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Greens would not support Forbes as First Minister

Speaking at Glasgow University, Scottish Greens MSP Ross Greer has cast doubt on the Bute House agreement post-SNP leadership election.

High-profile Scottish Greens MSP Ross Greer weighed in on the SNP leadership race and discussed what it would take for his party to support a candidate as First Minister, during a talk held on the University of Glasgow campus by Scottish Green supporters at UofG

The Scottish government is currently made up of a coalition between the Scottish National Party and the Scottish Greens. A plan for government, dubbed the ‘Bute House Agreement’ was struck in August of 2021 between the two parties. It has been described as “collaboration on the climate emergency, economic recovery, child poverty, the natural environment, energy and the constitution”. 

After the shock resignation of Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP entered a leadership contest. Once their new leader is chosen, a vote will be held in Holyrood on Tuesday 28 March to elect their leader as First Minister by a simple majority. The Scottish National Party currently hold 64 seats in Holyrood, more than any other party and enough in order to have their leader chosen as First Minister. However, Greer expressed reservations about the SNP’s coalition partners supporting certain candidates which could have severe implications for the continuation of the current Scottish Government.

“Rather than say ‘this candidate is acceptable to us and this candidate isn’t’ we [the Scottish Greens] have said, for start, we would need to see a candidate who wants to honour the Bute House Agreement in full, so no rowing back on anything that’s in it. We see the Bute House Agreement as the floor for what the Scottish Government should be doing…we want to go further.

“If candidates want to put forward a platform that says on climate, on tackling child poverty, on tax, we want to go further. Fantastic. We would respond really positively to that. If any candidate wants to roll back on what was in the agreement, what that does is a straightforward breach of the agreement.”

The Bute House Agreement also contains a commitment to legislation like the Gender Recognition Reform Bill, which has recently become controversial. After being passed on 22 December 2022 with a majority of 83 to 39, the bill was blocked by Westminster because of concerns about how it conflicted with existing legislation. Of the three finalised candidates for First Minister, two – Kate Forbes and Ash Regan – have made no commitment to continuing to support the bill. Ash Regan notably resigned as Community Safety Minister ahead of the vote on the bill, stating that her “conscience” would not allow her to support it. And although Kate Forbes was on maternity leave during the vote, she has subsequently confirmed that she wouldn’t have voted for the bill, and said that reforms are “not a priority for the people of Scotland”.

When asked if not supporting the Gender Recognition Reform Bill would be a red line for him, Greer responded: “Yes, absolutely. And I think you can infer pretty clearly from that. We’re not stating it categorically because it’s not for us to do that, as a few members should choose to do. But I will not vote for a candidate for first minister who’s not prepared to defend the GRR.

“I also won’t vote for a candidate for first minister who is going to roll back on our commitment to a conversion therapy ban. I want a candidate for first minister who can just unequivocally say that defending LGBT rights is not about respecting the law as it currently stands, it’s about advancing them. Same with women’s rights, same with access to reproductive health care, protecting abortion clinics with buffer zones, et cetera.”

Kate Forbes made it clear that she would not have supported the legalisation of same-sex marriage “as a matter of conscience” and that she personally would not seek out an abortion. However, she has made commitments to defending the current legal right to both of these as First Minister.

Greer continued: “If you collectively put together all of our red lines, it’s very clear who we would not vote for to be First Minister.”

Despite some concerns around him missing a vote on same-sex marriage and claims from former First Minister Alex Salmond that he may have been under pressure from his mosque to not support the vote, the candidate Humza Yousaf has been largely clear in his support for the right to an abortion and for same-sex mariage. Whereas polls currently Kate Forbes in the lead with support from the Scottish public, polling among SNP members have previously placed Yousaf as the favourite, but now put the two candidates support roughly equal.

Greer went on to discuss support for the terms of the Bute House agreement, saying: “And the point that we’ve been making is that 83% of Green members voted for the Bute House agreement whereas 95% of SNP members voted for it. So if you’re a candidate to be the leader of the SNP and you’re putting forward a platform that is about breaching the Bute House Agreement, I don’t think that’s very strategically astute because your party members want what’s in that agreement. 

“If you’re willing to let the UK government overrule what the Scottish parliament does, how can you say that you’re in favour of Scotland determining its own future when you’re going to pick and choose the issues that you’re going to let the Tories veto? So all that makes it very clear who we would vote for and who we wouldn’t vote for. It’s up to them to choose their leader. And then on Monday evening [27 March] and Tuesday morning [28 March] we will make clear what our decision is on that.”

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