by Henry Hill
Wednesday, 4
August 2021
Explainer
07:00

Why is the SNP bringing the Greens into government?

The environmentalist party almost never rebels
by Henry Hill
Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon visits the Connect Community Trusts Connie Centre. Credit: Getty

Yesterday The Guardian ran an exclusive saying that the SNP is on the cusp of concluding a formal agreement to bring the Greens into the Scottish Government. But the real question is: why have they bothered?

After all, the Scottish Greens have been loyal foederati for the Nationalists for some time. Nicola Sturgeon may have lost Alex Salmond’s majority in 2016, and failed to re-secure it in 2021, but she has scarcely governed like the leader of a minority administration.

Except for the briefest of moments at the very nadir of the Salmond scandal, there has rarely been even the suggestion that the Greens would break ranks and put the First Minister in actual danger.

Yet here she is, just one seat short of an overall majority, apparently intending to hand Patrick Harvie (Greens co-leader) and his comrades ministerial portfolios. Why?

The most obvious answer is simply that this move reflects recognition on the part of the SNP leadership that their position is weaker than it was in the last parliament. The excitement of Brexit is fading, a referendum no longer feels imminent, and their woeful track record in government is catching up with them.

As a progressive, pro-independence party, the Greens might have been well-positioned to start eating into the Nationalists’ vote as and when their bubble finally starts to burst. As it is, they are likely to be implicated in most of the Scottish Government’s agenda.

Crucially, the smaller party will retain some autonomy on climate issues but not on independence. If Harvie et al get locked into Sturgeon’s timetable, they won’t be able to appeal to disaffected separatists frustrated by the First Minister’s hesitancy about pursuing a second referendum.

Some commentary in The Guardian piece suggests this new pact strengthens the pro-independence parties in Holyrood and is responsible for the Conservatives “taking a softer line on the potential for a fresh independence referendum”. Michael Gove has said that “the principle that the people of Scotland, in the right circumstances, can ask that question again is there”, so long as it is clearly the ‘settled will’ of Scottish voters.

This isn’t plausible. The SNP/Green relationship was already tight, and the pact does nothing to strengthen their mandate vis-à-vis Westminster. The Tories are, bluntly, not scared of this pact.

Gove’s statement is better understood in light of recent polling showing a six-point swing against independence. It is much safer to talk about the possibility of a second referendum when the polls are moving in your direction.

The First Minister, meanwhile, has announced that she intends once again to restart her referendum campaign and has invited the Prime Minister for ‘crunch talks’.

But he has no reason to accept. A second independence campaign is perhaps the one thing that could pull the fracturing separatist movement back together and eclipse the Nationalists’ abysmal handling of drugs deaths and much else. There is no reason whatsoever for Boris Johnson to even talk about ceding another vote until at least after the next general election.

Until then, the SNP and the Greens will have to govern Scotland. One half suspects the latter may run foul of Angela Merkel’s famous dictum on coalitions: “The little party always gets smashed!”

Join the discussion


  • The longer the SNP are in office, the more I’m convinced they’re being secretly run by MI5 in a bid to undermine Scottish independence.

  • Small countries with unaccountable PR politicians (“list” MSPs) are a dream for Greens.
    We don’t want them, but we are stuck with them.
    They are going to shut down industry while financing their dreams by taxing the industries they wish to kill. Logic? Who cares?

  • I don’t really think it is going to make the slightest difference, is it. The Scottish Government has done nothing to make MY life better and it will continue to do so.
    In case someone cares, my preferred pronouns are be/bop.

  • To get involved in the discussion and stay up to date, become a registered user.

    It's simple, quick and free.

    Sign me up