Interview by Neil Mackay

LORNA Slater is in combative mood. She has had it with lazy, cliched attacks in the press and from opposition MSPs. The Green co-leader and Scottish Government minister isn’t standing for any claims that her party is an SNP patsy, and she’s not holding back when it comes to pushing the case for independence or trans rights.

Slater sat down with The Herald on Sunday to discuss just how well – or not – her party’s deal with the SNP, which brought the Greens into Government, has gone. Both she and Patrick Harvie are ministers with environmental portfolios.

Slater has been routinely sneered at and attacked as a “Marxist eco-zealot”. But today, she is happy to go under the spotlight so readers can come to their own conclusions about the success or failure of Greens in Government.

What have you

really done?

THE first big issue for Slater is: where are the Green jobs, Green New Deal, and Green transition? This week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said it’s “now or never” if we are to prevent environmental collapse. So, what’s the Government doing?

Slater, however, points the finger at big business. “It’s frustrating that oil and gas companies knew about climate change 30 years ago. If they’d stopped lobbying for massive tax breaks and subsidies, or invested part of their revenues in renewables, we wouldn’t be where we are. We have to use everything at our disposal.”

Okay, like what? Simply “having us in Government is significant”, Slater says. “The First Minister brought Greens into Government for the purpose of having us there to push things along.”

So, what has been “pushed along”? Slater points to free bus travel for under-22s. “That’s the kind of thing within the power of the Scottish Government. It’s concrete. It improves people’s lives, it improves our economy, and it tackles the climate crisis. Those are the things we can do and that we’re starting to put in place to make sure that action on climate change is practical.”

Is bus travel enough, though? Should Scotland explore nuclear power like Westminster? “No,” says Slater, an engineer by profession, “the facts and the numbers don’t support nuclear. It’s very expensive. It’ll take ages to come online. It doesn’t solve our current crisis.

“We need to tackle the climate crisis within the next 10 years.”

Scotland, she says, is “very lucky”, adding: We’ve 25 per cent of all offshore renewable energy in Europe. Other nations may need to consider nuclear, Scotland doesn’t.”

ScotWind controversy

THE ScotWind project, she says, will bring 25 gigawatts of renewable energy. “It’s huge.” But ScotWind was severely criticised. The deal auctioned off seabed plots to mostly private and foreign investors for £700 million, and was accused of “flogging off the family silver”. However, jobs will definitely flow from ScotWind, Slater insists, as workers here will build part of the infrastructure needed. Communities will benefit – that’s her guarantee.

In terms of community benefit, Slater says, prior to ScotWind “windfarms have been telling us that Scotland never asked for this … whereas it’s de rigueur in other countries to ask and to expect that sort of contribution”.

Now, she insists, community benefit is “built right in”. She says: “These conversations are starting.” Benefits might include “communities owning part of the farm, whether they get payment, whether we build some sort of national sovereign wealth fund”. The Government had to depend on foreign and private investors, she says, as Scotland just didn’t have “the capital or experience” needed. “That’s the reality – the Government isn’t a bottomless pit of money”.

Ferry fiasco

SCEPTICISM about Scotland’s industrial policy is understandable,however, isn’t it, particularly after the ferries fiasco? Despite admitting the need for private companies with capital and expertise for ScotWind, Slater says Scotland needs to keep industrial sites like shipyards open and working so we can build the green renewable energy infrastructure of the future.

Thus the ferries. “It’s worth stepping back and looking at the big picture,” she adds. However, on ferries “lessons were learned, things would be done differently if we knew then what we know now”.

Isn’t the SNP’s failure to fulfil the promise of a national energy company – and downgrading it to an “energy agency” – another blow? Slater herself raised the issue in opposition. Today, however, she has shifted to saying Scotland first needs to work out what any such body should be doing. “It doesn’t make sense for the Scottish Government to buy wholesale energy at prices they don’t control and sell it back to people,” she says.

An “energy agency” – which could look after issues like solar panels – “makes more sense”. She adds: “When people say ‘national energy company’ they don’t quite know what they mean. The idea is to rethink what Scotland really needs.”

While that’s unlikely to silence critics, Slater moves on to what she describes as “very ambitious plans” for the future: like mass insulation of Scottish homes and “reducing car kilometres by 20%”. There are also plans to crack down on “green lairds” in the Land Reform Bill. Slater says: “Why are we giving billionaires agricultural subsidies?”

She adds: “These are big-ticket items. All these things are going to be happening in this term of Parliament. There’s going to be some big wins.”


