Scottish budget: I can’t blame the Greens

Scottish politics became exciting and sexy yesterday. Sexy as politics goes anyway. The excitement is over the fact that the SNP have failed to persuade the Scottish Parliament to back its budget. Cue lots of finger pointing.

It’s the sort of thing that makes members of the public disdainful of politicians. I chose to listen to Radio Scotland for a short while following the budget vote. The first set of text messages to be read out, around 15 minutes after the vote had taken place, was practically an encyclopaedia of lazy Scottish political commentary. All the old chestnuts were wheeled out. One person blamed proportional representation. Another suggested getting rid of the Scottish Parliament altogether. A few more had decided never to vote for the Greens again.

But I can’t find it in me to blame the Greens for this one at all. Not remotely. Maybe I am allowing the fact that I am hugely in favour of their insulation scheme cloud my judgement. It is, after all, the only vaguely sensible thing I can remember hearing pass through a politician’s lips in years. That’s something to get passionate about.

But in seriousness, I struggle to see how the Greens can possibly be blamed for this. Their policy has been well-established. It was put on the table months ago. And it seems like a very sensible policy at that. The Greens’ proposal took up just £100 million of a £33 billion budget — just a third of a percent. It’s amazing to think that the SNP were unable to properly accommodate the Greens’ demands until literally the last minute. It’s even more incredible when you consider that the SNP are supposed to be broadly in favour of the scheme!

This all seems like sheer carelessness on the SNP’s part. Going by Patrick Harvie’s media appearances, his chief concern was not the fact that the SNP were unwilling to stump up the full £100 million. In this supposedly consensual Parliament, politicians should expect to make compromises. It may well be that the Greens would have taken what John Swinney put on the table were the Greens treated with a modicum of respect, with negotiations conducted properly. But the Green co-convener seemed quite livid at the apparently haphazard way the SNP conducted the discussions.

If half of what Patrick Harvie says about last-minute phone calls and faxes being delivered halfway through John Swinney’s speech is true, it makes the SNP look like an organisational basket case. Given that negotiations have been going on for weeks — months, even — it seems awfully careless for the SNP to sleep in like this. It’s hardly the slick operation that skilfully won the 2007 election.

It’s no surprise that the Greens should feel insulted. It looks like they were totally taken for granted — fobbed off with a half-baked scheme, and communicated to practically in grunts. The SNP must have calculated that they could get away with taking the Greens for granted. They might have got away with it when Robin Harper was in charge. Yesterday the Greens stood up for themselves, and rightly so.

It wouldn’t surprise me now if the new budget goes through unanimously, as Jeff suggests it might. I interpret the events of yesterday as a warning to SNP not to be too arrogant and that they can’t take the Parliament for granted. But politicians will surely know that they can’t take this game too far.

It won’t be popular with the public if we end up without a budget and — worse — having to trudge out to vote for this shower again. I’m sure every politician in Holyrood knows that. Nor, surely, can the parties really afford all the campaigning that would be involved. So they will be prepared to avoid that outcome. In the aftermath of yesterday’s events, all of the parties appear to be more willing to play ball.

That’s the risk the Greens now face though. Either Labour or the Lib Dems — or both — might like to make some political capital out of this by making some compromises so that they can go around the place saying they saved Scotland’s public spending. In that case, the SNP really would be able to take the Greens’ votes for granted.

In that case, the Greens will look like they have made a major strategic error here. But I still think they did the right thing yesterday. The Greens may not have been very pragmatic, but their principled stance is exactly what we need more of in politics.

9 comments

  1. “I interpret the events of yesterday as a warning to SNP not to be too arrogant and that they can’t take the Parliament for granted”.

    An excellent sum-up in a sentence! I may have to paraphrase that if asked for my thoughts 😉

    I too do not blame the greens for voting the way they did. Despite their cutdown presence in the Parliament since 2007, this shows they are still important.

  2. It’s a pleasure to hear the opinion of a young person with regard to the Scottish budget fiasco.

    One point I think you’re perhaps a little uninformed about is the Greens insulation policy. Do you know the Greens and SNP discussed this around October/November and the SNP asked them to make it more appropriate to Scotland? (The policy was designed for English homes).

    The reason the SNP did this was because many homes in Scotland were built before the 60s and therefore can’t take cavity wall insulation. The policy concentrated on loft and cavity wall insulation, plus the much more expensive solar panels, ground heat pumps etc., but with no mention of costings or systems for internal wall insulation, which is the main type needed in stone built homes and tenements.

