2007 - 2022

The Scottish Greens in Government

What happens when a party labelled ‘anti-monarchy, anti-wealth eco-zealot Marxists’ join the government?
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If you were to believe a recent blog by two Labour members for the Tribune, the Scottish Greens have transformed overnight from Scotland’s most radical parliamentary party into a weak-willed outfit of unambitious neoliberals. If that were actually true, it would come as some surprise to our members and voters, never mind the SNP and our opponents in Parliament.
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That being said, despite some inaccuracies and misunderstandings, theirs is probably the best Left critique yet written of our first nine months in government. I’m grateful to Coll and Finn for the healthy challenge they’ve provided and to Bella Caledonia for the chance to respond.
Government moves slowly, but, in the nine months since the Greens joined Scotland’s, we can point to any of a number of examples of policies which are resulting in tangible improvements for people and planet.
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One of the first, delivered while our co-leaders were still getting their feet under the ministerial desks, was a new requirement that any business bidding for a government procurement contract pay at least the Real Living Wage. You could say such a condition is so obvious and reasonable that it should have been done years ago – and you would be right. That doesn’t change the reality that it has only happened as a result of the agreement I co-authored and our presence in government.
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The outcome will be that thousands of low-paid workers’ will see their wages  boosted. This clearly doesn’t go far enough – everyone in Scotland should be paid at least the Real Living Wage. But for as long as wage rates remain reserved to Westminster, this is where we can make progress.
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Similar wage conditions for all public sector grants and a wider conditionality package around fair work and climate action are also now in the works.
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Our most recognisable Green achievement, free bus travel for everyone under 22, has been genuinely transformative for many young people. As the cost of living crisis deepens, it is allowing  families across the country to save thousands of pounds a year. This is where climate justice and social justice come together.
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The rollout of the scheme has come in for some criticism though, and I’ll be the first to admit that it hasn’t been nearly as smooth or accessible as it should have been. Uptake was always going to depend on local councils signing up their young people en-masse but this has been inconsistent, and the online application form was far too onerous for many. In addition, the planned publicity blitz to coincide with the launch in January was shelved due to the omicron wave of covid.
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Those processes have been systematically improved in recent months and nearly four hundred thousand young people now have access to free bus travel. Again, this would not have happened without Greens working to ensure that it did.
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That constant troubleshooting and refinement doesn’t make headlines in the same way that failure does, but that’s the reality of government. I know better than most that being in opposition gives you the luxury of constantly campaigning in poetry whilst your adversaries in power have to plod along governing in prose.
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Now it’s our turn to do the plodding. It won’t always go perfectly and it often won’t look very exciting but that doesn’t change the reality that, thanks to the Scottish Greens, hundreds of thousands of young people have a card in their pockets which makes their lives tangibly better. One care-experienced young person told us that it had ‘opened up the world’ to them. That is what eco-socialism looks like in practice.
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The greatest barrier to the kind of radical structural change the Scottish Greens want to see isn’t the SNP, the civil service or any lack of will on our part – it’s devolution itself.
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The proposed National Energy Company presents the clearest recent example of the deradicalizing nature of the devolved settlement. A state-owned company generating clean renewable energy and providing it at cost to households is exactly what we need right now. It’s not some ideological commitment to the free market which is preventing the Scottish Government doing this, but rather the tedious reality of being a national government without capital borrowing powers.

