Come and have a go
So there I was at Holyrood about to leave for the Scottish CIS cup semi at Tynecastle.
(What’s that? You want to know the score? Aberdeen 1, Dundee United 4. Magnificent, simply magnificent.)
Anyway, my progress was interrupted by breaking news. Alex Salmond promising/threatening to resign if the Scottish Government’s budget isn’t endorsed by MSPs tonight.
I changed tack to broadcast to an astonished nation.
Let’s be clear. The First Minister can’t, himself, call a Scottish general election. He can’t simply pop down to the palace (Buckingham or the Edinburgh version across the road from the Scottish Parliament.)
Instead, MSPs are bound by the Scotland Act 1998. Clause 3 (1) if you’re looking for the reference.
That provides that Holyrood elections are held every four years - unless at least two thirds of MSPs support a motion for early dissolution; OR the first minister resigns and nobody is elected as a replacement within the statutory 28 days.
So what’s going on? Firstly, SNP ministers are reminding everyone of the seriousness of tonight’s vote (if they needed reminding.)
The Budget Bill isn’t just any other piece of legislation. It represents the core of Scottish administration, permitting £30bn of annual expenditure upon services such as schools, hospitals and police.
So, ministers are saying - perhaps especially to smaller influences such as the Greens and Margo Macdonald (Independent MSP) - that there are limits to the concessions they can be expected to make.
Secondly, this is a blunt challenge to the principal opposition party, Labour. It is “come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough.”
Ministers are suggesting that out of relative weakness can come strength. The weakness being the SNP’s minority status, the strength being their expectation that they would gain more seats from Labour in a rerun election.
Thirdly, the first minister cannot resist the temptation of showmanship. There is - and always has been - a fair touch of rogueishness about A. Salmond.
He likes the thought that he is discomfiting his opponents, making them rethink.
To cut to the chase. Will Alex Salmond resign? No, because the budget will get through. I believe the Tories will vote for the overall financial package, provided they get something on speedier cuts in business rates to add to existing concessions.
I believe the (two) Greens and Margo will also end up on Salmond’s side. I believe Labour will vote against.
I believe the Liberal Democrats will abstain, arguing that the budget is insufficiently detailed on issues like the efficiency savings demanded from the public sector.
I also believe Dundee United will go on to win the CIS cup at Hampden.