Greens sign up for SNP coalition

After months of speculation, and years of parliamentary co-operation the SNP and Greens have agreed a deal to work together in Government, titled ‘Working Together to Build a Greener, Fairer, Independent Scotland’. The agreement now guarantees a Government majority in Holyrood committed to delivering an independence referendum within the term.

After losing out on their own majority at the May election, the SNP turned to their erstwhile allies in the Greens to strengthen their ties. During the election campaign, Green leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater had signalled a desire to get into Government. Though playing it cool, they were quietly determined to get something from the SNP.

While a full coalition was rebuffed early, this agreement is not substantially different from one. Green MSPs will take up a couple of junior Ministerial posts, and attend the Scottish Cabinet a few times a year, in exchange for endorsing the SNP-led Government’s policies.

The Greens have secured a few exceptions, allowing them to criticise the Government on aspects of foreign policy, fee-paying schools, fox hunting etc. In the main though, the Green party now officially endorses the Scottish Government’s policy in areas they had previously opposed, such as local government funding and — ironically — environmental policy.

While the inter-party agreement was hailed as “historic” by the First Minister and the Green party, others have seen it as not a politically sound move. In the pages of The Herald, Ian McWhirter warned that the Greens risk being “human shields” for the SNP’s failures.

Patrick Harvie also refused the comparison to Nick Clegg, who signed the Liberal Democrats up to a Tory coalition that resulted in them betraying many of their supposedly core policies, and being punished by voters for it.

A decision over the future of the Cambo oil field has been billed as the first test of this new coalition. The Greens are pledged to phase out North Sea oil, but the SNP — representing oil interests — are more ambiguous. This ambiguity has won out in the cooperation agreement, promising only a “review” and more “analysis” over the question of continuing fossil fuel expansion.

The agreement will be put to Green members — though not SNP members — for ratification. It will likely pass, but many members must be wondering if the leadership have given away too much, for a largely symbolic inclusion in the halls of power. If finalised, Green MSPs will be held responsible for Government policy and cease to be a voice of opposition in the Scottish Parliament.

The Green trade union group declined to take a position on the deal, but vowed to continue to push for progressive proposals like rent control.

Unsurprisingly, the SNP-Green coalition has been denounced as a “nationalist coalition of chaos” by the Tories. In typical fashion, they decry the plans for a “divisive” referendum and the inclusion of the “radical” Greens as a disaster for business.

Far from this, however, we should expect the Scottish Government to stay the course it has been on throughout the SNP’s tenure — which has been reliant on Green parliamentary support for the past five years anyway.

SNP austerity budgets will continue to be passed with Green support, papered-over by meagre reforms that distract from the reality of rising poverty, deprivation and inequality. On the independence front, the prospect of a referendum soon remains deliberately uncertain. There have been so many false starts to the indyref2 campaign and the leadership shows very little will to fight for self-determination beyond sharply-worded statements.

The Greens presented much of the Scottish Government’s record as their own achievements in the 2020 election campaign.

Many are hoping the Greens can enforce a departure from the ‘neoliberal’ administration that the SNP have been running for the past decade, but this deal does not point to that. As the Greens and the SNP have become closer politically, it has drawn the Greens to the right, rather than brought the SNP leftwards. This danger is increased tenfold in Government together, with the Greens as junior partners.

The ‘neoliberal’ character of the SNP’s government just means that they accept the capitalist system and attempt to manage it in what is a time of capitalist crisis. The Scottish Greens are not fundamentally different in this respect, other than the fact they have never been in a position to manage capitalism until now.

Some might say that the Greens can at least mitigate the worst of the SNP’s policy; but if this is all they can do then it is at the cost of providing a bold alternative. This will always be the case with the Greens, following from their de facto acceptance of the capitalist system and policy of trying to reform and work within it.

Without a broad basis in the working class and a firm commitment to fighting the capitalist system, the Green parties internationally do not represent the alternative that is needed. Wherever they have grown significantly in support, and gotten closer to power, they have moved to the right. In Germany now the Greens are barely distinguishable from Merkel’s CDU and are likely to enter coalition with it. In Ireland, the Greens have propped up both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael governments.

Millions of workers are aware of the scale and urgency of the climate crisis, but the desire for action can only be mobilised on the basis of social transformation, against capitalism and the capitalist class that are the root of the problem.

Shaun Morris, Glasgow