Humza Yousaf needs to realise that the SNP Green marriage is over – Paul Wilson

The Scottish Greens wield far too much power for a relatively small party – and may switch to Labour as SNP fortunes fade

Breaking up is hard to do, sang Neil Sedaka, but for First Minister Humza Yousaf it appears nigh on impossible. The state of his SNP’s marriage to the Scottish Greens has been exposed to the sort of scrutiny normally reserved for celebrity couples. But speculation about the parties’ power-sharing Bute House Agreement (BHA) has now reached fever pitch after the SNP-led government ditched its over-ambitious target of cutting emissions by 75 per cent by 2030.

Adding insult to injury for the Greens, it emerged on the same day that the prescription of puberty blockers had been paused at Scotland’s only gender clinic in the wake of the Cass Review into services in England. Gender reform has often been touted as a “red line” issue for the Greens in their relationship with the SNP.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie has since expressed much anger and embarrassment, but not enough to relinquish his role in government and the accompanying ministerial salary. Better to be inside the tent, his argument goes. Many Green activists take a different view, and will vote on the BHA next month. Harvie has pledged to quit as party co-leader if that vote doesn’t go his way.

An odd couple from the start

An impotent Yousaf can only await the result with interest, having doubled down on his commitment to his government partners despite ever-louder protests from within his own party. Exasperated senior figures, including MP Joanna Cherry, MSP Ivan McKee and Alex Neil, who served in both Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond’s Cabinets, argue the Greens appear to have done far better out of the deal than the SNP. And it’s a compelling case.

Right from the start, the match seemed an odd one. Sturgeon started courting Harvie and his fellow co-leader Lorna Slater after the 2021 Scottish Parliament election. The SNP had missed out on an overall majority, but only by one seat and the party had managed minority governments in the past.

Amid the SNP relationship with the Scottish Greens, Humza Yousaf may be discovering Neil Sedaka was right that 'Breaking Up Is Hard To Do' (Picture: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)Amid the SNP relationship with the Scottish Greens, Humza Yousaf may be discovering Neil Sedaka was right that 'Breaking Up Is Hard To Do' (Picture: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)
Amid the SNP relationship with the Scottish Greens, Humza Yousaf may be discovering Neil Sedaka was right that 'Breaking Up Is Hard To Do' (Picture: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)
Read More
SNP MSPs are getting heartily sick of being tied to Scottish Green 'cranks' – Eu...

The Scottish Parliament was designed to encourage the sort of cross-party cooperation notable for its absence at Westminster, which is what made Salmond’s majority in 2011 all the more remarkable. The Greens had cooperated with Sturgeon in the past and would no doubt have done so again, even without some formalised and grandly titled, power-sharing deal.

The security of knowing she would be able to pass budgets and survive confidence votes may have influenced Sturgeon’s thinking when she cosied up to the Greens, but there were other – perhaps stronger – motivating factors. Six months after the election, Glasgow was to host the COP26 climate summit, and what better way to burnish her environmental credentials than by leading the only UK Government to include Greens?

Chance of clean break missed

As the world turned its focus to Scotland, Sturgeon basked in international adulation as she out-targeted even the UK’s ambitious targets, and boasted of being the first politician to have declared a “climate emergency”. Perhaps even more importantly, Sturgeon could claim the pro-independence majority of SNP and Green MSPs strengthened her government’s “mandate” in legislating for a second referendum on leaving the UK. But the Supreme Court stymied that route to indyref2 in November 2022, and, by the time Sturgeon announced her surprise resignation in early 2023, COP26 was a distant memory.

Yousaf could have made a clean break with the Greens when he took over as SNP leader and First Minister. Patience with “the SNP’s gardening wing” was wearing decidedly thin among many party members, who blamed a growing list of dud policies on the agenda of Harvie, Slater, et al. The Greens were behind the unpopular plans for a bottle deposit return scheme and highly protected marine areas, both of which have since been binned.

And on gender, they stuck rigidly to the same incoherent ideology that led Sturgeon to equivocate over whether double rapist Isla Bryson, formerly Adam Graham, is a man or a woman – even after public uproar prompted authorities to move Bryson from a women’s prison to a men’s one.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

With Sturgeon’s backing and the SNP machine behind him, Yousaf only managed to scrape a narrow victory in the leadership contest against two candidates who would surely have scrapped the BHA in a heartbeat. It would have been the smart thing for Yousaf to do too as he entered Bute House. Then he could perhaps have started rebuilding some bridges with Scotland’s business community and focused more on growing the economy.

But “continuity” Yousaf doubled down on the BHA, and the Greens continued to hold sway over the government’s policy agenda. The Greens have held the beleaguered First Minister’s hand through plans to restrict open fires and wood-burning stoves, disastrous rent controls, and the implementation of the hated Hate Crime Act.

Small party influence

And now Yousaf and his SNP ministers appear reluctant to engage with the findings of a comprehensive and authoritative review by one of the UK’s foremost paediatricians into an unfolding medical scandal surrounding the safeguarding of children for fear of offending the ideological sensibilities of their junior partners in government.

Holyrood’s bastardised version of proportional representation has led to a situation whereby a small party wields wildly disproportionate power. Fans of the current electoral arrangements might change their tune if we start to see MSPs elected from parties such as Alba, Reform and the SDP, and politicking with the sort of nous we have seen from the Greens.

Yousaf needs to recognise that the priorities and preoccupations of the Scottish Green Party are not those of the electorate. That’s why so few people voted for them. The longer he takes to do so, the more damage the Greens will do to his party. If he does not file for divorce now, he may find Harvie and Slater sidling up to Labour rather than the SNP after the next Scottish Parliament election.



Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.