By Bill Heaney
Dumbarton man Patrick Harvie and his Green Party colleague Lorna Slater – she of the controversial bottle returning scheme – have warned that they may vote to end the Bute House Agreement if the likes of Kate Forbes or Ash Regan replace Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister.
The SNP may be forced to return to a minority government if the likes of Kate Forbes or Ash Regan win the contest to become the next First Minister.
Scottish Greens sources claimed that they could pull out of the Bute House Agreement if Nicola Sturgeon’s successor is someone from the right of the party.
This would mean that the gender reforms, which are a red line in the coalition agreement, could be parked by the next SNP leader. The Scottish Government has until mid-April to challenge the UK Government’s Section 35 blocking the legislation.
Ms Forbes, a member of the Free Church of Scotland, is known to have major concerns with the reforms and has previously spoken of her deeply held religious beliefs.
Meanwhile, Ms Regan, who announced her campaign on Sunday, voted against the gender reforms and would almost certainly not challenge the UK Government’s decision in court.
Ms Regan, 48, MSP for Edinburgh Eastern, launched her leadership bid in the Sunday Mail, making it clear that her number one priority is the GRR Bill.
She said SNP “need to bring back unity, draw a line under certain things and move past them”, adding her belief that she is “the person to do that”.
However, she also declared she would fight for “independence – nothing less” showing that Nat politicians only ever have one goal in mind – breaking up the United Kingdom.
She also indicated she would be willing to work with Alex Salmond’s Alba Party as part of an ‘Independence Convention’.
The Scottish Greens worked well with Ms Sturgeon because they were on the same page on socially liberal policies such as “buffer zones” to prevent protests outside abortion clinics and banning gay conversion therapy.
But they may face difficulties with Ms Forbes as her church is opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage and is also against banning conversion therapy.
A source told the [Glasgow] Herald: “The risk is that a new SNP leader, a new First Minister, comes in and has a different sense of direction to Nicola Sturgeon, maybe is slightly less keen on the socially progressive policies that Sturgeon was very much a supporter of – someone who doesn’t sit favourably with Greens.
“We Greens tend to be very principled political party. Someone like Kate Forbes [could] come in and while she might not like the buffer zones plans or GRA [Gender Recognition Act] reform but is prepared to accept there is a mandate for them.
“But even in that circumstance I believe a lot of Greens would not be happy and point to things she has said in the past and say ‘we don’t want our party working with you’.”
It is understood that Sturgeon loyalists are looking to push through one of their chosen candidates, most likely Mr Yousaf, as a “continuity First Minister” who would be able to maintain the Bute House Agreement.
But this is facing a stiff fightback from some members of her party who have been unhappy under Ms Sturgeon, including the nine gender rebels. Business minister Ivan McKee has publicly declared his support for Ms Forbes.
Helensburgh man James Mitchell, professor of public policy at Edinburgh University, said it “was not inconceivable” that the Bute House agreement could collapse following the election of a new SNP leader and much depended on who was elected.
He said: “So much will depend on who succeeds Nicola Sturgeon. She leaves her party with a very difficult legacy. The gender recognition issue is bound to be raised in any leadership contest and unless the candidates all agree on a position, it is likely to be very divisive.
“It will be difficult, though not impossible, for anyone who sat in Cabinet supporting the policy to reverse the position. But it is clear that this issue needs to be addressed and has the capacity to undermine SNP support. In addition, it is likely that any successor is unlikely to be as positive as Sturgeon about relations with the Greens in general. It is not inconceivable that relations with the Greens will deteriorate and the agreement collapse.”
If the agreement does collapse, then the SNP would not have enough votes to elect the winning candidate as the new first minister. This could conceivably lead to the government itself collapsing and a snap Holyrood election.
The Nationalists have 64 MSPs – one seat short of a majority – but the SNP has ruled as a minority twice before and the convention is that rival parties would abstain to allow a new leader to be elected, as happened in both 2007 and 2011.
Outspoken MP Joanna Cherry blasted the Scottish Greens threats to end the Bute House Agreement. She said: “They may not get the chance. The Bute House Agreement can be ended by either party. @theSNP has governed very successfully before without an outright majority. Perhaps it’s time for the tail to stop wagging the dog.”
“The Greens’ malign influence is evident in the SNP’s decision to abandon Scotland’s oil and gas industry, the unacceptable delays to upgrade the unsafe A9 and A96 and, of course, in Nicola Sturgeon’s reckless pursuit of her gender self-ID policy.
“Most Scots would be relieved if the Greens walked out and anyone serious about leading the SNP should make it clear that there will be no place for them in the Scottish Government going forward.”
Great plot twist!