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Last Updated: Monday, 7 May 2007, 08:48 GMT 09:48 UK
Crunching the numbers for power
Andrew Black
Political reporter
BBC Scotland news website

Now that the Holyrood election dust has settled, attention has turned to who will form the next Scottish government.

Nicol Stephen and Alex Salmond
An SNP-Lib Dem coalition looks increasingly doubtful

However, the parties don't seem to be making an awful lot of progress.

The SNP is the biggest party with 47 seats, just one ahead of Scottish Labour. The Scottish Conservatives have 17 MSPs and the Scots Liberal Democrats 16.

The Scottish Greens returned two MSPs and the colourful Independent Margo MacDonald was re-elected.

The SNP are the biggest party so they're in charge, right?

Actually, it's not that simple. In a parliament with 129 MSPs, a ruling administration wanting a majority needs at least 65 under its belt.

The last eight years of the parliament have seen Scotland run by a Labour-led coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

The most straightforward coalition deal seemed to be an SNP-dominated Scottish Executive involving the Lib Dems and the Greens.

No deal

There are problems here.

The Lib Dems say the Nationalists' Scottish independence referendum proposal is a major stumbling block to a power-sharing administration - and have now knocked them back.

The Lib Dems say they will not do a deal with Labour and the Conservatives have said they will not do a deal with anyone.

The Greens have agreed to talks with the SNP on forming a new government and have not ruled out being in coalition.

However, they favour a system of "confidence and supply" where they would back a first minister and a budget and deal with other issues on a case-by-case basis.

So it seems increasingly likely that the Nationalists will have to go it alone - but with only 47 guaranteed votes in the chamber an SNP minority government may find it tough to pass legislation.

And when it comes to the question of voting in SNP leader Alex Salmond as first minister, the Nationalists may also find it difficult to gain enough MSP support for the move, even with the Greens on board.

It may come down to asking other parties to abstain, for the sake of getting a new administration up and running.

Scottish Parliament chamber
The clock is ticking for MSPs to elect a first minister

And there is another factor.

MSPs will be required to elect one of their own as Holyrood's presiding officer, meaning a party will have to give someone up - along with a vote in parliament.

Margo MacDonald - one of the arch critics of the problems with the Scottish Parliament building project - says she is considering a bid for the position

Or a candidate may emerge from the Tory benches. Leader Annabel Goldie had been touted as a possible name, but she seems to have ruled herself out.

As the parties continue to see if a deal can be struck, members of the civil service will be on hand to advise.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. Under the Scotland Act, a new first minister has to be appointed within 28 days of the election, making the deadline 30 May.

If not, a fresh election will have to be held.

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