We live in interesting times and there are more in prospect at Holyrood
Within days of the parliament assembling, the SNP moved to take advantage of its majority. Tricia Marwick was elected presiding officer. The committees, in which much of Holyrood’s real work is done, were all furnished with an SNP majority. Most of the key ones, including finance, were given an SNP convener.
Yet the most important developments during the new government’s early days lay not in its dealings with Holyrood, but in its relationship with London. Alex Salmond felt emboldened to take a robust stance with UK ministers – and judges.
He upped his demands for more power for Holyrood to include control of excise duties, a Scottish digital channel and a guaranteed role in EU negotiations, as well as responsibility for corporation tax, more borrowing powers and the revenues from the Crown Estate.
Meanwhile, following the quashing of the conviction of Nat Fraser, both Mr Salmond and Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill made it perfectly clear that they did not think the UK Supreme Court should be meddling in Scottish criminal cases.
However, London has not felt cowed by Mr Salmond’s majority. The First Minister has been given some extra borrowing powers, but there has been little or no progress on his other demands. The UK government has even come up with its own scheme for returning some of the revenues of the Crown Estate to Scotland’s rural communities.
At the same time, Holyrood has shown that it is not necessarily in Mr Salmond’s pocket. The government tried to persuade the parliament to pass legislation designed to tackle sectarian behaviour at football matches before the end of June. In the event, it had to accept that parliament wanted more time to consider the matter.
And with that tactical retreat, parliament broke up for the summer, since when Mr Salmond’s government has largely slumbered.
Unlike David Cameron, Mr Salmond has not been required to chop and change his holiday plans. Indeed, with hackgate, the English riots and more recently Libya crowding out any semblance of a silly season, this would have been the wrong summer to have tried to make waves even if the First Minister had wanted to.
But the next 100 days will be different. Next month Mr Salmond will have to present his government’s legislative programme. Previous SNP programmes have been relatively timid affairs, constrained by its minority position. Now the SNP has to show that it can use its majority to good effect.
Thereafter there will need to be a budget. Winning a majority has not given the SNP a single extra penny to spend – but it has ensured that responsibility for making some very difficult sums lies with it and with it alone. Much could depend on its success in doing so.
l John Curtice is professor of politics, Strathclyde University