Patrick Harvie: I’ve never believed that radical change should wait until after independence
The SNP government is too timid, says Scottish Green co-convener Patrick Harvie
Patrick Harvie - Image credit: Parliament TV
‘Must do better’ is the cliché usually thrown around when it comes to giving politicians and governments fictional report cards. In the case of the SNP Scottish Government, it’s a cliché that rings true.
As an opposition MSP, you’d expect me to say that, but I’ve met many SNP members who are also frustrated at their party’s reluctance to be braver and bolder on many issues.
I’ve never believed that radical change in Scotland should wait until after independence, but it’s becoming clear that if the SNP even does have anything labelled as ‘radical’ up its sleeve, it’s being hidden away until after independence day.
As Greens, we’ve always tried to be both constructive and challenging, so we have no problem in giving the government credit where it’s due.
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On issues from free higher education to opposing Trident, we’re on the same page, but it’s becoming apparent that this government is too often timid.
While the other opposition parties are often opportunistic and rarely offer positive ideas, we’ve opted to push the SNP beyond their comfort zone and achieve changes they wouldn’t have made if they still had a majority.
For example, following his return to the Scottish Parliament, Mark Ruskell has wasted no time in pushing forward Green ideas to benefit Scotland’s environment.
One of his key priorities has been to campaign for safer streets by reducing the default national speed limit to 20mph on Scotland’s residential roads.
Lowering the speed limit around our homes and shops reduces the likelihood of fatal accidents, makes our air cleaner and our streets safer for vulnerable road users and encourages more people to walk and cycle.
Already, Mark’s initiative has won the backing of the British Heart Foundation and British Lung Foundation.
Another key issue for Mark has been to continue the Greens’ consistent opposition to fracking.
With the Scottish Government due at last to make a decision on granting licences to frack by the end of 2017, Mark has kept up the call for a permanent ban and encouraged responses to the public consultation.
Ross Greer, already bored of being mentioned as the youngest member of the Scottish Parliament (sorry, Ross!) has made a mark as our education spokesperson.
He has quickly become a constructive voice at Holyrood, challenging the government over declining numbers of additional support needs teachers and support staff in schools.
And as the UK prepares to leave the European Union, against the wishes of voters in Scotland, Ross has also led the Green group’s response to Brexit.
As an assertively pro-EU party, we have continuously called for the Westminster government to respect Scotland’s vote to remain in the EU and to protect key EU legislation protecting workers’ rights, freedom of movement and environmental regulations.
Our social security spokesperson, Alison Johnstone, kicked off the session by making early calls for the Scottish Government to scrap benefit sanctions wherever the parliament’s new devolved powers apply, publishing research showing that 13,000 people in Scotland were at risk of sanctions.
In October 2016, she secured a commitment that participants in the Scottish work programme would not be threatened by benefit sanctions after 2,500 people signed her Scotland Against Sanctions petition.
I’m particularly proud to have a respected writer and campaigner for Scottish land reform among our parliamentary ranks.
Andy Wightman, our other Lothian MSP, is fighting for fair funding for public services and is leading a campaign to regulate short-term lets in Scotland.
He has raised concerns about the impact on the rental market in Scotland’s towns and cities, particularly Edinburgh’s Old Town which is seeing a huge increase in short-stay private rental accommodation whose owners are not liable for non-domestic rates despite it being a growth industry.
Our team in parliament also includes a former police officer, John Finnie, whose work has included a member’s bill on ‘equal protection’ from assault for Scotland’s children.
This would give children the same protection from assault as adults and has the backing of Barnardo’s, Children 1st and NSPCC Scotland.
John has also been involved in scrutinising Police Scotland and the role of the Scottish Police Authority through his role on the Justice Committee.
And as for me, I’ll be doing all that I can to push the SNP on fiscal policy, from progressive income tax to local tax reform, and exposing the folly of its proposed aviation tax cut that would give a bung to the only transport industry that is already free of fuel duty.
It’s absurd that the government is happy to see people’s daily train and bus fares rise, while trying to convince us we’ll be better off if occasional holiday flights were a few pounds cheaper.
This year we achieved the biggest budget concession in Holyrood’s history, successfully reversing the proposed cuts of £160m to local government and cancelling a proposed tax cut for high earners.
Scottish ministers know they have to go much further in future, but if they respond positively to the constructive challenge the Greens have to offer, we can help build a better Scotland.
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