It gives me great pleasure to rise to move and support the motion in my name that proposes
My statement earlier set out the reasons for and the detail of the co-operation agreement that has been struck between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Greens. The appointments will deliver a key element of that agreement. By approving the appointments, the Parliament will make history, not just in Scottish politics but across the United Kingdom as a whole. It will be the first time that Green politicians have entered national government in any part of these islands.
Our co-operation agreement commits us to a raft of commitments that are necessary to steer Scotland through the challenges that we face. Those commitments include action to support tenants and tackle poverty, plans to reform public services, investments to accelerate our transition to net zero and create green jobs, and so much more besides. The ministers appointed from the ranks of the Greens will share the responsibility and the great privilege of delivering on this bold, ambitious programme.
Patrick Harvie will take on the role of Minister for Zero Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights. Patrick has of course been an MSP representing the Glasgow region since 2003. During his time in politics, Patrick has served as convener of the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee, and I believe that he is the longest-serving party leader in the Scottish Parliament. He is also a passionate and effective campaigner for the causes that he believes in. I worked closely with Patrick during the 2014 referendum campaign, and that experience makes me genuinely enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with him again, this time in the Scottish Government. His wide-ranging brief, which includes active travel, energy efficiency and tenants’ rights, gives Patrick the task of leading and implementing, together with his ministerial colleagues, some of the most significant transformations that we must make to tackle the climate emergency.
Lorna Slater will become the Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity. Among her responsibilities, Lorna will be tasked with driving a green industrial strategy, helping people to acquire the skills that they need to benefit from the transition to net zero, creating a more circular economy and working to protect our natural environment.
Lorna was born and brought up in Canada. After earning a master’s degree in engineering, she moved to Scotland in 2000. Since then, she has worked as an engineer and then as a project manager in the renewables sector, which included working on the world’s biggest tidal turbine. As such, although she may be relatively new to Parliament, Lorna brings formidable professional experience. As well as having worked in one of the key industries powering our greener future, she has project management experience that will stand her in good stead in ministerial office.
I have complete confidence that both new ministers will make excellent contributions to the Scottish Government. Patrick, Lorna, the rest of the Scottish ministerial team and I are ready to get on with delivering our ambitious commitments and building a fairer, greener Scotland. I therefore formally, and with great pleasure, ask Parliament to support the appointments of Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater.
That the Parliament agrees that Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater be appointed as junior Scottish Ministers.
When this deal was announced, it confirmed that the Greens had finally given up any pretence of being an Opposition party. They have propped up the Scottish National Party for years, backing John Swinney whenever he failed miserably, rubber stamping budget deals in exchange for a car park tax and achieving not much else. Just as we warned at the time, those who vote Green really get SNP yellow.
Instead of fronting this up for what it is—a coalition—the Greens wanted to have their cake and eat it. They were still trying to pretend that they were in opposition while they were in government. When Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater accepted ministerial positions, they wanted to keep asking that same Government questions at First Minister’s question time. They wanted to have opposition debate time so that they could do the Government’s bidding for it. That is why I am pleased that, like those of us on this side of the chamber, the Presiding Officer saw through that and has ruled accordingly.
That was all an effort by the Greens to rig the Scottish Parliament by pretending that the coalition was something else, even though their own constitution defines it as exactly that. This will be a coalition of chaos. That is why Scottish Conservatives will vote against the Green members becoming ministers.
The Greens are a serious threat to Scotland’s economic recovery. At First Minister’s question time just after the election, we said that the SNP had to reset its relationship with the business community. The First Minister is on her phone. I do not know whether she is calling business leaders; I do not know whether she speaks to business much at all at the moment. I can assure her that this is not the reset that businesses in Scotland wanted: it is the exact opposite.
The SNP has brought extremists into Government in the middle of an economic crisis. [
.] SNP members do not want to hear it, but the Greens are extreme—they have made that clear themselves. Patrick Harvie said:
“Successive UK and Scottish Governments have shared an ideological belief in the pursuit of endless economic growth.”
