Subscribe to Holyrood updates

Newsletter sign-up


Follow us

Scotland’s fortnightly political & current affairs magazine


Subscribe to Holyrood
by Louise Wilson
03 September 2023
Sketch: Unlikely hero Douglas Ross defends Scottish Greens

Credit: Iain Green

Sketch: Unlikely hero Douglas Ross defends Scottish Greens

Help can often come from the least likely of places. And in Douglas Ross, the Scottish Green Party has found a new defender.

The recent debacles at the heart of the Scottish Government aren’t anything to do with the Green parliamentarians, Ross told a group of his supporters. At least, they aren’t entirely to blame.

You see, the Greens aren’t the reason for the ferry fiasco, or failures in Scottish education, or the months-long waiting lists for NHS services. No. “SNP incompetence didn’t start with the Bute House Agreement,” the Scottish Tory leader announced. “They and many other failures all pre-date the Greens being in government.”

Are we about to witness the biggest U-turn in Douglas Ross history (no small feat)? Could the dairy farmer from Moray be about to become vegan and embrace his bicycle? Is he about to don an SGP badge, proudly adorning his lapel with it?

It was a rallying call worthy of William Wallace... Freeeeedoooom from the Greens

Not quite. Later in his speech – where he was meant to be launching a new economic policy rather than defending his natural enemies – Ross offered assistance to the SNP backbenches. Extending a hand of friendship to those feeling oppressed by the Green overlords (though not mentioning Fergus Ewing or Kate Forbes by name, naturally, he wouldn’t want to put them in greater danger), Ross said his MSPs would support them.

As a Tory, Ross is quite used to civil war. In fact, he might even be missing those internal frictions in his own party which have largely died down post-BoJo/Truss. Which could explain why he’s so keen to kick off a ruckus elsewhere.

“I say directly to these would-be rebels that it is time to put up or shut up,” he told the rebels indirectly, through the press. “If they want to challenge any part of the Green policy agenda, then they will have the support of Scottish Conservative MSPs. And if they want to vote down the Bute House Agreement, then they can count on Scottish Conservative votes.

“If they believe that having the Greens in government is damaging the rural livelihoods and communities they represent, if they believe that Scotland’s economy is more important than blind allegiance to the nationalist cause, then they will seize the opportunity I am offering them to kick the Greens and their extreme policies out of government.”

It was a rallying call worthy of William Wallace – no doubt intentionally, given who he was speaking to. Freeeeedoooom from the Greens, indeed.

Who knew thistle-grasping would be such an economic boon for Scotland?

Ross also had some advice for the First Minister: “Step out of the shadow of his discredited predecessor and show Scotland that he is his own man.” No doubt Humza Yousaf will listen with a keen ear since he’s been insisting he is his “own man” since the leadership election, but no one seems to believe him.

It is time to break the “Sturgeon mould” in the next programme for government, Ross insisted. The clay man built by Sturgeon’s own hands, in Sturgeon’s own image, must distance himself from his creator in order to focus on the many, “not on the narrow political interests of a few.” Who had Ross channelling Jeremy Corbyn on their 2023 bingo card?

But it was time for a “reality check”, Ross insisted. He is not hopeful things would change because Yousaf is not a “prisoner of Nicola Sturgeon’s coalition with the Greens”. He is instead the “most passionate supporter” of the deal. Whether it is true love or a case of Stockholm Syndrome remains to be seen.

At last turning to the reason he had gathered people in a hotel room, Ross argued that “in the absence of good government, it falls to the main opposition party to respond to the big challenges”. One assumes he is talking here about Scotland, but then again it could equally apply to Westminster.

“One significant challenge that we should all be focused on is Scotland’s economy,” he continued. So, what is his plan? It is to “grasp the thistle and grow Scotland’s economy”. Groundbreaking. Who knew thistle-grasping would be such an economic boon for Scotland? If only generations of politicians past had known this. Forget ‘it’s Scotland’s oil’ or ‘the Saudi Arabia of wind’, Scotland could have been the nation of thistle-fingerers.

Maybe that’s what SNP president Mike Russell was getting at in 2006 when he wrote his book, Grasping The Thistle (another unlikely source of inspiration for Douglas Ross). So how many thistles would we have to touch, collectively, to save the NHS? To lift children out of poverty? To stop the impacts of climate change? Like in politics, the opportunities are limitless… you just have to watch out for the pricks.

Holyrood Newsletters

Holyrood provides comprehensive coverage of Scottish politics, offering award-winning reporting and analysis: Subscribe

Read the most recent article written by Louise Wilson - SNP attacks Keir Starmer for suspending MPs over two-child cap at first PMQs.

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox

Get award-winning journalism delivered straight to your inbox


Popular reads
Back to top