Paul Edie: Every MSP matters when it’s time to agree budget

Willie Rennie is in a stong position to win concessions during the budget negotiations. Picture: John Devlin

Willie Rennie is in a stong position to win concessions during the budget negotiations. Picture: John Devlin

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It’s late January and that means budget time both for the council and at Holyrood. With the council much of the hard work was done last year, rendering this year’s set of proposals to something akin to the back an A4 envelope instead of our usual 80 or so pages of budget options.

As the administration has 35 seats out of 58 in the City Chambers what will be approved in the end will be thrashed out behind closed doors, at least in the first instance, and without any need to agree concessions to opposition parties in return for support.

Paul Edie is Liberal Democrat group leader at Edinburgh City Council. Picture: Jayne Wright

Paul Edie is Liberal Democrat group leader at Edinburgh City Council. Picture: Jayne Wright

The picture in Holyrood, however, is much more complex. Firstly there are major new powers over expenditure and taxation for the Finance Secretary to get to grips with. Secondly there is a much changed situation politically with the SNP losing its majority last May and with Labour sliding to third place in terms of MSPs elected.

Political arithmetic suddenly becomes very important and this is where it all starts to get interesting. With the SNP a tantalising two seats short of an overall majority they cannot be guaranteed in getting their way all the time. Granted for that to happen it requires all other parties, ranging from the Tories on the right to the Greens on the far left, to coalesce around an issue.

I am no astronomer but the chances of all of the planets aligning seem more likely than Labour, Lib Dems, Greens and Tories all agreeing over something the SNP doesn’t. That being said the chance to inflict defeat and humiliate the government does prove irresistible on occasion and it has happened.

This leads me to the budget. This is far too important to the Government to allow themselves any chance of defeat. The country needs a budget after all. And so the wheeling and dealing begins.

Larger opposition parties are usually keen to distance themselves from offering support to a budget.

The Tories in the past have done deals with the Government in return for concessions on policing but now installed as the official opposition and with a much transformed set of political circumstances don’t hold your breath waiting for a repeat of this. Now is the time that the smaller parties can play a huge role.

This week sees my own Liberals in Holyrood using what influence they have to address much talked about priorities.

Some of these are local like further funding for ferries to the Northern Isles. Others, such as seeking more cash for mental health, are aimed at addressing issues my colleagues have been campaigning on over the last year; while seeking increased finance for colleges and to bridge the schools attainment gap are studiously aimed at reducing inequalities in the long term.

How much of this Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie can get is the big question. There are other suitors out there, but his sensible and careful approach may prove irresistible. With a multiparty system and a minority government only two votes shy of a majority not a single member of the Scottish Parliament can be described as irrelevant at any stage. I think that is a good thing.

Paul Edie is Liberal Democrat group leader at Edinburgh City Council