The Scottish Government-Green cooperation agreement 2021

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The Scottish Government and the Scottish Green Parliamentary Party (‘the Greens’) have entered into a cooperation agreement. The cooperation agreement is the first of its type since devolution in Scotland.

The cooperation agreement sets out how the Scottish Government and the Greens intend to work together over the course of the next five years, the duration of the session six Parliament.

This blog provides an overview of the agreement and its impact on Parliamentary business.

More detailed information on the agreement, including on other cooperation agreements and the difference between cooperation and coalition, can be found in a related SPICe briefing.

What is a cooperation agreement?

In general, ‘cooperation agreement’ refers to an agreement between a party of government and another party, which falls short of formal coalition.

Cooperation agreements can differ greatly in extent, ranging from limited confidence and supply agreements (where a party supports the Government on motions of confidence in the government and on government spending) to more comprehensive agreements which include the junior (smaller) party holding Ministerial positions.

What is the Scottish Government-Green cooperation agreement?

The Scottish Government-Greens cooperation agreement is a commitment to work together for the session six Parliament. It was announced on 20 August 2021 and subsequently ratified by the Scottish Green Party and the national executive committee of the Scottish National Party (SNP). SNP members also backed the agreement in a consultative ballot.

Although SNP members had a say on the deal, the cooperation agreement is between the Scottish Government and the Greens. At the time that the parties entered into talks, the First Minister and Scottish Ministers had been appointed and the Government formed.  

The cooperation agreement sets out how the Scottish Government and the Greens will work together in an operational sense and covers technical matters such as the approach to collective responsibility.  

At section B the cooperation agreement commits the Scottish Government and the Greens to delivering a shared programme. This shared programme is detailed in the policy programme document Working Together To Build A Greener, Fairer, Independent Scotland.

The cooperation agreement document

The cooperation agreement document sets out the overall approach to cooperation as well as detailing the operational arrangements for the Scottish Government and the Greens working together.

It details how the Scottish Government will consult the Greens on the legislative programme and on parliamentary business. Similarly, it sets out that the Greens are to adopt a ‘no surprises’ approach to business. The Greens’ support in Parliament will extend to votes on Bills, on amendments to Bills, on secondary legislation, and on matters of legislative consent, except where a vote relates to an excluded matter. The Greens will back the Scottish Government in votes of confidence and supply.

Mechanisms to allow for shared oversight of the agreement have also been set out. The mechanisms are designed to “promote true cooperation”, address concerns and resolve any disputes as early as possible and include:

  • regular meetings between Ministers
  • an invitation to attend Cabinet meetings extended to the two Green Ministers at least twice a year
  • seats for the two Green Ministers on specific Cabinet sub-committees relevant to their portfolios
  • a process for dealing with concerns in a confidential manner
  • in exceptional circumstances, for an item to be added to the list of exclusions.

The agreement also lists several areas where the Scottish Government and the Greens have “agreed to differ”. These areas are set out in the agreement as “excluded matters”.

The Scottish Government will have sole responsibility for the development of policy for excluded matters. The Greens do not have to support Scottish Government legislation or policy in these areas:

  • The role of Gross Domestic Product measurements, and economic principles related to concepts of sustainable growth and inclusive growth.
  • Aviation policy (except in respect of island aviation connectivity and Highlands and Islands Airports Limited), the future of green ports, and direct financial support to businesses involved in the aerospace, defence and security sectors.
  • International relations, except to the extent they are addressed in the shared programme. This includes the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and any commitment to membership of NATO following independence.
  • Field sports, except to the extent they are addressed in the shared programme.
  • The legal status and regulation of selling sex.
  • Private fee-paying independent schools.

The process set out in Section C allows the Scottish Government and the Greens to explore policy areas where they have not yet reached agreement (as set out in the shared policy programme) nor agreed to disagree.

The approach to collective responsibility (the principle set out in the Ministerial Code that all decisions reached by Scottish Ministers, individually or collectively, are binding on all members of the Government) is also stipulated. The two Green Ministers are bound by collective responsibility except in excluded matters.

“the two Green Ministers will “observe the principle of collective responsibility, except in respect of excluded matters. Where commenting on a matter where the principle of collective responsibility does not apply, these Ministers must make clear that they are not commenting on behalf of the Scottish Government.”

The shared policy programme and the Programme for Government

The cooperation agreement document commits the Scottish Government and the Greens to working together to deliver a shared policy programme. That shared policy agenda is set out in ‘Working Together To Build A Greener, Fairer, Independent Scotland’.

This details policy priorities in areas such as the climate emergency, economic recovery, child poverty, the natural environment, energy and the constitution. It includes, for example, specific commitments to:

  • Secure a referendum on Scottish independence after the COVID pandemic has passed, within the current parliamentary session.
  • Increase investment in active travel and public transport, including a Fair Fares review to provide a realistic and affordable alternative to car use.
  • Invest at least £1.8 billion over this parliamentary session in energy efficiency and renewable heating.
  • Establish two new Scottish Government overseas offices in Warsaw and Copenhagen to promote Scotland’s interests in central Europe and the Nordic countries.

The policy programme was used to inform A Fairer, Greener Scotland: the Programme for Government for 2021 to 2022 which was published on 7 September 2021. You can find more information about the Programme for Government  in the SPICe blog Programme for Government 2021-22: A fairer, greener Scotland?

Impact on Parliamentary business

Following the announcement of the agreement between the Scottish Government and the Greens, the Presiding Officer wrote to members of the Scottish Parliament on 31 August 2021 giving details of how Parliamentary Business would change as a result.

“This political agreement is unparalleled in Scotland and indeed the UK… The Agreement therefore requires a bespoke response here at Holyrood, one which draws on precedents and practices, is fair to all parties represented in the Parliament, and is commensurate with the requirements of robust parliamentary scrutiny.”

Changes have been made to the calling of Green MSPs at First Minister’s Questions and after Ministerial statements as well as to the allocation of opposition time for Green party debates and speaking slots during debates.

Green backbench MSPs retain the right to submit their names to the draws for Portfolio and General Questions, and to request Topical, Urgent and SPCB questions. The Greens also retain the party’s allocated seats on Scottish Parliament committees but with a change of members given that, as Ministers, Patrick Harvie MSP and Lorna Slater MSP are not, by convention, able to be committee members.

Laura Gilman and Sarah McKay, SPICe Research