Analysis: Why does the SNP want a formal deal with the Greens?

“I think it is really, really bad for government ministers to know that the votes are in the bag before they turn up for work in the morning.”

So said Patrick Harvie co-leader of the Scottish Greens just over three weeks ago, and before voters went to the polls in the Scottish Parliament election.

It was his response to the idea there could be a coalition between his party and the SNP, should the latter find itself as a minority government once again.

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And lo and behold, so it transpired. The SNP fell just one short of a majority, while the Greens upped their numbers from six to eight.

Nicola Sturgeon and Patrick Harvie could shortly be in government together.Nicola Sturgeon and Patrick Harvie could shortly be in government together.
Nicola Sturgeon and Patrick Harvie could shortly be in government together.

Kingmakers – or at least budget backers – in the past, Mr Harvie and his co-leader Lorna Slater now find themselves in the position of making sure votes are in the bag for the SNP each and every morning.

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Nicola Sturgeon in talks with Scottish Greens on formal deal

Formal talks are taking place to sign a “co-operation agreement” – coalition is a dirty word after the damage it did to the Lib Dems when they teamed up with the Conservatives in Westminster in 2010 – and there is the very high potential of at least one, if not more, Green junior ministers in Nicola Sturgeon’s Government.

Now, it might seem odd the SNP would move to open up government positions, and policy direction, to a party that commanded the votes of just 1.2 per cent of people in the constituencies and 8.12 per cent of people in the regional lists, but that’s only if you hadn’t been watching closely enough.

Like it or not the arrival of Alex Salmond’s Alba Party during the election and talk of a “super-majority” of pro-independence MSPs bringing much more weight to bear on Boris Johnson’s refusal to grant a section 30 Order for a second independence referendum, shifted the goalposts.

Alba may have failed to have any MSPs elected, but the idea took enough root that SNP voters were happy to vote Green on their peach ballot. With Greens in the government, the SNP will believe its indyref2 argument is further enhanced, despite Nicola Sturgeon's protestations about “gaming the system” during the campaign.

Then there’s the fact that it is exhausting for parties of minority governments to have to constantly engage in talks to get cross-party support for each piece of legislation, particularly budgets.

Rather than conducting the dance of the “will they back us if we offer free bus fares for the under-22s” or whichever other policy the Greens have focused on in such negotiations, having them onside as partners, indeed as ministers, makes that whole game of charades disappear. It also makes real the idea the First Minister has made throughout the Covid pandemic: that politics in Scotland needs to be done differently.

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Furthermore, this year sees COP26, and the world, arrive in Glasgow to discuss climate change. Better to have the Greens inside the tent bolstering one’s environmental credentials than outside loudly criticising the slow pace to net zero.

For the Greens, the reasons to go into any formal arrangement are not so clear cut – after all with great power comes a greater chance to be blamed for when things go wrong.

Maybe the promise of junior ministerial positions will be enough. Currently there’s only one junior in the net zero, energy and transport portfolio – who also has to cover some of the rural affairs brief – so there’s plenty of room there for Green MSPs to find a place.

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