Patrick Harvie: The SNP has grown stale
In last year’s report card I outlined how the Scottish Government “must do better”. Sadly, from a Green perspective, ministers continue to disappoint.
Often the other Holyrood leaders paint a stark picture, claiming the government is a disaster and that Scotland has gone to the dogs. Of course, that isn’t true and they know it.
It’s more that the SNP has grown stale. I know that a lot of voters, particularly those who remember the spirit of the Yes campaign from 2014, feel this sense of drift. The pre-recess reshuffle might refresh things a little, but it doesn’t look like a radical new direction.
There is some good progress to welcome, of course. On fracking, thankfully the government listened to the Greens and communities throughout Scotland who were under threat.
Turning their temporary moratorium into a full ban is taking longer than it should and the government left themselves looking pretty daft in court as a result, but it’s clear that fracking’s going nowhere in Scotland, however hard INEOS lobbies. What’s needed now is some reality about our wider over-reliance on fossil fuels and the urgency of a transition to the age after oil.
Progress on fracking is far from the only example of Greens leading the change in Scotland. By pushing both the SNP and Labour to change their positions, we’ve shifted Scotland’s income tax system toward a fairer structure. We’ve successfully blocked the SNP’s tax cut for frequent flyers and we’ve delivered changes in social security to stop sanctions and ensure low-income families get the support they are entitled to.
But there are still so many opportunities being missed where Greens and others are still demanding change.
Climate campaigners will not accept a timid approach in the new climate change bill. Zero carbon is what we need to aim for and Greens in government in several countries are showing the leadership that’s missing from the Scottish Government. There’s still time to fix that.
And the SNP’s poor track record on animal issues continues, from hare culling to salmon farming, and from slaughterhouses to fox hunting. It’s another agenda where I think even SNP members also want a stronger response from their party in government.
They should be backing Andy Wightman, too, in his bid for local councils to have powers to control the rapid rise in short-term lets in our cities and the longstanding problem of second homes in our rural communities, which are making the housing crisis worse.
Local government will be a major feature of the budget debate again this year, but we’re not content simply to haggle over the size of the grant; we need meaningful progress on local tax reform so that our councils aren’t left in this utterly dependent position in future.
The new term must see a marked improvement from the SNP on education, too. The public clearly understands that the best way to improve children’s chances is to invest in school staff and resources, not the unwanted and unnecessary reforms that have little support from pupils, teachers and parents. If the government is serious about closing the attainment gap and giving every young person the chance to succeed, we need investment, not pointless new structures.
For most of Holyrood’s first two decades, the parliament slowly but steadily grew more confident in engaging with our international responsibilities as well. It’s particularly disappointing to see this agenda stall under a pro-independence government.
Maybe it was a longshot to call for ministers to prevent Donald Trump’s plane from landing at the government-owned Prestwick Airport during the far-right president’s golf holiday. But The Guardian’s revelation that Prestwick relies on payments from the US Air Force for refuelling to support aircraft running active combat missions which the SNP claim to oppose warranted a serious response. Instead, SNP MSPs simply laughed it off.
That’s not the attitude that’s needed from a government party that seeks responsibility for foreign and defence policy for the country.
The same contradiction was shown in the government’s blasé attitude when Greens challenged Glasgow’s SNP council administration for backing an arms fair in the city, or the Scottish Government’s £1.2m enterprise funding to the arms trade. Given their longstanding opposition to genocidal weapons, it’s indefensible that their administrations could support a showcase for the next generation of nuclear submarines, or support the companies supplying weapons which are creating humanitarian crises in countries like Yemen.
So the Greens have plenty of work to do in the coming months, leading the change on these issues and more.