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22 April 2024

The SNP’s hold on Holyrood is in the balance

As the Scottish Greens decide whether to withdraw from power-sharing, Humza Yousaf’s government looks ever more precarious.

By Freddie Hayward

Three months before Glasgow hosted Cop26 in 2021, the Greens signed the Bute House power-sharing agreement with the SNP and entered government in Scotland. That agreement is now in the balance.

Green Party members and senior councillors pressured the leadership on Friday 19 April to hold an emergency meeting on whether to remain in government with the SNP. The trigger was threefold: the decision to scrap a 2030 target to reduce carbon emissions by 75 per cent; no longer prescribing puberty blockers at Scotland’s only gender clinic following the Cass review; and the freeze of council tax, which will help the richest the most. The grimy compromise that coalitions demand has pushed the membership too far.

Patrick Harvie, the Greens co-leader, has said that he doesn’t know whether members will vote to keep the Greens in government next month. He is desperate to remain. His argument to members is that it’s better to be inside the tent influencing decisions than outside with your virtue intact. As a junior government minister, he would have to support legislation repealing the Scottish government’s 2030 carbon reduction target or resign, placing his own leadership in jeopardy.

The leader at most risk, though, could be Humza Yousaf. As I reported on 18 April, some senior SNP figures at Westminster have been speculating for months now about trying to remove Yousaf if the SNP does poorly in the general election. Kate Forbes, who lost to Yousaf in the leadership contest, told the New Statesman in December 2023 that the Bute House Agreement “should be repealed and the SNP should operate again as a one-party minority government”, as it did from 2007 to 2011 under Alex Salmond. She said:

“We were elected on a SNP manifesto not a Green Party manifesto or the Bute House Agreement. Nearly all the issues that have lost us support in the last year are found in the Bute House Agreement and not in the SNP manifesto. I see it particularly acutely with the economy and in rural Scotland, as the Greens appear to want to overregulate rural communities out of existence and hike taxes to a rate that will ultimately reduce public revenue.”

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The question now is whether a chain of events – from a Green Party revolt to the collapse of the Bute House Agreement to the destabilisation of Yousaf’s leadership – could lead to the Scottish First Minister being ousted a year into the job.

This piece first appeared in the Morning Call newsletter; receive it every morning by subscribing on Substack here.

[See also: The SNP’s climate U-turn shows how it has trapped itself]

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