Green Day: Leadership Failures and Independence

The Scottish Green Party has been for most of its existence a flat democracy, where everyone gets a say and debates can, and usually do, become lengthy. Party conference rarely completes the matters up for vote. For many, this level of debate is what democracy should look like.
Sadly, over the last five years this flat democracy has been in decline.
In the aftermath of the 2021 election, the expanded parliamentary group of MSPs and staff began to give the impression they would rather broadcast than listen. As a group they were fully behind the Bute House Agreement when it was debated, a debate where views critical of the agreement were given short shrift and legitimate concerns were dismissed. For those not supportive of the BHA, there was a sense of being railroaded.

Following the signing of the BHA the party’s co-leaders became triply-employed, being also MSPs and ministers. Not only was this a lot of power for just two people, it was concerning that as ministers their boss was the leader of a different party.

A party leader should be able to criticise other parties when necessary. A minister is expected to support the government. Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater, as co-leaders and government ministers, demonstrably had a conflict of interests. This gave rise to a motion at the 2023 autumn conference to address the issue, however the motion fell, with the co-leaders essentially saying ‘trust us’.
That same weekend saw another example of egregious leadership by Slater, when she said during a BBC interview that independence was ‘absolutely not’ a red line for the Scottish Greens. Aside from her being flat out wrong*, this manner of authoritative statement is not how the party works, which often identifies itself as being member-led.
On top of this internal leadership problem, there was a growing public problem in the BHA. Witness the announcement of the Council Tax freeze, a major policy change made without SGP input, breaking the terms of the BHA. That agreement was put under further strain when the Scottish Government abandoned its climate change targets.
It is quite staggering that those in government appeared to believe that such an event would be okay with Green members. Was the major party of government given bad advice from an out of touch Green leadership? Or was it a demonstration of how little attention was paid to the Greens by the larger party? For all that Green members were told it was important that we were ‘in the room’, how much influence can we believe our MSPs had when the government decided to scrap Scotland’s primary environmental target?
After the announcement, we saw Patrick Harvie endorse the policy platform that included the abandonment, while Lorna Slater simply hid for many days. It appeared the Greens had no leaders able to defend party principles. This was troubling not just because membership felt abandoned, but also because, for those less into politics, the environment is seen as the entire point of the party. Some pondered what the point of the Greens was, when they didn’t seem to stand up for green issues.
So whether it was through a collapsing BHA or poor party leadership, the abandonment of climate change targets was a compromise too far. An EGM was called, ostensibly to debate the BHA, however many wanted to also debate the roles and identities of the party leaders.
The quality of that leadership was further demonstrated when Harvie and Slater were seemingly blindsided by Yousaf’s ending of the BHA, an event that should not have been a surprise. The co-leader’s response to the sacking only served to underline their inability to make good choices, when they decided to publicly to back a vote of no confidence in the First Minister. Whilst being technically explainable, this was primarily seen as the Greens siding with the Tories, the kind of decision people tend to not forget. A harsh reading might suggest that it was a leadership choice as short sighted as Yousaf’s ending of the BHA. Was there no possibility of swallowing some pride and making use of the suddenly available leverage?
Internally, an email from the co-leaders about the BHA termination stated ‘The First Minister has decided to capitulate to the most reactionary backwards looking forces within the SNP.… [he will be] shoring up support from his conservative wing and ditching the progressive policy platform he was elected on…’ Even a week ago when this was written, it looked like presumptive, petty, point-scoring. Hindsight suggests that, again, the party co-leaders judgement was questionable.
After all that has happened, some are arguing that the Scottish Greens don’t stand for independence and don’t care about environmental issues. Whilst party members will tell you this is not true, given recent events it is understandable that non-members might believe it.
Presently, it is unclear if the EGM will go ahead. The BHA is gone and the party high heid yins are keen to move on, keen to avoid any blame. Many are not going to accept that. Some in the SNP are talking of the need for a reset. The Scottish Greens would benefit from the same.
*Note that independence for Scotland remains a Scottish Greens policy, as it has done since at least 2002. Smaller and more localised government is a key green principle.

