Patrick Harvie is the eternal bit player of Scottish politics but finally he got a starring role.
First Minister’s Questions was all about Nicola’s Little Helper. Earlier this week, he came to the rescue when the SNP’s Budget needed extra votes to pass its first reading.
Pliable Patrick, the nodding cucumber, is a man of principles — mostly Nicola Sturgeon’s — but presented with the opportunity to extract concessions from a minority government his radicalism wilted like yesterday’s organic lettuce. A tinker with tax and a modest increase in council funding was all it took to convince him that, while another world was possible, he’d settle for an extra tenner towards bin collections in Clackmannanshire.
It’s not that Derek Mackay is a strategic genius, it’s just that Patrick Harvie has all the cunning of a Murder, She Wrote villain.
Ruth Davidson contrasted Mr Harvie’s preference for higher taxes with the position of entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter that the rate of income tax should be somewhere below 112 per cent. ‘Harvie or Hunter,’ Ms Davidson demanded. Which man should Scotland listen to? ‘Derek Mackay,’ replied the First Minister, and she even kept a straight face.
Ms Davidson tried to portray Nicola Sturgeon as a captive of Patrick Harvie’s demands, forced to dance to a Green tune. But there is no tune and the only Green fiddle was Mr Harvie’s squad campaigning as Holyrood’s plucky underdogs then playing as the SNP junior league once they got there.
The Scottish Greens aren’t a separate political party so much as six Nationalist MSPs who sit together in the canteen. For all his talk about sustainability, the only thing Mr Harvie’s managed to sustain is Nicola Sturgeon’s grip on power.
His star turn came to an abrupt end when he got to his question. ‘I thank Ruth Davidson for the lavish attention that she paid to the impact of the Green Party,’ he began, beaming, ‘which has successfully changed the Scottish Government’s budget.’ Now, would the First Minister listen to him and stop micromanaging Scottish councils?
No, she wouldn’t. His question was waved away brusquely in favour of some self-congratulation on her local government record. ‘I am sure that Patrick Harvie and I will not agree on everything,’ she allowed matter-of-factly, ‘but I hope that we will continue to see the constructive approach that we have seen from the Greens.’
I’ll bet she does. The poor little cucumber slumped, no longer nodding but sighing. Politics is a fickle business but he might have expected his services to Nattery to have bought him at least the pretence of his suggestions being taken on board.
A brutalist concrete clutter, the Scottish Parliament looks from the outside like an East German prison camp but once you get inside it’s much less fun. Richard Leonard seemed to have taken the vague air of Soviet menace to heart.
After Ruth Davidson was done castigating the First Minister for putting up taxes, the Scottish Labour leader denounced her for not putting them up enough. Why not a 50p rate? He hasn’t thought this through. You can’t hear the pips squeak if they’ve all moved to Carlisle for tax purposes.
Ms Sturgeon forensically debunked Labour’s plan and explained that it wouldn’t raise the forecast £1billion but closer to £300million. It was an altogether politer way of saying, ‘Well, we’re not ruling out land seizures and bread rationing but let’s give other approaches a go first.’
Mr Leonard sounds like someone called to speak at a picket line who’s forgotten what the strike is about. Even the most zealous of us finds our attention wandering. That was until he accused the First Minister of ‘relying on Reaganomics’.
Quite what resemblance he sees between the Gipper and the Nipper isn’t clear but we were at least spared a stinging put-down based on the income tax policies of Stephen Grover Cleveland.
Still, comparing Nicola Sturgeon to one of America’s greatest presidents was bold. Even the dutiful Patrick Harvie wouldn’t try that.