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Power sharing offers ‘best of both worlds’, say Scottish Greens

The Scottish Greens enjoy the “best of both worlds” with a power-sharing deal that has given them the first ministerial appointments of any UK Green party but stops short of full coalition, party co-leader Lorna Slater said on Friday.

In an interview before the Scottish Greens conference this weekend, Slater, who was named minister for green skills, circular economy and biodiversity in the devolved Scottish government in August, said the party finally had an opportunity to show what it could do in office.

“At the same time we still have [members of the Scottish parliament] who are able to be an active opposition, asking difficult questions and holding the government to account,” Slater said. “It allows us to have the best of both worlds really.”

The Greens’ agreement with the governing Scottish Nationals, which binds the two parties to work together on a broad range of issues, is a bold experiment for both.

The deal gives Nicola Sturgeon, SNP leader and first minister, a formal pro-independence majority in the parliament at Holyrood in Edinburgh, while also potentially burnishing her environmental credentials.

Patrick Harvie, the Scottish Greens’ other co-leader, said the deal brought a responsibility to demonstrate Green politicians could work effectively in government in the UK.

“It’s going to be less about standing up making speeches demanding perfection, it’s going to be more about delivering a more ambitious programme than we have seen before,” said Harvie, minister for zero carbon buildings, active travel and tenants’ rights, in a separate interview.

The interviews were conducted at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh, but Green party staffers said the venue was not a riposte to former New York governor Mario Cuomo’s adage that while politicians “campaign in poetry”, they must “govern in prose”.

Still, opponents have highlighted the Greens’ abandonment of opposition to the introduction of government coronavirus vaccine passports as a sign of willingness to compromise ideals for a slice of power.

Meanwhile, some business leaders are dismayed by the entry into government of two ministers critical of growth-centred economic policies.

Asked if business had anything to fear, Slater — who was a renewable engineer until elected to Holyrood in May — answered: “It depends on what kind of business you are.”

The Greens encouraged responsible companies, Slater said, citing in particular co-operatives and smaller ventures that supported communities.

“It’s the sort of big global corporations who dodge their taxes, who exploit their workers and don’t pay living wages — they should maybe be a bit concerned,” Slater said.

Going into government as a junior party can be risky, with the Liberal Democrats still struggling to rebuild following its UK government coalition with the Conservatives following the 2010 general election.

But in a blog post, Sir John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde university, said recent polls put support for the Scottish Greens at 10 per cent, up two points from its tally in the May election, Curtice wrote.

“There is little sign that making the deal has done the party any electoral harm,” he wrote.

While Green MSPs remain free to oppose the government on issues not covered by the deal, they have had to yield opposition precedence in debates at Holyrood to the smaller Lib Dems.

Alex Cole-Hamilton, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, said on Friday the change had boosted his party’s status while the deal with the SNP offered an opportunity to win over Green voters.

The deal showed the Greens had “swapped environmentalism for nationalism”, Cole-Hamilton said ahead of the Scottish Lib Dem’s online conference. “If the Greens won’t be the thorn in the side of the government on the environment, then the Lib-Dems will,” he said.

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