Scottish Independence: 'Sturgeon was right to say time is on our side' say Green leaders

Nicola Sturgeon was right to say time is on the side of the pro-independence movement but that does not clash with the urgency required around climate change, the leaders of the Scottish Greens have said.

Scottish Greens co-leaders Lorna Slater and Patrick Harvie outside Dynamic Earth in Edinburgh, during their party's Autumn conference.

Their comments come after the First Minister was criticised by opposition parties for what they claimed was stating she was waiting for older, pro-union voters to die before holding a referendum.

Both Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater, co-leaders of the Scottish Greens and newly appointed ministers in government as part of a “cooperation agreement” with the SNP, backed Ms Sturgeon.

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They also rejected the idea that caution around independence was incompatible with the climate emergency, despite arguing that independence is a necessary step to enable Scotland to tackle climate change effectively.

Speaking ahead of their party conference this weekend, Mr Harvie and Ms Slater said the decision by Scottish Conservative social media accounts to post graphics stating “Sturgeon: I just need to wait for older pro-UK voters to die” on Friday was deliberately misinterpreting what the First Minister had said.

The SNP leader had said in an interview with the Financial Times that “I’ve probably got time on my side” when referring to the demographical support for independence.

“I think it is clear that there is more support for independence amongst younger people,” said Mr Harvie, speaking to The Scotsman on Friday morning, “but I don’t think that there is any lack of urgency either”.

He added: “I think a lot of those young people who support independence do want that decision made now before it is too late, before their futures are left at the mercy of a UK Government that will respond to the biggest fuel price spike in many many years by imposing the biggest welfare cuts since the creation of the welfare state.”

Ms Slater agreed and argued that Sturgeon was simply “poking the unionists a bit” and was instead “reminding them” that delay did not give No a better chance of winning.

Repeating the Scottish Government’s commitment to lay legislation for a second referendum during this parliament, the Lothian MSP who was elected for the first time in May’s Holyrood elections, said independence was offering young people a “positive vision”.

Labelling the Conservative government in Westminster a “horror show” which has “done one horrendous thing after another”, Ms Slater said the offer from unionism as “pretty grim”.

She said: “Brexit and the vision that the unionists are offering is pretty grim; empty shelves, an isolated country, maybe getting a trade deal with the US but that would involve compromising our food and animal welfare standards.

"What kind of promise is that? We can tell a much better story about the future we can offer young people in an independent Scotland."

The co-leader, who was given the post of minister for green skills, circular economy and biodiversity, rejected the suggestion that a delayed referendum and less urgency on independence would lead to less effective action on climate change.

She said: “We do have a lot of powers to do things in Scotland and we are going to use every lever and every bit of policy that we can to implement that in Scotland.

"Yes we could do more as an independent country and we intend to, for the moment we are focused on where we are, let’s not discount what we can do.”

For Patrick Harvie, the transition into government as a minister for zero carbon, buildings, active travel and tenants’ rights, comes after one Scotland’s longest parliamentary careers, having been first elected to Holyrood in 2003.

There is a marked change in his demeanour in the chamber away from the activist persona of opposition and towards a tone dominated by civil service jargon and non-committal language.

Asked if he felt constrained by the new role, the co-leader said he will miss the freedom of speaking in the Holyrood chamber on any issue.

"For the most part Lorna and myself are going to be laser-focused on our own portfolios," he said, “the rest of our MSPs will have a freer reign to speak on that wide range of issues and set out the Green position.”

Citing the recent announcement of the Scottish Government’s heat in buildings strategy as the result of decades of campaigning, the Glasgow MSP said he was “enthusiastic” about the “opportunity to actually deliver on stuff”.

Asked how his and Ms Slater’s presence in government is pushing the SNP towards greener policies, Mr Harvie said that the proof would be in the policy outcomes.

He said: “I think you are seeing a change of position on issues that I think are even outside the cooperation agreement because Greens are in the room.”#

While Harvie’s ascent to ministerial office was slow and steady, it has been done at light speed for Lorna Slater.

Appointed a minister within months of first being elected an MSP, the co-leader describes the journey as a “wild ride”, but that it was a “privilege" to bring “real-life experience” into government on key green issues.

Asked if the move from activist to minister was challenging and whether the notoriously slower pace of change within the civil service was noticeable, Ms Slater said the move was part of the growth of the Scottish Greens.

She said: "I don’t feel constrained by that but you’re right that it is a change.

"It is a sort of maturity and growth that the Scottish Greens were ready for.

"By gaining experience in government and demonstrating that we can deliver in the real world with budget constraints with all that real world negotiating and consensus building that you have to do, that’s how we demonstrate that Greens in government get things done and this is our chance to do that.”

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