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The SNP-Green power-sharing deal: the student perspective

As Nicola Sturgeon announced the SNP-Green power-sharing deal last month, many advocates of sustainability will likely have been excited at the prospect of a representative of the Green Party occupying a ministerial position for the first time in UK history. Furthermore, supporters of a second independence referendum, one would imagine, will have regarded the situation with promise due to the allegedly “cast-iron” mandate to give the Scottish people a choice to make. These attitudes toward the deal however, only touch the surface. The public hold an array of varying feelings that reflect the complexity of this undeniably historic political event. So what are people thinking? Is this the move forward that Scotland needs or are there compromising forces waiting to be unmasked? Should the deal be met with hope or frustration?

One matter that will no doubt divide opinion is whether a referendum is a good idea or not. In pushing forward for a new referendum through agreeing the new power-sharing deal, the SNP evidently believes that public opinion could be swayed in favour of independence. The polls however, suggest that the opinion is split. The new SNP-Green cooperation may have to rely on the significant number of undecided people, which if some recent polls are correct is between the 5-10% mark. 

One pro-independence Scottish Master’s student highlighted their excitement at the combination of the ideals of sustainability and independence, which he felt complimented each other well. He argued that, “ independence is more appealing to people if it depends on achieving sustainability goals.” It is hard to ignore that with environmental concerns being increasingly important in public sentiment, the Greens could be a valuable asset to the public image of the SNP. One major feature of the cooperation, if the SNP mission statement on the deal is anything to go by, appears to be the branding of an independent Scotland as a pioneer in renewable energy. 

Many seem convinced that the intentions of the two parties to bring about a referendum will be successful. One went as far as to indicate that, with the overwhelming majority of 71-57 in parliament, for Westminster to block the cooperative efforts of the SNP and the Greens would be to directly contravene the ideal of liberal democracy. 

A sentiment that seems to be echoed among anti-independence advocates and campaigners is the uncertainty surrounding independence and the perceived notion of instability. Such feelings do have considerable empirical backing given the complexity involved in re-joining the EU, the view that Scotland would be worse off economically if it were to leave the UK, and the problem of Scotland’s deficit being larger than that of the rest of the UK. With a new referendum now looking almost certain, these sentiments are brought to the fore. Another commonly mentioned view is that trade with England, which accounts for 60% of Scotland’s exports, would become more complicated after independence, especially if Scotland did join the EU. 

 The consequences independence would have for Scotland under a joint SNP-Green government runs into further complications among skeptics due to their policy-incompatibilities in some areas such as with regard to the Cambo oil field. It would be fair to say that the Greens may be forced into some difficult positions, as evidenced by Tory efforts to push forward the vote on the new oil field. Nicola Sturgeon however has stated, of course without committing to opposing the plans for the field, that the thinking ought to be “reassessed” due to climate concerns. Oil will likely be an area of some sensitivity under the new cooperation government.

One student highlighted a counterargument to the view that Scotland’s economy would struggle if it became independent. They argued that the effects of the greater deficit may not be any worse than the effects of Brexit. There is also a hopeful sentiment that if Scotland were to join the EU, a number of businesses may relocate from England to Scotland in order to take advantage of trade agreements, which could give the economy the boost that it needs.

In response to the belief that the ideology of the Green party would be undermined by the SNP’s economic strategies, the view that “anything that gives Jonathan Bartley and Siân Berry a bigger platform is a good thing” is hard to deny if you consider the climate crisis to be a pressing issue. Furthermore, a Scottish Sustainability & Development student brought forth an interesting consideration; namely that in the event of independence the diversification of the SNP outside of the issue of independence will become a necessity. The SNP-Green agreement therefore, is a necessity which falls in line with what some see as another inevitability: navigating climate-change. The agreement might, then, just bring out the best in both parties.

The takeaway is that opinion on the SNP-Green agreement is divided. Those who look on the matter with scepticism have fair reason to feel, as with most political events, content in the security of their position. The strongest arguments against the cooperative government don’t strictly speaking however, go too far beyond the arguments against the original referendum. now more than a decade old. Those who look on with approval, however, have some adequate and some fairly convincing responses to the sceptics’ concerns and so at least for the moment it could be said that it is justified not to write off the new joint government just yet.

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