Post-Election Talks in Scotland: a Campaign Opportunity

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Scottish Green PartyThe 2007 Scottish elections both gave and took away, from a Scottish Green Party  perspective. We’d gone into them with seven seats but faced a heavy squeeze from our fair-weather EFA (European Free Alliance) friends the Scottish National Party (SNP), leaving us with just two elected.

However, the Scottish Parliament was left finely balanced, and the SNP, although narrowly the largest party, would not be able to make a majority just with the Liberals: if that was to work they’d need the Greens as well.

On the Saturday after the election, the party’s Council met and considered a proposal to meet the SNP for talks, with a preference for an informal Confidence and Supply arrangement.

On some core Green issues the SNP are a good fit – they remain anti-nuclear, both civilian and military – but on energy, the economy and particularly transport they are just as unGreen as the rest.

By this stage the noises from the Liberals were sceptical, but the proposal was endorsed.

The talks began on Monday, and a pattern began. Whatever else happened, after each day of talks we needed to have a coherent story to tell the media. This might sound like putting the media first, but it’s not. The reality is that if you can’t explain in a press release what it is you’re doing , you’ve probably got a problem with your political strategy.

The story for Monday was easy – neither the Greens nor the SNP had ever been in coalition talks, so the pressure on us for more content was limited. A statement was issued setting out some common ground and flagging up areas of difficulty, and the tone adopted on the steps of the talks venue was constructive on both sides.

By Tuesday the Liberals had briefed that they would not return the SNP’s phonecalls, which left us an opportunity. As talks continued around the tough areas of disagreement, it was agreed that we would extend our hand to the Liberals to see if they could be persuaded to take part in a “progressive Government for Scotland”.

This was then the basis for the second day’s media, and the news-stands said “Salmond (the SNP leader) relies on Greens to save coalition talks”. That evening we got confirmation that the Liberals would not talk under any circumstances, so during the third day it was clear that the SNP would form a minority government, and that even Confidence and Supply would not make sense for either party.

However, there were opportunities for both sides still, and agreement was achieved on a more limited set of common objectives. The Green MSPs would vote for the installation of SNP Ministers, and the SNP would allocate a Committee Convenership to the Greens – in the end this would be the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee, which put Patrick Harvie in a strong position for the whole Parliamentary session. They also agreed to block ship-to-ship oil transfers, an important campaign issue for us, and agreed to bring forward legislation on climate change targets two years earlier.

The only downside is that even some political journalists thought we were in coalition when we weren’t, at least until we helped to bring down the SNP’s Budget two years later over home insulation. In the end, though, with a tight focus on the stories we could tell, the three days of talks boosted our profile and gave us some substantial campaign wins.

The Agreement can be found here.

See also the Campaign Handbook Chapters:
Issues and Conflicts
Traditional Media

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