Why Parties Must Budget for Compromise

Louise Wilson

Earlier this week, the minority SNP Government overcame the first hurdle to passing its budget for 2017-18 with the support of the Greens. Since then, scorn has rained down on our lentil-munching, sandal-wearing party – from all sides of the political arena.

It’s no surprise the Tories hate it. They felt the SNP on its own was too Left. With the help of the Greens the budget has been transformed to one from the “Radical Left”. According to The Ruth Davidson Party, communism is out in full force when we expect people to pay a little more because they can afford to do so.

The real argument Greens must address is that set out by the Labour party – that we’ve allowed the SNP to pass through a budget overseeing a number of cuts with only small concessions in return.

Let’s be clear – no Green will be 100% happy with the budget as it stands. It is still too timid on tax. It still does not give local authorities enough funding to fully support the services we would want to see (or allow them to raise enough themselves). It is far from radical.

But the deal was reached in a spirit of compromise.

Both Labour and the Conservatives all but refused to do a deal with the SNP, based on the idea that only their policies – in full – were right. This is in direct conflict with the very idea of minority government and a proportional representation electoral system. You cannot expect another party to adopt – lock, stock and barrel – your own policy when in search of agreement. This applies equally to the SNP, who for a long time seem to have been arguing that the other parties should support them simply because they are in government.

What the Greens set out to achieve was an agreement based on compromise. This means neither party truly got what they wanted – but as the saying goes, that is the sign of a good deal. The general public were not privy to the back-room discussions – we cannot speculate whether the SNP would have given more ground or how hard the Greens pushed for it. What we do know is that there was just enough movement each way to allow the budget to pass Stage 1.

[We should also note here that what comes next is equally important. The budget is passed in the form of a Bill through Parliament and it has to get through two more Stages before being agreed. Stage 2 and 3 are where amendments can be lodged and we can be sure that negotiations will continue. The agreement that was reported on Thursday may not be the final deal.]

And yet the vitriol aimed towards the Greens since Thursday has been constant. Seemingly the ultimatum set out by Labour and the Conservatives was: adopt our policies or we’ll force another election. Any other alternative, as explored by the Greens and Lib Dems, would be treachery and ignoring the wishes of their respective members.

This is the folly of the two-party system at UK level. Labour and the Conservatives have rarely had to compromise because of a string of majority governments (thank you, First Past the Post) They lack the understanding that underpins how both Holyrood’s smaller parties work – that to get anywhere with progressing your agenda, the word of the day is Compromise.

Sure, the agreement we got is far from a Green budget. But we managed to secure 100% more than any other opposition party, including £160m more for our cash-starved local authorities. Our MSPs can keep their heads held high – this was a job well done.