Scottish Budget: How much influence will the Greens have had on Kate Forbes' package of tax and spending? – Ian Swanson
In recent years, the political parties at Holyrood have become used to a bit of negotiating around budget time.
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An SNP government without an overall majority needed the support of at least one other party to get its tax and spending plans through parliament. The various opposition parties would issue lists of demands as the price of their backing, but it was always the Greens who ended up providing the crucial votes.
But it's different this year.
Opposition parties have been saying where they want to see funding go – the Tories are urging a £600 million package of support for Scottish jobs and businesses and Labour has called for a “new deal” to re-build social care in Scotland.
But when Finance Secretary Kate Forbes stands up in the chamber to present her budget on Thursday, she will already know she has the Greens' votes in the bag – because the Greens are now part of the government.
The co-operation deal between the SNP and the Greens, agreed in the summer, means whatever negotiations there were between the two parties have already happened behind closed doors, without the benefit of publicity.
So what will Green ministers Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater and their colleagues have got in return?
Ms Forbes' package is arguably the biggest test so far of the co-operation agreement and the Greens' influence in government.
Green party members backed the deal overwhelmingly when it was discussed at a special conference at the end of August, but there were still voices questioning whether the party had wrung enough from its new partners.
Activists are said to be reasonably happy with what has been achieved so far.
Nicola Sturgeon came out against allowing development of the Cambo oil field of Shetland, and now Shell has pulled the plug on the project; Lorna Slater, as minister for green skills, circular economy and biodiversity, has been busy handing out funding to councils from the Scottish government's £70 million recycling improvement fund; Kate Forbes will confirm in the budget the doubling of the Scottish Child Payment to £20 from April 2022; and beavers responsible for damaging farmland are to relocated rather than killed.
But there needs to be more.
One source said: "The budget will be a very big test. If there are enough Green wins then members will think it was the right thing to do, but if we’re just seen to be rubber-stamping an SNP budget and not getting enough out of it, I think we will start to hear more grumbling from party members.”
The Greens have got quite a lot out of their budget deals in the past.
Last year, they secured the extension of free school meals to all primary pupils and a commitment to introduce free travel for under-22s.
And in previous years, there was often extra funding for Scotland’s cash-strapped councils, which helped preserve vital services.
With local authorities still facing massive pressures, despite being given extra money to deal with the impact of Covid, council funding will be one area where many will be hoping to see evidence of Green influence once more.
If Greens are disappointed with Ms Forbes’ budget, they may find themselves wondering if the party was able to get more from the SNP by bargaining from outside government.