Scotland’s European Links amidst Greener Prospects in Europe

David Gow | 12 May 2021

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Almost unnoticed in Scotland, as the results of the elections to Holyrood trickled in over two days last week, was the remarkable success of the Greens in Bristol. They gained 14 seats and are now-co-equal with Labour on the city council, with the Tories in third. Not perhaps as arresting as the winning of power in Baden-Württemberg or Bordeaux but striking in its own right.

Here the Scottish Greens won eight seats in the 129-strong parliament, a record for them, while Scottish Labour lost two despite widespread praise for its new leader, Anas Sarwar, and has just 22. Like the triumphant Scottish National Party that won one extra seat and has 64, the Greens campaigned on an openly pro-European platform.

If these two parties step up their co-operation seen from 2016 to 2021 in Holyrood, forming a coalition or maybe something less formal, then the pro-European Union majority of the referendum of 2016 (62%) is intact and even strengthened – 72 MSPs in favour of Scotland re-joining as soon as possible. Whereas, quite obviously, notably above all in Hartlepool, England is in the grips of the anti-European, pro-Brexit, Conservatives under Boris Johnson.

This accentuates a political (and demographic) trend that began here a decade or more ago. Scotland is increasingly a “normal” social democratic, ecologically minded European country whose cultural values are progressive and centre-left. And this is more than likely to be replicated in pending elections across Europe, most critically in Germany (September) and France (May 2022).

A Green Merkel?

German and other commentators are now openly debating the prospects of Annalena Baerbock, the Kanzlerkandidatin der Grünen, becoming the Federal Republic’s second woman chancellor in the autumn. German opinion polls are quite labil or unstable when it comes to what they call the Sonntagsfrage or who will win when voting takes place on a given Sunday. But the Greens have long since overtaken the official Social Democrats, the SPD, and are now pulling in almost twice as much support – 25/26% compared to 14/15%.

In the last few weeks something remarkable has happened: the Greens have overtaken the ruling Christian Democrat (CDU)/Christian Social Union (CSU) political force which is now polling around 24%. The reasons for this are various, including disengagement from Angela Merkel after her 16 years in office and lack of interest in her CDU/CSU choice of successor, Armin Laschet.

What matters for our purpose is that the Greens are almost certain to be part of the next government, whether as senior partners in a Green-Black coalition with the CDU/CSU or junior partner in a Black-Green variant – or, often seen as the more likely option, leading light in a coalition with the SPD, Liberal FDP or old left Die Linke.

Franziska Brantner MdB, Greens’ spokesperson on Europe, has said “it is quite possible that the grand coalition of CDU and SPD will be renewed” but this is pretty disingenuous. One reason why the social democrats’ support has slumped is precisely because they have been in three such grand coalitions since 2005. A Green-Black coalition (first suggested to this correspondent some 25 years ago by Helmut Kohl’s chief speech-writer) is on the cards not only as many Greens are wertekonservativ (culturally conservative) but also because the party has moved to the centre in economic/fiscal terms.

This suggests that the SNP/Scottish Greens should reach out to their German counterparts (they were after all together in the EFA alliance in the European Parliament) if they are to pursue their search for greater international support for Scotland as an independent member state of the EU. Not least because, just as the SNP has squeezed out Scottish Labour on the social democratic left here, the German Greens have done the same to the SPD.

What’s more, culturally and ideologically, as broad socio-economic coalitions, they share what Brantner calls European dimensions: alongside the Green New Deal, “the strengthening of a European fiscal policy, the social dimension, women’s rights, the issue of migration which must be managed humanely.”

Greener prospects in Europe

At first sight, the French presidential election of 2022 holds little hope for the green left (unless one counts Emmanuel Macron as centre-left). Both Yannick Jadot (Europe Écologie Les Verts) and Anne Hidalgo (resoundingly re-elected mayor of Paris likely to head the Parti Socialiste campaign) are polling around 6% support compared with around 25% for both Macron and Marine LePen, the far right candidate of Rassemblement National. But these are early days and Les Verts did win 13.5% (and 12 seats) in the European Parliament elections two years ago.

What’s more, both Austria and Ireland have “black-green” coalitions while the Greens are also in government in Belgium, Finland, Luxembourg and Sweden. They have yet to make significant breakthroughs in southern and eastern Europe, however, perhaps reflecting relative levels of economic development.

The message for and from Scotland is that the trends in society and the economy favour outward-looking, social democratic, culturally progressive, green (in the widest sense) political movements and this was reaffirmed by last week’s results in Holyrood. Now, more than ever, is the time for these Scottish political forces to reach out to their fellows across the EU and Europe as a whole.


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David Gow is Editor of, Senior Adviser at Social Europe and Senior Adviser at Acumen Public Affairs. He is former European Business Editor of The Guardian and worked for The Scotsman and London Weekend Television.