Thursday, 13 May 2010

Scottish Parliament: Fixed Terms

I posted yesterday about, and argued against, the 55% vote required to be in favour before the ToLi’s proposed 5 year fixed term government could be dissolved.  I decided to dig a bit more.

I knew that the Scottish Parliament had fixed terms but I didn’t know until now what conditions had to be met for dissolution to occur.

A UCL paper talks about dissolution terms thus:

“Legislation for fixed-term parliaments depends on an effective safety valve, allowing for mid term dissolution if the executive has lost the confidence of the legislature. This  can be vulnerable to abuse: a government which wants to precipitate an early election can try to engineer a vote of no confidence, as has happened in Germany.

Safeguards against that can include a high threshold, as in Scotland and Wales, where two thirds of members must vote for dissolution.

Another safeguard is a requirement of  a ‘constructive’ no confidence motion, which must nominate an alternative government in case the motion is carried.”

The current Scottish Parliament party make-up is as follows:

SNP          =  47
Labour      =  46
Cons        =  17
LibDem     =  16
Green       =   2
Other       =   1

The SNP hold 36% of the seats against the oppositions 64% and so cannot be voted down.

I can see that, where proportional representation is involved and, therefore, minority governments are more likely, a threshold of more than 50% is necessary to maintain any form of stability.  Should that threshold be as high as 2/3?  I doubt it.

Where First Past The Post is the norm I can see no reason at all for the threshold being greater than 50% + 1.

The ToLi proposal still seems to me to be a theft of democracy. 

If they put in place true PR then, and only then, should an increased threshold be considered.


  1. I had not realised that! however... I suppose any government would be unable to get anything done once 50% + 1 votes were against it, so in practice might end up voting for dissolution anyway. There is still, I presume (?) a 50% + 1 criterion to change legislation.

  2. Sorry, Andrew, that I've taken so long to respond.

    50%, 55%, 2/3 I can't keep up with all this.

    I wish I had time to read up on all the rules which govern our lives. No, I don't really. I'm not quite as sad as that!