VICTORY in today’s Scottish elections will undoubtedly go to the SNP. Rarely has an outcome been so certain and naturally that’s created interest in the race for second place – or in formal terms, the fight to become “the official opposition”.

Actually though, that description is a bit of a misnomer in Scotland. Of course, the party that comes second gets first dibs in First Minister’s Questions.

But that’s just about where the perks end.

Short Money is the name for the research and support cash given from the public purse to each opposition party at Westminster to help organise itself and hold the UK Government to account.

Each opposition party in the Commons gets £16,956.16 per MP elected plus £33.86 for every 200 votes cast for their party (that makes a total of more than £1.5 million for the Labour Party thanks to a generous funding formula designed to favour the biggest opposition party). At Westminster £789,979.10 is also available every year for the running costs of the leader of the opposition’s office and he or she (along with the opposition chief whip and two assistants) receive salaries from public funds on top of their parliamentary salary.

Far fewer tangible perks come with being “the official opposition” (ie second) in Scotland.

Each registered party with MSPs in Holyrood is paid just £7,977.38 per member. That’s about a third of the Westminster rate and it doesn’t matter if the party has come second by a whisker or last in the polls. The larger Holyrood parties do get an extra £29,015 per annum through the Party Leaders’ Allowance Scheme – 26 times smaller than the Westminster payout. The smaller parties get just £15,224 each.

Of course these generous Commons allowances are under attack from the Tories, who want to reduce Short Money for opposition parties, cap future increases, introduce a ceiling for small party claims and demand more paperwork to demonstrate how the cash has been spent.

In both Holyrood and Westminster the political party that comes second gets first dibs at Question Time, first response in Government debates, a larger fraction of debate topics and – in Scotland – the chance to nominate the convener of the public audit committee.

All of which means the role of parliamentary opposition in the Scottish Parliament is relatively weak. When the Holyrood rules were last debated in 1999, the SNP’s deputy leader at the time John Swinney attacked the Labour Government for showing “no hint of benevolence, no sense of fairness”. Mike Russell, recently cabinet secretary for education, said “there is no doubt that by dramatically reducing the amount of Short Money available to parties, the Labour Party is attempting to ensure that the work of the opposition is undermined”.

Strangely, though, no changes were made once the unthinkable happened and Labour became the official opposition. Doubtless after eight years in opposition, the SNP was happy to give Labour a taste of its own medicine. But is it right that support for opposition MSPs in Scotland should be a tiny fraction of the Westminster total? Especially when there is no second chamber here to check legislation and no set of independently elected committee chairs to act as the collective awkward squad.

That’s why, over the months and years ahead, the job of questioning SNP policy and developing new, better policies and priorities will be done not by Labour, the Tories, Greens or LibDems, Rise or Ukip for that matter.

It will be done by us – the active citizens of Scotland. Like it or not, we are the SNP’s most constructive opposition and we have been for a wee while.

Whether its the school starting age, standardised school testing, land reform, local democracy, community empowerment, the best replacement for the council tax, fracking, the lobbying bill or TTIP – most of the donkey work, research and collective effort to make issues come alive has been done beyond Scotland’s party political structure by interested, unpaid citizens.

Of course MSPs aren’t sitting twiddling their thumbs. Far from it. But the decline of ideology in politics means parties have become more responsive to public opinion – a trend enhanced by the physical proximity of the Scottish Parliament. The indyref had a massively empowering impact on civic society – once the official Yes campaign failed to set the heather alight, local groups stepped in, got organised, got educated and started questioning just about everything. They haven’t stopped. Over 18 months passive voters have become canny activists, not averse to giving parties a kick up the rear if they think priorities are slipping – even though they are often also members of those parties.

Common Weal’s 50+ branch network continues to expand, likewise Women for Independence and the campaigning petition-based website 38 degrees Scotland, which has a staggering 300,000 members who’ve been activated successfully on dozens of issues. Established pressure groups like the Electoral Reform Society are putting local government reform back on the agenda, even though no political party save the Greens is interested. Brand new groups like Upstart Scotland have questioned the wisdom of our brutally early school starting age of four to five when 88 per cent of the world’s nations start kids at six or seven.

So the MSPs elected tonight should take some time to celebrate – and to consider that the political arena is not theirs alone. Nicola Sturgeon might accept that an overwhelming victory doesn’t mean public endorsement of every line of her 2016 manifesto and seriously consider spending more cash to support the business of parliamentary opposition.

Scots are making their own political priorities these days – and the battle to win against that wily opposition hasn’t even begun.