GREENS, however, have been criticised over the delay of a deposit return scheme for cans and bottles, and failing to introduce a moratorium on large waste incinerators. Slater, though, doesn’t accept there have been failings. The deposit return scheme is “happening”, she says. “There’ll be some big announcements on that very soon,” she states. Slater maintains she had to get the “lie of the land” when taking office. The fact the scheme will happen is “a success of me being in post”.

The incinerator issue is under independent review “because the big question we want to know is what’s the right amount of incineration – we want evidence-based policy. Everyone wishes I’d a magic wand but we do government by consultation, hence we go through these processes”. A tourist tax – another Green promise – is “under discussion”. She adds: “That’s not gone away.”

Greens appeared to clash with Greenpeace over the Cambo oil site – an issue Nicola Sturgeon was criticised for being slow to respond to – and swithered on opposition to vaccine passports. They also had to put up with the SNP’s freeports policy. Are Greens in the SNP’s pocket?

Growing up

“A BIG part of coming into Government is growth and learning. Being a party of opposition allows you to be in a ‘white horse’ situation. You’re squeaky clean, you can only criticise and point out ‘why don’t you spend all that money? Why don’t you focus on my priority?’. To come into Government is a process of maturation. We have to deliver now with the resources we have and within the processes we have.”

Slater says she understand frustrations within the Green movement, adding: “We’re doing things as fast as we can. There’s an element of coming to terms with the reality of delivery and that we don’t have a magic wand. But it’s quite right for people to continue to pressure us.”

There is a sense from talking to Slater that many environmental successes wouldn’t be happening without Greens pushing nationalists. Is that correct? “One hundred per cent,” she says. “That’s the reason for having Greens in Government – to move these things along.” The commitment to rent controls wouldn’t have happened, or funds to upgrade Scotland’s recycling infrastructure, or promises of a new national park and restricting the shooting of animals for sport, or plans to make the producers of plastic responsible for their waste, or the consultation to end single-use cups.

But why does the SNP need Greens to hold their hand? Slater speculates: “The SNP has been in Government a very long time and they want to continue to be in Government. The SNP is looking for the long term. They need to jazz things up, they need new energy and ideas.”

On freeports, she said the SNP-Green deal “contains excluded areas where the parties agree to disagree, and freeports are a good example of this”. Greens are “clear that freeports are deregulation and so won’t back them”.

Greenwashing SNP

PARLIAMENTARY toxicity following the Alex Salmond saga also demanded a style change, Slater says. “We don’t do shouty negative politics – we do ‘working together’, we don’t have to be nasty even when we disagree very profoundly. We believe in collaboration, cooperation and consensus.”

But an alternative view is that the SNP brought the Greens in as a cynical move to “greenwash” Government. “I don’t think it’s cynical,” she says. “I don’t think you’d bring us into Government, have us in the room breathing down your neck, asking difficult questions from the inside. We may not win every argument but our point of view at least gets put forward. There’s a whole shift in the questions getting asked and the conversations we’re having in Government just from having us here.”

There have been questions raised about whether Greens should even be in Government given that by votes cast they are Scotland’s fifth party. Before the last election, Greens spoke of overtaking Labour. “We absolutely should be in Government,” says Slater. “Voters are sick to death of attack politics, negative politics, seeing party leaders shout abuse in the chamber. The Greens in opposition had a track record for being constructive – we’re trying to make Scotland greener and fairer. We’ve earned our place at the table through being decent people and working hard when there’s tough negotiations like the budget. We want an independent Scotland.”


YET many see the independence prospectus as a “mess”. “I don’t agree at all,” says Slater. “It’s time to have a national conversation about what kind of country we want. I think the UK is a mess, Brexit is a mess, corruption in Westminster is a mess, first past the post is a mess, the unelected House of Lords is a mess, the obsession with nuclear weapons is a mess. Scotland is in a much better state. We’re not a mess at all.”

But the point was about the independence prospectus being a mess, not Scotland. Slater replies: “That’s a fair question. Of course, the situation has been very fluid with Brexit. We didn’t know how badly it was going to go. The people of Scotland deserve a new prospectus and that’s what we’ll be working on.”

The SNP and Greens will be putting forward “a vision of a better future”, Slater adds. “The problem unionist parties have is they don’t have that – all they offer is more Brexit, more austerity, more corruption … They don’t have a good story to tell. We do. I can tell a story about a vision for a more equal country. So, that’s what the prospectus needs to set out. We’re at the start of that journey and I think it’s quite right to push that we haven’t maybe done enough. Obviously there’s a lot going on in the world.”

