After election fiasco, what happens next?
THE Scotsman asked 20 prominent people for their views on how Holyrood can find a way out of the political stalemate. Here are their frank and original suggestions.
SIR TOM FARMER
Millionaire founder of Kwik-Fit
The SNP came ahead by one seat and the largest number of votes, so I think it is important that they try hardest to form a coalition and that it should be with the Lib Dems.
But the Lib Dems have dug their heels in about the question of a referendum. It is not enough to do that without having a proper sit-down around the table with one aim - to come up with an answer that is in the best interests of Scotland.
I think it was an absolute disgrace how the voting was put forward. We have to move into the electronic age, but it should be done properly - any commercial outfit would have had to do their research properly. There should be an independent inquiry into this by people from the government, communities and business.
Co-owner of MJM International, a multi-million pound lingerie company
I hope Labour and the Liberal Democrats will form a coalition and Jack McConnell will still be First Minister. I really do not want Alex Salmond to be our first minister. That is the road to disaster. If Scotland becomes independent in the next three years, our business will not be run from Scotland, that is a fact.
If the SNP drop their commitment to a referendum to get in power, then they are not standing by what they believe and they are a con.
The mess over the voting happened and we have to move on. I thought the ballot papers were pretty clear, but a lot of people I have spoken to were confused.
I was shocked by the result and I think there should be recounts. People should have the confidence that their vote was counted.
Former Liberal Democrat MSP for Roxburgh and Berwickshire
The SNP effectively won the election.
I don't think it's sensible for Labour to be involved in the government, not only because people would find it very difficult to accept, but also because it might be good for them to have time to regroup.
The SNP must drop all this stuff about a referendum if they want to form a coalition, or they must be willing to go it alone.
As far as the mess over the voting is concerned, I think the company that supplied the machinery must take responsibility.
I would also like the Electoral Commission to select three or four constituencies and do a hand count of the votes, not to change the results, but because they might find cause for even greater concern.
DR MARGARET COOK
Retired consultant and ex-wife of the late Robin Cook MP
I hope there is a coalition between the Liberal Democrats, the SNP and Greens, otherwise we are in uncharted territory because it is very difficult to see consensus government working.
It may be that the Lib Dems need their arms twisting a wee bit, but I hope that is what will happen.
I have always been a great believer in not having too powerful government as it often leads us in the wrong direction.
I think the main problem with the voting system was not having the insight into how ordinary people see voting. The papers were quite intimidating and, for many people - especially the elderly - it was a step too far. I think the design of the ballot papers needs to be looked at again.
PROF JOHN CURTICE
Professor of politics at Strathclyde University
The Liberal Democrats are not keen on entering an SNP-led coalition so are sticking to their line of no truck with independence.
The SNP may not want the Liberal Democrats badly enough to be willing to take independence off any coalition agenda - even though they will not be able to hold an independence referendum anyway.
The main reason for the spoilt votes on Thursday seems so far to be the new parliamentary ballot paper, not two elections on the same day.
The new ballot paper was suggested by Arbuthnott, proposed by Labour and supported by the SNP.
PROF JAMES MITCHELL
Professor of politics at Strathclyde University
It should be an SNP/ Lib Dem coalition. That is what the people voted for. I do not think the people of Scotland would be very happy if this was not sorted out and there was not a government formed in a short time.
There is a lot of huffing and puffing going on at the moment - that is part of the negotiations. As soon as they get around the question of a referendum, they can get on with the job they were elected to do. I can't see the Liberal Democrats not doing that because otherwise they will be squeezed and marginalised.
The voting fiasco was a combination of factors - the design of the ballot papers, having two elections on one day and having a new paper.
There needs to be full, totally independent investigation.