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To buy or build the infrastructure required to generate electricity at anything approaching a meaningful scale would cost billions. With Scotland’s modest capital spending budget already being cut by Westminster, and the pressing need to deploy it in other areas such as the construction of affordable housing, that just isn’t an option.
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So what about a retail company to compete with the private providers?
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That would leave the Scottish Government buying energy from the companies who generate it and then either selling it to consumers at the same outrageous price as other providers or using its own revenue budget to cut the price. In effect, this would be a roundabout and inefficient way of creating a new social security benefit. It would cost hundreds of millions of pounds a year, also well beyond the capacity of the already overcommitted Scottish budget.
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Parliamentary games designed to accuse us of voting against our own policy might generate headlines for a day or two, but whilst politics seems to be exactly that to Scottish Labour, just a game, the Greens are actually delivering essential relief for families from within government.
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The Scottish Child Payment is being doubled to £20 and then raised again to £25, the Tories’ cruel benefits cap is being mitigated, we’re capping the cost of school uniforms, raising wages through the Living Wage conditions already mentioned and introducing the four day working week in the public sector with no loss of pay. And that’s far from an exhaustive list.
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The Scottish Green Party is anti-capitalist, committed to the replacement of this ruinous economic system with a model of eco-socialism which puts people and planet first, not profit. We’re also smart enough to know that while Holyrood can do great things right now, it is only with the full powers of independence that our Parliament will have the potential to become the source of genuinely revolutionary change.
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Last summer we could have maintained our ideological purity but at a cost to the people who urgently needed our help. We could have settled for the comfortable role of opposition, but instead we seized the historic opportunity to move a centrist government firmly to the left, albeit within the frustrating confines of the devolved settlement.
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It is clear that left wing voters in Scotland agree with us. Our recent polling and electoral success is evidence enough, but even if it had proven otherwise, I wouldn’t have regretted it. The Left has a moral obligation not just to fight for people and planet at every opportunity but to actually win. As Podemos founder Pablo Iglesias says, radical politics will be judged by the public just like all the others, by its results.

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Comments (23)

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  1. Alistair MacKichan says:

    Well written, properly put-together account by one of Scottish politics annoying newcomers. Scores heavily on several major pointers towards a renewed Scotland. Delightfully in house as well, ignoring Westminster and avoiding the need to cite European dependency as well. Scotland can do it, and the Greens are proving a refreshing stimulus.

  2. Tom Ultuous says:

    I agree with much of what you say Ross but, as you also say, without independence the govt are operating while handcuffed.

    I don’t know if you’ll be able to answer this on a public forum so just ignore the question if that’s the case. What is the Scottish govt position on the GERS figures? As far as I’m concerned they’re fabricated and it wouldn’t be logical to think otherwise. I mean, why would Whitehall tell the truth about what Scotland contributes to the UK given their Eton masters so desperately want to hang on to us? There’s no way Scotland can check the accuracy of these figures as they have to take Westminster on its word regarding how much they collect from corporation tax, VAT, national insurance, dividend tax, fuel / alcohol / tobacco duty, north sea licences, airport duties etc. etc. Yet, looking at this https://www.gov.scot/publications/government-expenditure-revenue-scotland-2020-21/ it’s almost as if the Scottish govt are rubber stamping them..

    Will the govt be challenging these figures in the run up to the referendum or is the odious Andrew Neil going to get another go at telling us all how we’ll be 15 billion worse off from the outset as he did on a recent interview with NS? They claim to be subsidising us yet they recently hit the North Sea cartel with a windfall tax to alleviate the misery for the whole of the UK. Were we independent, the Scottish govt could’ve done the same and distributed 12.5 times what the Tories are giving people.

    https://www.businessforscotland.com/revealed-the-accounting-trick-that-hides-scotlands-wealth/
    https://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2021/08/18/why-gers-is-wrong-yet-again/
    https://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2019/08/21/the-gers-data-is-ludicrous-scotland-does-not-generate-60-of-the-uks-net-fiscal-deficit/
    https://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2021/05/05/how-much-debt-would-scotland-owe-the-rest-of-the-uk-if-it-were-to-be-independent/

    1. 220614 says:

      Aren’t GERS reports produced by statisticians in the Scottish government and independently assessed as being based on appropriate methods and without political interference?

      If so, on what basis would you have us distrust them? Is the Scottish government ‘at it’?

      1. Tom Ultuous says:

        The statisticians cannot produce them without getting figures from Westminster unless they’re guessing.

