THE SELF HARM DEAL WITH THE GREENS

The unnecessary self-harm Green deal trap,engineered by our one-person SNP government Jim Sillars First, the political question: was the SNP government’s position in Holyrood so precarious that it needed to do a deal with a Green party which plays lip service to independence, but has many other priorities that, when put to the people  in the last election, and in aContinue reading "THE SELF HARM DEAL WITH THE GREENS"

THE SELF HARM DEAL WITH THE GREENS

The unnecessary self-harm Green deal trap,engineered by our one-person SNP government

Jim Sillars

First, the political question: was the SNP government’s position in Holyrood so precarious that it needed to do a deal with a Green party which plays lip service to independence, but has many other priorities that, when put to the people  in the last election, and in a recent council by-election in Aberdeenshire, got a derisive level of support?

A government short of a majority has, of course, to make deals sometimes (but not all the time) with the opposition,especially on how it spends public money as distributed via the budget; and on some pieces of legislation. These are ad hoc arrangements, and do not compromise the government on its basic strategies, or the exercise of its substantial executive power. 

On economic policy, that is the government’s attitude and actions in its relations with the nation’s business base, the SNP is much nearer to Labour and the LIbdems than to the Greens – the latter being fundamentally opposed to the concept of economic growth and the maintenance of our present modern economic structures, and wish to demolish them.  Got a problem getting through the next budget?  Discuss giving more to housing with Labour, and more effective measures to prevent drug deaths with the Libdems, and get a deal that still leaves you with an intact solely-SNP based government. 

In a budget of around £34bn, there is plenty of scope for deals with Labour and the Libdems. Indeed a clever finance secretary would, in her first draft, have cash put aside, earmarked  for doing that kind of deal

Deals with others than  the Greens have been made in the past, all without inviting opposition parties into the heart of government (ministerial membership of the legislative committee and climate change committee, according to one newspaper leak) where they can exercise executive power and assert the right to a say in what will constitute the legislative programme, and will be  able to insist on a say on everything, because in the Green book climate change covers everything. 

Next: the structural flaws in the deal. It is not a coalition, therefore the Greens have no obligation to the principle of collective responsibility that binds other ministers. Does Nicola Sturgeon realise that she will place Harvie and Slater in the wonderful position of being able to pick their moments so that, when it suits them, they can with impunity disassociate themselves, or attack, the government they are an ostensible a member of?  What sanction will she have as head of government when, inevitably, the Green ministers demonstrate their independence? 

That is happening even before the Greens sit in their ministerial office. Although the two sides agreed not to agree on the matter of oil and gas, Patrick Harvie was boasting this past weekend that ‘We have changed SNP stance on oil’ (The Scotsman front page  23rd August).  

That question of responsibility, or none, is important. All governments are challenged with unexpected events. Some require immediate reaction.  Who is in charge tells us who is responsible. In our case which cabinet secretary will have the authority to handle a crisis? Which cabinet secretary are Harvie and Slater responsible to?  Or are they free-wheelers, not responsible to any departmental political head?  Does the usual chain of command and responsibility of junior minister to cabinet secretary not apply to them?  Can they by-pass every cabinet secretary and go direct  to the First Minister, even if what they are raising, or complaining about, cuts across a cabinet secretary’s responsibility? If so, then there is a recipe for friction within government.

The document setting out the deal declares it as ‘a leap of faith for both parties.’ That is an indulgence available only to fantasists in a small minority party, not something a serious governments should engage in. Having a leap of faith in the people it will bring into government but not actually control,shows a remarkable naivety. Having faith in the people directly responsible for the filleting and repudiation of Andy Wightman, one of the most honest persons ever to sit in the Scottish parliament, does not seem wise. 

But none of these important questions have been asked by the SNP National Executive, or it seems from the party members. They have been successfully diverted by Nicola’s absurd claim that this deal  will now make it ‘impossible’, when she gets around to writing to him,  for Boris Johnson to refuse a Section 30. 

Why this should be a “new” situation with which to confront Johnson is a puzzle. The deal makes no difference to the arithmetic in Holyrood. There are exactly the same number of SNP and Greens in the Holoyrood chamber now as before the deal was sealed. So, why would the entrance of Harvie and Slater as minsters in a non-coalition make Johnson change his mind? No disrespect to Patrick and Lorna, but I doubt if Boris has ever heard of them. Is this just more flummery, to keep the troops content? More time bought in doing nothing about actually campaigning for independence – a campaign that must build substantial support if we are to win a referendum?  

In passing, it may be worth remembering that in May this year there was a golden opportunity to put independence first and foremost in the SNP campaign. That didn’t happen. Nicola went out of her way to insist that whatever was said about the election issues, she was not seeking votes for independence. 

Media pundits have been speculating about which party this deal will damage. Some point to the fate of the LIbdems in the Cameron-Clegg coalition, believing the smaller party will always be the loser. That may be so in a coalition in which the minor party has to toe the line, and often get blamed for something it actually, privately, opposed.  

But this deal is not a coalition. It will allow the Greens to trumpet achievement when things go their way, and cry ‘it wasnae us’ when, as is inevitable for all in government, something goes badly wrong. If the media are able to finger the Greens for blunders, the SNP will also be caned for letting them in. This isn’t a heavenly pact Nicola has engineered: it is a political wasp’s nest, and she and the SNP will be badly stung by it. 

Just after the election in May, I told friends that it had solved nothing. The problems that were there before the election are still there; and that this SNP government of re-cycled ministerial failures, will unravel in the next 12-18 months. The deal will accelerate that process. 

MY COMMENTS

Once again I am grateful to my friend Jim Sillars for outlining his view on the deal the SNP have signed with the Greens. Although Nicola Sturgeon claims she is still “consulting” after the event I suspect Jim is not on the consultation list. The reason? Jim Is known for his sharp mind and experience and he is not afraid to tell it like it is. She might not want to hear it but she would be well advised to read Jim’s article above. It may well highlight more problems ahead. There has been a dearth of quality analysis of this deal so I hope readers appreciate this honest and forthright article.

I am, as always

YOURS FOR SCOTLAND

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