Former Liberal Democrat MSP for Central Scotland
It is up to the SNP and Lib Dems to negotiate a satisfactory basis for a coalition or a minority government. You do not have to have all-out warfare all the time in minority government. You can have discussions in a civilised fashion so the biggest party does not push its luck by pushing through unpopular things and other parties give a fair hearing to things which are reasonably consensual. Forming a minority government does depend on civilised behaviour on both sides.
The format of the ballot paper seems to have been the problem in voting. All the parties agreed on it and all failed to see a snag.
There needs to be a quick and thorough inquiry - why people made the mistake they did and what their real voting intentions were.
LORD JAMES DOUGLAS-HAMILTON
Former Tory MSP
One of the ironies of this election is that a substantial majority of Scots do not want independence. I see the election as primarily an anti-Labour result rather than a pro-SNP election.
I suspect that over the years there will be many changes in the administration of the Scottish Parliament and this is only the beginning. There is a presumption that if one party gets the most seats, they should be given the opportunity to form a government, and I think that is the expectation among the general public in Scotland.
The Tories argued for elections on separate days so there should not be confusion, but when it came to the vote, Labour and the Lib Dems were determined to railroad the matter through. So the debacle is their responsibility.
PROF DAVID BELL
Professor of economics at Stirling University
A minority government would create huge uncertainty about the direction of economic policy and the size of public sector budgets. Because the SNP is the largest party and has more in common with the Lib Dems than any of the other major parties, it is incumbent on these two to agree some common set of actions, covering both economic policy and the distribution of the Scottish budget. If this minimal requirement cannot be met, then it seems to me that another election would be preferable to minority government.
The voting fiasco is down to excessive complexity of the electoral process for the Scottish Parliament and local authorities. The heart of the confusion was the simultaneous use of two voting systems.
PROF HUGH PENNINGTON
Leading microbiologist at Aberdeen University
The Lib Dems will not go into a coalition that will oblige them to support a referendum and the SNP have made their position on this clear, so there does not seem to be much room for manoeuvre and there will have to be a minority government. I suppose the prospect of that for the next four years could be a bit tricky, but that is the result of the electoral system.
It is the biggest challenge Alex Salmond has yet to face in trying to retain the support of fundamentalists in the party while getting through legislation.
I think the design of the ballot paper caused most of the spoilt papers. Even if there were instructions, people are under pressure to vote quickly and don't have time to digest the details.
Professor of Scottish history at Edinburgh University
There seems to be inflexibility between the SNP and the Lib Dems. I think - since it is certain a referendum now would be lost - an impartial way forward would be a constitutional convention, made up of MSPs and civil society, or just civil society, like the convention in the 1990s.
It is possible for European countries who have experience in proportional representation to have minority governments, but given our inexperience and the tribal hostility between the SNP and Labour, a minority government would quickly implode.
The voting debacle is unprecedented since 1707. It was clearly the responsibility of the Scotland Office and the previous government in Scotland.
Chief executive of the Centre for Scottish Public Policy
Given that there is no clear majority, maybe it is time for minority government, and the largest party should have the first attempt at forming an administration.
They can then see if they can take the mood of the nation with them.
Vote Scotland and other organisations did a reasonable job in voters' education, but the political parities tried just to instruct people how to vote, and did not have a clear message on what the regional and constituency vote do.
The political elite, as a group, has distanced itself so far from the electorate that it cannot see that it has enclosed itself within a cocoon.
The political elite now has to reach out to the electorate.
Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival
Minority government can lead to chronic weakness and instability. A proper coalition to form a majority is the only sensible way forward, which may at least have the merit of giving more voice to the smaller parties which, ironically, lost out in this supposedly fairer election process. It is hard to believe, for example, that fewer people are concerned about green issues than in 2003 - all the evidence, other than of the election, suggests the opposite.
The voting fiasco arguably renders the election results invalid, at least in an ethical sense, and has disenfranchised unacceptable numbers of people. There needs to be a full and independent inquiry, if only to prevent mass emigration in despair.
