THE Bute House Agreement has weakened democratic accountability and not strengthened the case for an independence referendum, according to a leading scholar.

Anthony Salamone, a member of the Europa Institute at the University of Edinburgh, said it is unclear why the deal was needed while Professor James Mitchell argued new policies brought in since would probably have been adopted anyway.

Mr Salamone gave a critical assessment of the co-operation deal, signed between the Scottish Government and the Greens' in Holyrood, as the first anniversary of its announcement approaches on August 20.

He asked how the deal could have strengthen the mandate for a new referendum if the test is taken to be a pro-independence majority in Holyrood.

"A parliamentary majority for a referendum has existed since the last election (and it existed in the previous parliamentary session). The cooperation agreement does not alter that fact," he said in an article published today on his Political Courant website.

"If the two parties had been motivated solely to establish the strongest and clearest possible governing position for an independence referendum, a coalition government would been the logical choice.

"In truth, it is unclear how the cooperation agreement bolsters their independence argument. The Greens already supported the SNP on independence-related matters, including by voting for the Referendums (Scotland) Act 2020, and surely would have continued to do so without the agreement."

The agreement followed last year's Holyrood elections which saw the SNP win 64 seats, one short of a majority, and the Greens eight. It was presented as a way of improving the case for a new independence vote and committed the two parties to collaborate in parliament on areas such as economic development and the environment. The two co-conveners of the Scottish Greens Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater become junior ministers.

It was the first time the Greens had joined government anywhere in the UK. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described the deal as a way of "doing politics and governance better".

The arrangement required all Scottish Greens MSPs to support the SNP in votes on the budget and on any confidence motions.

Unlike in a coalition, a number of policy areas including aviation, defence and private schools, and aspects of economic policy relating to growth, were excluded from the agreement meaning the two political parties were permitted to publicly disagreement in these areas.

Mr Salamone, a founder of the former think tank the Scottish Centre on European Relations, who now runs the consultancy European Merchants, raised concerns about the "selective" nature of ministerial responsibility in the deal as a consequence of having excluded areas.

"The agreement effectively creates selective ministerial roles for the junior party – in which the office holders are only sometimes responsible for the government’s actions and only sometimes aligned with government policy," he said.

"That selectivity undermines the spirit of collective responsibility, since any minister should always be accountable for the policies and decisions of the government."

He argued that overall the arrangement was not necessary to establish a stable government (the SNP had previously governed as a minority) , allowed the SNP to avoid "difficult" compromises that would have come with a full coalition, and introduced a level of complexity into governance. He added for these reasons if Scotland was an independent republic, it was likely that a president would not have approved the deal.

He concluded: "It is a basic democratic principle that government should be accountable to the legislature and to the people. An essential aspect of government accountability is clarity – who is governing, how decisions are made and who is responsible.

"When only one party is governing, that clarity is normally easier to establish. When more than one party is governing (or, in this case, partially involved in governing), it is inherently more difficult.

"Sound institutional architecture can facilitate that clarity. The SNP-Green cooperation agreement is a hybrid arrangement and a novel model to Scottish politics.

"Both dimensions increase the potential for public confusion on who is actually governing in Scotland. The deal itself is complicated: the Scottish Greens have not joined the government, but Green ministers have been appointed; Green ministers are collectively responsible for government decisions, but not in excluded areas; on excluded matters, the SNP and Greens can pursue completely contradictory policies. ..The result is that, even if government decision-making has not become more opaque in practice as a consequence of the agreement, that complexity hinders public understanding of government."

Professor James Mitchell, of Edinburgh University, and a prominent expert on the SNP, was not convinced by Mr Salamone's argument that the deal weakened accountability.

However, he argued the deal had not achieved anything that wouldn't have been done anyway.

"It’s still early days but it looks as if the leadership of the two parties have managed to work together very well. In large measure this reflects similar, though not identical, objectives on the key issue of independence," he told The Herald on Sunday.

"It isn’t clear though that there was any need for the Bute House Agreement or to have Green ministers to achieve this. From the Greens perspective having ministers will be seen as an important development.

"Ministerial office provides kudos and a platform that they would not otherwise have. In policy terms, it is unclear what they have gained that would not have happened anyway. Those who might have expected the Greens to have added a radical strand to the Sturgeon Government will be sorely disappointed."

He added: "The SNP has not paid a high price for the deal – a couple of SNP MSPs have missed out on ministerial office but no individual MSP can be sure that she/he would have been appointed so this loss has less impact than had it involved existing SNP Ministers being removed to make room for Green Ministers.

"The SNP can also present itself as pro-environment without actually having to do anything they would likely have done anyway. It also makes the campaign for independence look broader than might have been the case. "

But he went on to say that key policy differences are likely to become more evident in a a new independence campaign given divergent views, between the SNP and the Greens eg on Nato membership (which the Greens oppose).

Scottish Greens MSP Ross Greer said his party had pushed the Scottish Government to a bold policy agenda to make Scotland fairer and greener. He said would not have been the case without his party "being in the room".

He added: “Already we have seen the introduction of free bus travel for young people, a doubling of the Scottish Child Payment to £20 per week, record investment in walking, wheeling and cycling, the creation of a nature restoration fund, record funds injected into recycling services, £145milliion to recruit extra teachers and more. We’ve started the process of establishing a new national park, will soon establish a national system of rent controls and have just introduced a ban on new incinerators.

“This agreement is different from previous ones. That is the point. It recognises that the public want their politicians to work together where that’s possible and to hold onto our principles when we don’t. The Bute House Agreement strikes that balance.

“Speculation about whether or not a hypothetical president would approve of this agreement is irrelevant. What matters to people across Scotland is whether or not it is delivering. For those receiving increased Scottish Child Payments, able to use the bus for free or who will see their rent capped at affordable levels, the impact of the Scottish Greens by the end of this session of parliament will be quite clear.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The Bute House Agreement is an important new departure in Scottish politics. It represents a new model of co-operation in government and brings by bringing Green ministers into government for the first time anywhere in the UK.

“The first year of the Agreement has seen considerable progress in delivering on the things that matter to the people of Scotland, including doubling the Scottish Child Payment to £20, introducing free bus travel for young people with almost 16 million journeys made already, beginning the work on a new National Park and launching a £65m Nature Restoration Fund, tackling single-use plastic pollution, providing record funding of £150m for walking, wheeling and cycling projects and committing £1.8 billion to making homes and buildings easier to heat and with climate-friendly heating.

“At a time of huge challenges facing people in Scotland, most urgently, the cost of living crisis, the Bute House Agreement demonstrates a commitment to constructive ways of working and making things happen. The Scottish Government is fully accountable to Parliament.”