Global Warning: Just how radical are the Scottish Greens?

The Scottish Greens are not the first European Green party to hold a pivotal position in their national parliament. But will they break the trend and offer a route to the fundamental system change needed to defeat climate change? In our Global Warning column this month OISIN DUNCAN of Socialist Party Scotland asks, just how radical are the Scottish Greens?

Many young people and workers voted for the Green Party in the Scottish Parliament election on May 6, concerned as they are about the environmental crisis being wrought on the planet by the capitalist system. The Scottish Greens put on 70,000 votes for the regional list seats compared to 2016, taking their share up to 8.1%. With eight Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) they now hold a pivotal position at Holyrood.

But do the leadership of the Scottish Greens offer a fighting alternative to capitalism and cuts? After five years as the unofficial junior partners to the Scottish National Party (SNP) led Scottish government, what have the Greens actually delivered for workers and youth? And, looking to the future, do their policies go far enough to address the multi-faceted global crisis caused by capitalism? 

As they have supported the SNP in Holyrood over the last five years, they share responsibility for all of the cuts administered by the Scottish government in the same time period. Just like the governing SNP, the Scottish Greens choose to pass on the cuts set out by Westminster; they make the political decision to oppose demands for no cuts budgets and take the path of least resistance by passing austerity onto Scottish workers and youth. 

Although public spending per person in Scotland remains higher than in other parts of the UK, this does not mean that the impact of austerity has been any less devastating. Research on vulnerable families conducted by Barnardo’s and NSPCC published in 2020 found that the cuts passed on by Holyrood politicians impacts the poorest families hardest; closure of the children’s ward in the Royal Alexandria Hospital in Paisley and shutting social work centres in areas like West Dunbartonshire, both in Green MSP Ross Greer’s Holyrood region, reinforces already lower-than-average life expectancies. And we cannot exclude the fact that Scotland continues to suffer from one of the worst drug death epidemics in Europe. 

These are all issues under the devolved powers of the Scottish government; as a party in support of the government in Holyrood, the Greens have to share responsibility for these dismal failures, which have decimated overwhelmingly working class families and communities.

In local government the Greens have also backed up the SNP’s implementation of austerity; in the 2018 Glasgow city council budget, the Greens supported a minority SNP administration in cutting £10 million from social work under the guise of ‘efficiency savings’. 

The Scottish Greens put forward extremely limited tax rises on the wealthy. A mere one percent increase for those with assets over £1 million and a meagre windfall tax on companies who have made excess profits during the pandemic. Socialists, in contrast, would double tax on the richest in society and bring into public ownership the main sectors of the economy. 

Like the SNP under Sturgeon, the Greens have not called for a mass campaign to win the right to a second independence referendum, preferring instead the timid approach of asking Boris Johnson’s Tory party for the permission to organise one. 

Their Holyrood co-leaders (Patrick Harvie and Alison Johnstone, who has subsequently become the Scottish Parliament’s presiding officer) told the BBC they would not support another vote until “after the pandemic”. Yet there remains a real possibility that the pandemic could continue to roll on for a number of years, as less than ten percent of the world’s population have been vaccinated so far and almost all of them in the advanced capitalist countries like the UK. 

This indicates the flaws in the passive approach to the national question of capitalist parties like the SNP and Greens; they are too concerned with what the international bosses’ clubs like the European Union, IMF and World Bank will think about an independent Scotland. 

That is the fundamental division between the Greens’ campaign and the socialist approach to independence. We call for Holyrood to organise their own vote if necessary, defying the Tories, and to organise a mass campaign to fight for democratic rights. Unlike the Greens we stand for an independent socialist Scotland that would nationalise the commanding heights of the economy like big industry, retail, land, oil, gas and energy production and the banking sector of Scotland. 

The Scottish Greens favour applying for membership of the bosses’ EU, which amounts to winning economic sovereignty from the British capitalist state only to turn it over to the vultures of European capitalism. Furthermore, the explosive national questions in Spain and Belgium would likely stand in the way of any smooth transition back into the single market, scuppering the bourgeois case for independence.

The looming environmental collapse wrought by carbon emissions, overfishing and deforestation the world over is a global emergency. Yet the policy of the Scottish Greens is insufficient to tackle the scale of the crisis. Their correct demands for investment in renewable energy are not linked to widespread public ownership. They believe the capitalist market can be incentivised through public money to invest in renewable energy. But it is clear that would only be done if it were profitable to do so. 

The Green leadership don’t support nationalisation of the existing oil and gas industries, only calling for existing permits for North Sea drilling to be re-examined and for a halt to new permits. This goes nowhere near far enough in challenging the private companies like BP and Shell from continuing to obstruct transition away from fossil fuel use. 

Public ownership is essential to ensure a socialist transition from fossil fuel production. They refuse to commit to a no job losses, no loss of pay and conditions approach in their ‘Just Transition’, despite claiming that their plan for a “green and fair economy” starts with improving workers’ conditions. 

Oil and gas workers need to be retrained, retooled and redeployed, either in production of wind, tidal or solar energy or carbon-capture programs to get Scotland carbon neutral. This has to be done without loss of pay, job cuts or deteriorating conditions in the workplace. These three factors can only be guaranteed with a programme of public ownership and democratic workers’ control of the entire energy sector.

The Scottish government’s handling of the BiFab yards sale – handing them to private companies rather than securing their role in offshore wind development under public ownership – demonstrates they cannot be trusted to ensure a green transition which benefits workers. Nationalisation and socialist planning are essential for that! 

The central flaw at the heart of the Scottish Greens’ political programme is their reluctance to decisively break with the capitalist system. All around the world we see the climate crisis and other environmental disasters, such as plastic pollution in the oceans, soil erosion on farmland all over the planet, and deforestation in rainforests in South America and South-east Asia. 

All of this destruction is driven by private corporations or capitalist governments on their behalf, and this shows up in the statistics. Seventy-one percent of all global carbon emissions since the 1970s have been produced by just 100 companies, meaning that board members for those companies, numbering at most maybe a few thousand, have made decisions which will drive millions from their homes, destroy livelihoods and cause untold human suffering. 

Capitalism is not working; the solutions to the environmental crises and the associated social and economic misery looming for the world working class must be taken up and resisted with a programme of socialist transformation.