New MSPs in 2016

Holyrood SP5 – the dust begins to settle

MSPs were sworn into the Scottish Parliament this week and the Presiding Officer elected. Ken Macintosh will oversee a much changed parliament from the last session for the next five years. The SNP convincingly won last week’s election, both in terms of seats and in terms of proportional share of votes. However, the electoral system prevented a majority SNP result, returning more of the ‘rainbow’ parliament that it was designed to be. Back to the good old days of Scottish politics.

The SNP is only just short of a majority. The opposition is more fragmented. The Tories winning 31 seats was a surprise to most, making a mockery of the polls that had them neck-a-neck with Scottish Labour. The SNP will be quietly pleased with this result as Scottish Labour are nowhere (and they probably haven’t even reached rock-bottom yet, given next year’s local elections), pitching them head-on against the Tories here and in Westminster. With a renewed campaign for independence kicking off in the summer, the new make-up in the parliament provides them with the perfect juxtaposition.

We expect the Cabinet to be appointed late next week after the First Minister is elected by the Scottish Parliament. We should also get to understand shadow appointments from the Conservatives and Labour soon, once they understand how the Cabinet will be structured. The FM has already outlined to the media this week that she intends to split the finance and economy brief in two. Other changes have also been mooted across the portfolios. The Parliamentary Committees’ first meetings are expected in the second week of June.

The SNP will feel confident that they can take forward their Programme for Government and pass future Scottish budgets given their strength in parliament. They have been here before and worked constructively with other parties, most notably the Greens, but also the Scottish Conservatives. Some concessions on a case-by-case basis will be made ahead of major legislative initiatives and during the Budget process. The SNP may struggle on issues that the opposition parties are united on such as, Air Passenger Duty but they are few and far between. After the party bundled Labour and the Tories together – labelling Labour the ‘Red Tories’ – the political ramifications of the SNP relying upon the Tories to push through legislation could be more interesting and will not be lost on the Red side of the Chamber.

Scottish Labour could find themselves on the outer fringes of irrelevance in the Scottish Parliament and urgently need to find a platform from which they can re-build. Labour’s electoral failure stems from its incoherence on the constitutional question and the unsurprising fact that its policies on taxation were unpopular. It’s difficult to see where they go from here. The SNP continue to have them outflanked on the Left, so what is their role?

The Scottish Conservatives have challenges too. It’s unlikely they will be able to drive consensus amongst the other opposition parties and in order to grow its party base and to stake a claim that a centre right party has a place in Scottish politics, is a tall order. Its success on the regional lists came from a unionist base, so its success last week could be soft, unless Team Ruth can convince the electorate otherwise.

The next couple of weeks will be interesting as the Scottish Parliament beds down for SP5. Prior to his election, Ken Macintosh set out his intention if elected as Presiding Officer:

“to steer us (the Parliament) away from the tribal and partisan hostility that has occasionally dominated the chamber in recent years”.

Many have pledged this intention before, we will see how that works out.

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