Scottish independence: Nicola Sturgeon insists mandate for indyref2 is ‘undeniable’ after deal with Greens
Nicola Sturgeon has insisted she has an “undeniable” mandate for a second Scottish independence referendum as the Scottish Greens were dealt a power blow under the co-operation agreement struck with the SNP.
The First Minister hailed the power-sharing deal as “ground-breaking” as Scottish Greens’ co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater were officially approved as junior ministers by MSPs on Tuesday.
But the historic day came at a cost to the Greens’ influence at Holyrood, with the agreement described as “thin gruel” for the party as it emerged they would lose their weekly leader’s question at FMQs.
In a development that appeared to shift a measure of power back towards the SNP, Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone confirmed the Greens would no longer have the right to respond to ministerial statements, or an automatic speaking slot at the start and end of Holyrood debates.
The party’s short money – the funds paid to parties in order to carry out parliamentary duties – is also being reduced.
MSPs voted 69 to 56 in favour of appointing Mr Harvie and Ms Slater as junior ministers.
The co-operation agreement means the SNP and Greens together hold 71 of the Scottish Parliament’s 129 seats.
It has been brought about by the need to “try to do politics differently” to tackle big issues such as climate change, the recovery from coronavirus and the impact of Brexit.
But Ms Sturgeon, speaking as MSPs returned to Holyrood after the summer recess, said the “key strand” of the co-operation agreement would be fulfilling what she described as the “democratic mandate to let the Scottish people choose our own future”.
The First Minister insisted: “The mandate for that is undeniable – between us, the SNP and the Greens hold 71 of the 129 seats in this Parliament and each one of us was elected on a commitment to an independence referendum.”
She added: “The decisions that will shape our society and economy and our place in the world must be determined, democratically, here in Scotland and not imposed upon us, so often against our will, by government at Westminster.”
The First Minister stressed the agreement that has been reached between the two parties was not a full coalition, claiming the SNP and the Scottish Greens would “retain distinct voices and independent identities”.
Despite this she hailed the agreement as “genuinely ground-breaking”, adding: “For the first time in UK politics, it will see Greens enter national government as ministers, working in a spirit of common endeavour, mutual challenge and collective responsibility to deliver for the people we serve.”
But Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross branded it a “nationalist coalition with one overriding goal – separating Scotland from the United Kingdom”.
He insisted: “Trying to claim that this is not a coalition, that is quite simply a joke even by SNP standards.”
Mr Ross said the deal had taken priority over the programme for government – the statement setting out the Scottish Government’s plans for the next 12 months, which is normally announced when MSPs return after the summer recess.
Meanwhile, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “This coalition agreement – for that is what is is – is just formalising the agreement from the last parliament where Nicola Sturgeon and the NSP hammer our public services with cuts and the Greens simply nod it through.”
He added: “This is no new government, this is not a clean start, this is a deal that more about the constitution, not the climate.
“It’s about greater control for Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP, not co-operation.”
Criticising the agreement, newly-elected Liberal Democrats leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said said: “We need to fight the climate emergency with ferocity, but without the baggage of nationalism.
"The planet doesn’t have time for the new nationalist coalition to drag us back to the all-consuming divisive constitutional arguments of the past.
"This is thin gruel for the Green Party."
Ms Johnstone explained the decision to take away a leader’s question from the Greens at FMQs, writing: “The position of the Scottish Greens as the third largest opposition party in the Parliament is fundamentally altered.
“The agreement therefore requires a bespoke response here at Holyrood, one which draws on precedents and practices, is fair to all parties represented in the Parliament, and is commensurate with the requirements of robust parliamentary scrutiny.”
The Scottish Tories welcomed the decision, with party chief whip Stephen Kerr saying: “The Scottish Conservatives had strongly opposed the Greens’ attempts to have their cake and eat it.
“We rejected their efforts to game the system, as they sought to join the government and somehow pretend to still be an opposition party.”