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Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, on Monday announced the appointment of the first Green party ministers in any UK government, giving co-leaders of the Scottish Greens potentially pivotal roles in cutting carbon emissions and introducing rent controls.
The appointment of co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater, which must be confirmed by the devolved parliament at Holyrood, seals an innovative power-sharing agreement between the governing Scottish National party and Scottish Greens agreed earlier this month.
The deal gives Sturgeon’s government of Holyrood an assured majority for a second referendum on Scottish independence and most of its other policy priorities. However, it stops short of a full coalition, with the two parties agreeing to differ on issues such as aviation policy and how to measure economic success.
Harvie and Slater will not join the cabinet, though Sturgeon said the two Green ministers would be “at the heart” of her government’s efforts to “build a greener, fairer, independent Scotland”.
“The expertise and passion they bring with them will contribute greatly to defining Scotland’s path forward,” the first minister said.
The power-sharing deal was inspired in part by a pact between New Zealand’s Green party and Jacinda Ardern’s Labour government formed in October. It is likely to be seen as a test-case for potential future involvement in government of other UK Green parties.
However, some business leaders are concerned by the relatively radical and more leftwing approach of the Scottish Green co-leaders, who have stressed the need for transition away from North Sea oil and gas, for a shift in focus from economy growth to wellbeing, and for more effective redistribution of wealth.
The opposition Scottish Conservatives accused the first minister of taking a “nationalist gamble with people’s jobs” by turning to “anti-business extremists”.
“It is pure economic vandalism to hand power to Green MSPs,” said Murdo Fraser, Scottish Conservative shadow secretary for Covid recovery.
As part of the pact with the Greens, the SNP has committed to implementing an “effective national system of rent controls” by 2025.
Harvie, who has been a Scottish Green co-leader since 2008, will have a lead role in delivering the rent control system and will also have responsibility for promoting zero carbon buildings and active travel.
Slater, a renewable energy engineer who was elected party co-leader in 2019 and won a seat at Holyrood only in May, will be minister for “green skills, circular economy and biodiversity”, including responsibility for green industrial strategy, biodiversity and national parks.
“Any transition to net zero [national carbon emissions] must be just, and my focus will be on delivering policies that support our workforce and wider economy through that change,” Slater said.
Sturgeon announced the ministerial appointments ahead of her annual speech on the government’s programme at Holyrood on Tuesday, at which she will set out her legislative priorities for the next year.
The programme will include plans to legislate for a rerun of Scotland’s 2014 independence referendum, in which voters backed staying in the UK by 55-45 per cent. However, the UK government insists its approval is legally required for such a referendum, and any legislation setting the stage for one is expected to be challenged in court.
Sturgeon also faces the more immediate challenge of responding to a surge in Covid-19 cases following the beginning of the Scottish school year earlier this month.
Scottish government data released on Monday said there had been 3,893 new cases reported in the previous 24-hours, with more than 14 per cent of tests for the virus showing positive.
Deepti Gurdasani, a clinical epidemiologist at Queen Mary University in London, said Scotland was a cautionary tale of the effect of dropping coronavirus restrictions and reopening schools “without adequate mitigations”.
“We can expect worse in England in the near future,” Gurdasani tweeted on Sunday.
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