Scottish Green party's macho critics are just overgrown toddlers clinging to Big Oil's comfort blanket – Joyce McMillan
A wildfire that could be the largest the UK has ever seen has been burning in the hills near Inverness, sending up a plume of smoke that can be seen from space; and north Edinburgh has had only 4.8 millimetres of rain in the last three weeks, when past seasonal averages would predict seven times that.
If those sorts of statistics worry you, though, you need fret no more; because it seems that a substantial section of Scotland’s political class – more noisy than numerous, but hard to ignore – has discovered a solution to the climate change crisis, and to the multiple other forms of environmental breakdown that now threaten our future; one that will enable us to ignore the whole annoying subject, and get back to the “real-world” business of pursuing perpetual economic growth, at any cost.
For the solution, it seems, is to get rid of the Greens; yes, that irritating little party that has been banging on about these issues for decades, and now forms a minor part of the Scottish Government. From the row over Scotland’s bottle-and-can recycling scheme to the rebellions against highly protected marine areas and low-emission zones, the Greens – we’re told – clearly bear sole responsibility for the fact that Scotland is now trying to do something about decades of environmental degradation, and years of missed carbon reduction targets.
They are also, the argument runs, clearly behind the “radical” idea – now adopted, according to reports, by as cautious a figure as Keir Starmer – that at the height of a fossil-fuel-induced global crisis, the UK really should not be opening up new offshore oil and gas fields; and the solution to the whole business, according to some in the SNP and beyond, is for First Minister Humza Yousaf to man up, ditch the Greens from government, show them who’s boss, and “stop the green tail from wagging the yellow dog”. This, the FM is told, would greatly improve his standing with his own party; and I suppose it might work, at least for that small minority of SNP members who retain a gruntingly tribal attitude to politics, and haven’t a clue what they have been voting for, for at least the last decade.
For the truth is that almost every word of this Green-bashing analysis of current Scottish politics is nonsense; and almost everyone peddling it – from some members of the SNP, to the sworn enemies of independence and devolution – knows that it is nonsense. It’s now 15 years since Tony Blair’s government passed the ground-breaking UK Climate Change Act, which legally binds the UK Government to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050; and it has been reaffirmed and strengthened by every UK Government since, despite the reluctance of recent Tory administrations to take some of the most obvious steps towards achieving it.
During the Scottish independence referendum campaign, a decade ago, then First Minister Alex Salmond put the vision of a “fairer, greener, more prosperous” Scotland at the core of his case for independence; and his successor Nicola Sturgeon was likewise absolutely convinced that whatever the practical difficulties of implementation, a rapid and just transition to a low-carbon economy was essential for Scotland’s sustainable future.
In allying herself with the Greens in the 2021 Bute House Agreement, she was therefore simply adding some extra parliamentary weight to the kinds of environmental measures that had been implicit in SNP policy for a decade. Nor was the SNP alone in embracing such ideas; the now-reviled highly protected marine areas, for example, featured in both the Labour and Conservative Scottish Parliament manifestos of 2021.
And it’s because of the high level of underlying agreement about the need to take action on the environment, that the current ill-tempered rows over these issues in Scotland, and the astonishing levels of anti-Green abuse that accompany them, reek so strongly of bad faith and rank opportunism; not least from the UK Government, caught bang to rights approving a bottle recycling scheme for Wales very similar to the Scottish one that it claims will cause cross-border chaos. Asked to explain themselves, vehement opponents of these measures often shift their ground immediately, accepting the policies in principle, but complaining about implementation, and what they see as an increasingly top-down style of government.
Yet if improved implementation and enhanced local democracy were really their principal concerns, their tone would surely be very different – more nuanced, and more constructive; nor would they be drawing support from a right-wing popular press where the words “chaos”, “disaster”, “devastation” and “catastrophe” are deployed daily, against the simplest environmental measures.
Politics, of course, is a dirty game; and Scottish politics at the moment is particularly dysfunctional, because of the weaponisation of every issue in the stalemate over independence. It should be said though – from time to time, and with great clarity – that when it comes to the matter of the Scottish and global environment on which we depend for our lives, this kind of petty point-scoring and short-term game-playing is not acceptable; and that those now indulging in it will be most harshly judged by history.
In that context, the impulse to get rid of the Greens from the Scottish Government is not much more rational or defensible than the instinct of a toddler who thinks that if it covers its eyes, the danger it can no longer see will disappear. And those currently clinging to this particular comfort blanket, as a serious proposal in Scottish politics, urgently need to wake up to the facts of 21st-century policy-making, instead of trying to shoot down the party that has become the messenger of an uncertain future they evidently prefer not to face – perhaps because, for all their macho bluster about big growth and big oil, they finally lack the courage to do so.
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