They’re at it again. The Scottish Greens are annoying people.

Alex Salmond’s Alba won’t appear on the bill of a planned pro-independence rally on Saturday in order to preserve the Scottish Greens’ ideological purity, it seems. Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater’s party have indicated they won’t share a platform with those like Alba whose political vision diverges from theirs.

Also in the last week, senior Scottish Green MSP Ross Greer reposted a comment on X calling the independent Cass report into NHS gender identity services for children “a straight up transphobic and conservative document”.

Dr Hilary Cass, an eminent paediatrician, you’ll be aware, conducted a comprehensive review of the international evidence for gender-affirming trans healthcare instead of just proclaiming its supposed benefits. She found the research base was “remarkably weak”, with children being given puberty blockers that could not be declared either safe or effective. Perhaps Mr Greer would have preferred it if she’d kept her findings under wraps? Scientific rigour is now transphobic, it seems, to some in the Scottish Green Party.

What these two incidents have in common is a closed mind. A view was reached - on what basis, we are not told - and with doctrine established, dissenters are neither engaged nor reasoned with, but condemned from the virtual pulpit. They are cancelled.

Sometimes senior Scottish Greens are portrayed as arch liberals. Oh please, they are anything but. Doubt is alien to them. Tolerance is only one way. The widely respected MSP Andy Wightman left the party over its stance on trans rights, saying it had become “very censorious of any deviation from an agreed line” and he was saddened by the "intolerance shown by some party members to an open and mature dialogue". Dr Hilary Cass presents a scientist’s assessment of the evidence that challenges their established beliefs so Greer shares a denunciation of her work. Alba’s vision of an independent Scotland differs from theirs so they freeze them out.

I have no affection for Alex Salmond’s band of reactionaries and malcontents either, believe me, but it’s Pythonesque, this warring of fringe parties ostensibly in the same constitutional camp. I don’t share Alba’s vision, but I’m more alarmed by the idea of one niche party effectively making it impossible to have a genuinely pluralist campaign for an independent Scotland. What a strange way to try and bring about a new liberal democracy.

There are two sad aspects of all this from the point of view of a lefty liberal like me.


Cass review has lessons for Scotland too

Independence doesn’t look so appealing in this dangerous world

One is that the Scottish Greens, because they are seen by a sizeable number of voters as fanatics, are in danger of damaging the consensus around pursuing net zero. It must have seemed to the SNP leadership like a clever ruse to hand most of the net zero agenda to the Greens back in 2021, since Mr Harvie and Ms Slater would cop the inevitable flak for implementing these challenging but important policies.

But they have proved rather unsympathetic figures - with questions persisting about Ms Slater’s competence after the Deposit Return Scheme debacle - and are not the best people to win broad support for the measures.

The other disappointing impact is that the Greens are not doing the image of small parties any favours.

We need small parties. They are one of the benefits of the Scottish Parliament’s electoral system. They ensure we don’t end up with the tyranny of the majority (some SNP anger about the Greens is motivated by aversion to sharing power). Small parties make a democracy genuinely inclusive.

But some small parties also give a platform to people who don’t do compromise. That’s why they aren’t in larger parties, by definition. We need both and it’s right that sometimes, big parties are encouraged to be more radical by smaller ones, but there’s a limit. If a small band of hardliners have the whip hand, or are perceived to have it, it makes voters very nervous. This applies not just to the Scottish Greens but to the DUP in Theresa May’s government and Ukip in relation to the Tories. Their influence should not become outsized, particularly when they are out of sympathy with most voters, or stuck down their own ideological rabbit holes. That starts to look inimical to people’s democratic will.

Admittedly, it’s never easy for small parties, even the moderate ones. The Scottish Liberal Democrats, who shared power with Scottish Labour for the first eight years of devolution, were portrayed relentlessly as “selling their ideals for ministerial Mondeos”.

This was perhaps inevitable for a centre left party that sold itself in some constituencies as the main challenger to the Tories and in others, to Labour. People suspected them - some still do - of lacking principles.

The Herald: The Scottish Greens have refused to share an independence platform with Alba The Scottish Greens have refused to share an independence platform with Alba (Image: PA)

Maybe the Greens remember how the Scottish Liberal Democrats were constantly harassed on this point and that has made them afraid of conceding ground.

But I doubt it. I think they are being their authentic selves - which is to say, diehards.

The Scottish Greens’ senior leadership themselves probably feel they have played their hand well. Their polling numbers are holding up (though this happened to the Lib Dems too after the exposure of being in government). It’s possible that the Greens could even find themselves back in government after 2026, if the SNP remain as the largest party.

But if I were rash enough to make a prediction, I’d say that’s unlikely. The Greens’ influence in government has opened up a canyon within the SNP. Humza Yousaf or a future SNP leader might well dump the diehards, even if it meant running a minority administration, as the price of party unity. The Greens’ moment in the sun would be over.

If so, they would largely have themselves to blame. Grandstanding like student politicians is tiresome in adults. Persuasion is more enduring than condemnation. Engaging an opponent and exposing their weak points is far more powerful than trying to shut them up. If the Greens want to be more than a curio in the footnotes of Holyrood history, they need to learn these lessons, and fast.