Your willingness to adapt your position reveals your wisdom and selflessness, his willingness to do likewise exposes his lack of principles.
Never has our political debate shrieked more loudly with accusations of betrayal and ideological impurity than it does today. And when it comes to declaiming against the moral failings of others, few parties are as enthusiastic as the Scottish Greens.
Under the joint leadership of Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater, the Greens are a pious, intolerant bunch, happy only when taking the moral high ground.
And so, we must accept Harvie - whose party is now in Government after signing a cooperation agreement with the SNP - is wise and selfless rather than unprincipled, mustn’t we?
A few weeks back, Harvie - now minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights - warned the introduction of vaccine passports, documents which people would use as proof of coronavirus vaccination before gaining entry to night clubs and large live events, would “deepen discrimination against those who have not yet been vaccinated” and “deepen inequality”.
Next week, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will ask MSPs to support the introduction of vaccine passports. Asked in the Holyrood debating chamber whether her new ministers, Harvie and Slater (Green Skills, Circular Economy, and Biodiversity, in case you were wondering) would be supporting the plan, she replied: "Of course, all ministers, all 29 hardworking dedicated ministers are bound by collective responsibility under the ministerial code.”
Harvie went on to give an excruciating interview to ITV’s Peter MacMahon during which he squirmed and waffled and refused to give a straight answer on whether the Greens would back the policy. All of this being in power thing might be terribly new to him, but we might have thought that, even at this early stage in the Greens time in power, Harvie would have had a handle on the fairly basic concept of collective responsibility.
A statement then issued by the Greens demanding an assurance that pans for vaccine certification would not adversely affect vulnerable people was a woeful exercise in arse-covering, a last-minute bid to make it appear the party retains some credibility on the matter. This statement failed to assert a string Green position because it was - quite rightly - greeted with ridicule. Look, guys, you are the Government. You should know this stuff.
The deal between the SNP and the Scottish Greens is littered with caveats, allowing the parties to diverge on certain issues. Harvie may fantasise that these clauses and sub-clauses will allow him to enjoy the influence of being in power while avoiding responsibility for those things with which he disagrees but no amount of fine print can distance the Greens from the actions of this Government because, as if it needed restating, the Greens form part of the Government. Harvie and his colleagues may not enjoy the luxury of being simultaneously in power and in opposition.
The very idea of vaccine passports once deeply offended Harvie at a fundamental level. Now, his ministerial ranks will compel him to back their introduction. Those things that’ll “deepen inequality”? No problem. On you go, lads.
The idea that the Scottish Greens believe they can be both governing reformers and radical outsiders is bolstered by a quirk of Scottish Parliamentary rules which allows the party to continue to receive so-called “short money” - public funds made available to support the parliamentary operations of opposition parties - despite now being part of the Government.
The current rules state that a party which does not have more than a fifth of ministers can continues to collect funding for those MSPs who do not hold government positions.
These rules were wrong when they were drawn up in the parliament’s infancy more than 20 years ago and they’ve been wrong for all the years since, during which time they’ve been irrelevant.
The Scottish Greens will lose some short money because of Harvie and Slater’s ministerial status. But if the best we can say about the current set up is that at least it doesn’t allow Government Ministers to collect opposition funds then I’m not sure the system’s as robust as it might be.
As opposition goes, the Scottish Greens have long taken a conceptual approach. The party talks a radical game but, long before it was in power, it had become little more than a wing of the SNP. Harvie and Slater’s party became the second vote choice of middle-class nationalists.
But the relationship between these parties is formalised now and the Greens may give up any pretence of wishing seriously to oppose the policies of Sturgeon’s SNP.
Ah, you may say, for you are an idealist and a romantic and all the better a person for it, but at least if the Greens are in government, they’ll be able to make a difference.
And I, because I am a sceptic, will reply that I stopped thinking the Scottish Greens a serious party of environmental issues when its leaders stood side by side, during the 2014 referendum campaign, with SNP ministers whose prospectus for independence was based on soaring oil and gas prices. Harvie’s ability to gloss over inconvenient truths about the SNP is well-practised.
If Patrick Harvie thinks he’ll be able to U-Turn on the issue of vaccine passports and vote for their introduction despite his conviction they’re a bad idea, without there being a backlash, he may be mistaken.
I wonder whether his supporters will consider him pragmatist or sell-out.
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