There is a lot being said about how extreme the Green Party is on this or that issue and how this must damage Scotland and thus the fortunes of both parties involved.
While I do not depart from a critical analysis of the Green Party’s flat earth economics, nor its pursuit of divisive identitarian causes such as Scottish nationalism or gender politics that have no relevance to the environment, it does not necessarily follow the Greens will be weakened by the new arrangement. Quite the contrary. The greater risk is they may be strengthened because the opposition believes mistakenly Scots will lazily accept a reactionary narrative.
The opposition has to be far smarter than that, using facts, evidence and sweet reason to debunk the myth-making luddite populism of the Greens that they are good for our futures.
While there is every possibility the SNP’s vote share at the next Holyrood election falls back after being in power so long (it will have been 18 years) – there is also a reasonable chance the Greens benefit from the credibility that being in power bestows and pull in new younger supporters previously destined to support the SNP. This could mean the alliance manages to form another administration but with more Greens in it. In the longer term I suggest the threat is to the SNP being cannibalised by the Greens as the party exploits the Holyrood voting system and gains list members who make up for any SNP losses in constituencies and regional lists.
To consider why this might happen we firstly need to discount all the hyperbole coming from the SNP and Green partners. Despite all the inflated claims from Nicola Sturgeon the dial showing the likelihood of a second independence referendum remains where it was, it has not shifted even a smidgeon. The reason for this is simple, the prime minister has said it will not happen; the Holyrood election did not deliver a nationalist mandate to change his mind and this new administrative arrangement changes nothing.
We also have to discount all the histrionic criticism coming from the opposition parties who have looked like they were trying to get their retaliation in before any dirty fouls have been committed by the new government. In sum total all we have seen is the usual Yah-Boo personality politics that saves no drug addict’s life, nor gives any Scots kid a decent education or helps lift our economy to create jobs and widen prosperity.
The reality is that lifting Scotland out of the economic damage done by the SNP’s inconsistent and confusing pandemic response must remain the opposition’s focus. Beyond that there is so much to repair in the failure of public service delivery – from literacy and numeracy in schools to a growing tsunami of overdue healthcare demands – that will ensure ministers will have their hands full for the next four years. With no obvious fresh talent to revitalise it the SNP is likely to make more mistakes and have yet more failures. The new agreement will not and cannot save it from such a trajectory.
The Greens will be able to point to the state of Scottish education, the UK’s worst death rates for the homeless, drug addicts and alcoholism inherited before joining the administration and will absolve themselves from any deterioration (and yes, it can still get worse) while being able to taking credit for areas that might improve.
The Greens can thus remain a repository for supporters of independence unwilling to give the SNP a second vote – likely to be a growing share of the electorate – who could be attracted to their environmental gloss that deflects attention away from the more wacky of their pursuits.
To combat the Greens enjoying a likely growth spurt the opposition parties should at all costs avoid adopting the Green’s pseudo-environmental appeals that rejects economic regeneration and provide a clear and contrasting alternative that will bring jobs and higher incomes.
While I fully expect a Scottish Labour Party still in denial about the cause and scale of its decline to fall into the trap of being as economically backward as the Greens in an attempt to find a rich seam of new voters, the Conservatives must become a robust and recognisable voice of reason. They need to abandon any support for uneconomic programmes that make energy, jobs and commerce more expensive; they must explain the damage of continued SNP centralisation and any new Green-eyed restrictions – and in contrast advocate driving down business and personal taxes at a time when costs are rising and spending power is contracting.
As if to illustrate the point, on the day the agreement was unveiled the new Scotrail timetable for after its nationalisation was leaked showing services being cut back and already heavily subsidised routes facing even greater losses as revenues will collapse while overheads remain. Likewise it is simply nonsensical for Green influence to halt the improvement in transport infrastructure that Scotland so badly needs and has been promised previously by the SNP. By asserting the dualling of the A9 and A96 should be completed it will be possible to expose the SNP to yet more broken promises and the Greens for their Flintstone approach.
Being focused on attacking worsening outcomes due to Green influence, rather than matching their false environmental credentials must become the opposition’s guiding star.
Brian Monteith is editor of ThinkScotland.org and served in the Scottish and European Parliaments for the Conservative and Brexit Parties respectively.