Page last updated at 11:30 GMT, Thursday, 29 January 2009

Q&A: Scottish budget rejection

The Scottish Government's budget for the coming year has been rejected by parliament, despite ministers making last-minute concessions.

The SNP's plans fell on the casting vote of the presiding officer after being tied at 64 votes to 64.

What exactly have MSPs rejected?

The Scottish Government's Budget Scotland (No2) Bill, introduced to parliament in January, set out 33bn of spending for the financial year covering 2009-10.

It included several amendments to the spending plans originally set out in November 2007, which also took in changes announced by the UK Government in its pre-budget report.

This included 230m brought forward to speed up a range of transport, health and education projects.

How did MSPs vote?

The 47 Scottish National Party MSPs voted for the budget, as did the 16 Tories, who were offered 60m for their town centre regeneration plan.

Labour's 46 MSPs voted against, joined by the 16 Lib Dems and the two Green MSPs.

Independent MSP Margo Macdonald backed the budget, bringing the vote to a 64-64 tie.

Holyrood Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson used his casting vote to reject the spending plans, under the established convention for someone in his position to vote for the "status quo" in the event of a deadlock.

Why did it happen?

The SNP is in minority government, and needs the support of rival parties to pass any legislation.

Labour demanded more cash for apprenticeships, but said the deal they were offered fell short, while the Lib Dems' call for a 2p income tax cut was rejected at an earlier stage.

The government was banking on the support of the two Green MSPs, who wanted a 10-year, 100m-a-year free home insulation package.

Finance Secretary John Swinney offered a 22m pilot scheme, which he offered to raise by several million just minutes before the vote at 1700 GMT, but the Greens were furious at the last-minute approach to talks.

Despite opposition, ministers said the spending plans would support thousands of jobs and get the economy moving amid uncertain times.

What happens now?

If a Budget Bill falls, a new one can be introduced at any time.

The current plan involves fast-tracking the plans through parliament between now and February 11, with the agreement of the main Holyrood parties.

That means talks with opposition parties on new concessions have begun all over again.

And if the budget falls second time around?

In practical terms, the bill needs to be passed about six weeks before the start of the new financial year, in April.

If this does not happen, emergency measures allow ministers to spend the latest version of the current year's budget.

The SNP says this is a complete non-starter, because these arrangements would cut Scottish spending by 1.8bn.

What would happen to the SNP administration?

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has placed his party on an election footing - if they cannot get the budget through, they probably cannot remain in office.

However, that would only happen if all parliamentary avenues are exhausted.

The other parties would have a chance to form another administration under the 28-day time limit to elect a new first minister - but the people of Scotland may prefer the opportunity to elect their own parliament.

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