There are many ways to look at the news that Stagecoach tycoon Brian Souter is to repeat his funding of the SNP with a donation of up to £500k. The two conflicting views that I hold are these:

1 – It allows a fair contest to take place between the historically under-funded SNP relative to the more established (but currently skint) Labour party

2 – It pushes Scotland closer to an unbecoming two-party system, much like the hideously riven-in-two United States

We have already seen this week how large the divide between Labour and the SNP is in terms of consensus politics. As Duncan Hamilton describes in deliciously vicious detail in the Scotland on Sunday today, Labour couldn’t even bring itself to vote for a Scottish budget that contained all of the detail that Iain Gray had been calling for. A political arms race between two parties that increasingly detest each other to the decreasing benefit of Scotland can only end badly. Funding candidates who gleefully talk about getting “pugils at the ready” and calling the other side “patsies” doesn’t seem to be getting us very far. However, as can be backed up by electoral math, Labour and the SNP could be on course to take 100 of the 129 seats in the Parliament this year, a worrying milestone for those wanting to move away from punch and judy politics.

The correlation between winning seats and spending power speaks for itself. The four largest parties all spent about £20k-£30k per MSP during 2007, suggesting that the number of leaflets rather than the message printed on them is key. The Greens spent about £54k per MSP, suggesting perhaps that, all things being equal, more money goes further once you have some momentum. With the top two parties seemingly raising even more than the rest here and now in 2011, the direction of travel for our beloved Parliament is pretty clear.

Interestingly, it is the Liberal Democrats who spent the least, £19k per MSP, which suggests that they have a stronger base of support out there that money is less of a factor with, a suggestion that would perhaps contradict the widely-held prediction that Tavish Scott is on a hiding to nothing come May.

On his Twitter page, Patrick Harvie has noted that he would rather have no money than Brian Souter’s money (albeit through the ‘RT’ of another’s message). One would think that Patrick might believe he could spend said money better than Brian could, or Alex Salmond for that matter, but money is a game changer in Politics, that’s the unfortunate reality of our current setup and probably the least worst solution too. It is commendable that the Scottish Greens believe so wholeheartedly in their message that they stand more squarely on it, eschewing more traditional (and perhaps more grubby) political practices.

With 50%+ of Tory donations coming from the City while Osborne arranges jaw-dropping tax cuts for big business, not to mention the eyebrow-raising sweeping away of bus regulation from the SNP manifesto four years ago (an omission that would have pleased Brian Souter), we just have to make sure that campaign money is a game changer only for elections, and not for policies.

All in all, I am mostly glad that the SNP can fight this election on the same financial footing as Scottish Labour but, with the real risk that our once Rainbow Parliament takes on a distinctly red and yellow hue, we should be careful what we wish and vote for.

(Note – That is a National Express vehicle in the photo, not a Stagecoach one. I am not suggesting anything untoward with its inclusion, and certainly not that Jim Barrie or Stewart Hosie have a face like the back of a bus!)