When is a coalition not a coalition? The SNP and the Scottish Greens have avoided the C-word, but their newly minted “Cooperation Agreement” – on the basis of which they will jointly run Scotland for the next five years – is something more than a basic confidence and supply arrangement.
Both parties intend to hoard their cake and scarf it down at the same time. The Nats now effectively have a built-in majority for their legislation at Holyrood (they were previously one MSP short) and have given a significant leg-up to a fellow independence-supporting political outfit. But they have still retained most of the power, avoiding giving up any precious cabinet jobs to a party that won fewer than 35,000 constituency votes in May’s Holyrood election.
The Greens, by far the most left-wing party ever to have held power in the UK, will enjoy the elevation in profile and, they hope, the credibility that comes with governmental responsibility. But they have carved out significant policy areas where they are free to disagree, such as the role of GDP metrics, international relations and “the legal status and regulation of selling sex”. No Lib Dem tuition fee moment for them – their hands may be dripping crimson liquid, but they will deny it is blood.
There is something breathtakingly cynical about the deal, announced on Friday 20 August. Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t really need it to govern, her party having ruled effectively as a minority administration in each of the past two parliaments. However, she has her eye on a second independence referendum and will hope the Green presence in government, even at this most junior of levels – two ministers and two spads – bolsters her case that she should be allowed to hold one.
She has also laid a bet that this step goes some way to knitting the fractious and unravelling Yes movement back together. “We will give people a choice about Scotland’s future in this parliamentary session,” the document says. This at the end of a week in which Scotland’s deficit was revealed to have increased by £20bn to an eye-popping £36bn… we’ll see.
The agreement itself uses the kind of sugary language that leaves you counting the spoons and checking your wallet. “Scotland is so much more than its politics,” the introduction reads. “But it is through our politics that we express our hopes for something better, and it is how we put those hopes into practice. That is why doing politics better is so important. It gives us our best chance of a better Scotland, of handing over to the next generation a Scotland and a world worth living in.”
Any examination of the Green manifesto for May’s election, with its open hostility to business and the private sector, its lust for state capture and its student-politics approach to the taxation system, poses a significant challenge to those who believe the party will make government “better”.
Nevertheless, there is comedy in the attempts to reconcile Green puritanism with Nat pragmatism, such as in the agreed approach to fossil fuels: “We recognise how important our oil and gas industry, infrastructure, highly skilled workforce and supply chain are to Scotland, and that to ultimately support the economy and communities that depend upon the sector, and to ensure we meet our energy needs sustainably, we must secure a transition that is truly just, but also fast enough to protect the planet.”
The agreed 50-page policy document is an exhaustive and, frankly, exhausting list of pootering schemes and fussiness. If anything, it appears Scotland is to be micro-managed to death over the next half-decade. It is, in its way, a masterpiece of state socialism.
But none of that matters – not really. It’s not the point of all this. Dressed up in idealistic language it may be, but in the end politics is politics, and we must understand that the SNP-Green deal is a cynical, self-serving and wholly unnecessary alliance that has one big aim at its heart: the removal of Scotland from the UK, by hook or by crook.