SNP and Scottish Greens governing deal will not deliver for workers

SNP and Scottish Greens press conference to announce their deal (Photo: Creative Commons)

The ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) and Scottish Greens have agreed to form a de-facto coalition at Holyrood, the seat of the Scottish parliament. For the first time since the parliament was established in 1999, the Greens will now be part of the ruling administration. It is also the first time the Greens have been part of a government in any of the four parliaments across the UK.

Currently one short of a majority, this deal will make it easier for the SNP to get their annual budgets passed with the support of the seven Green MSPs. It also ensures a majority government in favour of a second independence referendum.

The deal mirrors the governmental arrangement in New Zealand between Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party and the Greens. Scottish Greens will, under this plan, hold two junior ministerial posts.

While common ground has been found on most of the SNPs programme for government, in essence, the Greens still have the right to oppose parts of government policy. The SNP national executive has agreed on the deal. The Scottish Greens online conference, next weekend, are likely to support it as well.

The programme that both parties have signed up to contain some positive proposals; rent control and more power for tenants, for example. However, the proposed rent controls would only be introduced at the end of 2025 – a very long time for tenants paying shockingly high rents to wait. It remains to be seen how meaningful such controls will be in dealing with the rip-off landlords if indeed they are introduced.

Among a layer of young people, there will be illusions that this SNP/Green government will deliver progressive policies and even represents a “new way of doing politics”. However, close examination of the agreement and, more importantly, the record of the SNP and the Greens in power, point to a government that will continue with pro-capitalist, anti-working class policies. Quickly any illusions could be broken and genuine left, socialist ideas will grow in popularity. They claim that this new government will carry out the “economic transformation” of Scotland while maintaining the profit-based system of capitalism, which is hollow in the extreme.

Climate change

On the surface, it appears the Greens want to have their cake and eat it too; particularly on the climate, the Greens’ central programmatic issue. Rightly, Green MSPs have come out to criticise SNP leader and First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, and her party for failing to oppose oil exploration off the coast of Shetland; however the defence of North Sea oil companies has been part of the SNP’s DNA since the days of the “Its Scotland’s Oil” campaign.

In addition, the SNP have just announced they plan to cut 300 train services from next year -10% of the pre-Covid total. The Scottish government intends to take over the Scotrail franchise from next year and this is a clear case of cutting now to make the new franchise more ‘financially viable’.

It underlines how public ownership under the pro-capitalist SNP will still be run on business terms rather than socialist nationalisation under workers’ control. It also makes nonsense of the SNP/Green governmental pledge that they will provide “a realistic and affordable alternative through investing in public transport and active travel”.

Furthermore, the past cooperation between the Greens and the SNP, since 2016, on passing cuts through Holyrood and in local councils, like Glasgow, should shatter any illusions that this would be any kind of progressive, pro-working class government. It will instead be a continued coalition of cuts and attacks on the working class.

The Scottish Tories are opportunistically weighing in to criticise the Green programme for its approach to jobs from North Sea oil. While the continued exploration for new fossil fuel deposits undoubtedly has to stop, the workers on the rigs and related industries must be assured they will not lose their jobs or one penny of their wages. Anything else amounts to an attack on the working class, whether the cuts are doled out by an SNP minister or a Green one. This can only be done through a socialist transition away from fossil fuels based on public ownership and workers’ control of the energy sector, including renewables.

This is a policy the Scottish Greens oppose, putting their faith instead in a ‘greenwashing’ of capitalism and appeals to world leaders at COP26 to change tack.


The deal is also an attempt to shield the SNP and cut across the growing criticism from a large section of the independence movement. Sturgeon is under real pressure for her snail-like and timid approach to fighting for indyref2. Indeed the SNP/Scottish Greens agreement pledges that a second referendum would be legislated for only within the next five years. 2023 would be the earliest it would be tabled – a further kicking of the can down the road by the SNP leadership from the previous pledge of the first half of 2022.

There is no commitment to build a mass working-class movement to take on Boris Johnson’s continued refusal to grant a section 30 order. Both the SNP and Scottish Green leaderships are mortally afraid of taking on and confronting the capitalist class over the right to self-determination. Moreover, both parties support an independent capitalist Scotland rejoining the bosses’ European Union

Despite declaring a ‘climate emergency’ more than two years ago, along with the Tories in Westminster, the SNP have since passed legislation to give more time and more money to North Sea oil bosses, essentially paying them to drag their heels in closing their facilities.

It’s not just oil; the question of land reform in Scotland is critical to the question of the climate. 83% of the land is privately owned in Scotland, so grants to build wind turbines and other renewable energy infrastructure often give more money to the richest.

Why pay wealthy estate owners for access to renewable energy on their land when we could take that land into public ownership, democratically agree on compensation on the basis of proven need, and redeploy existing agricultural or forestry workers into carbon-neutral, socially useful work? Again, this demand for public ownership is not something supported by the Scottish Greens.

Of course, measures like this, simple and effective as they may be, run into the limits of capitalist economics. The SNP, like all parties which defend the current economic system, have wedded themselves to the greenwashing of capitalism; they sow illusions in the idea that reforming the system as it is can actually slow or reverse the environmental degradation created by exploitation of the planet for profit.

What have Green coalitions done elsewhere?

In the Republic of Ireland and Germany, Green parties have had chances to participate in national governments and in Germany also in the regional state governments. Despite lofty goals and an anti-establishment image amongst many young people and even layers of workers, these parties were conveyer belts for viscous austerity wherever they participated in government, including in the wake of the 2008 recession in Ireland.

The much-vaunted New Zealand agreement between the Greens and the Labour Party did not stop 30,000 nurses from having to take strike action in June, this year, over a scandalous pay offer from the government. Further strikes are taking place over unsafe working conditions.

Even on the climate, they failed to present a real solution to the issues of green energy; for example, in Germany, they extended the lifespan of deeply unpopular nuclear power plants. While these specific failures can’t be pegged on the Scottish Greens, it does indicate that the method of trying to soften the blows of cuts-making governments will only end up in Green sponsorship of those very cuts.

Socialist policies needed 

The Green manifesto ahead of this year’s Holyrood election led with the slogan, ‘Vote like our future depends on it’; fittingly, many young people and some workers will have hopes that a Green minister could work wonders if given rein over energy, housing, or some other department.

Unfortunately, no minister exists independently of the government. The record of the Scottish Government under the SNP speaks for itself, and even if room for criticism by Greens is negotiated, it won’t transform the underlying crisis facing Scottish and world capitalism.

Without a struggle united on the basis of class armed with socialist policies, the crises wrought by capitalism on the environment and the world’s population will be catastrophic. Ahead of and during COP26 we must be organising on the streets and in the workplaces to fight for a socialist transition and only backing politicians who back our demands for a socialist transformation of society.

The SNP/Scottish Green coalition, in all but name, does not represent a step forward for workers and young people in Scotland. It will fail on rent control and housing, on the climate, on cuts, on the NHS and on social care. The need to build a new workers’ party to fight austerity, and for a socialist recovery for the working class, is paramount.

Scotland’s trade unions should lead the fight for such a party. Socialist Party Scotland and the Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition will be helping to spearhead an anti-cuts electoral challenge to SNP, Labour and Greens councillors at next year’s council elections. Scottish TUSC is organising a conference on Saturday 2 October to prepare for these elections.


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August 2021