Will history repeat itself? How hoodwinking Harvie swindled Swinney

Last time John Swinney relied on Patrick Harvie the Greens leader broke the deal off at the last minute, writes STV Political Editor Colin Mackay.

Last time John Swinney relied on Patrick Harvie the Greens leader broke his word Getty Images

They say what goes around comes around – I try to avoid cliches like the plague but this one neatly sums up the circularity of Scottish politics.

Monday, May 6, is the 25th anniversary of the first election to the devolved Scottish Parliament.

It was all new and exciting.

Before devolution, Scottish politics for journalists really only happened at election time or at by-elections because the focus was firmly on Westminster.

The Scottish National Party's Nicola Sturgeon (right) with John Swinney behind her listening to party leader Alex Salmond addressing the media at the launch of the SNP's 1999 manifesto for the Holyrood election campaign.

But this was a chance to report on Scottish politics every day with a new parliament in Edinburgh.

I’ve reported on politics from the Scottish Parliament pretty much every day since and it has been, and remains, thrilling.

Humza Yousaf gave a dignified resignation speech at Bute House on Monday; if he’d given the Greens a more dignified way out of the Bute House Agreement he might not have had to make such a hasty exit himself.

It was the threat of a scorned Patrick Harvie and his Green MSPs going against the First Minister in a vote of confidence that forced him out.

If Yousaf had lost that confidence vote it could have ultimately led to a snap election.

Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie.Getty Images

It’s not the first time Harvie has almost brought down an SNP Government.

In 2009, the first minority SNP administration led by Alex Salmond had a deal with the Greens to get its Budget through. Harvie had just taken on the leadership from Robin Harper – there were only two Green MSPs at that time.

At the last minute Harvie changed his mind and didn’t back the Budget. And when I say that, I mean the very last minute, there was much scurrying about in the Debating Chamber during the actual vote, and there were tears amid the anger among SNP ministers.

There was fury at an emergency meeting of the SNP MSPs that evening, but amid it all a calm voice suggested to Salmond that he should just quit and force another election.

John Swinney, Alex Salmond, and Nicola Sturgeon on September 3, 2008.Getty Images

That gave all the other parties the fright of their lives at the prospect of facing another election against a high flying SNP, so soon after the bruising 2007 contest.

The voice of calm came from Glasgow MSP Bashir Ahmad. He was the first Scots Asian, first Muslim member of the Scottish Parliament, and he gave Humza Yousaf his first job in politics.

That’s not the only circular part of this dive into Holyrood history.

The SNP finance secretary in 2009 was John Swinney who felt particularly aggrieved at the failure of his Budget to pass. No one was more angry with the Greens, and Harvie in particular.

Fast forward to 2021 and Swinney and Harvie are back round the negotiating table for the Bute House Agreement.

They had been involved in previous Budget negotiations but this was a much bigger deal, and neither will have forgotten what happened in 2009.

But they managed to move on and agree the power sharing deal that brought the Greens into government for the first time in the UK.

Now it looks like Swinney could be about to become the seventh First Minister of Scotland and whose support will he need for that? Harvie and the Greens.

Trust that collapsed in 2009 has long been rebuilt and is still there despite the betrayal felt by the Greens when they were sacked by Yousaf.

So you see, in Scottish politics, what goes around comes around in so many ways.   

STV News is now on WhatsApp

Get all the latest news from around the country

Follow STV News
Follow STV News on WhatsApp

Scan the QR code on your mobile device for all the latest news from around the country

WhatsApp channel QR Code