Forging a Holyrood cooperation agreement has hit some mighty snags
Michael Gove is a cunning political gladiator. The UK Cabinet Office Minister can always quickly spot a weakness in his opponent’s armoury and will ruthlessly swing his sword at it. Raised in the north-east of Scotland, he realises how electorally vulnerable the SNP could become in that part of the country if it gets into a formal cooperation agreement with the Greens. So, back on his old stomping ground a few days ago, Mr Gove issued the following statement:
The Greens are anti-oil and gas, anti-growth, anti-jobs, anti-investment, anti-the North East, anti-Aberdeen. I hope that the SNP keep them at arm’s length because I do not believe that a formal SNP-Green compact would be good for the North East or good for jobs.
That’s a stinker from the adopted son of an Aberdeen fish merchant, a journalist by trade who knows what soundbites will go down well in the Granite City and its hinterland. His Conservative colleagues at Holyrood were also quick in warning of a “coalition of chaos” between two separatist parties the moment it was publicly mooted. But it is Downing Street’s appointed saviour of the Union who has now spelt out most clearly what such a deal could mean in practice. The response from Nicola Sturgeon revealed how nervous she’s becoming about the pact she personally dreamt up:
The discussions at this stage are entirely exploratory and without prejudice. I will, of course, seek the prior collective agreement of Cabinet to any agreement that might be produced for consideration.
Read between the lines and it will be no surprise if the negotiations scheduled to take place during the summer recess falter or even collapse in acrimony. The First Minister’s fresh description of these talks as “entirely exploratory” sounds quite different from the FM who launched them by saying “we are setting no limits on our ambition”. The insertion of the legalistic term “without prejudice” is particularly startling, even from a former solicitor. Translated from lawyer’s into layman’s language, it means: “We can pull out of this at any point”.
Quite a few of her Holyrood colleagues would be gey happy if that happened. Some SNP MSPs were noticeably squirming in their seats when she waxed lyrical about rising above partisan rivalries. The only party now seemingly licking their lips at this prospect of such co-operation are the Tories – because they see it as a glorious opportunity to gain an edge over the Nats in the north-east again. These two tribes have slugged it out up there for almost half a century, their duels usually revolving around farming and fishing. But a new dimension has been added by the FM seriously flirting with a party pledged to phase out North Sea oil and gas as fast as possible.
The Greens insist they care about people’s livelihoods and are not recklessly bent on bringing economic carnage to a part of the country which has been through considerable pain already in recent years as the oil industry has suffered from severe volatility. Maggie Chapman, a North East Scotland MSP, sought to rebut Mr Gove’s claims thus:
The Scottish Greens have shown how we can tackle the climate emergency by delivering a fair transition that supports oil and gas workers to move into the clean industries of the future and leaves no one behind. I was elected by the people of the north east to deliver that transition just last month and if I have to put Michael Gove’s nose out of joint to do so then so be it.
Viewed from their perspective, the Greens also need to be careful not to be seen as too soft on the Scottish Government. Perhaps with this in mind, their co-leader Patrick Harvie less than a fortnight ago laid into the Ms Sturgeon about her administration missing three annual climate targets in a row. In response, the SNP chieftain has stressed that the Greens won’t dictate the speed of transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy or alter the course of her regime’s still car-friendly transport strategy. Nevertheless, there is fear among her foot-soldiers that they could suffer from closer association with what many voters (not only in the north-east) view as environmental extremists.
The Tories are not alone in feeling the Greens are engaged in “not grown-up politics”. Many among Ms Sturgeon’s normally quiescent parliamentary colleagues think the same. Some were aghast at her suggestion that senior figures in the Scottish Greens might be given ministerial posts. Noteworthy that gone also suddenly in Ms Sturgeon’s statement this week was any glowing talk of “a Green minister or ministers being part of this government.” We can only wonder what co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater felt about that.
Jaggy’s view is that they should not be at all worried. If the summer summits end in no co-operation agreement, this duo may well have dodged a bullet. Ms Sturgeon’s enthusiasm for co-operating with the Green grouplet was – like almost everything else she does – primarily guided by sly, self-serving motivations. As this blog put it in a previous post (see link below), Nicola was going to eat her Greens. Now, it seems, she’s having a bit of trouble swallowing them.