Comments (25)

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  1. Cathie Lloyd says:

    I wonder who wrote this? It’d be good to know.
    I’m unclear what they think happened when the SNP recognised that they couldnt achieve the 2030 target (but maintained commitment to the longer term). We have known that Scotland (and the UK) were falling behind in how they were approaching the net zero targets (check several Climate Change Committee reports over years). I’d like to know what both SNP and Greens were talking about when this disparity was becoming clearer. Further, how many checks are we subjecting policies to in terms of their meeting net zero targets? Fraser of Allander recently reported that there is a laxity in Scottish government scrutiny of poliicies. At a UK level, the government has been found in breach of legal commitments to monitor this and has been sent back to the drawing board on its policies. So do we need to be more rigorous all round on carbon reduction? This is something we must do together.

      1. Topher Dawson says:

        Like Cathy I wonder who wrote this, and I wonder, like John Wood, why the writer completely skates over the role of the gender issue in all this.
        The first draft of the message to members (I am one) calling for them to sign the petition calling for an EGM mentioned only one issue as the trigger for leaving the BHA, and it was the cessation of puberty blocking hormones for adolescents at the Sandyford Clinic in Glasgow.

        A couple of days later a second draft of the message come out, and the puberty blocking issue has receded to second place among 5 issues. In this draft the missed climate targets made an appearance.

        Humza Yousaf is reported to have said that Harvie’s refusal to back the Cass Report was what led him to end the BHA.

        Many members have left the Scottish Greens over this, or been hounded out. I am expecting to be ejected for signing the Scottish Green Womens Declaration. It is ridiculous that this issue which affects half of one percent of the population is wagging the dog, but it needs to be called out.

  2. John Wood says:

    Good piece.
    I was a Green Party member and activist for many years, serving as branch treasurer for the Highlands and Islands, campaigning in numerous elections, representing the party as an official observer at the 2014 referendum count in Dingwall, and standing as a candidate.

    The party was effectively taken over by people who seem to have little idea what ‘Green’ really means. The prospect of power destroyed them. There was even a proposal to redesignate the party a ‘socialist’ party which I fought; and I engaged (unsuccessfully) on a number of policy changes where I saw the party departing from its principles.

    When the transgender agenda surfaced, I was puzzled. I hadn’t come across it before and wanted to know more about it. But I discovered that no debate was possible, in fact for simply asking questions I was subjected to a barrage of vitriolic abuse. At about the same time I disagreed with the party’s endorsement of ‘vaccine passports’, despite having previously opposed them. I was shocked. The result was I found myself suddenly ejected from membership. By automated email. No due process or even response to enquiries. Later I was invited to rejoin on condition I accepted the new policies. I declined. It was no longer the party I loved.

    The party that supposedly believed that small is beautiful, that politics should be decentralised and accountable, started promoting the opposite. The party that claimed to listen to members and debate issues took up an , aggressive ‘culture wars’ attitude.

    It is my belief that (perhaps with the possibility of power) the party somehow became controlled by corporate interests with an agenda diametrically opposed to genuine green principles. Like all the other major parties, the principles and people they once represented have been abandoned. Politics is just run by the advertising industry now. Tell ’em anything to get elected. So whoever we vote for we get ‘neoliberalism’. It’s Putin’s ‘managed democracy. It’s Orwellian. We are all now bought and sold for corporate gold.

    The result is that the Scottish Green Party has utterly betrayed its members and voters. Just like all the other major parties. Even if Harvey and Slater resign, I don’t think its reputation is now recoverable. It’s hard to forgive.

    I want an independent Scotland that does things differently – in the genuine interest of people and planet rather than corporate greed. If ‘independence’ now just means more of the same – dictatorship by international organised criminals who despise the whole idea of democracy or national sovereignty – it will never satisfy.

    As it stands, the Scottish Greens have lost my vote. If John Swinney fails to turn the SNP into a party we can believe in again, it will be independent candidates, or a spoiled ballot, for me from now on.

    Or maybe a new party, that is not just corporate greenwash.

    1. David Jardine says:

      Sorry to hear you were summarily ejected from the SGP John, I didn’t know! Your story reads like another example of abuse of power and of the Party’s rules. (c.f. Dennis Archer’s letter in Sunday’s Herald.)

  3. Paddy Farrington says:

    I’m sure there are plenty of criticisms to be made of the Scottish Green Party and the choices of its leaders since the Bute House Agreement was signed in 2021. But are there really no positives at all to take home from this experience of cross-party collaboration? I for one was sorry to see it end in the way it did. And I look forward to a more balanced assessment.

  4. N says:

    As a Green voter (but not member) I think the writer has a point. If the greens are to break beyond the 8% mark, get more MSPs and have more influence on policy they need to change.

