In 2007, the Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition lost its majority, and the SNP, led by Alex Salmond, emerged as the country’s largest party. Salmond became first minister and formed a minority government, one which grew into a majority administration four years later. In 2016, Scotland went back to the polls and returned the SNP to power, albeit just short of a majority and with a new opposition led by the Scottish Conservatives’ Ruth Davidson.
MSPs are elected via the proportional Additional Members System, and are currently allocated as follows:
- SNP – 63
- Conservatives – 31
- Labour – 23
- Greens 6
- Liberal Democrats – 5
- Presiding officer – 1 (formerly a Labour MSP)
1. SNP plurality (pro-independence majority)
It’s hard to imagine the SNP losing power at the next election. Under this scenario, the SNP would emerge as the largest party and the Greens would get enough seats to ensure SNP-rule continues and that the parliament keeps its pro-independence majority, which has been in place since 2011. Such a scenario would likely lead to a second independence referendum.
2. SNP plurality (pro-unionist majority)
Under this scenario, the SNP and the Greens combined would fail to win 65 seats. If they came close to that magic number then SNP-rule would likely continue, however, the smaller their combined total the more likely the chance of opposition parties challenging the SNP hegemony. Could an alternative government emerge?
3. Small Conservative plurality
After June’s election victories, the wind is certainly in Ruth Davidson’s sails. One possible option is that the Conservatives could emerge as the country’s largest party. This seems difficult to imagine, but a year and a half ago it seemed unlikely that the Tories would become Scotland’s second largest party – something they managed to achieve last May. The question then would be: what next? The SNP would not dare support a Conservative minority administration, and if Richard Leonard (the bookies' favourite) wins this month’s Scottish Labour leadership contest against Anas Sarwar, then that would all but guarantee no support from Scottish Labour. The party has been accused of siding with the Conservatives before, a criticism that saw them lose all but one seat in the 2015 UK elections, so they will not be making that mistake again. Labour’s best option would be to support, or reluctantly prop up, an SNP administration and push it to the left on key issues.