What does the new coalition government mean for opposition party privileges in the Scottish Parliament?
It has now been confirmed that the SNP and Scottish Green Party have agreed to form a coalition government.
The arrangement is consistent with the definition of a coalition as set out in the Scottish Green Party constitution:
Opposition parties enjoy some privileges to offset the imbalance of resources between them and the executive, to enable them to hold the executive (the Scottish Government) to account. They receive what is known as Short Money, as explained here. The allocation of Short Monies in the Scottish Parliament is legislated for under Section 97 of the 1998 Scotland Act. As originally conceived, it was left to Scottish Ministers to decide how this scheme would be administered.
This section was amended earlier this year by the Scottish Parliament (Assistance for Political Parties) Act 2021 and is now administered at the discretion of the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body (SPCB). The Stage One debate on the 2021 Act provides further detail on the transfer of oversight to the SPCB.
Significantly, the 2021 Act removed the line in the Scotland Act which stated: “The corporation shall not make any payment to a party in pursuance of such an Order if any of the members of the Parliament who are connected with the party are also members of the Scottish Executive or junior Scottish Ministers.”
The SPCB is made up of four cross party MSPs chaired by the Presiding Officer (former Scottish Green Party MSP Alison Johnstone):
After entering into a coalition with the Conservatives at Westminster, the Liberal Democrats lost their allocation of Short Monies in 2010.
The leaders of opposition parties which have a minimum of 5 MSPs are also guaranteed a question to the First Ministers at weekly First Minister’s Questions, as set out by the Standing Orders of the Scottish Parliament.
(The Scottish Liberal Democrats lost this privilege after the May election, as they now only have 4 MSPs, compared with 5 MSPs in the last parliament.)
As far as we have been able to establish, during the last period of coalition government in Scotland (Labour/Liberal Democrat 1999-2007), only the leaders of the SNP and Tories were guaranteed a question to the FM at FMQs.
As a party of government, the Scottish Green Party will now have access to the resources of the civil service, via two junior ministerial roles and two dedicated special advisers.
So the question now is whether the Scottish Green Party loses these opposition party privileges (Short Monies and a guaranteed question at FMQs).
These are decisions for the SPCB and Presiding Officer and how they are made and explained will be a point to watch as the new government arrangements come into force when Parliament returns this week.