The Scottish National Party have overcome their first major test since coming to power in May 2007 by succeeding in having their budget approved by parliament.The Scottish National Party have overcome their first major test since coming to power in May 2007 by succeeding in having their budget approved by parliament. The passing of the budget was the first in the parliament’s ten year history to have been passed by a minority government, with the SNP holding 47 out of 129 seats.
The government gained the requisite number of votes as they were supported by the Conservatives and one Independent MSP, Margo McDonald. The Labour party, along with the Greens and Liberal Democrats abstained from voting. The budget was passed with 61 votes for, 1 against and 60 abstentions. The single vote against the budget came from Labour MSP Cathie Craigie, who claimed that she was against the principles at the heart of the budget and could not join her party colleagues in abstaining from the vote.
The main initiatives in the budget were:
- a freeze on council tax for the next three years
- prescription charges to be abolished
- student loans to be replaced with student grants
- £154 million to be spent on moving Scotland towards being a ‘zero waste’ society
- 1000 new police officers to be recruited
The Labour Party had refused to back the budget without a commitment to investigate ways of improving skills training. The amendment was duly accepted by the SNP, but the Labour Party still chose to abstain. Opponents of the Labour Party were quick to pounce on their seemingly contradictory stance, with Conservative finance spokesman Derek Brownlee noting that “today is historic; not because of what (the SNP) has done, but because it marks the final humiliation of the Scottish Labour Party….a year ago they were a party of government. Today they are not even fit to be called a party of opposition."
The Green Party chose to abstain because they were disappointed with the government’s commitment to investing in new roads and abolishing tolls on crossings such as the Forth Road Bridge. There were some aspects that they found to be compatible with their policies and therefore did not vote against the budget. The most notable being a £4 million grant for bus companies. Patrick Harvie, MSP for Glasgow, stated that "There are progressive proposals within it which we welcome, but the SNP still put road-building ahead of public transport."
Alex Salmond, the First Minister, had threatened to resign and force another election if the budget was rejected. Labour, the main opposition party with 46 seats, would have been keen to avoid a sudden election as there was a very real possibility that they would have gained fewer seats than in the May 2007 election. The party’s popularity has dipped following revelations, in both Holyrood and Westminster, relating to illegal party donations.
The resignation threat irked some of Mr Salmond’s opponents in the parliament, with Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott calling it "An act of vacuous bravado which sums up his government's approach not just to the budget, but to government in general."