Why the SNP-Green Bute House Agreement is at risk of collapse

Party members will vote on whether to continue the historic power-sharing deal in a move that could see the SNP lose its majority.

For the first time since coming to power, members of the Green Party will vote on whether to continue being part of the Scottish Government.

If members opt to ditch the Bute House Agreement (BHA) with the SNP, co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater would be forced to quit their government roles – taking Humza Yousaf’s working majority with them.

The parties entered into the power-sharing agreement after the 2021 Holyrood when the SNP fell one short of the 65 MSPs needed to form a majority government.

The Greens won a record eight seats, up two from the ballot before, and its position as the only other pro-independence group in Holyrood gave it leverage over the SNP.

By the summer, the two parties had entered into the BHA which included a range of policy commitments on areas from gender to housing and the climate.

Harvie, the longest-serving Green MSP, became minister for zero carbon buildings, active travel and tenants’ rights while his co-leader Lorna Slater became minister for green skills, circular economy and biodiversity.

They were and remain the only Green politicians to have entered into government in the UK.

Despite numerous challenges over the last three years – including the risk of the deal ending if Kate Forbes beat Yousaf in the SNP leadership contest – commitment from either side has been steadfast.

But two major announcements on April 18 exposed a deepening chasm between and within the parties.

‘Greens are being used as a fig leaf for SNP’s woeful and inexcusable climate inaction’

Last week, Scotland’s net zero secretary announced that the Government’s “world-leading” targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 75% by 2030 would be scrapped.

Friends of the Earth described the news as the “worst environmental decision in the history of the Scottish Parliament” while Oxfam said it made Scotland a “global embarrassment”.

Harvie told STV News on the same day that he too was “embarrassed” by the decision and said everyone in Scotland should be angry about his government’s roll-back.

However, the Green minister said he would retain his role and insisted that his party continued to make a positive impact on the Government’s climate response.

From Harvie’s point of view, it’s better inside the tent than out in the cold.

The rumbling from party members, though, has been increasingly spilling out into the public.

Ellie Gomersall, the former co-chair of the Greens’ executive committee, said it was time for her party to “step away” from the Bute House Agreement.

“The announcements made earlier [on Thursday] simply don’t make up for the destructive loss of climate targets won by young people fighting for our future,” she wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

“I was proud to vote for the BHA, but so much has changed since 2021. The SNP have played us for fools.

“It’s time to step away.”

Her sentiment was loudly echoed by Edinburgh Green councillor Chas Booth who wrote to the leadership of the Greens to call an emergency general meeting to consider scrapping the BHA.

He said the mood of the party membership was one of “anger that Scottish Greens are part of a government abandoning climate targets”.

He claimed that the Greens, a party founded on environmentalism, were being “used as a figleaf for the SNP’s woeful and inexcusable climate inaction”.

The Green revolt over the pausing of puberty blockers

But the disquiet wouldn’t end there.

A second prong to the growing internal revolt would soon reveal itself when furious LGBT members of the party announced a petition to consider withdrawing from the BHA.

The Rainbow Greens, which represents LGBT members of the party, protested at Glasgow’s George Square on Thursday against the NHS’s decision to pause the prescription of puberty blockers for new patients.

LGBT members of the Scottish Greens have criticised the Scottish Government over its stance on puberty blockers.STV News

The influential group claimed the Scottish Government “does not care about the welfare or rights of transgender people in Scotland”.

“If the Government fails to keep its promises then the future of the Bute House Agreement is called into question, and the members will demand answers.

“Greens in government would do well to take heed,” Rainbow Greens co-convener Jen Bell said.

The day after, late on Friday night, Slater announced that members would indeed have a vote on whether to continue working with the SNP in government.

The leadership of the Greens has remained committed to continuing the deal, but on Sunday Harvie admitted that he does not know if he will remain in government.

Yousaf: Voting Green is a ‘wasted vote’

A change of tact has not been limited to just party members.

Greens MSP Ross Greer was quick to criticise Yousaf after his surprise decision to freeze council tax nationwide last year, which the Greens only learned of hours before the public.

He said the decision was “not what the Greens would have chosen” and said that he warned SNP ministers “it cannot happen again”.

Both appear to be on good terms, being seen side by side at an independence march in Glasgow on Saturday. And elected Greens have been far less likely to criticise the Bute House Agreement than party members.

From an SNP perspective though, there have always been doubts over the pact.

Humza Yousaf has continued Nicola Sturgeon's legacy of a close alliance with the Scottish Green Party.Getty Images

While Yousaf has spoken highly of the BHA, his SNP leadership rivals Ash Regan – now an Alba MSP – and Kate Forbes called for it to end.

Veteran SNP MSP Fergus Ewing has consistently attacked the junior party, at one point labelling them “wine bar revolutionaries” while MP Joanna Cherry is a frequent critic.

Disagreement over gender self-ID, oil and gas and rural issues has been at the forefront of the debate.

The First Minister said on Friday that while the decision on whether the Greens want to continue with the SNP is one for the party membership, he still saw great “value” in the partnership.

But even that comes off the back of the SNP leader describing voting for the Greens at the general election as a “wasted vote”.

‘They’re stuck together’

Despite the internal heat from party members, external pressures are forcing the SNP-Green alliance to stick, John Curtice suggested.

“When you look at polling data it’s so far not done the Greens any harm,” the polling expert told STV News on the Thursday night before the Greens confirmed the BHA vote.

“Do the Greens think they would have as much influence if they were out of government?

“The Greens compound some of the SNP’s difficulties but their difficulties don’t start there. [The Greens] could be a problem for the Westminster election, and the SNP badly need to squeeze them.”

The SNP and the Greens both benefit from the Bute House Agreement, John Curtice said.Getty Images

Within Holyrood, the SNP has few allies in Labour, the Tories or the Lib Dems, Curtice argued, leaving the Greens as the only viable option.

“Who else is the SNP going to deal with to get a budget through?” he said. “It ain’t going to be the Tories, I don’t think in current circumstances it’s going to be Labour.

“Maybe the Liberal Democrats but even they have a vested interest in the SNP doing badly because they’re hoping to regain third place at Westminster.

“So who are you going to deal with? And that’s maybe part of the SNP’s problems because to get a budget through you’ve got to deal with the Greens anyway.

“And I don’t see why the Greens would pull out because it’s not doing you any damage in the polls and you undoubtedly have more influence in policy than you otherwise would.

“But sure, it means you get more of the flack when life becomes difficult but the net zero thing was not being met long before the Greens went into government.

“So they are rather stuck with each other.”

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