Thursday, 29 January 2009

It's Ma Baw!

So Alex Salmond is going to resign if his Budget doesn't go through?

Cheerio then.

It's starting to become a yearly event now, with the First Minister bluffing Parliament as to how he will storm out of the building, taking his pals with him, if the others don't do what he tells them. After all it's his ball isn't it?

The point is that Salmond is an astute political player. He has done well in working minority government, using the system to avoid making the difficult choices he might otherwise face, with the handy excuse of non-coalition government. Indeed, it has been good for the Scottish political scene to see that minority government is possible. The Scottish Parliament was founded on the principle of more consensual politics - this is reflected in the voting system used and the lay out of the debating chamber itself. We have had coalition government and now minority government and both systems have been shown to work. The basis of this success is cross-party working, whether that be in the formal environs of a coalition agreement or the less formal issue-by-issue agreements made by the current administration.

However, consensual politics does not mean that opposition parties have to agree with or support everything that the Government proposes, even (or maybe especially) in the case of something as serious as the Budget.

The Tories, who of course supported the Budget again, accused Labour of political grandstanding, however Labour would have been failing in its duty if it did not raise the issues that it did. This is not a case of opposing for opposition's sake, but rather a legitimate political disagreement between the governing party and the biggest opposition party.

The fact is of course that the Budget would have passed had the discussions with the Greens not been so badly handled. The last minute nature of the offer to them was a failure on behalf of Swinney's team and I'm sure questions will be asked as to how this opportunity was missed. Labour and the Green Party had made it clear that they were open to finding concessions which would allow the Budget to be passed (the Lib Dems were still focussed on the tax cut that no one else wanted) so the opportunities were there. The chances of the SNP making big concessions to Labour were always unlikely (Salmond's Government in debt to Labour - ain't gonna happen!) but the Greens were the crucial votes which they should have sown up.

But Salmond's latest threat to resign is a reflection of his misunderstanding of the political system. No matter how much he wishes it were the case, Salmond is neither God nor undisputed ruler - his word is not law. The people of Scotland (whose democratic voice he professes to value so highly) voted his party in as the biggest; but also voted in more parties who disagreed with them than agreed. Salmond cannot demand changes just because he tells us so - the Scottish system is such that he must build consensus.

The Budget will pass - the Lib Dems are already looking to drop their ill-thought out tax plan which would open up their support - but Salmond has to start to realise that he cannot throw his toys out of the pram every time he doesn't get his own way. Yes, the Budget is crucial and there are serious ramifications should it fall. However, political posturing does not help the situation at all. Labour should not vote in favour of the Budget on the basis of Salmond resigning - if he is willing to force an election upon voters who are already facing election overkill in the coming years then on his head be it. Parliament cannot be held to ransom by one man's ego, but must fulfil its role in scrutinising the Government and holding it to account.

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