    The Greens couldn’t produce something appropriate to Scottish needs so the SNP offered them £22m for their loft and cavity wall policy. Upping it, as you say, by another £11m at the last minute – not an unusual practice in politics. Poor Patrick was flustered by Newnight following him around all day and the fact he’s unable to make instant decisions owing to his party’s system. I’m sure he regrets his decision now and I do sympathise with him because, what may happen is that the SNP will bring forward their own insulation policy to include grants towards internal wall insulation.

    I know all of this because I live in an 1840s house and wondered if I could get help with internal wall insulation. My MSP, who happens to be part of the government, told me the Greens were bringing forward a policy which could well include grants and it would become law after the budget. Then I contacted Mr Harvie who eventually sent me a copy of his original proposal, which omitted any mention of my requirements (I think 50%+ of homes in Scotland are like mine).

    Since all relied on future politics and giving consideration to the horrendous costs of ground pump heating (which I fully support for new builds), I went ahead and had my large combi boiler fitted along with the necessary internal wall insulation.

    So, it wasn’t the SNP being arrogant. I think that’s rather a strong term and more applicable to the labour party.

    In my opinion the Tories and SNP acted with dignity and professionalism on Wednesday. Patrick tried. The other two parties played their game too badly and lost in the eyes of my generation.

    I have to admit I support the SNP from their stance of independence but I try to be fair and give credit where credit’s due.

    Now the ‘experts’ say the budget will go through unanimously. It could well be labour abstain. The libdems are so desperate to make amends to their members that they’d now vote for a pig in a poke. Sadly the Greens may lose out which will be sad because their policy had good points. Pity they have to be given the nod from south of the border before they take a decision.

    May an independent Scotland have a far better system and hopefully many more quality politicians. Your generation is the one to ensure they do!

  3. Subrosa, thanks for your in-depth comment.

    That’s an interesting point about the Greens’ insulation policy not being appropriate for all of Scotland’s homes. That at least explains why the SNP were so reluctant to give them the full £100 million.

    When I called the SNP arrogant, I meant that in terms of their approach to the Greens rather than their policy stance. I think whatever way you look at it they took the Greens’ votes for granted. As such the Greens felt like they were shat on and took revenge during the vote.

    I’m not sure why you think the Greens have to be “given the nod from south of the border” before taking a decision. The Scottish Green Party is fully independent. Although their insulation policy was clearly influenced by a scheme in Yorkshire, it is only to be expected that parties will look elsewhere for inspiration. We wouldn’t want an independent Scotland to be insular now, would we? 😉

  4. DV, from the commentaries I heard it seems Patrick had to ‘check’ with someone before he could decide. I’m all for equality between membership and leadership, but Patrick really should have been prepared for John Swinney to drop a bit more into his pot. Perhaps you don’t know that initially the SNP offered him a pilot scheme to see how much his policy would cost and include internal wall etc., but he refused this. Understandably in my opinion.

    An insular independent Scotland DV? We couldn’t be any more insular than the UK is going to be within the next year.

    Naw, we’ll never be insular, not with the talents we have in this country. We’ve just got to motivate the young and let them understand they can achieve as much as they want – with hard work.

  5. DV, I’ve put a link to here on my blog as I think it important the more ‘mature’ independence supporter is able to gain an insight into the thoughts of our youth. Hope you don’t mind.

  6. Subrosa, No problem with the link. That’s what the web is all about! 🙂 I’m not sure I’m exactly representative of youth as a whole though!

    It doesn’t surprise me that Patrick Harvie has to check with someone before deciding. I would hope that all politicians would consult with others before making a decision. I would think it is better to make no decision at all than to make a rash decision in the charged atmosphere of the debating chamber. For me, it just goes to further underline why the SNP shouldn’t have made last-minute changes in the way it did.

  7. DV, a wee bit quote from the Sunday Herald analysis of the Budget:

    ‘It is understood Harvie’s hardline stance was opposed by his fellow Green Robin Harper – the two were seen furiously writing notes to one another before the vote – and Harper only supported Harvie out of party duty.’

    Interesting.

  8. Subrosa, That is interesting. Though when I think about it, it’s perhaps not surprising. As I noted in my post, if Robin Harper was leading the Greens the SNP would probably have got away with their behaviour. Under Patrick Harvie, the Greens appear to be more hardline, and more prepared to stand up for themselves.

  9. Honestly I largely agree with you, Duncan, even given subrosa’s interesting exposition. The bottom line here is that the SNP were counting on votes they did not have, they did not check in time that they had them and their assumptions cost them their budget. The fact that there’s turmoil related to the specific reasons they lost votes they thought they held is largely parenthetical – they didn’t do enough to ensure they had them.