Budgets are the most difficult time for minority governments, as they can’t remain in office or manage the business of government if they fail. Last year there was high drama about the 2009 Scottish budget, when the budget was voted down and there was a brief prospect of new elections until deals were agreed. It’s therefore worth noting that the 2010 Scottish budget was quietly and effectively passed on Wednesday. As well as the SNP, it was supported by the Conservatives, the Greens and Margo MacDonald. The Lib Dems abstained. Only Labour opposed it, on the grounds of the refusal of the SNP administration to reinstate the Glasgow Airport Rail Link (increasingly, a symbolic issue of the gap between the two parties).
When introducing the budget, John Swinney had made many kindly noises about how open the government was to negotiation, and willing to compromise. It’s doubly telling that he cheerfully did deals with all the parties other than Labour. The Tories got non-monetary concessions; much greater openness about public spending, and an independent body to review all items of public spending and recommend cuts (following an Irish precedent). For the Lib Dems, there was an extra £20 million of funding for college places, and £10 million to support access to business finance through a Scottish Investment Bank. For the Greens, there was £10 million for home insulation and £2 million for a boiler scrappage scheme.
It’s clear that John Swinney, and politicians in most of the other parties, understand that financially speaking times are about to get a lot tougher. The question that will be interesting to watch is how that plays out politically.