PATRICK Harvie sits in his east end office, drinking coffee from a mug featuring the slogan “Gay Lord”.

It’s an LGBT spin on the Time Lords of the former minister’s beloved Doctor Who. Our photographer loves it and asks if he can take a picture. Harvie signals in the affirmative with enthusiasm.

It’s only eight days since his ministerial career came to an unceremonious end. According to inside sources, he and fellow Greens co-leader Lorna Slater were invited to Bute House via text the night before – with no indication that the governing deal they signed there in 2021 was about to abruptly come to an end.

In a “cool and business-like” manner, the First Minister – who described this co-operation agreement as “worth its weight in gold” to me little over a year ago – sacked the pair. It was a defining decision of the First Minister’s premiership. It was also a doomed one.

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Harvie, with more than 20 years of experience in the Scottish Parliament, is used to opposition. At the same time, he clearly feels disappointment at the prospect of leaving government.

“It’s very mixed feelings to be honest,” he admits. “It’s not what I would have chosen. It’s not the way I wanted this to end.

“But at a personal level, you feel you’re a little bit out of the pressure cooker. I settled back into my office in the MSP block at the weekend there. I was actually really quite looking forward to unpacking it all and getting set up there.

“I’m back in, basically, the role that I’ve been in for quite a while now. I know how to do it.”

The Greens co-leader seems undaunted by the idea of pushing policy towards the Government, rather than inside it, as he’s become accustomed to in recent years: “The Greens are good at being opposition but constructive opposition, you know – robust and challenging but seeking common ground. We’re good at it. We’ll carry on being good at it.”

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That’s not to say that Harvie is entirely confident in the SNP government’s plans going forward. An hour after his removal from government, the MSP warned that Yousaf had “capitulated” to “reactionary forces” in his party. He maintains his concern that the party could be about to renege on policies, particularly in housing – a portfolio area Harvie no longer has power over.

“The rent controls that are part of the Housing Bill that’s just been introduced, the Government’s being lobbied like mad by vested interests to water that down,” he explains. “Rents are way out of control in some parts of the country and that action is absolutely needed.

“I think we can still see those things delivered, but we’ve got work to do to try and make sure they don’t get watered down.”

Climate commitments

Days before the Bute House Agreement’s sudden ending, the Scottish Government announced it was no longer aiming to cut emissions by 75% by 2030. In a press release, the Greens told of eight new “accelerated” climate actions they had been able to secure. MSP Mark Ruskell spoke of how these new policies, including integrated rail ticketing, would “ramp up” work to achieve net zero.

Now the Greens aren’t in government, the future of these commitments is suddenly unclear. Slater pushed Yousaf on them at FMQs, but he failed to offer assurances - leaving the decision for his successor.

“Scotland’s been trying to be a world leader on climate and it hasn’t been,” says Harvie. “It’s set targets and missed them. We all bear some collective responsibility for that.

“More to the point, we bear responsibility for setting in place a framework that will effectively drive that accelerated emission cuts, drive that trajectory through 2045.

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“I think that’s what we would be trying to achieve if we were still in government,” he goes on. “It’s what we’re trying to achieve now that we’re in opposition.”

But if Harvie is so concerned about vested interests lobbying the SNP government one way or another, does he have faith that future ambitious targets can be achieved with the Greens outside the tent?

“They can. Absolutely,” Harvie says. “But it’s a choice and there are people pushing them to make the wrong choice.

“You’ve got everyone’s favourite dinosaur, Mr Ewing, who described the heating buildings programme as Patrick Harvie’s madcap boiler ban, right? He doesn’t get to call it Patrick Harvie’s anymore. It’s still government policy. It is still essential.”

The voices “pushing” the Government come from outwith the backbenches too, Harvie points out. He raises Homes for Scotland, an organisation representing the homebuilding sector. After the 2030 target was dropped, they called for the Government’s work on heating buildings to be slowed down.

“That would be an utterly perverse decision,” the MSP says. “Yet some very powerful lobbyists are out there trying to push the Government in the wrong direction.”

The role of the media 

At the moment, it feels like those questioning net zero policies at all levels are often the ones given the biggest platforms in the UK media. Whether it’s outright climate change scepticism seeping into the UK’s political debate or more conservative voices arguing that environmental action only punishes the working class, we seem to hear more of this negativity than concerns about the consequences of not dealing with these challenges.

Given that tricky landscape, does Harvie feel the Scottish Greens have had a fair go from the media?