Lorna Slater has rallied against “endless economic growth”. The Greens attacked that in their manifesto.
For once, I hand it to the Greens. They have nailed it. My party has pursued endless economic growth and we continue to do so unashamedly. We have pursued more jobs and more businesses. I cannot quite believe it: the Greens have rumbled us. We want hard-working people to have more money in their pockets. I do not understand why Nicola Sturgeon and her Government do not want that. We pursue endless economic growth because it provides extra funding for our schools, hospitals and public services.
Let us look at what the Greens really mean when they criticise “endless economic growth”. They want our economy to go backwards. That means businesses shutting down and people being out of work. At the heart of her Government, Nicola Sturgeon has introduced an anti-jobs, anti-business ideology with people who hold the most extreme economic views of any Scottish Government minister since devolution. [
.] If SNP members think that that is a laughing matter, shame on them.
Lorna Slater wants Scotland to have
“a totally different tax structure”, and we know from recent SNP-Green budget deals that that means tax rises. She warned the oil and gas industry, which supports 100,000 jobs, to “transition or die”. She has said:
“it isn’t possible to run out of money.”
In the middle of an economic crisis, Nicola Sturgeon has made her an economic minister.
Those are not just slips of the tongue. The Green manifesto had proposals to stop people selling their homes unless they could pay for costly refurbishments, to stop petrol and diesel car sales in just a few years and to stop building all new roads. Any SNP member who listens to the First Minister trying to dodge questions about the future of the A75, the A77, the A9 or the A96 will be burying their heads in their hands.
Those are not serious proposals in the Green manifesto; they are a joke. Now, however, thanks to Nicola Sturgeon, they are Government policies. She can try to distance herself from those outrageous positions, but she has brought them into her Government. She said earlier that this coalition is a leap of faith, but these appointments are reckless in the extreme. The Scottish Conservatives strongly oppose them and we will not vote for them today.
I welcome Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater to their new roles, but I fear that they will quickly realise that the SNP’s rhetoric does not match reality. I think that they will quickly realise that the divider-in-chief can only act as the great unifier for so long, and that they will come to realise that, to Nicola Sturgeon, co-operation means rolling over and doing what you are told.
On ideas for Government, we wanted the Government to pay care workers £15 an hour, but it said no. We wanted it to double the Scottish child payment, but it said no. When we asked the SNP to be more ambitious with the job creation scheme, we did not mean finding jobs for its pals in Parliament. That was not quite the green shoots of recovery that the people of Scotland were looking for. Frankly, this is not a new development or a new period in the governance of our great country. This is merely the final confirmation of the same coalition of cuts between the SNP and the Greens that has hammered Scotland’s public services for years.
While I appreciate Patrick Harvie’s and Lorna Slater’s success in achieving for themselves some of the longest job titles in 21st century politics, serious questions need to be asked about why the roles could not be performed under the previous ministerial structure. They should be replacing existing ministers, not adding to the ministerial pay bill. The elevation of Lorna Slater and Patrick Harvie to ministers comes with a substantial price tag for the Scottish taxpayer. There are now eight more ministers in Government than there were when Labour left office, and the ministerial wage bill is set to exceed £1 million a year for the first time since devolution, with more than £2 million a year set to be spent on maintaining the Government and the ranks of special advisers that it employs, not to mention all those hundreds of press officers. There are now perhaps more press officers in Scotland than journalists.
The people of Scotland could be forgiven for feeling that their Government is out of touch and is short-changing them. They are ignored by the Government as local libraries, swimming pools and museums across Scotland close their doors due to cuts that were signed off by this very Government. No more can Patrick Harvie vote in this Parliament for cuts to local budgets and then stand outside the very libraries that his cuts helped to implement and protest against them.