Ukraine war

PRECISELY – won’t Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis make independence a harder sell to undecideds? “We had a Holyrood election in the middle of pandemic. Democracy is really important – we can’t set it aside, that’s quite an extreme thing to do. Putin shouldn’t be allowed to stop our democratic process. We were elected on a mandate of holding a referendum and we need to do that job.” She refuses to accept that “Scotland can only be independent when the weather is fine. No, Scotland is still better off as an independent country even when it’s raining”.

Slater says Russia using gas as a weapon proves “the need to double down” on transitioning to renewables. “When energy prices go up, that’s an excellent time to switch,” she says. Dependence on fossil fuels means “dependence on autocratic regimes” and that threatens democracy. “This opens up a huge space for us to talk about energy security from stable sources.” The debate about transition costs should end, she believes, as “renewable energy is cheaper”. Slater adds: “The quickest way to achieve energy security is through insulation of homes – not building nuclear power stations, buying oil, or opening Cambo.”


ISN’T that a hard sell too? The Greens are already perceived as “anti-growth”. Slater points out that “economic growth is an excluded item” in the SNP-Green agreement. It’s an area “where the Scottish Greens have a fundamentally different position to the Scottish Government”.

Slater says society needs to discuss what growth really means. “A lot of people use the term as synonymous with economic success, but what growth leads to is working 60 hours a week to buy crap you don’t need to impress people you don’t like. It doesn’t necessarily lead to an improved quality of life.” Nor is growth evenly distributed, she adds, noting the UK’s high inequality levels. “The rich get richer and everyone else gets poor so loads of people aren’t benefiting from growth. The word isn’t helpful – it neither means economic success, quality of life nor that people are necessarily wealthier.”

She favours talking about “quality of life” which is why Greens back a four-day week. What’s the point, she says, of working endless hours and never seeing your kids just to have an SUV? Greens want to “turn the dial” so it’s personal wellbeing and rewarding work which society focuses on. She admits, though, that being seen as “degrowth” risks people “turning off”.

Was it right for Greens to say only the “hard right” now supports fossil fuel extraction? That was down to “frustration”, Slater says. However, she maintains that anyone who wants to keep using fossil fuels in the middle of a climate emergency which threatens “the extinction of humanity” is taking an “extreme” position.

“Our opposition don’t really believe in the climate crisis,” she claims. To aid the green transition – and prevent a Thatcherite decimation of jobs – Slater points to Government intervention during Covid. Why not a “furlough scheme for oil and gas workers”, or windfall taxes for home insulation? Climate change is an emergency so act like it – that’s her view.

Trans rights

ALONGSIDE the environment, Greens have championed trans rights. Slater sees a difference between the Scottish Government and SNP on the issue. “The Scottish Government is in the right place, absolutely. It’s openly supportive of trans rights,” she says. The Gender Reform Act will pass, she promises. Referring to the backlash against the trans community, Slater adds: “It’s been absolutely heartbreaking. Awful. Hideous.” Greens are standing some trans candidates for local election and Slater says she’s “genuinely afraid for their safety”, adding: “These gentle, hardworking women are being portrayed as if they’re inherently dangerous. It couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Today’s atmosphere, she says, is reminiscent of 1990s America and “ridiculous bathroom laws”. She says: “Just let people get on with their lives. My understanding is that there’s money in this from certain right-wing American groups that’s been flooding into organisations in the UK.”

False balance is being introduced, Slater believes, adding that the BBC “only recently stopped putting on climate deniers because they required balance. We wouldn’t put balance on the question of racism or anti-Semitism, but we allow this fictional notion of balance when it comes to anti-trans [views]. The whole thing is disgusting.”

Polls show a large majority of the public, and women specifically, support trans rights. Slater doesn’t care what “Daily Mail” readers think.

Dead rats

BEFORE the Greens entered Government, their New Zealand sister party offered advice from their own time as junior partners in power. Scottish Greens would both have to “eat some dead rats” – in other words, make unpleasant political compromises – and achieve some policy successes to avoid becoming SNP “roadkill”.

Has that been the case? “When you’re in opposition you can call for the moon on a stick,” Slater says. Government “requires difficult choices”.

Okay, so what has been achieved? Slater returns to free bus travel for under-22s. Fine, what else? Single-use plastics will be banned, she says. Nature restoration and recycling funds have been established. She is “very excited” about beavers returning to the wild.

The biggest advance has been taming the SNP, it seems. Before Greens entered Government, on oil and gas “the SNP position was for maximum extraction”. Now that has changed to “oil and gas extraction must come to an end”.

It has still only been eight months since Greens got into power, though. “This is us just getting started,” Slater says. “The big stuff is yet to come.”