        1. 220614 says:

          So, what are you saying;

          that the Scottish government has no handle on its net fiscal balance – i.e. the difference between the amount it spends and the revenue it receives – but needs the UK government to tell it what this is;

          that the independent UK Statistics Authority isn’t independent in its assessment of the Scottish government’s performance in producing its GERS reports and/or doesn’t assess them against the industry standards set out in its own Code of Practice for Statistics?

          I could believe that the data that the Scottish government statisticians use of low grade (my partner works as an analyst within the Scottish government and is forever complaining that its data gathering function is crap and that it consequently has to conduct much of its business on the basis of ‘estimates’ rather than hard data), but I’d find it hard to believe that the Scottish government doesn’t know how much it spends on public services and how much revenue it has to so spend or that the UK Statistics Authority would let it away with dodgy reporting of this.

          1. Tom Ultuous says:

            No, I’m talking about the “deficit”. How can they work that out without knowing the amounts Westminster collects from the majority of taxes in Scotland? I’m saying they can’t and therefore the GERS figures are dependent on what Westminster feeds them.

          2. 220615 says:

            But all estimates for Scotland made within GERS are conducted by the Scottish government. The UK government does not estimate for Scotland, nor is it involved in agreeing the data to be used by the Scottish government.

            I suspect that what you’re driving at is the limited value of the GERS reports that the Scottish government produces as a source of information. And you’d be right; the methodology by which that information is arrived at is problematic, casting doubt over the reports’ credibility. Save for a few local revenues, separate identification of most other revenues for Scotland isn’t possible; the Scottish government just doesn’t gather that data. GERS, therefore, uses a number of different methodologies to apportion nominal shares of UK revenues to Scotland. The GERS reports acknowledge themselves, in their preliminary sections on methodology, the theoretical and practical challenges in determining an appropriate share of UK revenues to allocate to Scotland. There are a variety of alternative methodologies that could be applied that would lead to different estimates. It’s a pretty blatant case of starting with the answer you want and working out the ‘estimates’ backwards.

            The basic revenue numbers in the Scottish government’s GERS reports are more or less guesswork. This all came out in 2014 , when the Scottish government used the GERS figures from its 2013 report to make the financial case in its independence white paper (the referenda of the 2014 referendum), which purported to show that, compared to other parts of the UK, Scotland contributed more tax per head, had stronger public finances, and had much higher GDP per head.

            Unfortunately for the Scottish government, the figures from its 2014 GERS report (which it published just before the referendum vote), based on the same problematic methodologies, indicated a weakening of the Scottish economic position compared to previous years, which basically undermined the government’s own financial case for its independence as contained in the referenda. The government lost the referendum, the English were blamed for feeding the Scottish public fake information, and the rest -as they say – is history.

          3. Tom Ultuous says:

            “It’s a pretty blatant case of starting with the answer you want and working out the ‘estimates’ backwards.”

            But it’s the answer Westminster wants which is why I’m saying it must be based on what Westminster SAYS it collected from Scotland. Otherwise why not estimate it to suggest we’re being ripped off which, in reality, might be the case?

          4. 220615 says:

            But that’s part of the problem: the UK government doesn’t have that data to give.

            More directly collected revenue data is available to the Scottish government following increased devolution in recent years. The extension of Scottish income tax powers has made it possible to directly identify Scottish income tax receipts, and the income tax revenue figured in GERS since 2017-18 is based on actual receipts, whereas before it was estimated using a sample of income taxpayers. For other revenues where revenue data is not available, similar estimation of these receipts is required.

            For revenues that are only collected on a UK-wide level, apportionment methodologies are applied to estimate GERS data, the details of which are set out in painstaking detail in the accompanying methodology documents. Estimation based on internationally accepted and accredited practice is common in economic statistics. Figures for GDP, national accounts, labour productivity, unemployment, and employment within any territory – the sort of information that politicians commonly refer to as ‘facts’ – are all based on estimation to a greater or lesser extent. For example, the widespread ranking of the economy within the geographical territory of Scotland as fourth in the UK (behind the territories of London, the South East, and the East of England) in terms of economic activity on a per capita basis is based on estimation; we don’t have actual data, since no one gathers it.

