In the Times, Angus Macleod reports
the SNP's intention to threaten to resign if their budget doesn't go through. The Scotsman's David Maddox appears to be the first
to have divined Labour's plans - to vote against the budget and to try to install Iain Gray, the LOLITSP
, in his place.
Reading these two articles next to one another, the numbers for Wednesday's vote are starting to resolve themselves. As always, 64 is the magic number, with 65 a more comfortable position to be in - there's more exciting detail on that below.
For the SNP's budget to pass, just like last year, the main options are either a) for Labour not to vote against or b) for any two of the three smaller parties to vote for it.
There are also other permutations involving abstentions: for instance, it also would pass if Labour vote against and everyone else abstains. Equally, party discipline might not hold, but I wouldn't bet on that. So how will they break?
The Liberals are the easiest to call. They were so opposed to any kind of constructive discussion that they sent Mike Rumbles
to meet the Cabinet Secretary. He's as emollient and as easy to get on with as a hungry bear with a thorn in its paw. It's like putting BA Baracus up for negotiations, but without the charm, good looks and jewelry.
They want a £800m tax cut, and I can show you Jeremy Purvis utterly failing to answer where the cuts would come from on Newsnight tonight if you're interested. The best he had was the part-privatisation of Scottish Water. That's 16 dead cert votes against.
The Tories are the next easiest. They don't know what they want, but Derek Brownlee took to Newsnight to argue for masterly inactivity and to explain that last year set the three year comprehensive spending review (keep awake at the back!), so no urgent action is required. This is code for almost certainly supporting the SNP, provided they get to take credit for something Ministers want to do anyway. Score that as 16 votes the other way.
Labour have played their cards a lot closer to their chest. Some have wondered whether there were even cards there at all, but David Maddox's report confirms that they're prepared to press the nuclear button and try to bring about the fall of the SNP government. Presumably they think Glenrothes was a sign of good things to come, or they don't care any more. Either way, today at last we know more, and it looks like a pretty clear vote against.
As Maddox writes, Labour's demands "would be to increase health and transport spending, drop plans for a local income tax, and scrap the £23.5 million Scottish Futures Trust. The list was delivered in the knowledge that it would be rejected."
If that's really their ask, they've put themselves in the same position as the Liberals, whereby voting against is the only consistent position. In particular, Angus Macleod is right to say that Labour are "keen to avoid the humiliation and ridicule they suffered last year
", where they built up to a vote against before collapsing into abstention. It was so inept an approach that it inspired me to start blogging
almost a year ago. They can't do it again, not if they want to retain any credibility with the media, making another 46 votes against now the most likely outcome.
That would leave the numbers at 63 in favour and 62 against, with only four votes still to consider: the two Green MSPs, Margo and the Presiding Officer.
At 64 votes all, i.e. if the SNP bring Margo round by leaving sacks of cash in the streets of the capital, but do not persuade us, then the PO has to use his casting vote. That's not at his discretion: he's required to use it to support the status quo, which is technically defined as the last thing Parliament supported. At Stage 1, that's last year's Budget, not this one, so he'd have to vote against. If we saw the same numbers at Stage 3, however, it'd be a vote for, given that Parliament would have had to have backed it at Stage 1 to have got that far. I checked this last year.
This means that, in order to be sure the budget will pass, again to quote David Maddox, "Mr Swinney will probably have to find £100 million to pay for the Greens' demand for free insulation to be provided for households across Scotland."
I do want to believe that. It's a great project, one the Nats should be backing irrespective of the budget: it would help tackle fuel poverty and climate change, improve health, boost jobs, and cut people's bills. I want to believe we're going to get this through, but that relies on Labour being consistent.
Last time, when they got it wrong, Iain Gray wasn't the mighty LOLITSP - he was the incompetent shadow finance minister, shredded by the Sun in the montage above (click it for a larger image). They've made their move now, and surely to goodness he doesn't want to be put through the mincer again?