Iain Macwhirter Iain Macwhirter

Free the Greens from the SNP’s clutches!

First Minister Humza Yousaf (Getty Images)

I have not been entirely flattering about the performance in government of the Scottish Green party ministers, Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater. I have accused them of being responsible for most of the policy failures that have defined Humza Yousaf’s annus horribilis. Everything from the Deposit Return Scheme for bottles and cans to the Gender Recognition Reform Bill; the Hate Crime Act to the ban on wood burning stoves.  

But it is time for me to put the record straight and say that the Greens aren’t all bad. Some of my friends have been Green and a few even remain in the party – though with increasing annoyance at its policies on women’s rights. Anyway, it was the SNP leaders, Nicola Sturgeon and Humza Yousaf, who should really be blamed for policy disasters that have defined what is now being called the Coalition of Chaos. You don’t blame the crew when the ship hits an iceberg, you blame the captain – who ideally should go down with it. (And might well do if the coalition continues.)

Have the Greens been captured by political expediency and environmental complacency?  

The Greens did a creditable job 20 years ago in alerting the public, and politicians, to the issue of climate change. Their genial leader then, Robin Harper, was a great educator, with humility and humanity, who became something of a national treasure. His activists, of course, did what activists do: made alarmist claims, impossible demands and generally made a nuisance of themselves.  But voters were intrigued and most began to accept that the climate is changing and that fossil fuels are no longer a sustainable fuel source.

All the more bizarre, then, that the current Scottish Green party leaders have condoned, in fact supported, the abandonment of the very fossil fuel reduction targets of which they were supposed to be the guardians. I’m talking about the Scottish government’s decision to scrap its ‘legally binding’ plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Scotland by 75 per cent by 2030 (on a 1990 baseline).   This was a target which, when it was set, the Greens insisted was too little too late.  They said only a cut of 80 per cent would address ‘the climate emergency’ that Nicola Sturgeon announced before the Cop 26 climate conference in Glasgow in 2021.  

She was still a progressive icon back then, pre Branchform, and governments took notice. The UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, called on others to follow her lead. The Pope and Jacinda Ardern did. Plucky little Scotland, it was said, was shaming the Tory UK and the world

Not any more. The charity Global Justice Now says it is ‘shameful’ that the Scottish government is ‘shifting the goalposts’. Chris Stark of the independent Climate Change Committee agrees saying it is a ‘dangerous moment’ for the drive to net zero. The BBC ‘s environment editor, Kevin Keane, who broke the story, pointed out that the Scottish government was ‘the first in the world to declare a climate emergency’ and was now the first to ditch it. The entire net zero project may be dead in the water.

So the participation of the Greens in the Scottish governing coalition may have significantly damaged the cause which is the party’s raison d’etre. Harvie and Slater, the joint leaders of the Scottish Greens, have had to accept collective responsibility for the abandonment of crucial climate targets – something they would surely never have supported had they been out of government. Far from it. Harvie would probably have staged a walkout of parliament had he not been locked into his £100,000 a year ministerial post. No wonder Green party members are furious and demanding an emergency general meeting to decide whether or not to remain in the SNP-led coalition.  

Harvie and Slater have tried to argue that the targets were always a diversion – ‘what matters is accelerating policy’. But that is a feeble excuse. The targets were the policy.  Now the Scottish government has abandoned annual and interim targets altogether, decoupling climate policy from any means of measuring progress. The only target left is the overall one of reaching net zero by 2045 in Scotland – five years ahead of the UK. But can anyone possibly take that seriously any more? Like Harvie’s Heat in Buildings plan to scrap a million gas boilers by 2030, it will surely be abandoned as reality intrudes.

The Scottish Green party should think long and hard at their EGM next month about whether it is still in their or the planet’s interest for their leaders to remain bound by the coalition. Is the arrangement serving their aims? Or have the Greens been captured by political expediency and environmental complacency?  

The Scottish Green Party needs to liberate its leaders from the embrace of the nationalists in order to rediscover its voice. So let the cry be heard at the conference next month: End the Coalition of Chaos. Free the Green!

Written by
Iain Macwhirter

Iain Macwhirter is a former BBC TV presenter and was political commentator for The Herald between 1999 and 2022. He is an author of Road to Referendum and Disunited Kingdom: How Westminster Won a Referendum but Lost Scotland.

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