    Not in principles, but in communication and persuasion of people to vote for their policy platform which definitely has more support than their votes right now.

    I’m no expert in how to do that, but I’m not convinced if the current leadership is either.

  5. Tom Ultuous says:

    Given that Alba voted with the Tories on the motion of no confidence in the govt I don’t think the Greens will be losing any SNP second votes. The alternative committed bigger suicide than the greens.

  6. David Mackenzie says:

    Yes, I do think a reset is needed. I was disappointed that we missed a huge opportunity to take the high ground on the BHA ending. It was an open goal.

  7. Green Dundee says:

    We’re going to soon see what leverage Green MSPs had as we now have an SNP minority govt, which is what we would have had without the Bute House Agreement.

    It’s hard to believe that the minority SNP government won’t water down climate policies or rent controls and even less likely that it will stick to strong equality policies such as the conversion practice ban.

  8. C CFerguson says:

    I used to be a Green party member but left for a number of reasons. The final straw was when I got sectarian abuse from another party member. When I reported it the party did nothing and just wanted to sweep it under the carpet. I then realised that virtually no party member was aware of the sectarianism in Scotland; without at least being aware of that, you can not be aware of Scottish politics.

    Before that I’d been in a group of members after an indy march. I mentioned one person who is very effective at getting the indy message across. One of those present, a Councillor, retorted “he’s transphobic” shouting down any further conversation with an attitude of “no further comment allowed”. I note no evidence was given. Then there was the ousting of Andy Wightman, a huge asset to any party that wants to promote the rights of citizens to their country, against big vested interests. All he had wanted to do was attend a talk on the opposite side of the debate on trans and gender to get a balanced and aware view.

    After all these I realised that there was no democracy or open debate in the SGP. Now thus view has been strengthened.

    It appears to those observing not in the party that they were just having a petulant huff. Harvie and Slater in Government did not give a good impression of themselves or the Greens. I too was horrified when they were both siding with the Tories. That should be anathema to the Greens, a red line not to cross. And we remember what happened to Labour when it aligned itself with the Tories!

    The Greens have depended hugely on people’s second vote for list seats in the Scottish elections. Very many of them came from those who voted SNP first, as they had good will to the Greens for their environmental stance and their apparent stance on democracy in the party. I think they have now blown that. A party with only 8% of the vote can not afford to lose votes. This debacle will have got many peoples backs up and antipathy to the Greens and will lose them hugely in votes. I can see in the next election their number of MSPs cut substantially and the party cast out into the political wilderness, blowing years of effort to get votes and MSPs

  9. David Jardine says:

    The Scottish Green Party Executive has cancelled the called-for Emergency General Meeting – because the Bute House Agreement was cancelled by the SNP government. Ordinary members of the SGP will not now have the chance to debate the issues surrounding the Bute house Agreement – climate targets, the Cass Report etc.

  10. David B says:

    This “you voted with the Tories” stuff is pathetic and needs to end. The idea that you can’t express no confidence in a failing SNP government because doing so would be voting with the Tories – this is partly why we’re stuck where we are. The SNP have voted with the Tories plenty of times e.g. recently to scupper Mark Griffin’s industrial injuries advisory council bill, which was backed by the trade unions.

    1. Tom Ultuous says:

      If you’re talking about the Alba vote, it’s hardly the same thing is it? What would’ve been the result of a no confidence vote in the Scottish govt succeeding? An election in the middle of a Very British Coup and a tsunami of anti-SNP propaganda? That would hardly have advanced the independence cause.

      1. Jo G says:

        Why would Ash Regan declare confidence in a government which had not yet confirmed that changes would be made to protect women and girls? This was the very reason Regan stood down before from her government post. Why would she forget that?

        1. Tom Ultuous says:

          If you’re referring to the gender reforms (that would’ve passed had the SNP abstained) then AR is effectively stating the Tory party is the only party she can work with. That despite the fact that the Tories only stepped in for political reasons rather than ideological ones.

    2. John says:

      Nonsensical David B – this was a VOC in the SNP government not a vote on an individual issue.
      I am a constituent of Ash Regan who was elected as an SNP MSP, ran for leadership of SNP and then switched parties. If Ash had any honesty she would put herself up for election in Edinburgh East rather than voting for the government she was a member of to go up for election.

  11. Michael Marten says:

    As a fellow Green member, I completely agree with the sentiments expressed here.
    Slater had and has no mandate to decide on SGP policy regarding independence.

