The Greens should worry about their government’s performance

by | 15 Dec 2021

A terrible budget settlement and now yet another delay to the Deposit Return Scheme should be causing great concern for the Scottish Greens - but doesn't seem to be

You know that thing where someone tells you they’re not doing something and before they said it you just assumed they weren’t and then they say it and you wonder if they might be. Like walking into a room in your house and a guest blurting out ‘I’m not looking through your underwear’.

That was the sensation I had when I saw a headline that informed me that Patrick Harvie would push for green policies in the Scottish Budget’. Prior to that I has obviously just assumed that was the case – and then I wondered if perhaps not pushing green policies had been under consideration.

The strangeness of this was only heightened when Harvie started accusing Greenpeace of being out of touch in Scotland for opposing oil development. It suggested he may not have a firm grip on what he is doing.

The evidence for that seems to mount up, with two events in the last week raising further questions about what exactly the Scottish Greens are up to.

The first was the Scottish Budget. It is quite hard to fathom that within weeks of the First Ministers ubiquitous photo-ops at COP26 that her administration would slash funding for virtually every environmental policy there is.

There were substantial cuts to funding for forestry, land reform, environmental regulations, general energy policy, long term research and planning, active travel, fuel poverty and housing quality and the entire Net Zero, Energy and Transport Department was the third biggest loser out of the entire government. That this hasn’t had a higher media profile is surprising.

This is the kind of thing you might have imagined would cause at least some discomfort among the Greens if not outright rebellion. They give no impression of feeling that discomfort.

This is the kind of thing you might have imagined would cause at least some discomfort among the Greens if not outright rebellion

Two days after the Budget and shortly after fronting the Government’s case for building waste incinerators (against Green Party policy), it was Harvie’s Co-Leader Lorna Slater who turns up to do her duty and reveal that they have buckled under industry pressure and the much-vaunted Deposit Return Scheme has been delayed for yet another year.

What chances now it will be gutted to please lobbyists like the regulation of short term lets (the AirBnBs) has been? The businesses who claimed this must be halted because operating such a scheme is too difficult all work in EU countries where they are already operating deposit return schemes. The difference between ‘can’t’ and ‘don’t want to’ seems substantially blurred here.

This is a pattern the familiarity of which is depressing. The Scottish Government says something very loudly and gets headlines, and then delays, waters down and sometimes abandons altogether the original commitment. We may see some kind of bottle return scheme but we’re not going to get a National Energy Company.

The Scottish Government is deeply cynical about this and has been getting away with it for years. What is in this for the Greens is less obvious. They are the ones who have had to front up every humiliating U-turn and announcement of failure. In return they get… their budgets slashed.

I have long held that the real problem with the leadership of the Scottish Greens is primarily strategic weakness and lack of the skills needed to win in politics. For a party that nominally held the balance of power in the Scottish Parliament for five years it has remarkably little to show for it. Naivety seems to be an important part of that.

But if you’re going to front up the bad news you need to be winning substantial gains elsewhere. It is hard to see that happening at the moment and the history of people starting poorly and getting better when in coalition is not an extensive one.

The next test of the green credentials of the Scottish Government ought to come next week. It set up a Scottish Climate Assembly, again with much fanfare and with plenty commentary about how far-sighted that was. The Assembly worked diligently, produced a comprehensive, radical report and now await the Government’s response.

The omens are not good. Its response to the last Citizen Assembly was to ignore or reject almost the entire report (or claim it was being done anyway). And the response to this one is scheduled for… 23 December. That is the graveyard slot of all graveyard slots, the day bad news goes to disappear. It does not look promising.

The Scottish Government has serious questions to answer about the gap between its environmental record and the reality. That it is the Scottish Greens who are doing the answering is a generosity of spirit truly suited to the Festive Season. If they continue to do this for the next four years though, the really dreadful public approval rating Harvie and Slater ‘enjoy’ may turn out to be a high point.

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