Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour leader, didn’t wait long. He announced he was quitting on Friday afternoon, even before the full extent of Alex Salmond’s landslide victory was officially declared. Mr Gray will stay on until the autumn but will go then to allow someone else to start the unenviable task of picking Scottish Labour up from its disastrous performance last week.
Yesterday Tavish Scott, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, told his parliamentary party that he was resigning too. But, given that his parliamentary party consists of him and just four others, it wasn’t so much a meeting as a small chit-chat among a small circle of friends – indeed they could have held that meeting in the back of a taxi.
Former Lib Dem MP Willie Rennie is the favourite to take over.
Mr Scott decided to leave with “immediate effect,” which probably had a lot to do with his desire to land the Presiding Officer’s role for this new session of parliament. The equivalent of the Speaker, the Presiding Officer’s role would certainly be an easier and more comfortable ride for Mr Scott who has endured a torrid campaign, criticised everywhere for the activities of his party in London – which he can do nothing about.
Mr Scott is a likeable chap and his bid for the Presiding Officer’s job would normally be treated relatively favourably by his fellow MSPs. That is, if it wasn’t for Mr Salmond on one side and the Labour Party on the other.
Labour is the only party not to have provided a Presiding Officer for the parliament and many in the Labour camp want it to go to a Labour MSP this time, partly to make sure someone keeps the rampant SNP in check and partly because this would be a good parliament to use up their ‘turn’ of having to provide a PO.
SNP sources have suggested, however, that Mr Salmond wants the job to go to an SNP MSP, even though this runs counter to agreed ‘form’ in the parliament. It is not the SNP’s turn and it would look distinctly undemocratic for Mr Salmond to control everything in the parliament, the votes, the legislation and the standing orders.
But some SNP insiders have suggested that Mr Salmond gives not a fig for the impression this will create, he wants to control everything. He is particularly keen that he has a Presiding Officer who will not let any procedural niceties stand in the way of his precious referendum bill.
The vote for the Presiding Officer on Wednesday is by secret ballot and it is not supposed to be whipped. Theoretically, MSPs can vote for whoever they wish but, if Mr Salmond makes it clear he wants an SNP MSP in the job, then that SNP MSP will get the job. That is how majority government is going to work in Scotland from now on – so all of us in Scotland, inside and outside the parliament, had better get used to it.
With two opposition leaders out, that only leaves Annabel Goldie, the Scottish Conservative Leader remaining in post. She has made it clear she wants to go “on and on” but she may not get her wish. The Tories did better than either Labour or the Lib Dems on Thursday night (they only lost two seats, going down from 17 to 15) but it was hardly a glorious success either.
A recent review of the party by Lord Sanderson demanded that there be a leadership election “directly after the May elections”. Miss Goldie is keen to push this timetable out as long as she can but she in unlikely to be able to resist a leadership contest much beyond the early autumn.
Miss Goldie has said she will stand again. The big question for the Scottish Tories is whether any of her rivals for the job has the guts to stand up to her and challenge for the leadership. None have shown any such courage so far, but Murdo Fraser, the current Deputy Leader, will have to make a move sometime or he will forever find himself waiting in the wings like a poor-Scotsman’s Michael Heseltine.
The best option for him and for other pretenders to Miss Goldie’s crown is for that old Tory standby, a stalking horse, to wound the leader so badly that she would have to stand aside letting one of them take over.
Mr Salmond has already seen off two of the leaders who challenged him on Thursday night. It might take some time, but he must be pretty confident of seeing off a third too.