Thursday, 29 January 2009

Budget: Analysis of the parties

Having taken time to sleep on the budget outcome - and not instantly chuck accusations of skullduggery around - I've come to the following conclusions about what happened and how it looks from the outside (at least to those that are watching closely).

So, in order of how they voted, how do the parties look this morning?

The SNP Government will survive this setback. Depending how this is portrayed in the media, they will be made to look like victims of the big, bad opposition parties (their line) or hapless, unprepared and, well, bungling (everyone else's line). The truth, I think, lies somewhere in between. Yes, the SNP have been kicked in the teeth by the failure of their budget bill to pass. But it was oh so avoidable... and I think in their heart of hearts they know that.

The spectre of an election in the middle of a recession looms large over the upcoming negotiations, and though Salmond knows he cannot call one, he also knows that if he resigns, they may be able to kill enough time before the deadline for a new FM passes. So, though it is being portrayed by some (mostly Lib Dems) as throwing the toys out the pram, an election - were the government to resign - seems the most logical outcome.

The Tories got from the budget they came for, and are now seen as a constructive opposition party - and not, as so many thought on the creation of a Scottish Parliament, a roadblock to progress. Derek Brownlee has worked sensibly with the Finance Secretary and extracted the concessions the party wanted so they could vote for the budget. If none of that changes - and I don't suspect it will - they will vote for a revised budget.

And then there's Margo. Well, she bled the Finance Secretary dry of money for Edinburgh (and still, truth be told, wanted more) for her solitary vote in support, which, ultimately, proved fruitless. She comes across as a shrewd, hard-nosed operator but - as I heard David Whitton complaining about on Radio Scotland last night - she only represents one city. The parliamentary arithmatic makes her vote relevant - but only if Labour maintain opposition to the bill. She should remember that (and so should the SNP).

And so, to those in opposition to the bill. The Greens have been lambasted left, right and centre for their role in this but, like the SNP, their press could still go either way. They could be portrayed as budget-wreckers, making unreasonable demands and hijacking the budget for their own ends (as has in fact been the case in serveral quarters) or they could be viewed as principled, standing by the fact that they didn't get what they wanted out of it and voting it down. I think there's a bit of both there. They know their position as potential kingmakers here and tried to get something into the budget that they wanted - partly because there was so much in it that they didn't like. But I think this shows the new direction the Green Party will take under new co-leader Patrick Harvie. I think previously, under Robin Harper, they would have swallowed it and abstained, allowing it to pass... now, Harvie's Greens must be taken at their word.

Labour in opposition too, but more passive opposition than I think they could have been... this leaves open an opportunity for Swinney to circumvent the Greens and Margo. I reckon some kind of deal on skills training might be enough to see them vote for it (I don't think we'll see them abstaining again in a hurry). Labour bloggers have been somewhat restrained in their analysis, with Ewan Aitken, like me, holding out for the day consensus politics takes hold at Holyrood. I fear that day might never come!

Which brings me nicely to everyone's favourite consensus politicians - the Lib Dems. Will's analysis of their position is probably about right. I don't see how any party who demands massive budget cuts then walks out when they are told to stop being daft can now turn round and say they are "open to negotiations" over the revised budget. I'd suggest that Mr Purvis doesn't wait by his phone.

With that in mind, it is a bit surprising that I agree with Stephen Glenn (but only a wee bit) when he says minority government is about consensus, about listening to others. That's what the SNP Government have to do now, to pass this revised budget. Otherwise... well, interesting times ahead.


Stephen Glenn 29 January 2009 at 10:01  

Gald you agree if only a little bit.

PR government where either alliances have to be formed or votes garnered on a case by case basis is surely about give and take. In the previous 8 years, while being attacked for some non Lib Dem stuff being in the Prog of Gvmt there was enough there to make us stay with it.

I truly hope that Alex does learn to engage in consensus politics more as an outcome of yesterday rather than wanting to have all the answers (even the wrong ones) at the drop of any particular hat.

Jeff 29 January 2009 at 11:42  

Love it Malc, I am a bit behind the curve on this story, chasing my tail a wee bit but you've helped bring me up to speed with all of that. Sounds very fair analysis to me.

Liking the new layout a lot too. Didn't have you down as a Twitterer though. i think we'll have to have words.....

Malc 29 January 2009 at 11:47  

I like to think of it as a "twit" myself... but thanks, it took ages playing around with stuff. I can't get a banner up for a header... which is pretty rubbish.

And my analysis followed a good night sleep (which, it appears, messers Salmond and Scott have benefitted from given their "conciliatory" noises this morning!).

Stephen Glenn 29 January 2009 at 11:47  

Jeff we'll convert you to the dark side (twitter) yet. ;)

Stephen Glenn 29 January 2009 at 11:48  

Indeed Malc I have seen Tavish's comments from this morming just haven't had time yet to write them up.

Laura,  30 January 2009 at 03:03  

Can't agree with you or Jeff that there was lack of planning from the SNP.. I think in their heart they know they could have done nothing more, actually. Maybe if either of you were on the inside you would change your view.

As for consensus, Stephen - the Lib Dems have to be prepared to enter a dialogue. Others were, and got results.

Malc 30 January 2009 at 10:54  

That's rather scathing. We don't purport to be able to report what is going on from the inside (well, any more) but offer an outsiders' view.

So from how it looks on the outside there does seem to be a lot more the SNP could have done. For a start, they went for the seemingly "easier" option by trying to get two Green votes, when maybe - maybe - apprenticeship schemes would have gotten Labour onside. And leaving those discussions with the Greens to the last minute doesn't seem to have worked that well either.

But I agree on the consensus bit. Now we're probably going to see that. The Lib Dems now do look pretty daft - holding out for the 2p cut then now asking only for support for more fiscal powers...

Malc 30 January 2009 at 10:55  

Incidentally, I don't think it was a lack of planning. I just think that the tactics might have been a bit... wrong.

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