- 31 Aug 2021
Thanks, Presiding Officer,
I am very pleased to confirm to Parliament today details of the wide-ranging cooperation agreement that has been reached between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Green Party, and now endorsed, overwhelmingly, by our respective party memberships.
In nature, scope and intent, this agreement is genuinely ground-breaking - in both Scottish and UK politics.
It represents a new - and I hope, a better - way of doing politics.
Of course, while the agreement is the product of much negotiation and some compromise, it is also a leap of faith for both parties - but it is one we are taking willingly and for the common good.
The challenge and the discipline of working together - of not allowing the issues on which we disagree to obscure those on which we do agree - will undoubtedly take us out of our comfort zones.
The SNP and the Scottish Greens - albeit joining together in government - are and will remain distinct entities, with different identities and points of view, but this agreement is founded on shared convictions and common principles.
It is based – above all - on our recognition that the times we are living through render a business as usual approach simply not good enough.
Scotland, like most of the rest of the world, faces significant challenges in the years ahead and also many opportunities – and many of these are deeply interrelated.
We must tackle the latest surge in COVID cases, while leading and supporting the country’s economic and social recovery from the pandemic.
We must ensure that the recovery is a green and sustainable one, and address with urgency and determination the climate and nature crises which threaten the planet and the security of this and future generations.
We must, unfortunately, address and mitigate the consequences of Brexit, which are becoming more serious by the week as labour scarcity and interrupted supply chains lead to shortages on supermarket shelves and elsewhere - shortages that should be unthinkable in a country like the UK and which are - make no mistake - a direct and shameful result of the Brexit disaster.
We must defend our Parliament against UK government power grabs that are undermining the very principles on which it is founded.
And as we do so, recognise that the best way, not just of protecting this Parliament from Westminster, but also equipping it with the full powers it needs to build a fairer, more prosperous country, is to make this Parliament independent of Westminster.
That is why fulfilling our democratic mandate to let the Scottish people choose our own future is a key strand of this agreement.
These are the inescapable challenges that confront us - how we respond to them will shape Scotland now and for the decades ahead.
In the face of the magnitude of these challenges - and for this we all bear a share of responsibility - our politics can too often seem small. Polarised, divided, focused on self-interest rather than the national interest.
Perhaps I’m seeing evidence of it already today.
If we are to meet the moment, PO, we must all of us try to do politics differently - and in this Agreement, the Scottish Government and the Scottish Greens are accepting our responsibility to do that.
Genuine disagreement, honestly and respectfully debated, and of course resolved through the ballot box is of course the essence of democracy.
But we also have a duty to reach beyond our disagreements and, in the interests of progress, maximise the consensus between us.
That is essential if we are to find the solutions needed to solve the big problems confronting Scotland and the world.
And, in both my view and in my experience, co-operation and collaboration - in place of division and acrimony - is what most people want to see much more of from their politicians.
Of course, that spirit of co-operation and consensus-building is also very much in keeping with the founding principles of our Scottish Parliament.
Arguably, it has never been more important for us, all of us, to live up to these principles - and that is the motivation for reaching this agreement.
It is not a full coalition - our parties will retain distinct voices and independent identities - but it sets out processes of co-operation and consultation that will enable a firm foundation for the delivery of our shared and transformative policy objectives, and, indeed, for the Scottish Government’s wider legislative and policy programme.
As part of that, for the first time in UK politics, it will see Greens enter national government as Ministers, working in a spirit of common endeavour, mutual challenge and collective responsibility to deliver for the people we serve.
And, to that end, I look forward later this afternoon to seeking Parliament’s approval for the appointment of Lorna Slater and Patrick Harvie as Scottish Ministers.
An agreement like this is not something that would be seen as in any way remarkable or even unusual in other parts of Europe.
But it does represent an important landmark for politics across the UK.
Most importantly of all, however, this agreement provides a strong foundation – I hope, across the lifetime of this Parliament - for bold and decisive action.
After all, its ultimate test – as with any arrangement of this kind - isn’t about how well the signatories get on. It’s about what we deliver.
There is of course - and rightly so - a strong environmental theme to our shared policy agreement.
We recognise the urgency of the climate and nature crises, and also the challenges inherent in tackling them.
But we also appreciate that with the right approach - and a commitment to climate justice - the transition to net zero will create economic opportunities and improve the wellbeing of all of us.
We are determined to seize and realise those opportunities.
Over the session of this Parliament we will do more to decarbonise our transport network and support active travel.
We will dedicate at least 10% of the Scottish Government’s overall travel budget to active travel – cycling, walking and wheeling.
We will significantly increase investment in public transport. We will work to cut the emissions from it, and also to make it more accessible and affordable - with a commitment to free bus travel for young people, for example - and we will of course bring ScotRail into public ownership.
