The Scottish parliament consists of 129 seats and therefore 65 are required for a majority. In 2011 the Scottish National Party (SNP) won 69, a majority; in 2016, it won 63, a minority.

But it must have lost its majority before the 2016 election, because at the time of that election (5 May 2016) it only had 64 seats, a minority. Since the 2011 election its seat number had fallen by five seats because of

(Note that Dunfermline in 2013 was the only occasion during the 2011-16 parliament when a seat won by the SNP in 2011 was gained by another party in a by-election, but that seat had in fact already been lost to the SNP when Walker was expelled from the party in 2012.)

On what exact day between 2011 and 2016 did the SNP lose its majority in the Scottish parliament? By that I mean when did the number of members of the Scottish parliament who took the SNP whip fall below 65.

1 Answer 1


The SNP's seat total fell to 64 seats on 23 September 2014. However, due to seat vacanies, it still had a majority of voting members at the end of the Parliament.

The events that led to the reduction of SNP MSPs are as follows:

  • 11 May 2011: Tricia Marwick (Mid Fife & Glenrothes) elected as Presiding Officer, meaning she cannot take any party whip
  • 4 March 2012: Bill Walker (Dunfermline) suspended (you already referred to him in your question)
  • 23 October 2012: John Finnie and Jean Urquhart (both Highlands and Islands Region) resigned from the party due to a decision at the party conference to support Scottish membership of NATO.

At this point, the SNP was on precisely 65 seats. The party briefly dipped below 65 on 25 April 2013 following the death of Brian Adam (Aberdeen Donside), but the party won the subsequent by-election on 20 June, bringing them back up to 65.

On 23 September 2014, John Wilson (Central Scotland Region) resigned from the party due to the same support for NATO membership that had led to Finnie and Urquhart resigning two years earlier. However, given there were only 127 voting members at this point (one seat was vacant due to the death of Margo MacDonald, and the Presiding Officer does not vote), the SNP never lost its majority.

  • Thanks for this. So 23 September 2014 then. Strange how Wilson resigned over what the party conference had agreed two years prior.
    – user36544
    Feb 28, 2021 at 13:15
  • @ruffle I know nothing about it, but I’d speculate that it became relevant again (e.g. some decision had to be made) and this time it was too much for him.
    – Bobson
    Feb 28, 2021 at 15:47
  • @Bobson - For the record, 23 Sep 2014 was five days after the SNP lost the independence referendum and four days after its leader resigned because of that defeat.
    – user36589
    Mar 3, 2021 at 10:07
  • I don't follow the final para. 1) Wasn't MacDonald's seat filled during the 2y period between her death on 4 Apr 2014 and the end of the parliament in 2016? 2) A majority means a majority of all sitting members, which includes the Presiding Officer. 64 seats out of 128, with 1 of the 128 occupied by the PO, is not a majority. The PO has a casting vote. This definition is in common use and applies to Scotland and everywhere else. Surely the correct answer is "the SNP lost its majority on 23 September 2014, when its tally fell to 64 out of 128 then occupied seats; it has never regained it".
    – user36589
    Mar 3, 2021 at 10:21
  • @ruffle MacDonald's seat was not filled because she was an independent who held a regional seat (rather than a constituency seat). Normally, when a regional MSP dies/resigns, the seat is automatically filled by someone from the same party without a by-election. As she was an independent, there is no "same party", and the seat is left vacant for the remainder of the Parliament.
    – Joe C
    Mar 3, 2021 at 16:44

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