Alex Salmond has threatened to resign if the SNP budget is voted down tomorrow – to take the issue to the people. Can he force an election?
Section 3 of the Scotland Act 1998 provides the rules for calling extraordinary general elections. Parliament can be dissolved if 2/3 of the members vote in favour of dissolution; or if when s 46 of the ACt applies (which is where a first minister is to be nominated) no nomination of first minister is made. The date of the election under s 3 is in the control of the Presiding Officer.
The operation of s 46 is what Salmond is threatening. Under this section if he tenders his resignation (under s 45 (2)) to the Queen then Parliament has 28 days in which to nominate a new first minister. At earliest then an election would be probably 2 months after Salmond’s resignation (given a likely 1 month election campaign – although this decision is in the hands of the presiding officer – who in terms of s 45 (4) of the 1998 Act assumes the functions of First MInister until the new appointment).
Assuming that the SNP will vote against a nominee from another party in order to trigger an election Salmond’s desire to go to the country is then in the hands of the others in the Parliament. Will the Conservatives vote against a Labour nominee (could Wendy be nominated if under investigation by the PF?) given the participation in a mutual constitutional convention? Salmond is gambling that at least one block of the Lib Dems or Conservatives (as well as the Greens and Margo) will vote against a Labour nominee. Whether this is the case is dependent on party finances and internal party assessments (as well as London perceptions). Or are Wendy Alexander’s problems such that this is the ideal time for wee Eck to threaten to resign – because the Labour party may not be able to put someone in place in time?
This is a high risk strategy for Salmond. The Lib Dems – flatlining in the polls – have no desire for a swift election, the Conservatives are hard to read, and will the Greens risk oblivion?
The fact that Salmond is threatening resignation confirms that things are tight in the budget vote. The Greens have indicated that they will vote one way or the other rather than abstaining, and given the treatment of various environmental concerns (eg in Trumpton, the Aviemore planning matter &c, abolition of tolls) and the lack of concessions to the Greens thus far a No vote is not unlikely. Through threatening resignation this may actually be an opportunity for the opposition parties to wrest control of the administrative powers of the government (given the statutory provisions above) and crystallise their opposition, rather than attaining Salmond’s desired objective.
We Scots live in interesting times.