People who first voted when the Scottish Parliament was reconvened in 1999 are now in their 40s. Like it or loath it, the Parliament in Holyrood has embedded itself as part of our national life. Right from day one, there’s been an appetite to diverge from the Westminster way of conducting business. But a reasonable question, two decades on, is just how much Scotland has forged its own path.
One area where Scotland has much to learn is on political co-operation. It is right that elections are contested vigorously with rivals competing on how best the country should move forward. But once the results are declared, people expect elected politicians to work together on what is best for our country, city or community.
That is why I am interested in the opportunity for Green MSPs to have more influence over the Scottish Government over the next five years. For Greens to have some role in government is commonplace throughout most of Europe and as far as away as New Zealand. In Germany – Europe’s strongest economy – there is the very real prospect of a Green chancellor after the next election – an outcome which the German people seem less troubled by than some of our more breathless right-wing commentators here.
Political co-operation can take many forms: from a limited number of shared goals through to more formal coalitions. With the global climate summit due in Scotland in the next five months and the clock ticking on the radical changes we need on transport, housing, planning, protecting the natural environment and so much more, it is right to explore ways in which progress can be accelerated.
My hunch is that many of us are weary of strident opposition for opposition’s sake. Engaging in even the fiercest debates is much more compelling if accompanied by a clear view about how you would do it better. That is why, over the last five years, Green MSPs have been far more effective than any other party in achieving real changes – in bus travel for younger people, fairer taxes, supporting carers, protecting wild animals and holding the SQA to account over exam debacles, to name only a few.
And the same is true here in Edinburgh at council level. A longstanding Green priority has been to change early-years learning towards much higher-quality pre-school nursery and childcare and starting formal school later – as in Finland. In line with that, back in May, I was able to argue successfully for the council to take a much more permissive approach for families who had applied for an extra year at nursery because their child would be due to start school before the age of five. It’s not yet the full Finnish but it is a step in the right direction.
That Green-led change came on top of several budget gains for Green councillors this year, focused on what Edinburgh can do to deliver on its commitment to be a Zero Carbon city by 2030. The council might be led by an SNP-Labour coalition but by seeking out areas of shared priority, it is possible for groups which are not part of that coalition to make progress.
Maybe national talks on co-operation will result in an agreement. Maybe not. But be suspicious of anyone who argues it is not worth seeking out common ground.
Mary Campbell is Green councillor for Portobello-Craigmillar