SNP-Green deal: Why there are warning signs in the agreement - Robin Harper

How does one judge a 51-page document crammed full of vague promises?

It is difficult to disagree with the aims of the bulk of the document, but there are warning signs in the language.

I am particularly alarmed by the phrase ‘we will reform the education system’. For some reason almost every political party that comes to power has reform of education as a lead objective.

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Former Green MSP Robin Harper. Picture: Ian Georgeson

We have had years of reform after reform. When will politicians leave it alone for a few years and just let teachers get on with it?

I was delighted with the aims, objectives and construction of Labour’s Curriculum for Excellence. Sadly, the arts, music, languages and kinaesthetic skills still remain on the sidelines.

Could we possibly try to implement the full aims of the Curriculum for Excellence before messing about with the educational system as it is?

This is an SNP document in the main, so it is not surprising the environment is at the very end of a rather turgid and lengthy agreement.

But I see some warning signs in the way it has been written and in the areas that have been missed out.

The term ‘nature restoration’, for instance, occurs several times. An environmentalist would prefer, I think, the term ‘biodiversity enhancement’.

You cannot ‘restore’ nature, you can only create conditions where it has the opportunity to flourish and diversify.

There is no recognition of the severe threats to insect life, to soil health and to water conditions that we face. There is no reference to the threats to peat bogs, and there is no reference to the imminent threats to our forests.

In Wales, the government has woken up to the fact that big business is homing in on the opportunities to buy land for afforestation, get huge government grants and reward offshore investors with massive profits on their investments.

They are already in the process of doing everything they can to make this hideous distortion of the aims of the policy impossible to realise.

In Scotland, by contrast, there seems to be no recognition of this threat whatsoever. There is a vague reference to the funds going towards native woodland enhancement as well as to commercial forestry.

The only figures available at present from looking at the Gresham House Forest Growth and Sustainability Fund website is that no more than 10 percent of any monies received would go to native woodland.

If this was distributed evenly amongst a host of commercial sitka spruce developments, there would be practically no contribution to biodiversity at all.

The point of reafforestation is that along with combating climate change, equally embedded should be a contribution to biodiversity.

This agreement is probably the best the Green Party could hope for, but they will have to guarantee to their voters they will pressure the SNP every step of the way to properly fund their promises, especially where policing of adherence to environmental regulation is concerned – and this really does mean providing money, especially for the development of an environmental court and enhanced funding for SEPA.

- Robin Harper was the first Green MSP elected in the UK and served as Scottish Greens co-convener from 2004-08.

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