Explainer

What's left of the SNP-Green Bute House Agreement now? 

Many of the Green Party's flagship policies have been scrapped or delayed - so where does the landmark deal stand?

What’s left of the SNP and Green’s Bute House Agreement after major policies dropped from deal Scottish Government

In the summer of 2021, the SNP and Greens signed a landmark deal agreeing to more than 150 policy commitments.

The Bute House Agreement (BHA) gave the SNP a majority in the Scottish Parliament and saw two Green MSPs enter government in a UK first.

It spanned areas from independence to housing and was lauded by Nicola Sturgeon as a “new and better way of doing politics”.

But in recent months some of the flagship policies agreed in the deal have been delayed or scrapped.

So what’s left of the Bute House Agreement?

Independence

Independence plans detailed in the Bute House Agreement have not come to fruition.Getty Images

The BHA promised to secure an independence referendum after the Covid crisis “within the current parliamentary session on a specific date to be determined by the Scottish Parliament”.

The agreement stated that after the pandemic the intention would be for a vote to be held in the first half of the parliamentary term.

The latter hasn’t happened and few expect the former to either.

When she was first minister, Sturgeon wanted to hold a referendum in October 2023 but her plans were scrapped when the Supreme Court ruled Holyrood didn’t have the power to hold the vote on independence without the agreement of Westminster.

Both the Greens and the SNP have accused successive UK Governments of “ignoring the mandate of the Scottish people”, pointing to the majority the parties hold together in the Scottish Parliament.

Westminster has noted polls which fail to show majority support for holding another referendum.

Gender equality and trans rights

The Scottish Government's gender reforms were blocked by the UK Government.STV News

As part of the deal, both parties agreed to reform the Gender Recognition Act in a bill to be introduced in the first year of this parliamentary session.

The BHA said the changes “will ensure the process by which a trans person can obtain legal recognition is simplified, reducing the trauma associated with that process”.

In December 2021, MSPs passed the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill by 86 to 39 with cross-party support.

But just a month later, Scottish secretary Alister Jack took the unprecedented move to veto the bill with a Section 35 order.

He cited concerns about the impact of the legislation on UK-wide equality laws.

The Scottish Government is set to go to court in September to challenge the block.

Marine protections

The Scottish Government have scrapped plans to bring in new conservation areas.STV News

The deal vowed to make 10% of Scotland’s waters Highly Protected Marine Areas (HPMA) by 2026.

The policy is aimed at restoring coastal habitats and biodiversity while making fishing more sustainable in the long term.

But it was met with a furious backlash from the fishing industry, opposition parties and some rural SNP politicians.

On Thursday, net zero secretary Mairi McAllan scrapped the conservation plans saying the proposals would not progress in their current form.

In a statement after the decision, Green MSP Ariane Burgess said a balance must be struck on the issue, and thanked the Government for recommitting to marine protections.

Deposit return scheme

The flagship recycling rollout has been postponed again after Westminster failed to grant approval for glass to be included.STV News

The deposit return scheme was not mentioned in the BHA but falls under Green MSP Lorna Slater, whose position in Government is due to the agreement.

The deal also makes clear that it is about more than its policy commitments, and more widely gives the Green Party a chance to shape and influence policies within the Scottish Executive.

The Greens have spearheaded the flagship recycling programme but it has been hit with multiple delays and is now scheduled to be introduced in 2025.

Like other Green-supported policies, this one was partially vetoed by the UK Government, which rejected its request to include glass, a key component of the scheme.

National Care Service

The deadline to debate the Scottish Government's flagship centralising social care Bill has been pushed back until next year.STV News

The Greens promised to co-design and establish a National Care Service.

The flagship social care policy would have seen social care taken out of the hands of local authorities and given to newly formed, regional care boards which would ultimately be responsible to ministers.

The plans have received scorn from opposition parties, trade unions and Scottish councils for a lack of detail and ballooning costs.

It has been delayed three times, with ministers hoping to find a compromise on the deal – but the timeline remains unclear.

Housing

The Greens have lauded controls around rents and evictions as a major influence of their party in government.iStock

The Bute House Agreement vowed to take action to improve the affordability and quality of rented homes while tackling homelessness.

It pledged better tenants’ rights, greater protections for evictions over the winter and introduced rent controls.

Rents were frozen until March this year while evictions under most circumstances were banned.

After the freeze ended, a 3% cap was placed on rent rises, which will continue until at least March.

“This has made such a tangible impact on so many people’s lives,” Ross Greer told STV News.

“That’s the first ever Green bill anywhere in the UK and as a result there are people still in their homes who otherwise would have been facing homelessness.”

The Green MSP added: “If you’re looking for a top example of the tangible impact on people’s lives from having Greens in government it’s definitely the rent freeze.”

Greer said fuller controls around rent as well as new rights for tenants, including the ability to decorate your rented flat and own a pet, will also be introduced in the current parliamentary term by tenants rights minister Patrick Harvie.

Transport

Under-22s are now entitled to free buses in Scotland.Aberdeen City Council

The Greens announced a variety of pledges on transport, including reducing car usage and encouraging public transport and active travel.

Free bus travel for under 22s was not included in the policy document but has been championed by the Greens in Government and has proven popular with young people across the country.

The Greens say policies like these go a long way to their goal of reducing climate emissions by encouraging public transport.

“This is something we are really, really proud of,” Greer said. “Two-thirds of young people are now walking around with a pass in their pocket allowing them to travel on the bus for free thanks to the Greens.”

The Greens have also taken credit for the six-month pilot to scrap peak fares on ScotRail services. The policy was not specifically outlined in the BHA but it did commit to a Fair Fares Review.

Child poverty

The Scottish Government has described the Scottish Child Payment as 'game-changing'.iStock

The agreement announced the SNP and Green Party’s commitment to eradicating child poverty.

It promised to “significantly increase” the level of the Scottish Child Payment.

Since then it has increased from £20 a week per child a week to £25.

However, despite Scottish Government targets, just four local authority areas in Scotland had child poverty rates below 18% in 2021/22, according to research by Loughborough University.

The Government aims to have all areas under this target by 2023/24, and under 10% by 2030.

Glasgow City, North Ayrshire and Clackmannanshire had the highest child poverty rates, with 32%, 29% and 28.3% respectively.

Scottish Conservative chairman Craig Hoy MSP said: “Scotland would be better off if the Bute House Agreement was torn up – but sadly there’s no chance of that happening, given how starry-eyed Humza Yousaf is over the SNP’s pact with the extremist Scottish Greens. 

“The First Minister may have kicked the can down the road on HPMAs to placate some SNP backbenchers but the fact that the Greens are happy tells you all you need to know – namely that these damaging restrictions on fishing are to be rebranded.

“On a whole host of issues – oil and gas, dualling of the A9 and A96, gender recognition reform and the Deposit Return Scheme – the Green tail is wagging the SNP dog. Sadly Scotland, especially rural Scotland, is suffering as a result.

“Only the Scottish Conservatives are standing up to this toxic alliance and focusing on the people’s real priorities.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “The Bute House Agreement is an important departure in Scottish politics. It represents a model of co-operation and brings Green ministers into government for the first time anywhere in the UK.

“It has resulted in considerable progress in delivering on the things that matter to the people of Scotland, including increasing the Scottish Child Payment to £25, introducing free bus travel for young people, beginning the work on a new National Park, bringing ScotRail into public ownership and launching a £65m Nature Restoration Fund.

“At a time of huge challenges, most urgently, the cost of living crisis, the Bute House Agreement is delivering for the people of Scotland. The Scottish Government is fully accountable to Parliament.”

The full Bute House Agreement document can be found here.

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