            For example, the Scottish government appoints revenue generated from fuel duties to Scotland by estimating Scotland’s share of UK fuel consumption. This estimation is based on UK road traffic fuel consumption broken down by territory, which is based on weighted traffic flows on a sample of roads across the UK. GERS applies this estimate to statistically apportion Scotland’s notional share of the UK’s total fuel duty revenue.

            The GERS methodologies papers provide a more in-depth outline of the methodologies used to estimate revenue and spending data. There’s no need to postulate a UK government conspiracy to explain the figures. It’s just statistics.

          5. Tom Ultuous says:

            Did you read any of the links I posted on my opening post?

          6. 220615 says:

            Yes, I did.

            And I agree with Richard Murphy: ‘we need to keep asking that the Scottish government does better’. And I too ‘remain baffled as to why they do not want to do so.’

    2. Paddy Farrington says:

      I really think that attacking GERS is a blind alley. Worse than that, it makes independence supporters look like flat earthers howling at the moon (added to which, some of the technical arguments in the referenced documents are just plain wrong). The methodology of GERS is perfectly well-suited to its purpose, which is to quantify Scotland’s fiscal position within the UK as presently constituted. There is no conspiracy here. Similar quantifications can be done, and are done, for Wales, Northern Ireland and the English regions. And what they reveal is the chronic imbalance in the UK economy: in recent years, only London, the South East and the East of England register a positive balance.

      This should be used by the independence movement to illustrate the extent to which Scotland’s economy is underperforming as part of the Union. Under this reading, GERS strengthens the argument for change. Certainly, GERS says nothing about Scotland’s wealth, or its likely fiscal position under independence. Furthermore, we can readily point to changes in policy which would have a direct beneficial impact on that position – for example, not spending billions on what Harold Wilson once called Britain’s nuclear so-called independent so-called deterrent.

      1. Tom Ultuous says:

        I agree with much of what you say particularly given the near 100% yoon media bias. It really angers me though that Scotland supposedly require a subsidy similar to NI & Wales despite all its natural resources. While you might say this fits in with your “this should be used by the independence movement to illustrate the extent to which Scotland’s economy is underperforming as part of the Union” yet they’ve only recently used a windfall tax on North sea profits to bail out the whole UK.

        I agree with 22 & Richard Murphy: ‘we need to keep asking that the Scottish government does better’. Are they keeping the truth as a wee surprise if we get independence?

  3. SleepingDog says:

    Well, the Tribune article seemed a bit confused, considering that many trade unions are and have been focused on maintaining the status quo for their members, not least in Scotland’s vibrant arms industries, a topic which I believe the article’s author has published words on:
    https://greens.scot/ross-greer-msp/arms-trade

    But even before entering government, the Scottish Greens seemed somewhat less than radical, proposing weak, optional agreements with business rather than enforcement, as if an honour system could ever work in capitalism. Sure, these are recipes for greenwashing, perhaps calculating that the Greens political strength would always remain weak (and perhaps helping to ensure that would be the case for the foreseeable future). I remember a manifesto calculator that put the Social Democrats further along the radical environmental spectrum. And however radical some facets of the UK Labour Party were, in office they were always a party of Empire, and this pattern stubbornly persists. Greens, or Limes?

    As I have said before, environmentalism does not fit on the left-right continuum (see Australian Teals), you have to have a more complex and planetary-realistic model of political ideologies. And we may need forms of ecological austerity (maintaining egalitarian wealth through digital riches and public commons etc.) to keep within planetary boundaries.

    The problem with socialism is that it is another humanism, a human-first non-realistic ideology, that may serve only under a more planet-encompassing one. Political parties are themselves biased with speciecism and human flaws. Government should serve non-human life (which acts as a support system for human life, its secondary concern) first, with economy relegated to third place. At least, that is the biocratic model. #biocracynow

    I suppose the question posed by this article is: do we have enough time for parties like the Scottish Greens to make their incremental improvements? And will the jump to independence make enough difference, if we maintain the same model of political system (parties representing humanist or quasi-humanist interests)? Given that some current actions of government are still contributing towards global emergencies and threats?

