dissolve the parliament and force fresh elections. Since the balance of SNP vs the rest is currently 47-82, it would need 4 SNP members to vote for dissolution, as well as the 2 Greens, who have so far pledged to support the SNP administration.

The Scotland Act 1998 is available here:

Anonymous said...

Sadly individual Ministers (including Alex) could still be dismissed with a simple majority.

But well spotted, it's another obstacle for the reactionary elements in the Unionist parties to overcome!

Martin said...

"Well, that's two weeks into an SNP government and the sun still rises in the east; the earth still turns on its axis; no-one's been forced to sell their first born son into slavery; and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse seem curiously absent from the horizon."

Give it time.

Richard Havers said...

Two many to go? :)

I thought Captain Courage a.k.a Gordon Brown was dire today in refusing to answer Glen Campbell's question about meeting Alex Salmond....not just once but twice!

Richard Thomson said...

Just watched the Brown clip online. Do you reckon his pram is missing a rattle?