Why the big fuss over fixed term parliaments?

About a month before the election Radio 4 broadcast a fascinating programme narrated by the BBC’s Scottish political editor Brian Taylor. Over half an hour he explained how the Scottish Parliament differs from its Westminster counterpart.

It’s fixed term. Every piece of legislation is a new act of coalition. While some parties will support each other to get one piece of legislation passed, they’ll not agree to cooperate over the next. The SNP dominate, but while they win some debates, they lose others.

But losing a vote doesn’t trigger a crisis of confidence and bring down the parliament. Even the budget can run into trouble. As The Scotsman explains:

“The Scottish Government’s historic first budget passed its initial parliamentary test last night – thanks to the co-operation of an unlikely alliance of Tories, Greens and Margo MacDonald.

In a knife-edge vote after a four-hour debate, the government won by 64 votes to 62, with the two Green MSPs abstaining.”

The fixed term nature means that each party picks themselves up and moves on. The only downside is that no one party can make its own brand of political philosophy dominate the legislative agenda.

None of that sounds bad … Update – The Liberal Conspiracy blog has ideas on this too.

The Con Dem new coalition government at Westminster is suggesting that a fixed term parliament will only be able to be dissolved early if 55% of MPs vote for it.

Why 55%?

A BBC News website piece, describes some of the background.

“50% of MPs plus one can currently trigger a no confidence vote in the government”

“Labour put through fixed-term laws in Scotland requiring 66% of MSPs to dissolve Parliament.”

However their graphic illustrates why the 55% figure would give the parliament much greater stability than a simple 50% majority.

Graphic showing how political parties could gang up to trigger a vote of no confidence in the government

“It would be impossible for opponents, even if fully united, to muster the 55% needed to dissolve Parliament, unless at least 16 Tories rebelled against their party leadership.”

Of course, bringing down the NI Assembly is much simpler, just requiring one party to refuse to nominate a first or deputy first minister …

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