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Express non-delivery for Holyrood 

The SNP finds it useful for the constitution to be the dominating issue in Scottish politics, meaning fresh thinking on the referendum question is needed from Labour as it struggles for relevance, says STEPHEN LOW

ONLY a few weeks old and the SNP-Green deal that has elevated two Scottish Green MSPs into ministerial office is already delivering. For the SNP. 

For the people of Scotland? Well not so much, but that was always the point. The motivation behind the deal is precisely in allowing the SNP not to deliver. 

The Greens ended up with seven seats in May, for the first time since 2003. Sadly this wasn’t much to do with the salience of global warming and more to do with their banging a drum for a second indyref, and it being widely acknowledged that a second vote for the SNP on the regional list would be ineffective.

The overall result in Holyrood was pretty much the same as last time, with the SNP dwarfing all other parties, but just shy of an absolute majority. 

This time, though, the SNP opted for a formal deal with the Greens, including ministerial office. 

At the time sceptics wondered why the SNP would pay for what they were getting for free (the SNP had relied on the Greens to get their budgets passed in the last parliament, as it had relied on the Tories during its first term in office.) 

However the Greens are already proving useful as herbivorous human shields.  

In 2017 Nicola Sturgeon announced to SNP conference that the Scottish government would set up a publicly owned energy company with the aim of selling energy to customers “as close to cost price as possible.” 

Sadly, though, that didn’t happen — which didn’t go entirely unnoticed. Indeed in June this year Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater wrote a whole newspaper column criticising the lack of progress on the issue and saying that a publicly owned energy company was urgently needed. 

The Scottish government has now dropped the policy. Who did it wheel out in Parliament to explain why a publicly owned energy company would be just the wrong thing? 

Why shiny new green (or is it New Green?) government minister and co-leader of the Scottish Greens Lorna Slater MSP.  

It’s not just those Green members being compensated with ministerial salaries that are expected to abase themselves to serve their nationalist big brother, but the whole party. 

The Scottish government recently announced a review of incinerators, something high on the Green agenda. 

When the review was announced requests from Labour that a moratorium be put on submitting plans for new incinerators was rejected, by Slater (of course!). 

The Green Party then demanded that councils cease making applications for new incinerators during the review — a demand that their own government could have made irrelevant. 

The scope for “greenwashing” by the SNP is now considerable. Tightly bound as they are, the Scottish Greens can now be relied upon to trumpet the most minor and inadequate environmental initiatives as radical and groundbreaking. 

While the SNP will doubtless find this gratifying, it wasn’t the primary purpose of the deal. That, as with everything else about the SNP, revolves around the independence question. Or, more accurately, in keeping Scottish politics focused on another referendum. 

The SNP has been claiming a mandate for another since 2015, and all of the elections they handsomely won since. Yet there has been no indyref, nor any serious effort by the SNP in Holyrood or Westminster to achieve one. 

It is enormously useful for the SNP for the constitution to be the dominating issue in Scottish politics. Not least, it keeps attention away from the SNP’s failings to deliver in other areas. 

The declining literacy rates, the failures of delivery in health, the disastrous handling of Covid, the rundown of local government services, the expansive unreliable shambles that is public transport and so on.   

Making every election into a tussle about an indyref keeps politics stuck in 2014 with the “imagined community” of nation to the fore and the material reality of shut libraries and unswept streets in the background. 

A literary picture of this might be drawn from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — imagine Nicola Sturgeon as the White Witch ensuring that for nationalists it is always winter but never Christmas. 

(Obviously this metaphor can’t be pursued too far as it would involve crediting one or other opposition leader with God-like wisdom and a willingness for self sacrifice, neither of which is easily done.) 

The only party likely to challenge this in Holyrood was the Greens, but not any more. Now that Patrick Harvie has a (hybrid?) ministerial limo there will be no embarrassing Green parliamentary debates or questions to the First Minister about lack of progress. 

Greens will of course point to advancing an indyref as being part of the agreement. More reality-based observers will gently remind them that Sturgeon has been refusing to move on manifesto commitments and facing down her own party for years on this issue. Here more than anything else lies the driver for the deal. 

This SNP/Green nationalist grip on Parliament does at face value seem to stymie the opposition. The reality is it punishes Labour but suits the Tories, who benefit from a neverendum. 

Labour struggles for attention and, frankly, relevance. The suggestion made in these pages and elsewhere by the Red Paper Collective, of a multioption referendum including home rule, ought to be considered by the party. 

It would make not just a practical democratic suggestion but give Labour a distinctive voice in the constitutional debate, in the process putting the SNP/Greens on the spot. 

Labour doesn’t have the capacity to displace the constitution as an issue, which makes the need for imaginative thinking all the more urgent. 


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