SNP-Green pact would threaten Covid recovery

OPINION: The Greens are not as nice and fluffy as they seem. They are progress-hating ideologues.

Some people say the SNP is the worst possible government for Scotland and, in a bold effort to prove them wrong, Nicola Sturgeon is proposing to add Patrick Harvie to the team.

Talks are ongoing between the Nationalists and the nationalists who call themselves the Greens for a cooperation arrangement. This may not conclude in a full-blown coalition but it could see the Greens gain influence over important areas of public policy and even the direction of the government itself.

This is the stuff of dreams for political wonks: a new kind of working arrangement to show how much more modern and adaptable Holyrood is than Westminster. For the rest of us, however, an SNP-Green pact would be closer to a nightmare. It would see a party already too unmoored from the priorities of ordinary people drift further away with the help of a party openly uninterested in those priorities.

The election earlier this month left Holyrood a hung parliament, with no single party able to command a majority. However, the SNP fell just one seat short and is in a numerically stronger position than it was in the last session. So, Sturgeon does not need any agreement to govern, for the Greens have loyally done her bidding for almost seven years now.

The SNP is a curious beast: a majority minority government — a party handed the total control it couldn’t win at the ballot box by an outfit that no longer sees itself as an autonomous party.

Harvie’s rump of eco-toadies exists to green-wash policies that might otherwise trouble the consciences of professional progressives who consider voting for the establishment party at every election a great act of daring. Whenever there is some triangulation needing passed off as social democracy, the Greens have been more than happy to provide the necessary votes.

If the negotiations are about anything, they are about bolstering the SNP's claim to a mandate for holding a second referendum on independence. Being able to challenge Westminster while speaking for a majority of MSPs is thought to be a stronger position than issuing demands in the name of a minority administration.

On what is supposed to be Sturgeon's top priority — or at least her current one — the impact of an SNP-Green deal could go far beyond parliamentary arithmetic or constitutional row-picking. Scotland's recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic becomes more pressing with every day that passes. As more vaccines are stuck into arms, we get closer to the reopening of the economy and the titanic task of getting people back to work and supporting those whose jobs have disappeared.

Although we call it 'recovery', rebuilding after Covid will be more about fashioning a new economy than returning to the old one. ‘You can’t go home again,’ the novelist Thomas Wolfe taught us, and we won’t be able to recover the pre-pandemic world, preserved on pause waiting for us to hit ‘play’ again. Businesses have collapsed and won’t be rebuilt in their previous form, if at all.

Entire industries are perched on the precipice, anxious to see whether they will still be sustainable in our ‘new normal’. Radically different working practices have become embedded and a year of juggling primary seven long division and the quarterly budget spreadsheet has caused some to re-evaluate work-life balance and what really matters most.

The Scottish Government, like the UK Government, like all of us, will have to think radical thoughts about growing the economy, ensuring as many as possible benefit from opportunities, and maintaining decent standards of living at the same time. Thinking radically does not mean repackaging all the old, discredited doctrines of fist-shaking impossibilism. The far-left sermonises that capitalism loves a crisis but whenever chaos strikes, they are first on the soapbox to preach the gospel of economic populism.

I don’t have much confidence in Nicola Sturgeon’s ability to rise to the challenge ahead but I trust her instincts more than those of the Greens, hinged as they are on the last opinion poll to cross her desk.

One of my ambitions in life is to dispel the myth that the Greens are nice, well-intentioned or harmless. The Greens are not nice. They are not tree-hugging idealists. They are not the Lib Dems with recycled sandals. The Greens are extreme ideologues resentful of civilisational progress and backwards-looking in a way that would get anyone else branded reactionary.

Their goal is not advancement — creation, development, expansion — but the hemming in of human potential. Ingenuity dismays them and innovation alarms them. They see man as a purely destructive creature, a sinning species without redemption. Their ideology is a religion of sorts, the church of millenarian mediocrity.

The Greens went into May's election proposing higher income taxes, a pandemic windfall tax, a millionaires' tax on one in ten Scottish earners, and a new international frequent flyer levy. They pledged an eye-watering £22billion in spending on railways over the next 20 years.

Patrick Harvie has called the UK Government's decision to permit new oil and gas exploration 'absolutely reckless'. As well as banning further development licences, the Greens want to end all subsidies and tax relief for the North Sea energy sector, which supports 100,000 jobs. These are policies for ruin, not recovery.

It is easy to talk about phasing out other people's employment when your employment is guaranteed for the next five years at the taxpayers' expense. Confronting climate change is a moral as well as an ecological imperative but it must be achieved in a way that doesn't visit mass unemployment and all the social miseries that come with it on North East communities that are already struggling. The Greens' anti-job, anti-worker attitude should not get within a mile of government.

There could be a longer-term problem created if the Greens are brought into the fold. To grasp this problem, you must come to terms with a prospect more baffling than a government worse than the current one: a Green leader worse than Patrick Harvie.

Harvie revels in the fact that, back in the mists of time, he was characterised in the Daily Mail as ‘the voice of the irresponsible, Left-led, anti-family, anti-Christian, gay-whales-against-the-bomb coalition’. Yet, in truth he is the voice of the superficial, Twitter-led, economics-lite, class-unconscious, flags-and-pronouns alliance. At risk of flooring you, Harvie is, in Scottish Green terms, middle-of-the-road.

To be clear, the Glasgow MSP’s economic worldview is well to the left of the average voter, and any influence he had in this regard would be malign. But his prescriptions, while wrongheaded, are not as fringe as others in his party. During the 2015 election campaign, with polls predicting a hung parliament, Harvie refused to make opposition to capitalism a ‘red line’ in any post-election negotiations. He believed capitalism was ‘unsustainable’ but did not think it would ‘be brought down with placards and slogans’. ‘Capitalism is a dominant force in our lives, and that reality can’t be overcome by any single party or government,’ he remarked.

In the thickets of the Green grassroots lurk the next generation of office-holders and MSPs, a cadre of Young Turks wildly to the left of Harvie and bent on the notion that doctoring to the climate requires euthanising capitalism. In 2019, a ginger faction calling itself the Green Future Group sprouted up, hoping to push the party further to the left and to embrace ’eco-socialism’. Its mission statement included the pronouncement: ‘Capitalism cannot solve the climate crisis, or the deep social and economic inequalities that plague society.’

A leading Green activist, unaffiliated to the group, nonetheless pronounced herself ‘pleased that we have dedicated members with new ideas and the courage to try new things’ and ‘applaud[ed] their calls for a revitalised party, increased transparency and better internal democracy’. That activist was Lorna Slater, now co-leader of the Scottish Greens.

Giving credibility and a foothold in power to Harvie, almost 13 years into his co-leadership, means giving both to whoever replaces him. Nicola Sturgeon risks paving the way for a damaging leftwards lurch in Scottish politics down the line.

Of course, in any arrangement between their two parties, Sturgeon would easily enjoy the preponderance of power given her party is just one seat shy of a majority. However, if Harvie is to be part of her indyref2 tactics, he could exert an influence all out of proportion to his tally of MSPs. He would be important to Sturgeon's strategy and he would know it.

Getting Scotland's economy back on track is too vital a duty to let self-righteous job-destroyers get in the way, no matter how many polar bears they hug or how virtuously they talk about saving the planet. The Greens might look like an ideal indyref2 shield to the First Minister (against her own activists as much as Westminster), but deploying them would tell us that her latest priority means as much to her as the last one.

Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail on May 31, 2021. Feature image © Ric Lander by Creative Commons 3.0.

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