Laying out her government’s plans on Wednesday for the year ahead in Holyrood, Nicola Sturgeon said she had been holding informal talks with Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater, the Green co-leaders, which would now enter “structured talks” supported by the civil service.
She said the parliamentary arithmetic was not forcing a need for such an agreement – which would need the approval of both parties and the her Cabinet – but that she believed the two pro-independence parties working together would “build a better future for Scotland”.
She said the talks would focus on the “content, extent and scope of any agreement”, which she said could be “potentially ground-breaking”.
“In the coming weeks, we will seek to agree specific policy areas in which we would formally co-operate and, within each, identify the shared objectives and policy initiatives we would be agreeing to work together on,” she said.
“I am confident these policy areas will include the climate emergency and how we can accelerate Scotland’s progress to net zero.
“But we are keen to identify other issues too – and not just where we already have a similar outlook, but also where co-operation will be more challenging for both of us.
“We will also seek to agree a model of joint working within government to support progress in the areas of co-operation.
"This could include formal processes of consultation and, in our agreed areas of co-operation, the involvement of the Scottish Green Party in Scottish Government policy development and delivery.
“It would also include details of any reciprocal support the Greens would give to aspects of the Scottish Government’s legislative, policy and budgetary programmes.”
Ms Sturgeon added: “Obviously, we need to see how much progress these talks can make and we should not get too far ahead of ourselves today.
But, as we embark on this process, we are setting no limits on our ambition. So in that vein let me be clear that while this is not a guaranteed or pre-agreed outcome, it is not inconceivable that a Co-operation Agreement could lead in future to a Green minister or ministers being part of this government.
“The key point for today is that we are both agreeing to come out of our comfort zones to find new ways of working for the common good. To change the dynamic of our politics for the better, and give meaning to the founding principles of our Parliament.
“What we are embarking on will require compromise on both sides – but it will also require us to be bold. And, given the challenges our country faces, that is a good thing.”
Ms Sturgeon said neither the Scottish Green Party nor the SNP were “doing this because we need to”.
"It is not being forced upon us by Parliamentary arithmetic,” she said.
"Indeed, we are taking a risk that the talks won’t succeed. But we are prepared to do so because if we do succeed, the benefits to the country could be significant. By working together, we can help build a better future for Scotland.”
Ms Sturgeon then went on to highlight the parties agreement on independence, which she said was the “fundamental question” facing Scotland after recovery from Covid.
“There is a choice of two very different futures,” she said, saying there was a “Westminster choice” or “the alternative”.
She stressed again that she believed the UK Government did not have the right to block a second independence referendum.
Responding to the announcement on talks, Ms Slater said: “Scotland desperately needs a green recovery from the pandemic that leaves no-one behind, while time is running out for meaningful action on the climate emergency.
“The Scottish Greens have always worked constructively with other parties, delivering meaningful change like free bus travel for young people, and earlier this month the public returned the largest ever Green group to parliament to take that work further and faster. We hope that through these talks we can deliver real change.”
The Greens said they were drawing from the experience of the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, and have been in discussions with that party in recent weeks.
Mr Harvie added: “Politics does not have to be about point-scoring and short-termism.
"Green parties across Europe and in countries like New Zealand have in recent years rolled up their sleeves and worked with other parties to deliver a better future.
"But they have also shown that there is more than one way for government and opposition parties to work together, without losing the ability to challenge one another. We believe the people of Scotland want to see grown-up politics like this and will approach the forthcoming talks in this spirit.”
After the announcement, Scottish Labour’s leader Anas Sarwar tweeted: “It’s good to see the Greens accepting and formalising their coalition of cuts with the SNP.
"This country needs a bold and ambitious opposition and a credible alternative. Scottish Labour, under my leadership, is determined to build it.”
Scottish Conservative Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport, Liam Kerr, said the move showed that the Greens had “finally given up pretending to be a separate party from their nationalist allies.”
He added: "Once again, we see that their true colours are not green but SNP yellow. A more formal SNP-Greens coalition is a nightmare scenario for the 100,000 workers in Scotland’s oil and gas industry, who will be concerned that their jobs are at immediate risk.
“The potential economic damage could have wider consequences beyond the oil and gas industry. This is a coalition of chaos that could put Scotland’s entire economic recovery at risk by pushing for another divisive referendum while we should be fully focused on tackling the devastating long-term impact of the pandemic on jobs and businesses.”
And Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: “The emerging Green pact is a sign that independence is the overriding priority. It appears they have even swept aside their fundamental differences on oil and gas to smooth the path to a referendum.”