Scotland is “heading down the path” of a snap election over an increasingly bitter budget impasse after a Holyrood vote stalemate last night.
Opposition leaders warned Finance Secretary Derek Mackay that he cannot take the support of smaller parties for granted as he came under growing pressure to back income tax hikes or face a return to the polls.
The SNP lost its Holyrood majority in last year’s election meaning that it requires the support – or abstention – of at least one other party to see its spending plans for 2017-18 passed next month.
MSPs last night rejected a motion, amended in the name of Mr Mackay, which stated that “constructive discussions” between the parties are taking place on the budget.
Although the vote is only symbolic, it indicates that Mr Mackay is facing a fraught task to get his spending proposals passed, amid anger over a £327 million cut to direct council funding.
Liberal Democrats leader Willie Rennie said: “If anybody in this Parliament thinks it is just a matter of time before the Liberal Democrats agree with the SNP on a budget, then they are mistaken.
“Liberal Democrats have been engaged in serious discussions and will continue to do so. However, if the SNP fail to deliver a significant compromise on their budget then we are on the path towards a snap election which would not be to the benefit of the people of Scotland.”
Greens leader Patrick Harvie warned that his party would be voting against the budget unless it “includes meaningful change on taxation to fund meaningful services”.
Labour has said it will oppose the budget without tax hikes, while the Conservatives are opposed to SNP plans that will mean higher-earning Scots miss out on an effective tax cut when the 40p threshold changes to £43,387 in Scotland against a rise to £45,000 south of the Border.
Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said: “There is no majority in Parliament for the SNP’s budget. If the SNP wants to pass a budget, it needs to work with the other parties and scrap its plan for £327m of cuts to local services.
“Parliament has sent Derek Mackay a very clear message and he must now go back to the drawing board.”
Mr Mackay called on the opposition to “adopt a productive approach” to the process and “engage in meaningful discussions and offer credible alternatives”.