To the obvious amazement, disbelief and discomfiture of the other parties (not to mention Westminster, Whitehall, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer), the SNP became the largest party in the Scottish Parliament after the election held on 3 May 2007, taking 47 seats against 46 Labour, 17 Conservative, 16 Liberal Democrat, 2 Greens and 1 (there’s only one) Margo MacDonald.  The smaller parties (notably the Scottish Socialists and Mr Sheridan’s Solidarity) and the other independents were wiped out.  The turnout was 51.8%, an improvement on the 48% of 2003 (see previously No 226).  But the election was severely tarnished by a huge number of spoiled ballot papers (over 146,000), caused not by protest but by voter confusion resulting from having to complete two different ballot forms using different voting systems (the Parliament election using a simple choice system for both constituency and list seats, while the local authority election deployed a single transferable vote system).  Apart from the fact that some 3% of the electorate was disenfranchised by this chaos, there was also talk of legal challenges to outcomes in particular constituencies and regions; but in the end this came to nothing.  The Electoral Commission (which set up the systems in the first place) will investigate and report in late summer 2007.  There is no suggestion (in the end) that the problems affected the overall results.  The SNP decided to form a minority government with Alex Salmond as First Minister, coalition talks with the LibDems and the Greens having failed to produce any agreement.  The central plank of SNP policy is a referendum on independence for Scotland, to which all the other parties are opposed; it therefore seems that any Bill towards this end is doomed to fail.  But it is also thought unlikely that the SNP government will face any early vote of confidence, since the electoral coffers of the opposition parties are drained by the expenses of the 2007 election, and funds generated over the next couple of years will be wanted for the next Westminster election, expected to be in 2009.