It’s Willie vs Goliath in Holyrood

This afternoon, MSPs will choose the new First Minister of Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon, the leader of the largest single party will not be unopposed, though. Willie Rennie, on his fifth anniversary as Scottish leader, is standing against her. Willie is a massive optimist, but I doubt even he expects to get more than a handful of votes. We won’t have a Wales scenario in Edinburgh. However, it is important that someone lays down a marker that the SNP, which no longer has a majority, has to work to make its case to Parliament. Nicola Sturgeon’s comments that she expects Parliament to respect her mandate are not the sort of comments you would expect from a leader without a majority. She has to show a bit of humility and respect for Parliament.

This will not be the only time when the Liberal Democrats will lead the opposition to the SNP, as we did so often in the last Parliament. On Thursday, Sturgeon presents her list of Ministers to the Parliament. Under its standing orders, Parliament can only reject any new names. It can’t pass judgement on any of the people already in post. Willie Rennie has appointed Mike Rumbles to be Business Manager (or chief whip). This is a role that he took during the last period of Holyrood minority government from 2007-11. His experience of the Parliament’s procedures will be helpful.

The Liberal Democrats have been horrified at the total muck-up the SNP has made over payments to farmers. During the election, Tavish Scott slammed the SNP for seeking to charge interest to farmers on emergency payments made to them while they sorted out their IT system. It seems incomprehensible that Parliament should not even get a say as to the performance of the Minister responsible. The Parliament has an opportunity to assert itself and reject that Minister. The Press and Journal reports:

Opposition is growing to the Moray MSP continuing in his post amid anger over his role in the £178 million IT bungle which delayed the payment of crucial farm subsidies.

Today, new Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Mike Rumbles will attempt to gain cross-party backing for the closing of what he claims is the “Lochhead loophole” – a procedural anomaly which means cabinet secretaries can be reappointed to their position without parliamentary approval.

Mr Rumbles said: “The present rules mean it is possible for the first minister to smuggle the reappointment of Richard Lochhead through parliament with no debate or any possibility of veto.

“Parliament automatically gets a vote on the appointment of brand new ministers. It is right to extend this to allow a vote on the continuing ministers.”

The Liberal Democrats have already suggested Mr Lochhead would have to be sacked before they would consider backing Nicola Sturgeon’s minority government.

And a Tory source said it would be “folly” for the Moray MSP to be reappointed following the Common Agricultural Policy payments fiasco.

Mr Rumbles added: “My suggestion will be to open up the debate to consider whether parliament wishes to endorse Richard Lochhead’s continuation as a minister.

During the last period of minority government, I feel that the Liberal Democrats just opposed things for the sake of it and ended up being the third party saying “no.” This did not do us any favours. I hope that the style we adopt in this Parliament will be more along the lines of what we did in the last. We agreed with the SNP on things like minimum alcohol pricing but vigorously opposed them on civil liberties matters. We were able to change their policy by working with them and by working with others against them. That balance is important and Willie as leader has shown pretty good judgement. It’s important that we always make sure that there is a point behind what we are doing. I expect that the five Liberal Democrats will vigorously pursue the issues we championed during the election campaign – education, mental health, civil liberties and climate change and do all it can to make sure the SNP is fully held to account.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Richard Underhill 17th May '16 - 2:37pm

    What this scheme for some form of guardianship?

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 17th May '16 - 2:52pm

    You mean the named person scheme? It’s not really as bad as it’s been painted by some, but we need to keep it under review.

  • Wait, hang on. You yourself Caron laid into PC in Wales for EXACTLY this stunt. And then you come out with this:

    “Nicola Sturgeon’s comments that she expects Parliament to respect her mandate are not the sort of comments you would expect from a leader without a majority. She has to show a bit of humility and respect for Parliament.”

    But God forbid Carwyn James and Labour be taught a lesson in humility in Cardiff? One they do seem now to have learned.

  • Richard Whelan 17th May '16 - 7:28pm


    What’s all this grandstanding about? The party only has 5 MSP’s in the Scottish Parliament. Had Willie been elected First Minister he would have had, as the Scottish Parliament’s smallest grouping, to rely on the votes of Conservative, Labour and Green MSP’s just to form an anti-SNP majority. Why is this better than the Plaid Cymru, Conservative and UKIP alliance you so rightly criticised in the Welsh Assembly the other day? What is source for the goose is also source for the gander.

  • Caron Lindsay Caron Lindsay 17th May '16 - 8:56pm

    @Ryan: There was no danger of what happened in Wales happening in Scotland, nor were there any UKIP to do deals with. Leanne got herself into a situation of her own making without thinking it through. Willie knew perfectly well that he wasn’t going to win, nor get any backing from any other party, but he took the chance to highlight to the SNP that they needed to work to get the backing of Parliament.

  • Peter Watson 17th May '16 - 9:34pm

    So on his 5th anniversary as leader of the 5th party in the Scottish Parliament with 5 MSPs, Willie Rennie secured 5 votes in the election to be First Minister.
    What is Willie Rennie’s lucky number?

  • I think Rennie and the other small parties in Holyrood need to be very careful in not overplaying their hands. Sturgeon and the SNP clearly did get a very significant mandate from the Scottish electorate. The Lib Dems just about defended the terrible result in 2011 and slipped from fourth to fifth place in the Parliament.

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