Following the SNP's success in the Scottish Parliamentary elections and the lack of willing partners for coalition, it has found itself in the relatively unusual position of having to form a minority government. This article looks at the precedent for this and the likely consequences for the Parliament.
Following the election, no coalition government has been formed. Instead, the SNP will receive the benefit of the Green Party's two seats through the "confidence-and-supply" agreement rather than having a firm coalition with them. The effect of this is that the Green Party will support SNP in case of a vote of no confidence and for the budget, provided some agreed conditions are met. Thus, the SNP is left in a position that is rather uncommon in UK politics: it is a minority government and, as such, will need to gain the support of other parties in order to pass legislation. Such governments are relatively rare in a country still used to First Past the Post voting methods, which generally give one party an overall majority, even though that party may not have (and rarely, in practice, has) received a majority of the votes cast. The proportional voting system in the Scottish Parliamentary elections means that one party with a majority is unlikely, although the previous two parliaments have seen the installation of a coalition rather than a minority government.
What are the effects of this minority government likely to be? Minority governments are notoriously unstable - Canadian minority governments have tended to last less than 18 months and some Italian minority governments have only lasted for a matter of days before coming to an end. This short lifespan means that parliamentary business can be severely disrupted. However in Denmark governments have been, almost without exception, minorities since World War II and have often lasted the full term.
Minority governments tend to slow the legislative process down considerably, to provide for the necessary negotiations to obtain support from other parties to pass legislation. Many commentators see this as a benefit as it means that minority governments are highly accountable to their parliaments and, by extension, to voters. The government therefore has to keep its policies transparent. However, some highlight that the need for negotiation on all bills means that minority governments never have time to actually achieve any of their legislative goals.
It is true that in order for a minority government to pass legislation there has to be greater cooperation across the Parliament as a whole. This means a move away from traditional British confrontational politics. This is entirely possible if the political will is there to achieve it. Canadian commentators note that Lester Pearson, who was twice prime minister of Canada in the 1960's but never had a majority, passed several of Canada's most renowned social programmes including a universal health care plan and a new pension scheme, showing that minority government is not a bar to pushing through important and even controversial legislation.
It will be interesting to see how the Scottish Parliament reacts to the current situation and the impact this will have on the legislation produced by the Parliament over the next parliamentary session.