The “maturity” of the Scottish Parliament is being undermined on its 20th anniversary by the failure of the established parties to engage in the minority government process, the Greens’ Holyrood co-leader has said.
Alison Johnstone claimed that the long-established parties – Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems – are used to having things their “own way”, and have failed to shake off the “baggage” of previous political eras.
She claimed this leaves the “young party” of Scottish politics in a position of unprecedented influence as it prepares to gather for its spring conference in Edinburgh next week. Controversial measures, such as plans for a second independence referendum, a workplace parking levy, a tourism tax and a smacking ban are all happening as a result of pressure from the Greens, she said.
That a party of just six MSPs can wield such clout in public life, has prompted political opponents to suggest the Green tail has been wagging the SNP dog.
But Johnstone said that the problem lies with the established parties.
“It’s clear that this is a minority parliament, so there’s an opportunity there for all opposition parties to see some of their policies delivered,” Johnstone told Scotland on Sunday.
“But I think my view has probably been formed in a young party without a lot of baggage, which has never experienced forming a majority in itself. I think we’re more open-minded to working with other people. I think that holds back some of the parties who in the past have maybe had it all their own way.
“I think they find it more challenging to work on a cross-party basis.”
The SNP is three MSPs short of a majority at Holyrood and has required Green votes to get recent budgets passed.
The Tories and Liberal Democrats both refused to engage in negotiations for the 2019/20 Scottish budget, passed last month, as long as a second referendum on independence remained on the table.
This raised some eyebrows as the budget relates to devolved spending – to the constitution. Labour called for the budget to be rejected without even greater tax hikes on high earners and more council funding.
As the SNP sought to avoid its budget falling with echoes of the turmoil and chaos engulfing Westminster over Brexit, it seemed to many that the Greens were effectively allowed to name their terms. The workplace parking levy, the tourism tax, the hike in the national plastic bag tax and a pledge on council tax reform talks were all conceded.
“The actual budget negotiations are going to have a real impact on people’s lives, but other parties are just pulling up the drawbridge,” Johnstone said.
“I think it would be really helpful if more parties did get involved in the budget. We worked really hard to optimise the impact we have, but I think undoubtedly if other parties got involved too and were saying to the government ‘We’d like to see investment in X or Y,’ they could influence the outcome. But there seems to be a resolute position: ‘We don’t get involved in budget negotiations.’
“It doesn’t really help the Parliament mature does it?”