The last week felt as if Green MSPs were constantly bumping into Noel Edmonds, with journalists, in true game show style, continually asking “Deal? Or no deal?” on the Scottish Budget.
It wasn’t until close to the deadline that we were able to hammer out a deal to secure significant additional funds from the Scottish Government to protect local council services in every part of the country; contribute towards a fairer pay settlement for public sector workers including teachers and to bring forward low-carbon capital investment including work to tackle fuel poverty and progress new rail developments.
To some that might appear like a few hours’ worth of negotiations, but behind the scenes, Green MSPs have been discussing constructively how to amend and strengthen the draft budget for around two months. It’s been no easy feat, especially given that there are only six of us. And when you consider Labour have 22 MSPs, it’s deeply regrettable that other opposition parties didn’t get round the table to negotiate and make the budget even better.
Opposition parties have a responsibility to engage constructively and make a difference for Scotland's communities and that’s exactly what Greens are doing. This is a substantial package of funding for local council services, teachers and other public sector workers, and will boost the green infrastructure our communities need for the future. On this basis, our MSPs are able to support the budget at Holyrood.
As a party, we pride ourselves on our tradition of democracy and in particular, our consistency in listening to our members and making them a part of the parliamentary process as much as possible. It was Scottish Green Party members, many of whom are readers of The National, who instructed, and mandated, our MSPs at our autumn conference to negotiate for a Scottish Budget that would protect local services, protect public sector pay and boost low carbon investment. I can now go back to our members, supporters and my constituents and say that we did that.
Greens will always stand firmly with local communities and public sector workers affected by years of cuts and closures. In my own area of Stirling, I’m delighted that the Green budget deal means the threats faced by The Big Noise Raploch and the Smith Museum have been lifted. The youth orchestra project and the museum faced big cuts in funding from the council but those cuts are now off the table.
It’s a similar story across Scotland as councils setting budgets are now able to rule out some harsh plans they had drawn up. Examples I’ve heard from around the country include the closure of libraries, higher charges for swimming pools, reduction in waste collection, a worsening of staff terms and conditions. For our schools it means councils can now lift the threat of cutting Additional Support Needs staff, school subject choices, withdrawing music tuition, and removing provision of centrally funded breakfast clubs. And in the voluntary sector the Green budget deal means councils can continue to fund third sector organisations and women’s crisis services.
The Green budget deal also means the first-ever community rail fund to turn good transport ideas into reality, and more generally we will see capital spending on high-carbon projects such as new trunk roads go down from 23% to 12% of total capital spend, while low-carbon projects such as rail, buses and warm homes will go up, from 21% to 28%, with a promise for more in future years. This shift is vital to help build a low carbon society, and not lock us into future pollution.
We are also enabling a world-first as four conservation areas are brought forward to protect whales, dolphins and sharks.
This deal is just the latest example of Greens leading the change in Scottish politics, from shifting the SNP and Labour's positions on income tax toward a fairer structure, securing a ban on fracking, getting Air Departure Tax cuts removed from the budget, and delivering changes in social security to stop sanctions and ensure low-income families get the support they are entitled to.
While other parties continue to posture from the sidelines, Greens are making Scotland fairer. This agreement is the latest step in a journey on restoring financial powers at local level, on which we will need to see far more progress before next year's budget, as the annual fight against council cuts must not continue.
Thank you to our supporters and members who have contacted us and told us precisely what they wanted from an improved Scottish Budget. With your help, we did it. Perhaps next year we’ll again see the ability of opposition parties to change the budget for the better, with other parties realising this isn’t a gameshow and you can’t fool the public over the sincerity of your participation.
This article first appeared in The National.