We need to roll up our sleeves and practise the grown-up politics of negotiation, co-operation and consensus building.
That was Lorna Slater’s public response, in her kinda cute mid-Atlantic accent, to Nicola Sturgeon’s invitation to snuggle up to her. In private I’m sure this Very Nova Scotian and Patrick Harvie are already giddy at the prospect of biking to some Scottish Government department with their vegan lunch boxes tucked in their rucksacks. Minister for Recycling Press Releases Headlined ‘IndyRef2 Imminent’? Who could possibly turn down such an opportunity to tackle climate change? Just think how many Caledonian Pine forests have been needlessly felled over the past seven years to maintain false hope among all those glaikit souls still firmly under the First Minister’s sleekit spell.
The announcement of “exploratory talks” between the two pretend pro-Indy parties at Holyrood might have come as a surprise to most Scottish political pundits, but there wasn’t an ounce of originality in this machination. If copyright protection applied to political spin, Ms Sturgeon could be getting sued by the premier of New Zealand. In November last year, Jacinda Ardern’s Labour party signed an identical “cooperation” agreement that stopped short of coalition but granted the Green contingent in Wellington two ministries outside Cabinet level. What was remarkable about that pact was that it wasn’t at all necessary: the NZ PM had just led Labour to a landslide election victory so didn’t need to cut a deal with anyone. Her justification for doing so was that she hoped it would provide an extra layer of stability for her second term in government.
Ms Sturgeon is clearly in far more need of such a safety net than her Kiwi counterpart, having failed for the second time to match Alex Salmond’s achievement of an outright majority. A deal with the Scottish Greens would give her a six-strong cushion. Something she desperately needs as she knows the remainder of her time in office could be extremely unstable. As jaggy exclusively revealed the moment the polls closed on May 6 (and the Sunday Times later confirmed), a handful of SNP MSPs stood poised to defect to Alba. They planned to cross the floor at Holyrood within weeks of being sworn in. Their aim was to apply immediate pressure on the FM to push for indyref2 without any further dithering or delay. But this secret plan was scuppered when Mr Salmond failed to win a seat. It has, however, only been placed on the back burner. Even some friends and admirers of the First Minister are beginning to fear they’ll never see independence in their lifetimes.
If Alba can get its act together at its inaugural party conference in the autumn, providing a welcoming refuge for a more muscular form of nationalism, it might not need Mr Salmond’s presence at Holyrood to trigger the creation of a breakaway faction there. In fact, a fresh new Alba leader untainted by any scandal could conceivably make defections more likely. Even a mini exodus from the SNP would quickly call the FM’s position into question. It would certainly weaken her negotiating hand if she had to turn to other parties at that point to shore up her administration. Better to buy Green support now at a bargain price.
If Mr Harvie and Ms Slater fall for the Covid Queen’s royal invitation to “come out of our comfort zones to find new ways of working for the common good” then they really are green, as in naive and easily deceived or conned. Nicola Sturgeon has never shared power with anyone in her own party – apart from its chief executive (who also just happens to be her husband) – so she assuredly won’t be ceding any smidgen of autonomy to seven members of another political gang. Nor will any of them be stealing any of the limelight when she does her inevitable global grandstanding at the upcoming COP summit on climate change in Glasgow.
None of this will stop a deal being struck in “structured talks”, supported by the civil service, which are are expected to conclude before the next parliamentary recess in a month’s time. If the Scottish Greens were split into the same factions as their German counterparts Die Grünen used to be, Patrick Harvie would definitely be among the realos rather than the fundis. Like those weary pragmatists, he long ago lost his political purity and is eager to move from protest to power. A list MSP for the Glasgow region since 2003, this could be his one and only opportunity to sample ministerial office. After almost two decades on the back-benches at Holyrood, he will leap like a kitten at anything dangled before him.
The Scottish Greens will soon live to regret that. The former LibDem leader Nick Clegg could tell them what happens to the junior partners in a coalition government. So could those members of Ireland’s Green Party who lived through their party hitching itself to Fianna Fáil from 2007 to 2011. “To them, we were the bit part players who were not expected to change the script,” reflected Dan Boyle, an experienced Green parliamentarian. The title of his book about that loss of political innocence summed up the painful predicament he and his colleagues got themselves into – Without Power or Glory. All the blame for the SNP Government’s failures to meet its glorious carbon reduction targets through concrete actions will henceforth be attributed to the Scottish Greens’ selling out to them.
The fact that they aren’t entering into a formal coalition with the SNP won’t save them from misery and rejection at the next Holyrood election. However they choose to describe their dalliance, the Greens will be seen to have crawled into bed with the decadent and debauched nationalist chieftains. Swings against incumbent governments are the norm in multi-party democracies. The fact this hasn’t happened to the SNP in three successive Holyrood elections doesn’t mean they can continue to defy the laws of political gravity. When they next seek a mandate to govern Scotland, in 2026, the Nats will have been in power for almost two decades. Their default argument that they could govern far better, if only they had sufficient levers of power to do so, will definitely have worn mighty thin by then – especially if they’ve failed yet again for a further five years to wrest those vitally needed powers from Westminster.
A drubbing at the polls for her party won’t be any problem for a final term FM who will doubtless have landed herself some plum international sinecure well before then. When the SNP leader stated yesterday that “we are setting no limits on our ambition” what she meant was that she was setting no limits on her personal ambition. Her name is Nicola Sturgeon and her favourite words are I, my and me. The moment they fall for her First Ministerial flattery, Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater will be her Greens. And she’ll eat them for breakfast.