Sleep on it

  • Brian Taylor
  • 7 May 07, 06:43 PM

Seems as if the talks between the SNP and the Greens went well.

Doesn't look at this stage as if they will conclude in a formal coalition.

Two reasons for that. Even if they strike a full deal, the Greens only bring two MSPs to the table. More to the point, the Greens seem happier with something short of a full pact.

Robin Harper emerged from the talks at St Andrews House indicating that he would prefer a deal that's known as "confidence and supply".

The confidence bit means they would resist attempts to bring down the government in a confidence vote. The supply bit means that the Greens would vote for the SNP administration's budget.

But the Greens will now consult overnight before re-entering talks tomorrow.

There are still sticking points, not least over transport policy where the Greens are decidedly sceptical about new roads projects - such as dualling the A9. Think there will be a deal, though, of some species.

Which still leaves the question - can the Liberal Democrats be brought into negotiations?

At this stage, I think not. Alex Salmond won't rule out his independence referendum in advance of negotiations. (See earlier blog)

More to the point, the LibDems simply aren't over-keen on considering coalition at this stage.

They're licking their electoral wounds - and, to be blunt, they're not hugely trusting towards the SNP.

That could change - but not, I suspect, in the short term. Stand by for minority government with one A. Salmond as First Minister.

PS: Anybody want to be Presiding Officer at Holyrood? Alex Fergusson of the Tories was the hot tip - followed swiftly by an equally hot denial from the man himself.

Two problems. Firstly, given the hung Parliament, every party needs all the seats they've got - they can't afford to lose one of their number to the neutrality of the chair. Secondly, who wants a job which carries its own redundancy at the end of the term? The PO has to quit his/her own party to take the post.

That means they have no party machine to help them get re-elected in four years time. Most folk thought George Reid deserved a second term - but the parties wouldn't stand aside to let him stay in Ochil.

Is it time for Holyrood to follow the Westminster convention which allows the Speaker to be uncontested in his/her constituency?

Staggering stuff

  • Brian Taylor
  • 7 May 07, 05:23 PM

And so there I was standing outside St Andrews House in Edinburgh, waiting for coalition talks to begin. Nothing particularly exceptional about that.

In 1999, I stood outside the hideous building on the Royal Mile that temporarily housed our MSPs.

(No, not the General Assembly building – that’s where they met. I’m talking about the monstrosity, now thankfully demolised, where they had their offices.)

Anyway, I’ve been here before, both in 1999 and 2003. Slight change this time.

Inside St Andrews House today, discussing government options with Her Majesty’s civil servants in attendance, were two parties who believe in ending the Union between Scotland and England.

No need to alert the palace, though. The largest of those parties, the Scottish National Party, only wants to end the political Union of 1707.

What they have taken to calling the “regal Union” of 1603 would be preserved. The other party, the Greens, only have two MSPs and are more of a hazard to themselves than the state.

However, let us dump this easy satire. This is staggering stuff. Labour are disgruntled spectators while the SNP are inside the corridors of power.

I witnessed one SNP aide sneaking a fly puff outside the Scottish Executive HQ. He was wearing a pin-striped suit.

And carrying a rolled umbrella.

So, how’s government shaking down in Scotland? A deal with the Greens looks pretty set.

But, to gain a majority, the SNP need to strike a bargain with the Liberal Democrats.

The LibDems won’t play as long as the SNP insist on a referendum on independence.

The SNP aren’t exactly insisting – one can hear the faint but unmissable sound of compromise – but Alex Salmond isn’t prepared to dump his referendum entirely, in advance of talks.

Both are right.

The LibDems say you couldn’t have a stable four-year partnership while the issue of independence hovered in the background.

For the avoidance of doubt, they’re against independence – and a referendum.

However, the SNP can scarcely be expected to abandon their referendum without pre-discussion.

After all, they have been in existence since 1934 to win independence – not, primarily, power.

Any wriggle room? Can’t see much.

This isn’t like tuition fees or council reform.

You can’t convene a committee of the great and good to take minutes and waste hours while the parties get over their mutual suspicion of each other. You either hold a referendum or you don’t.

The Nats say yes, the Libs say no.

Alex Salmond wants a coalition. He wants stable government to show that he could run Scotland under devolution, to help convince sceptical Scots that he poses no threat, that they could safely opt for independence.

With gloriously symmetrical irony, to achieve that stability, he has to shelve the demand for a referendum in this term of Parliament.

He can have stable power – or he can pursue the purity of his demand for a referendum. He can’t have both.

You doubt me? Do the sums. In minority government, he wouldn’t have the votes to get a referendum Bill through Holyrood.

The LibDems won’t sign a coalition package which includes that Bill.
My guess?

Right now, I think we’re headed for minority SNP government while the LibDems lick their wounds and look for signs that the Nationalists mean it when they say they will govern in Scotland’s interests, avoiding unnecessary conflict.

Will Alex Salmond be First Minister? Yes. Labour will vote against him. The LibDems and the Tories will sit on their hands, accepting that he has more of a mandate than others to take office. I say again. Staggering stuff.

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