  12. Satan says:

    I was hoping that Harvie and Slater would resign as party leaders, like they said they would.

    I think the SGP have turned into a party of upper bourgoise self-entitlement (look at my £50,000 hybrid SUV, that weighs 1.75 MT when I’m not in it – great for outoftown park’n’shop). In government they rocked-up with a usless pair of clowns who were given made-up ministerial positions. Here’s what they achieved: emissions target fucked, gender stuff fucked, a deposit-return scheme fucked, fixation with heat pumps fucked. They managed to fuck-up badly in a short space of time. The only thing that seems to keep them afloat is that more than half SGP member are a bit in favour of Scottish independence, so they get a second vote from people who couldn’t care less about the environment but want to feel a bit green. Why are Harvie and Slater still party leaders?

    1. John says:

      As ever Satan you ‘contribute’ a cartoon type post with no intellectual or factual content with the usual swear words to try and prove you are some sort of fearsome critic.
      Your posts add absolutely nothing to the debate.

      1. Satan says:

        Slater & Harvie did say they would resign if the power-sharing agreement was scrapped. The last climate-change march I attended was lead by a young guy with an accent out of P.G. Wodehouse who shouted ‘fack’ a lot through a megaphone (I doubt he has spent a long time with very coarse men). The attendees were straight out of Fettes. In government, all major policies within Harvie & Slater’s remits failed badly. Those things have nothing to do with Ash Regan.

        1. John says:

          ‘Coarse men’ – WTF are you going on about FFS!
          Ash Regan is my local MSP who was elected as an SNP representative. She jumped to Alba (who have never had any representative elected) without resigning her seat.
          She was shown up as a lightweight nobody during leadership contest. Her primary interest appears to be self promotion as she has turned into a tv rent a quote. She will be out on her arse in 2026 if she stands in same constituency as a representative of Alba.

  13. Neil Barnes says:

    This is a very unfair, process/system/leadership style critique rather than looking at the substance and differences we Scottish Greens actually made, hampered by a culture still utterly immersed in unsustainable neo-liberal economic policies steeped in the fantasy that the Earth is infinite and nature is a dump that can be neglected for our total unadulterated exploitation and fantasy land eternal growth policies! Some of the comments below are very unfair too. You are allowed to miss targets. That’s why they’re called targets. We don’t always get there. We Greens have always been the only party that treats Nature, the environment, human and ecosystem health as no.1 above all else. Which is 100% correct as we won’t have an economy if we don’t protect the former. Lorna & Patrick were the first Green Ministers in power to chart a new course. Did they get everything right? No. Has any politician? Did they implement innovative policies and funds that would help us towards Net Zero more rapidly. Yes. A variety across biodiversity, marine, land, energy, public transport & reuse/recycling. Have they all succeeded? No. Was it all their fault? No. Were they open, honest, democratic & fair? Yes. Were the new policy developments evidence-based? Absolutely. Did they use best practice and good science? Yes. Did they get all the adminstrative aspects right and everyone completely on board? No. But many of those factors were beyond their control, e.g. UK Gov crushing GRS & DRS. We Greens are painstakingly democratic in our policy developments etc. But this conscientiousness is rarely applauded. The Greens have been attacked time immemorial because people are in denial or don’t care about environmental impacts.

    The Greens are the true party of independence believing local is beautiful and that starts with our country being given it’s own autonomy and full control of its economy. Not patronised by an Etonian elite.

    As for transgender issues, we Greens are simply asking for fair rights for all and to listen to the needs of another minority group. It appears the Cass Report has been misrepresented in many quarters possibly by the Greens too. But how dare anyone question Greens – or any politician for that matter – that we don’t have the best interests of our children at heart.

    Our membership is still rising and we are very popular amongst young people, who really care about our planet.

    Time to listen to them.

    1. Satan says:

      I assume you mean the biosphere, rather than the planet. The planet is a nuclear reactor powered orb, is doing fine, and in the past has admirably coped with far higher atmospheric CO2 concentrations. As for the SGP: They have gone corporate.

      1. John says:

        So you’re a climate scientist as well as being a pub bore!
        I will listen to qualified climate scientists who only yesterday warned that global warming is proceeding faster than predicted.
        The impacts are already being seen on agriculture, food supply and displacement of people not to mention the negative impact on animal and plant kingdom. Not to worry though as long as some arsehole who calls himself Satan can sound off against people to boost his fragile self esteem we should ignore the experts.
        You just come over as a pathetic loudmouth.

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