Socialist Alternative

Scotland: Green-SNP coalition has no answers to cost of living or climate crisis

This article was first carried in Issue 22 of Socialist Alternative

The Scottish Greens gained 8 MSPs in the 2021 Scottish parliamentary elections. Combined with the 64 Scottish National Party (SNP) seats, this enabled the two parties to form a governing partnership. Although effectively a coalition, both partners claim to have ‘excluded areas of disagreement’ from the deal. 

The Greens hope this fig leaf will save them from the same fate as the Lib Dems, who after a disastrous coalition with David Cameron’s Conservatives in 2010 were nearly destroyed as a political force. The Lib Dems sold this coalition by claiming they could hold the Tories back from the worst excesses of austerity. The blunt reality, however, was revealed by Lib Dem policy adviser Polly Mackenzie who boasted about the achievement of “Lib Dem Ministers agitating for a 5p charge on plastic bags. It took us months to persuade Cameron and Osborne we finally got the policy in an eve-of-conference trade, in return for tightening benefit sanctions”. How, asked Mackenzie, could unemployed and disabled people whose benefits were slashed possibly contain their excitement, in the food bank queues, over the plastic bag tax on the groceries they could no longer afford to buy? 

Ultimately, the ‘Fib-Dems’ were outmaneuvered: voting for and defending Tory cuts led to the collapse of their vote in the 2015 election and the loss of 49 seats. 

This is the first time a Green party has been part of a national government in the UK, so it will be keenly watched as the limitations of this kind of deal-making are revealed. The Greens are bound by Cabinet collective responsibility – to defend their government publicly, but to criticize behind closed doors.

Failure to confront big polluters

This has already been revealed by the Tory Westminster administration’s determination to allow drilling in the new Cambo oil and gas wells off the coast of Shetland. The SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon originally tried fence-sitting on this issue, to avoid losing votes in areas with oil industry jobs such as the North East of Scotland. However, under pressure during COP26, Sturgeon was forced to say she did not ‘fully support’ this, though she stopped short of effective resistance to new oil drilling and because she refuses to challenge Westminster’s ‘reserved’ power to grant licenses, restricting her opposition to vain appeals to Johnson’s conscience.

Moreover, the SNP, and the Greens by association, remain tainted by decades of support for the capitalist oil industry. “It’s Scotland’s oil” was the SNP’s rallying cry from the 1970s until very recently. Even as late as the 2014 independence vote, the economics of the oil industry (and the interests of BP, Shell and the other carbon monopolies) were fundamental to the arguments made by the SNP in trying to sell the benefits of an independent capitalist Scotland. Sturgeon has her work cut out to convince the world of her green credentials and is dragging the Greens into the same oil sump. 

To ‘clean up’ their image, the Greens rely on a long list of vague pledges framed in nonbinding language, with phrases like “working towards” and “consultation” performing a lot of heavy lifting in their manifesto – even more so when drafting the deal with the SNP. Robin Harper who led the Greens from 2004-2008 has pointed out that the deal was “absolutely packed with vague promises”. He, and many other party members, took particular issue with abandoning the Green’s long-standing commitment to replacing the Council Tax with a progressive system of local taxation.

Strategy for workers’ struggle and winning indyref2

In consequence, the coalition is providing no challenge to the ballooning crisis around the cost of living, or to implement policies needed to address climate change in Scotland. The SNP may portray itself as left-leaning when campaigning in working-class seats in the Central Belt, but it has failed in ten years of governance to provide any meaningful opposition to Westminster. The Greens are now propping up this party with a deal that only gives them two ministers (with largely meaningless ‘portfolios’) while being left to carry the can for the betrayals of the SNP.

Similarly, both parties pay lip-service to the need for a second independence referendum. Neither of them is taking meaningful steps to challenge Boris Johnson’s refusal to grant one. The only way to force Westminster to concede this basic democratic right is not parliamentary ‘shadow boxing’ or legal challenges but building a mass movement in Scotland’s streets, workplaces and working-class communities. However, both the Greens and the SNP fear that, once mobilized, Scottish workers will not limit their demands to changing the flag flying over Holyrood Palace. We will demand that the wealth created by our work is seized from the London-based banks, landlords and monopolies who have bled Scotland dry for 300 years. The leaders of both parties cannot imagine a future for Scotland outside the framework of capitalism, so they are unable to offer any meaningful resistance to the intransigence of Johnson. The Tories, even in their current divided, corrupt and shambolic state, are a million times better at defending the interests of their class than the SNP and the Greens are at advancing those of the people of Scotland. 

This deal represents a betrayal of the trust placed in the Greens by a quarter of a million overwhelmingly young and radical voters, who looked to them to deliver real change in communities struggling with the legacy of 40 years of cuts, deepening poverty and deprivation under Tory, Labour and SNP administrations in Westminster and Holyrood. By entering the cabinet chamber alongside SNP politicians wedded to preserving ‘free enterprise’, the Greens have shown their unwillingness to lead the struggle for genuine self-determination for the people of Scotland. Nor can they claim to be defending the economic and social rights of Scottish people. Above all they have abandoned the only means to save the planet from environmental destruction: removing the power of capitalist monopolies to pollute and to exploit human and natural resources at will in the pursuit of profit. In short, the Scottish Greens have shown that they are not prepared to face these challenges, so Scottish workers must tackle them ourselves. 

BREAKING NEWS: 14,000+ city council workers in Glasgow are being balloted for industrial action in a long-running dispute over equal pay. See our website for more details: socialistalternative.net