He laughs. “It’s politics, isn’t it? What’s the old phrase – politicians complaining about journalists are like sailors complaining about the sea.”

Considering his answer – presumably weighing up the reactions of journalists likely reading his words this weekend – he takes a second. “I think there are some really dangerous elements in some parts of the media that are effectively far-right conspiracy platforms masquerading as news outlets, whether that’s in print or in broadcast.

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“There’s also the social media effect where so many more people are circulating within enclosed bubbles, only being exposed to attitudes that mirror their own. That reinforces prejudices.”

In tackling media hostility, Harvie suggests, the key is “standing your ground” – rather than seeking the path of least resistance.

“I like to think that over the past two and a half years I did stand my ground. Whether those criticisms were coming from The Express or from the Tory Party, or the Tory Party’s favourite SNP backbencher. I think I stood my ground and I stood up for what I think needs to be done.”

The abrupt end to the Bute House Agreement 

There's an elephant in the room at this stage in our conversation. I suspect Harvie is pretty tired of being asked questions about Humza Yousaf. However, their political fates are now forever intertwined in the big book of devolution history, so Harvie probably faces being asked about him for the rest of his career. I decide it’s time to bring up the man who almost certainly would still be leading his party, had Harvie not been ousted last week.

“Was there a way that the Bute House Agreement could have been ended without Humza Yousaf losing his job?” I ask the MSP.

“Wow,” he says. There’s silence for a few seconds.

When he speaks again, the MSP brings up the Greens’ ill-fated EGM on the future of the co-operation deal. He had been hopeful that members could be brought round, but waiting for a significantly smaller party to determine the SNP’s future would be “a bit uncomfortable” for the Government, he acknowledges.

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“But I think it’s reasonable to say that we’ve been made to be uncomfortable on a number of occasions during the course of the Bute House Agreement as well,” he adds.

Reflecting on that Thursday at Bute House, Harvie continues: “It could have been handled better. It could have been done a little bit less painfully.”

He is at pains to stress that his anger is not “personal animosity”.

“I like Humza,” Harvie insists. “I’ve got a lot of time for him personally and I think he’ll look back on this and think perhaps he was in a spot that wasn’t of his choosing either.”

The truth is, it isn’t only Harvie, Slater and Yousaf who have felt hurt this past week. As the editor of Scotland’s only pro-independence daily newspaper, I see emails, letters and tweets from the core of the movement every day. There has been a huge amount of anger directed towards the Greens, as supporters – many of whom say they’ve often voted SNP 1, Greens 2 – blame Harvie’s party for the collapse of the pro-independence majority government.

“[Lorna and I] went out to bat to try and get the result that would keep a progressive pro-independence majority government together,” Harvie responds. “I’m sorry that Humza didn’t.”

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Harvie turns his focus to Alba – whose sole MSP Ash Regan just voted with the Conservatives and Labour in a failed no-confidence motion in the Government.

“I think a lot of people are even more baffled by that,” he says.

With John Swinney now set to take over as SNP leader – should nobody else put their name forward before noon tomorrow – the Greens look set to be fairly supportive of the Government again. They’ve been clear that their issues lay specifically with Yousaf, and they now want to move forward. Whether the SNP will be willing to put everything to one side so quickly is another matter.

When I ask if the Greens will support Swinney in the Holyrood vote for first minister, Harvie is, as you’d expect, unwilling to give much away. It’s a decision for the parliamentary group, he argues. I ask if he’s concerned about Kate Forbes being set to take a senior government position. The former finance secretary’s socially conservative views have long been cited as a source of concern for the Greens.

Harvie does not address Forbes specifically, and instead reiterates the need for a “progressive government for Scotland”. Unless the Tories or Labour start changing their tune, he says, the SNP will ultimately need the Greens on side in the future.

“The arithmetic in Parliament hasn’t changed but nor have our values,” he adds. It certainly leaves the door open to the Greens refusing to work with Forbes, whatever position she ends up in.

Is independence "frustratingly close"? 

THE independence movement could do with facing the current situation with a degree of realism. Things are, to say the very least, not great. Despite polls suggesting the country is roughly 50/50 split on independence, there is more division than ever – and no immediately apparent path towards an independent Scotland. Harvie is clear that “frustration” has increased in the 10 years since the “tragic near-miss” of the 2014 referendum.

“I think if we’re honest, everyone is finding it difficult to say how can there be a path toward a near-term decision like that again, in the face of not just the current UK Government but the next UK government which will be implacably opposed to giving us the right to choose,” he says.

