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Scottish Green party members press MSPs on challenging SNP ministers

SCOTTISH Green members have pressed two of the party’s MSPs if they can sufficiently challenge the Scottish Government on policies since the signing of the Bute House Agreement.

Grassroots activists attending the first day of the party’s annual conference in Dundee this afternoon asked Ross Greer and Gillian Mackay about a wide range of areas including on independence and health.

One member asked whether Green MSPs had voiced their concern to ministers over the ‘disaster’ of Scotland’s Covid inquiry.

The probe was thrown into chaos last week after senior lawyers quit en masse – leading to the chairwoman standing down.

Reports suggest that the lead counsel, Douglas Ross KC, and three junior counsel resigned earlier this month prompting Lord Poole to quit as chairwoman.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney announced Lady Poole’s resignation on Monday last week which was described as due to personal reasons.

“How are non governmental MSPs feeling about holding the government to account, specifically on health? Recently we have the disaster of the Covid inquiry. Are we in a position to challenge and what is the process for doing that,”asked one member.

Ms Mackay, who is the Scottish Greens health spokeswoman in Holyrood, said: “We have a series of ongoing meetings. We have meetings regularly with our Cabinet Secretary and the ministers we shadow.

“The Covid inquiry conveniently sits between Ross and I, part of it is economy, part of it is health. We have been speaking to the Deputy First Minister on this privately to express our concern,” she said.

“Health is always a difficult one as it is so fast paced. Most people interact with it at any given time so there is always something happening.”

The two MSPs were also asked about whether they felt constrained from criticising the Scottish Government.

Mr Greer said: “In terms of criticising the government this is why we have the excluded matters section in the agreement. It is an important pressure release valve but it is also based on a set of principles laid out when we started the negotiations.

“We all agreed that the public wanted two things from their politicians. They want us to collaborate where possible…and they want us to hold onto our principles. And those two things have quite a bit of tension between them. So that’s why our agreement is not a full coalition agreement, why it has the excluded matters section.”

He cited freeports as a policy where the Scottish Greens and the SNP did not agree with his own party opposed to their creation.

The hubs, which are special economic zones offering tax breaks and lower tariffs for businesses, were announced by former PM. Two free ports are to be created in Scotland.

However, the Greens are opposed to them arguing they will reduce important regulations in the work place designed to protect staff and the environment.

Mr Greer also underlined differences over aviation matters (excluded from the Bute House Agreement) where Scottish Green ministers had voted differently from their SNP counterparts.

A third member asked about how the Greens could remain distinct in the independence movement.

“I am still very scared about the SNP hogging the Yes brand, hogging the Yes campaign. What more is being done to make sure this campaign is shared and is not simply an ego trip for some people…who I will not mention?”

Responding, Mr Greer said he believed the Scottish Greens were not “sufficiently respected” in the Yes campaign ahead of the 2014 referendum.

However, he then went on to point to the presence of Scottish Greens co-leader Patrick Harvie at the launch with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in June this year of the Scottish Government’s first in the new series of papers updating the case for independence.

“That shows how the thinking is shifting there,” he said.

“I can talk at length about 2014. I was often the only Green in the room and I don’t think we were treated with sufficient respect…But there has been a significant shift on the thinking on  that.”

He added that the shift was in part to do with the need to win over support from pro-independence voters who may not be minded to back the SNP.

“There is a section of people out there who will vote for independence…but not in a month of Sundays, as a SNP minister said to me, would vote for the SNP,” said Mr Greer.

“There is a section of Yes voters out there who don’t support them as a party. We have an absolutely essential role in persuading those people to support independence when a referendum comes.

“So there is a straightforward strategic interest on their part in having us as involved as possible because they want to win.”

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