Humza Yousaf should not cave to disgruntled SNP members and sever ties with the Scottish Greens.
The Bute House agreement – a power sharing agreement between the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Scottish Green Party – was signed by the SNP government in August 2021, to ensure that a pro-independence majority remained in Holyrood. However, in recent weeks the agreement has come under fire by members of the SNP and opposition parties, who feel that it has not been successful, and that the two parties don’t align as closely as was originally thought. These tensions prompt questions about the future of the two parties, and the strength of the Scottish independence movement.
Humza Yousaf has undoubtedly faced turmoil since becoming First Minister of Scotland and leader of the SNP. Two former party heavyweights, Nicola Sturgeon and her husband Peter Murrell, have been arrested (and released without charge) in connection with an investigation into party finances, while one of his MPs has quit to sit as an independent, and a further eight are resigning at the next general election. The deposit return scheme – a flagship policy – has failed, and he is embroiled in what will be a lengthy legal challenge with the Westminster government over the Gender Recognition Reform (GRR) Bill. Less than a fifth of Scots believe he is doing a good job, and with a general election rapidly approaching, something needs to give.
The question is – does the solution to Yousaf’s issues lie in distancing himself from the Green Party and the Bute House agreement?
While Yousaf himself claims that he is committed to the deal, members of his party disagree. He was the only finalist in the leadership campaign to outwardly state his support for the agreement, while senior SNP figures, such as Joanna Cherry and Fergus Ewing, have expressed their distaste for the deal. It is not just politicians who are souring on the deal, however: a poll released recently by Survation found that net public support for the deal has fallen from -1 in May to -12 in August. A possible explanation for this is the passing of the GRR Bill, which remains unpopular with older SNP voters. While this bill has caused damage to the SNP, they did not propose it – the Greens did. In fact, many of the recent failures of the SNP were Green backed policies – the deposit return scheme and the fishing ban being some of the most notable. By distancing himself from the Greens, or even ending the agreement, Yousaf could try and claw back some popularity, whilst uniting his fractured party behind him.
However, the next general election looks increasingly close, with Scottish Labour currently only four points behind the SNP in recent polls. The SNP cannot afford to lose a majority of their Westminster seats, or their pro-independence majority in Holyrood. It would undermine their credibility, and stall the independence movement, which surely relies on a government in place that supports its goals.
Anas Sarwar’s Scottish Labour Party would, of course, like this. Steadily increasing in popularity, Scottish Labour are likely to gain seats at the next Scottish Parliament elections. The Scottish Fabians have estimated that if Labour are able to win over 1 in 5 SNP voters, they could have 20 seats in their grasp. This is becoming a realistic goal, as Labour works to capture middle ground voters through projecting their competence. Without the formidable force of Sturgeon, Sarwar is at a comparable advantage – Yousaf seems like an easy target compared to his predecessor. If Sarwar can capitalise on these factors, he could have a hung parliament, or even a unionist majority on his hands.
Ultimately, the SNP are caught between a rock and a hard place. They need the support of the Greens, but they also need a united party and policy successes, which the Greens have not afforded them so far. But, to let them go would risk the future of the independence movement, and for a party that has fought for it so hard and for so long, it is simply not in their best interests to do so.