President of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and policy director at Pagoda PR
The Liberal Democrats are in a no-win situation. They have ruled out propping up Labour yet their supporters are largely opposed to them working with the SNP.
The election results show that the electorate hold them equally responsible with Labour for the Executive's lack of ambition. The perception is the SNP should have a chance to govern, so the Lib Dems face the prospect of a compromise based on the SNP dropping its referendum plans during the parliament's lifetime and scrapping its proposal to drop the Edinburgh trams.
I find it difficult to believe the allure of the ministerial Mondeo will fail to attract the Lib Dems into a coalition. If it does not, the SNP should try to govern alone.
Reader in law at Napier University
Unless there is an agreement for a "holding" presiding officer - one simply to fulfil the legal requirements who then steps down - there needs to be agreement on a presiding officer by a week on Thursday or there is a risk of a legal challenge to the whole First Minister-government formation process.
It is not impossible to conceive of a "holding" First Minister, on a similar basis, but as this involves not just the prior election of a presiding officer but also the involvement of the Queen in the appointment, it is unlikely to be deemed proper or even practicable.
As for the voting problems, this is an example of what happens when parties (any parties) devise election systems and processes with at least an eye to party advantage.
Professor of government at Glasgow University
The first hurdle is getting a First Minister. If the parties cannot trade off their priorities, then starting off with minority government is quite possible. It would depend on parliament, decision by decision - risking gridlock - but coalitions can be formed on individual issues. Maybe this leads to less government: time will tell if less is better.
The second challenge is relations with Westminster. Tectonic plates are shifting there, too, and conflict resolution mechanisms are not well established. Even if no-one wants a fight, differences will emerge and thought needs to be given as to how they should be managed.
Other countries manage this all the time. It's not beyond our wit to cope with the same.
Visiting professor, Institute of Public Sector Accounting Research, Edinburgh University Management School
My preference would be for a minority government - SNP or Labour - as the results did not provide a clear mandate.
This would require a policy programme that would attract cross-party support in the parliament, although the context of support would differ from issue to issue.
Neither the Nationalists nor the Liberal Democrats have a rigorous approach to the public finances and their collaboration would be a recipe for inefficiency in resource allocation.
Minority government requires a more rational form of politics on the European model and delivers greater transparency in the parliament.
Professor of politics at Edinburgh University
You do not often get situations like this in the UK, but they are common in Europe where there are proportional election systems.
I would not be surprised if people move away from their pre-election stance, and even from their immediate post-election positions.
The Liberal Democrats, for instance, may just be hardening their bargaining position.
The electoral arithmetic would suggest that the answer might be a grand coalition between the SNP and Labour.
The CDU and the SPD have come together in the federal government in Germany in a grand coalition, although it may be that we are not yet ready for that kind of deal in this country.
Vice-principal for international strategy and commercialisation, Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh
It is ironic that the STV ballot paper for the local authority elections attracted fewer complaints than the Scottish Parliament paper.
We need to get away from the term 'spoilt papers' and perhaps use 'rejected' or 'discounted' papers. There has to be a thorough examination to see if there was one cause for their rejection.
Changing the layout of the parliament papers was an issue, as was the way party lists were alphabet-ised, using first names first.
This allowed 'Alex Salmond for First Minister' to be near the top, when normally a person's surname would be used.
We also need to look at smaller parties that might be called frivolous or fringe.
Co-founder of online citizens movement, YouScotland.com
The problems in the voting system call into question the democratic credentials of any party. The Scottish National Party has it for now but, to my mind, we should have a re-election.
The SNP should lead any government, but only while an investigation is going on into the voting fiasco and there is a re-election. I do not think the election is robust, there were so many spoiled papers and it was such a tight result.
The smaller parties and the Greens in particular were filleted. Polls showed they would have got up to ten seats, but they lost out on the new system.
People who spoilt their papers by voting twice were not voting for the SNP and Labour, they were voting for a major party and then Greens - so it was the Greens losing out.
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