All of these measures will help us, by 2030, reduce car kilometres by 20% - vital if we are to meet our climate targets, but also important to improving the environment in communities and neighbourhood the length and breadth of our country.
We will also support the essential transformation in how we heat our homes and buildings.
This term of Parliament will see investment of at least £1.8 billion in energy efficiency and renewable heating.
We will do more, too, to protect our natural environment. We will designate a new national park, plant more trees - including more native species - and protect more of our seas.
And we will work right across the economy to support a just transition to net zero - with just transition plans for all sectors and regions, and a new green industrial strategy with investment in skills at its heart.
As part of that, we will support and accelerate the necessary and inevitable transition from fossil fuels to renewable and low carbon sources of energy.
Through this agreement we will deliver a stronger package of support for marine renewables and offshore wind, and significantly increase our onshore wind capacity.
And we will also establish a ten-year, £500 million Just Transition Fund for the North East and Moray - to ensure that the jobs and communities dependent on our oil and gas sector are not left behind and that we instead use the considerable infrastructure, skills and expertise of that sector to help drive and speed up the development of cleaner alternatives.
Our agreement will also help make Scotland fairer as a country.
It will tackle child poverty, and deliver stronger rights for tenants, including an effective system of rent controls, so that housing in the rented sector is more affordable and more secure, especially for families and for young people.
We will make the investment in this Parliament to support the delivery of 110,000 new affordable homes between now and 2032.
And we will reform our public services – including through the establishment of a National Care Service - perhaps the biggest public sector reform that this Parliament will ever have undertaken – improvements, too, in mental health, and work to improve education and close the poverty related attainment gap.
And finally, as I indicated earlier, this agreement does confirm our intention to give people in Scotland the choice of independence.
The mandate for that is undeniable - between us, the SNP and the Greens won 72 of the 129 seats in this Parliament and each one of us was elected on a clear commitment to an independence referendum.
But just as the mandate is undeniable, the reason for a referendum is just as important. As we emerge from this pandemic, the kind country and society that Scotland is now and becomes in future - and the decisions that will shape our society and economy and our place in the world - must be determined, democratically, here in Scotland and not imposed upon us, so often against our will, by government at Westminster.
The agreement we have reached offers a clear vision of the sort of country Scotland can become – a greener, fairer – and yes - independent nation.
It also recognises and puts into practice an approach to politics that sees parties try to work together for the common good. I firmly believe that is what most people in Scotland want to see.
I hope this agreement, as we move now to implement it will demonstrate that when we step out of those comfort zones, and when we embrace cooperation, we enhance our ability to deliver the ideas and the practical policies that can meet the scale of the challenges we face.
Of course, this agreement is novel in terms of UK politics. But across Europe and in many countries around the world, arrangements like this are commonplace and they are based firmly on the idea that cooperation - rather than confrontation – will lead to better outcomes for the people across our country.
This Parliament has undoubtedly secured some very significant achievements in the last two decades – and all parties can and should take credit for that fact.
But there have also been times – especially in more recent years, and this is not unique to Scotland - when our politics has been toxic and polarised and, because of that, we have sometimes seemed collectively incapable of properly living up to the expectations of those we serve.
And just as we can all - and should all - take some credit for our successes, we all must bear some responsibility for our shortcomings.
And I believe we all have an obligation to make positive change.
This agreement represents a renewed commitment from the Scottish Government to do so.
While it is - at political level - an agreement between the SNP and the Greens, I hope, and I mean this sincerely, that over time it can - and it will - encourage greater cooperation between all parties in this Parliament.
There are issues – including, perhaps especially, the constitution – on which we disagree profoundly and passionately. That is, I suspect, unlikely to change - though even on these fundamental issues, perhaps we should all make an effort to disagree more civilly.
But there are many others issues, Presiding Officer – especially as we recover from the pandemic and address the climate emergency – where I believe acres of common ground can be found if we are willing to find it, while still acknowledging and respecting our disagreements.
So despite all of the risks inherent in any decision of two parties to co-operate more closely - and with a full appreciation of the compromise and the ups and downs that an agreement like this will entail - the SNP and the Greens are choosing to work together.
We are doing that because we believe, in a time of great challenge, a better, more collaborative politics is needed, so that a better Scotland can be built.
And we are resolving to spend the next five years working together to build it.
As we do so, I make an open and sincere offer to work, whenever and wherever possible, with others across the chamber too, and I hope that offer will be accepted.
This agreement is a milestone in this Parliament’s progress.
It sets out how the SNP and the Scottish Greens will work together as the Scottish Government.
It demonstrates our commitment to a new, and a better way of doing politics.
And it does provide the strong platform needed to deliver the transformative policies that will build a greener, fairer country and make people’s lives across Scotland better.
For all of these reasons, I enthusiastically commend it to the chamber.