A paler shade of Green

Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater get junior ministerial roles for falling in line behind Nicola Sturgeon.

Nicola Sturgeon’s every word preened with self-congratulation.

Each sentence was a parade, with the verb, subject and object preceded by a marching band. The trumpets were being sounded to herald her coalition deal with the Scottish Greens, whose co-leaders took up their ministerial roles yesterday, and it’s fair to say the First Minister got a bit carried away with her rhetoric.

She told MSPs: ‘In nature, scope and intent, the agreement is genuinely ground-breaking in Scottish and UK politics. It represents a new and better way of doing politics. Although the agreement is the product of much negotiation and some compromise, it is also a leap of faith for both parties, but it is one that we are taking willingly and for the common good.’

I’m not saying her prose was purple but Barbara Cartland’s estate is considering its legal options. After all, she had bought off Patrick Harvie with a ministerial job, not colonised life on Mars.

Harvie became Minister for Zero-Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights. The Scottish Government press release forgot the hyphen in his title, giving the impression he was starting out with no carbon buildings but might get one or two in a future promotion. 

His colleague Lorna Slater was named Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity. Play along at home and get your own ministerial title by opening the dictionary at random words and arranging them on a letterhead. Sturgeon said Slater would be ‘driving a new green industrial strategy’. If she has to go via Edinburgh city centre, she’ll still be in traffic a month from now. 

Shortly before the appointments were made, Presiding Officer Alison Johnstone ruled that the Greens would lose their weekly slot at First Minister’s Questions, leaders’ opening and closing speeches in debates, and opposition time, which allows parties other than the one in government to hold debates.

Johnstone, herself a former Green MSP, also stripped Harvie and Slater of their committee memberships and slashed their Short money — the taxpayer funds allocated to opposition parties. The last time greens got this kind of hammering, Neil Lennon had to update his CV. 

Douglas Ross wasn’t swept up in the history of the day. He quipped: ‘Finally, the SNP-Green deal has done something for the environment, because Nicola Sturgeon has just spent the past 15 minutes recycling the exact same speech that she gave last week.’ You don’t expect Gore Vidal-level witticisms from the leader of the Scottish Conservatives but the man is in greater need of a decent joke-writer than Janey Godley. 

We returned to the faintly ridiculous charge that when Ross said, earlier this month, that the Greens were ‘anti-families’, he was being homophobic. Ross Greer called it a ‘dog whistle’ during yesterday’s debate. I’ll grant you the Morayshire farmer is not the most metropolitan of Tories. He probably thinks LGBT is a new make of forage harvester. But the accusation of homophobia is risible. 

While ‘anti-family’ was once used as a nudge-nudge term — declaring yourself to be ‘a family man’ was more common — it has a longer pedigree as a critique of political radicals who bragged about their desire to smash the nuclear family. More to the point, the Tory Party these days is gayer than a Golden Girls Christmas special and there is no serious market within its ranks for anti-gay sentiment. Even more to the point: the Greens are anti-family, as their voting record amply demonstrates. 

Mark Ruskell, in his new role as an SNP backbencher, outdid all of the actual SNP backbenchers with a question so crawling a passing centipede would have been embarrassed for him. He hailed the SNP-Green deal as ‘historic’, ‘a new model of politics’, with ‘a bold and far-reaching programme’, then asked whether Sturgeon agreed.

The oozing self-regard slicked across the chamber. If we could find a way to convert Green conceitedness into a biofuel, we could close every oil field in the North Sea.

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail on September 1, 2021.

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