Humza Yousaf’s time as First Minister could soon be coming to an end. He faces a vote of no confidence next week, and with the Tories, Labour, the Lib Dems and Greens all set to vote against there is a very good chance he could lose. 

While there is nothing in Parliament's rules or in legislation that says he would need to quit just because he lost a confidence vote, it would be hard for him to carry on in charge of the government.

He would be a lame duck First Minister.

We may not even get there. 

Some reports last night suggested Mr Yousaf was considering his position. 

While there was a fair bit of push back from sources close to the First Minister, it is still possible a visit from the men in grey kilts over the weekend might encourage him to go. 

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How will Humza Yousaf resign?

He could try and do what Nicola Sturgeon did and give Holyrood notice of his intention to resign to allow the SNP to hold a leadership contest. 

But even if he did that then he would still likely face a vote of no confidence next week, one he could still lose. 

And given that the SNP like a lengthy leadership contest it could mean him being in office but not in power for weeks, the sort of “zombie government” situation we saw in the summer of 2022 when Boris Johnson was ousted.  

If he resigns immediately then, as per Section 46 of the Scotland Act, Holyrood has 28 days to fill the vacancy.

What does that mean?

Two things can happen here. If there is more than one nominee, say an SNP MSP and a Lib Dem MSP - they tend to always put themselves forward for these things -  then whoever wins a simple majority of votes in the chamber gets the job.

If there are three or more candidates, then the winner needs to get more votes than the combined total of the others.

Where this gets interesting, as pointed out by Edinburgh University law lecturer Scott Wortley on X, is if there is only one nomination. 

Rule 11.10.5 of the Scottish Parliament’s standing orders states: “Where there is only one candidate in a round of voting, a member may vote for or against that candidate or to abstain. 

“At the completion of that round of voting, the Presiding Officer shall establish the number of votes for the candidate, the number of votes against the candidate and the number of votes to abstain. 

“The candidate shall be selected if a simple majority of votes in the candidate’s favour is obtained.”

That means if the majority of MSPs vote against the nomination the position is not filled.  If the office of first minister cannot be filled after 28 days, then an extraordinary general election takes place.

“If the First Minister resigns the strongest position for the opposition to force an election is for no opposition party to nominate a candidate as first minister triggering standing order 11.10.5 and ensuring that votes against the nominee can be registered,” tweeted Mr Wortley.

“In that case if the vote of no confidence is successful and leads to resignation the opposition by not nominating someone to be first minister can keep the pressure on by not supporting a nomination of the same candidate or anyone else from the minority government.”

What’s the arithmetic?

The Presiding Officer does not have a casting vote when it comes to nominating a first minister. 

That means it is up to the remaining 128 MSPs in the Scottish Parliament.

The SNP currently has 63, the Scottish Conservatives 31, Scottish Labour 22, the Scottish Greens seven, the Scottish Liberal Democrats four and Alba has Ash Regan.

If the opposition parties join forces they will have a majority of one.

But even if Ms Regan votes with the SNP then there will be a tie and no simple majority, meaning no first minister. 

How can the SNP avoid this? 

There is nothing in the rules that says a party cannot nominate two people for first minister. They could, in effect, put up a paper candidate. Someone to take one for the team.

Then all that needs to happen is for the proper candidate wins more votes than the pretend candidate. 

As strategies go, it would be a bit odd and is not without its risks.