Patrick Harvie: 'Holyrood can and must be bolder'

Written by Patrick Harvie on 2 September 2019 in Comment

Patrick Harvie, Scottish Greens co-leader, on building a bolder Holyrood

Image credit: Holyrood

In 1999, Robin Harper was the first Green parliamentarian anywhere in the UK, and by Holyrood’s 20th anniversary, the Scottish Greens have grown to become a far bigger party, exercising more influence than ever.

Parliament’s celebrations this year marked the impact two decades of the place have had on the nation. But they also capped off an eventful and successful year for the Scottish Greens.

After all, the Scottish Parliament was given tax powers by the people in the 1997 devolution referendum, but it took 20 years before progressive changes to our income tax system were delivered.

It is no coincidence that it came as the Scottish Greens gained more influence in the chamber. The five-band income tax system was almost exactly what we had proposed in the 2016 election, and we made it a reality as part of our budget agreement in 2018.

This summer, the Scottish Parliament Information Centre showed that a long decline in local government funding had been ended after the Greens became involved in the budget process, showing how important the £428m won by the Scottish Greens had been for local authorities.

But Holyrood can and must be bolder.

Although the Greens have reversed the downward trend, the whole system of local government funding is in desperate need of change.

We’ve seen how our ideas to empower councils to introduce local levies on tourism and employers’ car parks have been caught up in the protests of vested interests. Councillors in the other parties support these ideas, even if some of their MSP colleagues at Holyrood are reacting with opportunistic outrage.

We secured a commitment from the Scottish Government to publish legislation to reform the unfair council tax, and we’re in talks to ensure they deliver on that.

If we want high quality schools, social care, local environments and community facilities, we need a fairer way of funding them, and we need to take the debate out of ministers’ control and put the power in local hands.

Although this government has talked a good game on empowering communities, their actions have not matched up. In the Planning Bill, for example, the SNP appeared to back Andy Wightman’s thoughtful amendments on short-term lets, only to swing behind the Tory-wrecking amendment – and vested interests – at the last minute.

We’ve worked for bolder resistance to the Tory Brexit crisis too, going to court to demonstrate that Article 50 can be revoked; strengthening the Scottish Government’s Brexit legislation to guard environmental protections and democratic scrutiny; and securing a majority at Holyrood for a People’s Vote.

The most urgent need for bolder government is of course on climate. Ministers initially voted against our motion on the climate emergency, only for Nicola Sturgeon to declare one a few weeks later at the SNP conference.

Their reluctance was down to their determination to keep protecting the lethal fossil fuel industry. The Scottish Government still backs maximum extraction of fossil fuels and continuous growth of air travel and road building. It is a denial of the UN’s warning that we have only a decade to turn this round.

Receiving an award from the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, Greta Thunberg said the Scottish Parliament’s politicians should “step up their game” when it comes to the climate emergency. I agree.

We should be listening to Greta and other young climate strikers in Scotland who are fighting for their future.

I’m extremely pleased that the Scottish Greens have secured a major win on another issue that successive governments at Holyrood have failed to find the political courage to tackle: the physical punishment of children.

This summer Holyrood magazine rightly awarded John Finnie for his member’s bill on the equal protection of children. We expect it to be passed soon.

We’ll be holding the government to account on its overdue promise to reform the Gender Recognition Act too, and we’ll stand up against the highly orchestrated campaign of transphobia which originated in the American New Right.

As our influence grows, the Scottish Greens will push for a Scottish Green New Deal, a detailed plan to secure a sustainable future for Scotland’s next 20 years. This will mean investing in the jobs of the future now – jobs in low-carbon housing and manufacturing, in forestry, sustainable food and renewable energy.

The ideology of growth-above-all continues to pursue industries that are destroying our life support system while leaving the workforce as an afterthought.

Like our young people, those workers need a new agenda, a bold Scottish Parliament, and green ideas in government.

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