Euan McColm: The Greens retreat, shrieking, to the fringes amid sanctimony and hypocrisy over Kate Forbes

Cosplay revolutionaries of the SNP’s ex-government partners act as though they had no idea about new deputy FM’s conservative social views

It was an entirely unpalatable cocktail of sanctimony and hypocrisy. Precisely the sort of thing that makes The Greens the most exhausting political party in Scotland.

As Holyrood debated the appointment of Kate Forbes as deputy to new First Minister John Swinney on Thursday, the SNP’s former partners in government made it abundantly clear they’d have nothing to do with the whole grubby business. The piety was overwhelming.

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Forbes – a member of the Free Church of Scotland, who has previously said she could not have supported equal marriage laws had she been an elected member at the time they were passed – was endorsed by the main opposition parties but the Greens simply could not do the same. West of Scotland MSP Ross Greer – a middle-class 29-year-old, raised on the mean streets of Bearsden, who you may know either for his description of Winston Churchill as a “mass murderer” or for the fact that, while swearing the Holyrood oath, he insists on holding his fist aloft like a Black Panther radical – rose to speak in sorrowful anger.

Swinney knew the esteem in which Greer held him but the FM was asking him, and other LGBT members of the Scottish Parliament, to appoint to the second highest office in the land someone who did not believe they should have the same rights as others. Many LGBT Scots were, right now, living in fear and the Greens would not endorse Forbes’s appointment.

How very righteous it all was.

There’s just one tiny thing about the Scottish Greens’ fury: Co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater were perfectly happy to take their ministerial salaries while serving in an power-sharing government in which Forbes served as finance secretary, a role with remarkable influence across all government portfolios. How could it be that Kate Forbes in one senior job was fine but Kate Forbes in another was a national disgrace? There would have been no more logic to the Scottish Greens’ decision if they’d made it based on the colour of jacket she was wearing.

Greer, to his credit, had already recognised this plot hole in the Green story. The thing was, when the Greens had worked with Forbes, previously, they didn’t know about her views.

What a lack of curiosity. It has been known for many years that Forbes holds deeply conservative views on social issues and questions of morality. She – famously in political circles – once joined Stagecoach tycoon Brian Souter (who funded a campaign to prevent the abolition of “section 2A” – the Scottish equivalent to England’s Section 28, an entirely homophobic law which banned local authorities from “promoting” homosexuality) at a prayer breakfast. There, she made an unequivocally “pro-life” statement. All while political debate raged over the lack of abortion rights for women in Northern Ireland.

But let’s say, for argument’s sake, that the Scottish Greens truly didn’t have the first idea about Forbes’s beliefs. Wouldn’t that say something important about the ability of people of faith – even deeply conservative faith – to hold positions of great authority in a largely secular society? If the Scottish Greens were able to serve alongside Forbes for years, happy that their objectives were shared and never worried that she wished to undermine anyone’s hard-won rights, then why are they now certain her presence in government is dangerous?

At the time Forbes outlined her personal views on gay marriage, she said she had no desire to roll back existing legislation. Indeed, she said, she saw it as part of her political duty to protect the rights of everyone. Had Forbes never been asked the – entirely legitimate – question about gay marriage, we might still not know her position. It would be a kind of Schrödinger’s gay marriage, both celebrated and condemned at the same time.

Even those who fiercely disagree with Forbes can surely commend her for being honest, even when that honesty stood to draw intense criticism.

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The Scottish Greens are not handling their return to the opposition benches at all well. The party’s MSPs have been increasingly combative, making loud public demands of Swinney – not least asking him not to appoint the deputy of his choosing – and pandering to a membership increasingly obsessed with both conflict in Gaza and trans rights over matters environmental.

The game at Holyrood, now the SNP is a minority government again, is “which party can get most out of Swinney?” The First Minister will need the support of opponents if he is to pass his budgets. It will be far easier for Swinney to offer Labour’s Anas Sarwar and the Tories’ Douglas Ross concessions on mainstream, centre ground policies that for him to pander to the increasingly hysterical Greens.

The Scottish Greens appear determined to march back to the political fringes where ideological purity smothers pragmatism. If you’re a cosplaying revolutionary from the West End of Glasgow, daydreaming about wandering through Gaza, handling out puberty-blockers to pleading-eyed children, then the Greens are the lads for you.

The main opposition parties will have to pull off quite the balancing act in the months to come. Yes, the SNP is weak and this Scottish Government vulnerable but, after a period of chaos in politics, both Sarwar and Ross will want to show they have the temperaments to be next First Minister.

Strangely, it is in the interests of both the SNP and its main opponents that Swinney’s government does not fail (unless some scandal of party-destroying proportions should emerge). Neither Anas Sarwar nor Douglas Ross can risk being seen as wreckers for the sake of sport and, if John Swinney maintains his new calm and reasonable persona, it may be difficult for them not to cooperate with him.

As the Scottish Greens shriek themselves into irrelevance, Scotland's future political direction is going to be dictated by those on the centre ground.



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