Can Scottish Greens in government compromise yet maintain distinctiveness? – Ian Swanson
It’s just a week since Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater joined Nicola Sturgeon’s ministerial team, becoming the first Greens to enter government anywhere in the UK – but already they have had their first taste of the unhappy compromises of being in office.
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Mr Harvie has in the past spoken out against vaccine passports, saying they would deepen inequality and discrimination against the unvaccinated, as well as setting a dangerous precedent by making people’s civil rights “dependent on their medical history”.
But since the Scottish government is now to require adults going to nightclubs or attending large events to show vaccine certificates as proof they have been double-jabbed, he and his Green MSP colleagues will have to accept the collective position and back the policy even if privately they don’t like it.
It doesn’t really help that the move to require vaccine passports was also a volte-face by the SNP after senior figures like Deputy First Minister John Swinney had previously signalled their opposition.
For politicians to make a U-turn of their own is bad enough; being forced to U-turn because you’re following someone else just underlines how little control you have of the situation.
And there was a second embarrassment for the Greens with the news that the Sheriffhall flyover – which the party has labelled a “spaghetti junction” – is now set to go ahead.
A public inquiry and a final ministerial go-ahead are yet to come, but the Greens had hoped to halt the £120 million roundabout upgrade. They successfully used their 2020 Holyrood budget negotiations with the SNP to force a review of the scheme despite it being included in the Edinburgh City Region Deal. And the new partnership agreement which secured the Greens their place in government sets various conditions on road schemes being approved.
However, the City Region Deal joint committee agreed last week to proceed with the flyover. Claire Miller, the Greens’ transport spokesperson on the city council, insisted the SNP-Green agreement was for “no more unnecessary road building” and said council leaders seemed to be ignoring the government.
The agreement does indeed declare: “We will not build road infrastructure to cater for forecast unconstrained increases in traffic volumes.” But in justifying the go-ahead, government agency Transport Scotland chose another sentence: “Work on other trunk roads projects and programmes under construction, design, development or procurement will continue and be subject to the normal statutory assessment and business case processes.”
The Greens knew compromise was part of the bargain when they agreed their deal with the SNP and they negotiated several policy areas where they are not required to go along with the Nationalists.
But that doesn’t make it any easier for politicians, proud of their principles, who find themselves having to adopt a position they don’t believe in.
For the first eight years of devolution, the Lib Dems were junior partners in a coalition with Labour and some of them didn’t always like what they were expected to vote for.
Backbenchers showed their dissent by speaking out, even if, in the end, they could not vote against. One of the most rebellious, the late Donald Gorrie, said: “Some of our leaders get twitchy about us criticising Labour, but I don’t see the problem. We have to maintain some distinctiveness.”