The Irish Times view on Europe’s Green movement: rewriting the agenda

Green engagement in government in Europe is welcome and timely

An agreement between the Scottish Greens and the ruling Scottish National Party (SNP) will bring two Greens into the Holyrood cabinet, the first time the party will have entered government in the UK.

At a time when climate issues have increasingly taken centre stage, Green parties are now represented in governments in six other EU states – Ireland, Belgium, Sweden, Luxembourg, Austria, and Finland – with the German party likely also to be part of the next government after forthcoming elections. They control some of Europe's major cities including Amsterdam, Bordeaux and Budapest and swept to their best-ever results in the 2019 European Parliament elections, winning 10 per cent of seats.

The Scottish deal, an informal coalition akin to one agreed by fellow Greens in New Zealand recently, will guarantee a majority for a resolution in the Scottish parliament to demand a referendum on independence before the end of 2023. First minister Nicola Sturgeon, whose SNP fell one seat short of an outright majority at the Holyrood elections in May, says the majority would now make it "impossible on any democratic basis" for London to seek to block one.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson has continued to insist that his government will not sanction another referendum but an absolute majority in the Scottish Parliament will increase pressure. Somewhat ambiguously, Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove seemed to hint at an evolving position, promising in an interview that if another referendum was the "settled will" of the Scottish people another vote would be held. Polls suggest a close but clear majority against independence.


Green influence in the cabinet will however sharply increase the pressure on an ambivalent Sturgeon to oppose the controversial development of the huge Cambo oilfield north-west of Shetland. The decision is formally one for Westminster, but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent warnings and the imminence of Glasgow’s hosting of the COP26 climate summit in November make SNP prevarication less and less tenable.

Ironically, arguments about the exploitation of North Sea oil and gas have been foundational to the success of Scotland’s post-war nationalism.

Green engagement in government in Europe is welcome and timely. In Ireland few can doubt that the party's role in Government was critical to the passage this summer of the Climate Action Bill with its legally-binding – and difficult – carbon emissions reductions, especially a 51 per cent reduction of carbon emissions by 2030. The Irish party struggles to reconcile its ambitious and radical programme and its idealistic membership with the imperatives of sharing power with conservative parties. But, bit by bit, it is successfully contributing to rewriting the agenda.