  4. Dougie Harrison says:

    Well said Ross. I’m proud to be a member of the Scottish Green Party. Achieving anything in a Holyrood Parliament when one’s party is junior partner to an essentially confused (I’m being kind) bunch of semi-progressives like the SNP requires a great deal of political skill and commitment. In a decent world, this will win us more votes and more power. The temptation for any left party in government is to bend with the prevailing right-wing wind. We have the opportunity to do a great deal more in Scotland. Let’s ensure that we continue to achieve it.

  5. Ann Rayner says:

    One thing the Scottish Government could do, even under devolution, is to set up some variation of an Annual Land Value Tax as a replacement for the unfair Council Tax.
    This, as well as being fairer by collecting more from large landowners, would bring in more money which would offset the need for Holyrood to subsidise local government services and so free up cash for things like improving infrastructure and welfare benefits.
    The Green Party used to be in favour of this so why are they not pushing for it?

    1. 220615 says:

      An Annual Ground Rent, which we take all land into common ownership and then rent it back to its users at a rate set by our projected public expenditure, would better replace our current inefficient and inequitable tax-based systems of distributive justice.

  6. David+B says:

    Couldn’t even a very modest Scottish public energy company have been formed to act as a junior partner in just one of the ScotWind consortium bids, in order to build capacity and expertise for the future? Also the supply chain commitments for the successful bids are non-binding and in most cases vague to the point of being utterly meaningless.

    I’d also like to know why SNIB funds are being channelled through a London investment firm (Gresham Capital) and what oversight ScotGov has? In our area Gresham are using public funds to evict 2 crofters and plant Sitka in an area that has substantial regenerating native woodland.

  7. Graeme McCormick says:

    Ross is wrong to state that the SG couldn’t raise the funds to create a nationalised energy company. It could use section 80i of the Scotland Act to create AGFRR and replace all other Scottish taxes and a zero rate income tax on earned income .

    No borrowing would have been involved . The AGFRR model provides for at least £5.5billion of Scottish money to invest each year in Scottish business and technology.

    1. Ann Rayner says:

      If that is correct, it would be a huge boost to the cause of Independence.
      If the Scottish government were to implement this, it would demonstrate that an Independent Scotland could do things differently and better than Westminster.
      What are they waiting for?

    2. Tom Ultuous says:

      I love the simplicity of it. There’s not a lot about it on the internet. I’ve not given it a lot of thought but straight off I’m wondering about the internet giants. For example if Amazon only use land in a foreign country (like England) but deliver all over Scotland they’d pay nothing (what’s new I suppose). Would there be a case for some kind of ‘virtual land’ tax? A state run internet provider (free broadband for all) and tax is paid on website hits? Something along those lines.

      I’ve always thought technology would offer a solution. For example all financial transactions have to pass through a govt hub which keeps track of all your transactions and assets and a transfer tax is paid on the net transfer from one person / business to another [Rebates available e.g. £100 from A to B – B pays x% tax on £100, £100 from B to A, as net transfer is zero x% of £100 is rebated to B]. Add to that a tax on savings (money not working) beyond a certain amount. And so on. Throw in UBI. Even drug pushers would be paying tax (assuming they could find a way of concealing the true nature of their transactions).

      Another thing I’ve always fancied that the Scottish govt should look at is a tradesmen app a bit like RatedPeople or whatever. If you need a tradesman a govt dept sends out a surveyor (good job for a retired tradesman), he puts his assessment of the job on the website, tradesmen bid, govt dept award the job, oversee it to the end and ensure it’s of good quality. No more tax dodging on cash only jobs. No more cowboys. A lot less stress for Scottish citizens.

      1. 220618 says:

        That’s far too much power to be giving a government. Just imagine how it could be abused!

        1. Tom Ultuous says:

          The only information they could extract from the system compared to what they can extract from the current system would belong to criminals and tax dodgers. Feel free to supply other cases.

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