IN Dominic Hinde’s new book on Sweden’s political model, A Utopia Like Any Other, he writes of a Green Party that’s become a mainstream force, junior partners in the country’s Social Democratic government since 2014. It wasn’t an easy journey. Like many Green movement, it began by promising to shake up the political status quo but gradually found a place on the traditional political spectrum, nestled between Socialist and centrist parties without fully signing up to either.

As Hinde observes, that means it’s either perceived as the only party with “a radical vision for the future” by its fans, or “a hopelessly middle-class pressure group” by its detractors, not a bad summary of how the Greens are viewed in the context of Scottish politics.

Like its Swedish counterparts, over the past 17 years the Scottish Green Party has worked hard to concern itself as much with inequality as the environment. Indeed, the impression I got from its weekend conference in Edinburgh was of a party pitching itself as a better version of the SNP: pro-independence but less prone to Blairite compromises with the forces of conservativism.

Indeed, the Scottish Greens’ co-convener Patrick Harvie took to the airwaves last Friday morning to urge pro-independence Scots to elect “constructive” critics of the Scottish Government rather than more SNP “cheerleaders”. Just as Labour and the Conservatives agreed on the Union but not other policies, the Greens could work with the SNP on independence but not necessarily anything else.

That, therefore, was the dominant message at Paterson’s Land near the Scottish Parliament, where the Greens hope to send at least eight MSPs in two months’ time: “A bolder Scotland needs a bolder Holyrood.” Research conducted by Ian Dommett (who previously worked with the SNP) has clearly identified a thirst for more radical action as the Scottish Government becomes increasingly cautious and, dare I say it, “establishment”.

As Mr Harvie observed in his speech on Saturday, the SNP are being unintentionally helpful in underlining this goal as an “urgent one”. He pointed in particular to Nicola Sturgeon’s timidity on council tax (hereafter to be known as “the SNP’s council tax”), but he might also have mentioned the Scottish Tories. Having spent months talking up the need to use new income tax powers, at its conference on Friday it decided to do nothing.

But above all the Greens see an opportunity when it comes to fracking. Much ridicule was heaped on the Liberal Democrats for a series of U-turns on the controversial policy, and also on the SNP for facing in two directions, feigning reluctance while commissioning research and (apparently) giving energy companies like Ineos discreet nods and winks. Last Thursday the First Minister said she was “highly sceptical”, but that was clearly a pre-election holding position.

So the Greens pride themselves on being the only party with a clear and consistent line on fracking (although Scottish Labour claim the same), an issue that might not be salient yet but could become a major issue during the next Scottish Parliament. On this and other fronts the Greens are positioning themselves as the new insurgents, just as the SNP did against Labour back in 2007, attacking Scotland’s then-dominant party as tired, timid and out of touch. Not for the first time, history repeats.

I remember covering the 2003 Scottish Parliament election when the Greens – then led by Robin Harper – didn’t so much campaign as stage endless photo calls urging Scots to give them their “second vote”. It was simple but effective, getting to grips with a fledgling electoral system and turning it to their advantage.

Something similar is at play in this election, although of course the backdrop is a much more dominant governing party. The tensions in the independence movement are well known, between those who see anything other than #BothVotesSNP as self-indulgence and others, such as RISE and the Greens, who believe the SNP needs more critical friends.

So the regional list vote is a crowded field, much more so than in 2003, with several parties – old and new – vying for attention. As it emerged yesterday, the Scottish Conservatives have submitted the phrase “Ruth Davidson for a strong opposition” to be used on ballot papers, a homage to the SNP’s “Alex Salmond for First Minister” strategy back in 2007. RISE, meanwhile, says it will make securing another independence referendum its first priority during the next Parliament.

According to polls, the Conservatives have a better chance of making gains than RISE, but it strikes me that only now are the Scottish Greens projecting a clear message and strategy, something they could have been doing consistently since the referendum. There’s a sense that despite Patrick Harvie’s high profile during that long national conversation, his party failed to capitalise on the space it opened up (as well as a membership boost), perhaps lacking the resources, infrastructure and professional polish of the SNP.

A degree of discipline isn’t to be sniffed at, for it helps avoid the wrong sort of stories dominating the news agenda. Ask anyone in the political bubble what they associate with the Scottish Greens over the past few months and they’d probably answer with personality clashes and an internal leadership election. Making matters worse was the fact Mr Harvie backed the losing candidate (Zara Kitson, conspicuous by her absence from conference) in that contest, meaning that he and his co-leader Maggie Chapman don’t exactly make a harmonious duo going into the election.

There are other issues. Although the Greens ostensibly favour independence it’s never been entirely obvious why. Patrick Harvie doesn’t seem particularly comfortable discussing the constitution, while his (often justified) critiques of SNP policy generate inevitable tension. Those attending conference at the weekend would have left with the impression the Scottish Government was rather inept and timid, yet it remains the main driving force for what the Greens claim to want, an independent, more left-wing Scotland.

Beyond fracking and some observations about the North Sea oil industry, environmental issues also didn’t get much of a look-in, but perhaps that’s what happens when a party – like its Swedish counterpart – is compelled to broaden its appeal. In spite of these caveats, however, I reckon the Scottish Greens have positioned themselves relatively adroitly in terms of the Holyrood election and beyond.

As the party’s South of Scotland list candidate Sarah Beattie-Smith observed on Saturday, Scottish politics has retreated into bland, middle-of-the-road territory since the independence referendum, while the next four years will likely be much less dramatic, with only local government elections disrupting a relative period of calm before the 2020 UK general election.

A new Scottish Green Party badge features a wedge of green within a circular saltire, something that reflects its electoral ambitions. Perhaps it’s a long shot, but an election outcome that produced around 60 SNP members dependent upon half a dozen Greens to govern would not only be good for the Scottish Government, but good for Scottish politics more generally.