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Agreement gives Greens say over policy in Scotland

Businesses should begin to review how they might be impacted by future policy developments – including a second independence referendum – in light of a new agreement finalised by the Scottish government and the Green Party in Scotland, an expert in public policy has said.

Scott Wright of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, was commenting after a landmark cooperation agreement between the Scottish government and Scottish Greens was ratified following endorsement by members of the SNP and Scottish Greens over the weekend.

“The cooperation agreement will see the Scottish Greens provide support for Scottish government budgets, legislation and amendments to legislation,” Wright said. “In return, the Greens’ co-leaders, Patrick Harvie MSP and Lorna Slater MSP, will be appointed junior ministers within the Scottish government. The Greens will also be consulted and given oversight on the Scottish government’s policy and legislative programme, with both parties committing to a ‘no surprises’ approach to parliamentary business.”

“The agreement has been underpinned by a shared policy programme which sets out policy ‘areas of mutual interest’ that both parties will seek to collectively deliver over the next five years of this parliament. Not only does the agreement pave the way for calls for a second independence referendum, it will also be particularly significant as the Scottish government strives to project leadership on climate change in the run-up to the COP26 summit in Glasgow. Indeed, first minister Nicola Sturgeon has already called for the UK government to reassess granting licenses for oil exploration at the Cambo oil field northwest of Shetland. This represents a significant change in the SNP’s approach to the oil and gas industry,” Wright said.

Measures seeking to address the impact of climate change permeate various areas of the new shared policy programme.

On energy policy, the Scottish government and Greens believe hydrogen and carbon capture, utilisation and storage technologies will support decarbonisation, while they have also outlined plans to boost onshore wind generation by between 8 and 12 GW by 2030, including through changes to the planning system.

Other changes to the planning system are planned through the approval and adoption of Scotland’s fourth National Planning Framework (NPF4). The Scottish government and Greens said they will “actively enable renewable energy” and said the global climate emergency will be a “material consideration for appropriately located renewable energy developments”. However, they said they would revise the national spatial framework for onshore wind so as to ensure that new onshore wind developments are not situated in Scotland’s national parks or national scenic areas.

In the area of transport, the Scottish government and Greens have agreed to focus on maintaining existing roads rather than on building new ones and instead plan to invest in “public transport and active travel”. This will include a planned investment of more £5 billion in “maintaining, improving and decarbonising Scotland’s rail network”.

On housing, the Scottish government and Greens have proposed to build 110,000 affordable homes by 2032, with at least 70% of that stock to be made available for social rent. They have also agreed a target of ensuring at least one million homes and at least 50,000 non-domestic buildings are using zero emission heating systems instead of fossil fuel boilers by 2030, while all homes will need to achieve an EPC ‘C’ rating for energy efficiency by 2033 at the latest. In addition, all new buildings where a building warrant is applied for will be required to use zero emissions heating as the primary heating source and meet significantly higher energy efficiency standards from 2024. Further reforms to the regulation of heat in buildings is also anticipated.

Other major policy plans include the establishment of a National Care Service in Scotland and the possible use of devolved tax powers on landfill tax “to ensure they are consistent with our net zero ambitions”.

Wright said that while the agreement provides a degree of clarity on policy direction, the prospect of a second independence referendum is likely to dominate political discussion in Scotland over the remainder of the parliamentary term.

He said: “The agreement will formalise a pro-independence majority in the Scottish parliament of 71 MSPs in favour to 57 against, which may serve to increase pressure on prime minister Boris Johnson when considering any future request for a ‘Section 30 order’ required to hold a second independence referendum.”

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