SNP Green alliance: Why Humza Yousaf needs to ditch Nicola Sturgeon's Bute House Agreement – Murdo Fraser

The SNP is suffering from its coalition with the Scottish Greens, while they prosper

It appears that the SNP-Green relationship may have become gangrenous. Another fragile piece in the mosaic of Nicola Sturgeon’s mythical statecraft cracks as the picture of her legacy shatters by the day. Put simply, post-Nicola SNP MSPs appear sick of the tail wagging the dog. The SNP’s Green deal is falling apart and it is difficult to know where to start to describe its calamity.

Let’s start with personalities. The Ewing family is woven into the fabric of the SNP. From Winnie winning the iconic by-election in Hamilton in 1967, to her becoming “Madame Ecosse” in the European Parliament, they have been seen as nationalist royalty. Winnie Ewing was given the honour of uttering the first words spoken in the Scottish Parliament in 1999, the year her son, Fergus, was elected to it. Since then he was a minister for 14 years. Today he is the classic ‘elder statesman’, and his view of the Green deal is that it has damaged his party and the Scottish Government.

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Mr Ewing dismissed the Greens as “wine bar revolutionaries”. “The SNP may be in office but that the Greens are in power – and that is not a winning formula in politics,” he said. To give a sense of the camaraderie of this relationship, the Greens’ Ross Greer responded by hinting that Mr Ewing had a liking for booze. Proving that adolescence can last nearly into your 30th year, he added: “The man is so far on the back benches you would need a flashlight to find him.”

That’s a flavour of the personality differences. The differences between the parties present the SNP with a different but even more appalling conundrum. Green-inspired policies like refusing to allow any more exploration of the North Sea – no more new oil and gas fields as we try to transition to net zero with a degree of energy security – means one of our biggest industries is closing far too early than it needs to. It damages Scotland and is costing the SNP support.

Green-inspired policies like the introduction of highly protected marine areas, which will effectively close our fishing industry in many coastal and island communities even more quickly than oil and gas shut down. Damaging Scotland and costing the SNP support. Green-inspired policies like the rent freeze, making landlords leave the market and exacerbating our housing crisis in the rental sector. Damaging Scotland and costing the SNP support.

But while they also bleed votes under the pressure of the Police Scotland investigation into the SNP’s missing £600,000, the added horror SNP MSPs have to deal with is that some of those votes are going to the architects of their own downfall – the Greens. The Greens are cuckoos being incontinent in the SNP’s own nest.

Nicola Sturgeon and Peter Murrell’s grip on the SNP was so tight that the party ceased to breathe. Now that it needs to get a grip, it is doubtful that Humza Yousaf has the power to make a fist. He seems intent on going to the wall at Patrick Harvie’s direction over the Gender Recognition Reform Bill in a pointless legal action in the Supreme Court at the taxpayers’ expense. And as SNP MSPs watch this, they see Green ministers get away with levels of incompetence unprecedented since devolution.

Scottish Green co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater appear to be happy with their deal with the SNP (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)Scottish Green co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater appear to be happy with their deal with the SNP (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Scottish Green co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater appear to be happy with their deal with the SNP (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Lorna Slater would not have survived in any other administration and she would not, I suggest, have survived if she had been a SNP minister. She captures more calamity than carbon. But she survives because of the Green coalition.

One day throughout the UK there will be a credible, working, deposit return scheme – but Lorna Slater couldn’t deliver a milk bottle. The woman who lectures us all on the need to cut carbon emissions and use public transport took 600 miles worth of chauffeur-driven car journeys in just nine days at the cost of the public purse. And then, instead of using one of the few working ferries in Scotland to get to the Isle of Rum, she hired a private catamaran at the public expense.

This is a minister who clearly has no sense of self-awareness, shame or accountability. But the Greens’ hold over Mr Yousaf means not that this woman can do no wrong, but that she can do any kind of wrong she likes and never be held accountable. There can be no doubt that this political union is working for the Scottish Green party. But if I were in the SNP, I think I might feel a little exploited by my neighbours. If I were in the SNP, I would be demanding my own independence from the oppression of Patrick Harvie.

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Normally in coalition deals, it is the junior partner who loses their identity and pays an electoral price for it. The Conservative/Lib Dem coalition from 2010 to 2015 ended with David Cameron gaining an overall majority, and Lib Dems being all but wiped out and Nick Clegg finished.

Yet this SNP administration seems to be turning that rule on its head. The so-called ‘Bute House Agreement’, which Nicola Sturgeon had no political imperative to broker, seems to be corroding the senior partner as the junior prospers. Perhaps it is another one of those deals she struck, lauded at the time, but which in retrospect seems destructive to the party she once led.

If it is the case that the SNP-Green relationship has become gangrenous, there are two basic cures for that disease. Either antibiotics – which I suspect the Greens could find some vegan objection to – or amputation. Mr Yousaf’s challenge is to see if he has the stomach for the surgery. But he has a waiting room full of his own backbenchers desperate for him to reach for the scalpel.

Murdo Fraser is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife



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