Wednesday, July 7, 2010

The SNP and Labour already have the power to thwart Clegg's opportunism

The Scotsman reports that Alex Salmond has suggested that, by initiating a likely U-turn on the clash of dates between the 2015 Holyrood and Westminster elections, Michael Moore has effectively "conceded" that it is also wrong to hold the AV referendum on the same day as next year's Holyrood poll. In terms of logical consistency, Mr Salmond is of course right, but are the Liberal Democrats ready to admit that to themselves yet? If they agree to a decoupling of next year's polling dates, the whole purpose of their ploy will have been defeated. My guess is that Michael Moore hopes that, if he does end up feeling obliged to devolve control of election dates to Holyrood, he can conveniently delay the transfer of power until well after next May.

But the irony is that, as things stand, the SNP government don't actually need any new powers to thwart the Lib Dems' plan. Labour have been completely supportive of the arguments against holding both the election and the referendum on May 5th - and between them, the SNP and Labour hold some 72% of the seats in the Scottish Parliament. As we all now know due to an issue that has been very topical in recent weeks, under the Scotland Act a two-thirds majority is sufficient to trigger an early dissolution of parliament. I suggested not too long ago that this rule was a touch superfluous, given that a dissolution can also be triggered simply by a short period of time elapsing after a no-confidence motion has been passed without a new government being formed. That, I felt sure, was the much more plausible sequence of events, thus ensuring that the two-thirds rule would never be activated in practice. But, remarkably, we seem to have stumbled on one of the rare circumstances where there might just be a use for it.

Whether the SNP and Labour's common cause on this subject really runs deep enough for them to vote together for an early election (probably in March or April) is of course a very big 'if' - as the two main contenders for power they will be reading the runes and seeking to maximise their own advantage. On the face of it, they're unlikely to be able to agree on a preferred election date for that reason alone. But if by any chance they can, the coalition government's embarrassment will be a sight to behold.


  1. I think that, even if the Scottish Parliament dissolves itself and calls new elections early at some point, an election must still be called at the end of the original 4-year term. I've a feeling that's in the Scotland Act. I know that sounds stupid (it is!), but that's why it stuck in my mind. Calling an early election might just mean 2 elections!

  2. Hi Anon - if memory serves me right, that's only the case if an early election is called more than six months before the due date. If it's less than six months, it just counts as the scheduled election brought forward slightly.