We are now just a couple of months away from the 26th UN climate change conference of the parties—COP26—when the eyes of the world will be on Glasgow, but already some of the most prominent climate activists have expressed their pessimism about what the summit will achieve and have cast doubt on the Scottish Government’s pretensions to be a leader in the fight against the climate crisis. I want COP26 to be a turning point for Scotland and the rest of the world. Future generations need it to be. [
The First Minister is shouting from the sidelines. I do not think that two Green MSPs will be quite the great change that the global community is looking for. That is why I want us to come out of COP26 with a truly historic Glasgow agreement—the moment the world turned its warm words into meaningful action to confront the climate crisis. That means not only the Scottish and United Kingdom Governments but, frankly, global Governments turning their words into action so that we can confront the climate emergency. We keep being told that we have less than 10 years to confront it. Let us make that our national mission and priority.
However, when the leaders of the world descend on Glasgow—a city that is represented by me, Nicola Sturgeon and Patrick Harvie—they will be entering a city that is in the grip of a dangerous and spiralling waste crisis, in which cleansing workers are shamefully compared with the far right by an out-of-touch city leader. The First Minister is right—that is ridiculous. Instead, I want them to see a country that is focused on the urgent issues at hand, not fighting over the constitution. It is shameful, and the First Minister should address that directly with the leader of Glasgow City Council.
Today’s appointments are more about how the Government and Nicola Sturgeon look than about what they will deliver for the people of Scotland. After 15 years, the people of Scotland deserve better.
When Robin Harper became Scotland’s and the UK’s first elected Green parliamentarian, in 1999, he reflected on how, at the turn of the last century, the politics of change was represented by the colour red and that the colour of the 21st century must be green. This afternoon, we will take our first place in Government—the first Greens anywhere in the UK to do so. We sometimes overuse the word “historic” in politics, but this moment is genuinely historic. A new party, a new movement and a new politics is entering Government. That has happened fewer than half a dozen times in the past century.
To the best of my knowledge, Patrick Harvie will be the first minister for tenants who was himself evicted by an unscrupulous landlord. In fact, I think that he is the first minister to have “tenants” in their job title. He will be responsible for delivering the most ambitious tenants’ rights agenda anywhere in these islands for decades.
Patrick has been integral in the development of the Scottish Green Party into a party that is capable of taking this step today—from having been taken along to Ecology Party meetings as a kid by his mum, Rose, and joining as an adult a Scottish Green Party that had about 300 members, to the rainbow Parliament of 2003, the long decade of being just one of two Green MSPs, and the remarkable progress that we have made in more recent years.
Just days after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its “code red for humanity”, the need for radical transformation of our economic and social systems could not be clearer. I know that Patrick will take that fierce sense of urgency with him into Government and apply it across all his portfolio responsibilities.
Having known him for as long as I have, I feel that I owe Patrick’s new Government colleagues a word of warning: if they did not know much about obscure 1970s science fiction before now, they should be ready for that to change. I am not talking just about “Dr Who”, although they should probably swot up on that. A growing Netflix watch list is the least that they will need to prepare.
However, Lorna Slater’s new colleagues will, sooner or later, end up on the trapeze. It is hard to think of someone more qualified than Lorna to take on the role of minister for green skills and industrial strategy. She is a renewables engineer who was, until just a few weeks ago, a key member of the team who delivered the world’s most powerful tidal turbine, here in Scotland. Lorna Slater brings real industry experience and expertise into Government. She knows exactly what is required in order to deliver a just transition, because that is exactly what she was doing until she was elected to this place.
I know personally just how committed Lorna is to getting the job done. For years, we have worked together to develop our party, including as conveners of its operations committee, which is one of those truly sought-after positions in which—as you know, Presiding Officer—a person gets all the blame but none of the credit. Our recent electoral success—and particularly in the election of a Green group in which the majority of members are women—is in no small part down to Lorna’s incredible project management skills, her patience and her stubborn determination.
I should say briefly that it is quite extraordinary to see the Tories coming to the chamber today to accuse others of extremism. Douglas Ross has now had more than a week to apologise for his use of a homophobic dog whistle in response to our announcement of the co-operation agreement. Yet again, today, he has failed to do so. However, the real hypocrisy is in the accusation that he levelled at the First Minister. Only two members of the Parliament have ever allowed an extremist, homophobic and misogynistic party to hold sway over a Government and they are sitting on the Conservative front bench. Douglas Ross and Stephen Kerr were enthusiastic supporters of their party’s cosy relationship with the Democratic Unionist Party. Those of us who are committed to working together in the interests of people and planet will take no lessons from the extremist enablers on the Tory benches.
This is a moment 48 years in the making for the Greens. We take this step because of the steps taken before us by Robin Harper, Rose Harvie and so many others. I am so very excited to see what Patrick Harvie, Lorna Slater and their colleagues across the Government achieve together over the coming years. I know that they will serve the people of Scotland with passion and integrity, and I will be proud to vote for Patrick’s and Lorna’s appointment today.
I will start by expressing some dismay. The First Minister regaled the chamber with talk of a new kind of politics, then went on to wholly ignore my question about national testing and embarked on an infantile attack on my party. All hail the new politics—same as the old politics.
As a Liberal Democrat, I will always look for and appreciate consensus in our politics. As such, I congratulate these two parties for having found such common ground—as, indeed, I congratulate Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater on their elevation. However, I cannot support either the deal that they have arrived at or their appointment as Green ministers, because my party does not share that ground.
The First Minister has attempted to emulate the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, who brought Greens into Government in early 2020. She has sought to mirror that coalition with the appointment of the co-leaders of the Scottish Greens to ministerial office. However, that is a pale imitation of the deal hatched on the other side of the world, and it is thin gruel for a Green Party that has, until now, characterised itself as radical.
The New Zealand deal was forged under the imperative of the climate crisis. Significantly, it was signed practically amidst the very smoke of the bush fires that had devastated their Australian neighbours. Ardern wanted to demonstrate to the world that her Government was taking the global threat seriously. As such, the climate emergency formed the centrepiece of that deal. Although that imperative exists for Scottish ministers in equal measure, there is no such centrepiece to this deal.
It will be almost inexplicable to the majority of Green voters—who, according to a poll from April, support Scotland’s retained place in the United Kingdom—that the central mission of this deal is a second independence referendum. This partnership exists first and foremost to ask Westminster for another referendum and then to use its likely refusal to drive yet more grievance at the expense of all other public policy. It is not a deal with the climate in mind. After years of missed emissions targets, one would think that the Scottish Green Party might have driven a harder bargain, but it has not.
Ardern’s power-sharing agreement went beyond climate and looked to social justice as well. Where her partnership stretched for new and radical frontiers in social policy, the Scottish deal does not. The New Zealand coalition immediately embarked on a brave new policy of testing pills at festivals to keep drug users safe, yet the nationalist coalition agreement agreed here today is entirely silent on Scotland’s drug deaths catastrophe. Far from being radical or extreme, there is very little to this deal at all.
I have already mentioned national testing. However, on issues such as wider education reform, the abolition of the council tax, the decarbonisation of our homes—matters on which you would expect Green MSPs to want to have a say from the back benches—there is very little substance. The Greens will not seek to trouble the SNP or subject it to effective scrutiny. There is even a clause in the agreement that demands that the Greens offer “no surprises” to their partners. I can almost hear the groans across the chamber because, from here on in, when it comes to contributions from Green back benchers, we will be subjected to choreographed softball questions and speeches scripted by Government special advisers. There is no question but that the Green Party has surrendered entirely its Opposition status for the life of this session. Nicola Sturgeon must be rubbing her hands at having got such a cheap deal.
When I think of the Greens in Scotland, I remember the party of Robin Harper—a movement focused on reform and dedicated to challenging the old order of things. Robin never swapped environmentalism for nationalism, because he supported Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom. I really do not know what has happened to that radical zeal or that internationalist focus. By putting nationalism ahead of the climate emergency, Patrick Harvie and co have revealed their true colours. Those colours look far more like the acid yellow of the party of government than the proud emerald of the global green movement. That is why the Liberal Democrats will oppose the motion.