“I think there’s some frustration in the pro-independence movement around the path, and some unwillingness to acknowledge that that path is longer than we would wish it to be.”

I point out that Yousaf described independence as “frustratingly close” in his resignation speech. Does he agree with that label?

“It was an ambiguous phrase, wasn’t it?” Harvie replies. He agrees that we are close in the sense of being “so ready” to be an independent state, but not in the practical journey to actually achieving that.

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“I still believe that the way to make it more achievable is to galvanise a very clear sense of what kind of country Scotland wants to be,” he continues. “We’re not there yet.”

Swinney gave a similar answer to the question on Thursday, arguing more “hearts and minds” need to be won over.

It’s a common topic of debate among Yes supporters. Given everything thrown at Scotland over the last decade – Brexit, the trampling of devolution – why hasn’t independence support grown more significantly?

“I think it’s being undermined in a way that is so much more apparent and visible and immediate to people who are following politics really closely,” he suggests. “The Internal Market to most people is jargon. Some of the weaponry that’s being used against Scottish self-government is quite technical.”

With increasing numbers of people turning to social media rather than established news outlets, these more technical attacks on devolution aren’t making it out of the Holyrood bubble, Harvie suggests. “You can’t blame anyone for not following politics closely,” the MSP adds.

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Another common criticism towards the Greens within the pro-independence sphere is that co-leader Slater claimed support for independence is not a red line to working with Labour. Harvie is frustrated when I raise this.

“Look, that comment has been taken out of context so many times in a way that just is deliberately done to rile people up,” he tells me.

“Lorna was being asked there, if there was a Labour administration, would we be able to work with them on issue-by-issue things?

“Obviously, the fact that we don’t agree on independence … that shouldn’t stop us from achieving something like the Scottish Child Payment.”

Besides, Harvie adds – it doesn’t look too likely that the Greens would be pushed towards working with Labour at Holyrood in the near future anyway.

LGBT+ hatred in Scotland 'worse than 1980s'

IT’S only a few months since a man accused of making homophobic comments towards Harvie was arrested and charged by police. Last year, Police Scotland recorded a big increase in the proportion of hate crime charges aggravated by a person’s sexual orientation – climbing from 16% to 33% over the course of the past decade. Among my own social circles, there are young people of various political backgrounds who are concerned about what feels like a new social conservatism creeping across Scotland.

I ask the MSP if senior political figures understand the worries and fears felt by young LGBT Scots now.

“Some of the ones who are fermenting this do understand exactly what they’re doing and are culpable for, something that is, I think, now at a level that is worse than anything in the 80s,” Harvie responds.

He raises Section 28 and goes on: “We’re now at a point beyond that.

“You’ve got a UK Government … they’ve not changed the law on discrimination against transgender people, but they’ve put a call out for people to report organisations for not discriminating.

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“They put pressure on schools to out young people to their parents when they don’t feel safe.

“That’s way beyond what happened in the 80s.”

This is a bold statement, from a man who campaigned around HIV prevention and against Section 28 – and attended university in Manchester at a time when police squads raided gay venues wearing biohazard gear.

“We’re at a level now where this is profoundly dangerous,” Harvie goes on. “It is putting people’s lives at risk and yeah, some of the people doing it know that very well.”

He takes a second before opening up about his own experience.

“I can’t remember ever having been subjected to this level of abuse: Deviant, groomer, perve, paedophile … that kind of stuff gets bombarded at you.”

Harvie picks up his phone and points at it. “We’re all carrying these devices around that are supposed to be liberating, kind of an opportunity for the whole world to communicate with one another. And they just turn into devices that direct this abuse.”

Clearly emotional, he continues: “What must it be like being 14, 15? You know who you are, whether you feel safe to come out, and see this kind of stuff day after day.”

The key to tackling increasing discrimination, he says, is to fight it by humanising the LGBT community.

“If it’s stereotypes, then it becomes much easier for those who are ill motivated to divide and to create that kind of hostility.”

Lessons learned

AS we approach the end of our hour together in the Calton, I’m thinking again about Harvie’s strange Holyrood experience. Spending so many years as a kind of anti-establishment figure in opposition, before gaining genuine power in Government – and then ending up back exactly where you started. While Harvie is obviously bruised, he seems comfortable enough back in opposition. I’m keen to know what’s changed, though. What has he learned from his time as a minister?

He stops and lets out a long sigh. “That’s a really difficult question.”

After some time, he settles on an answer. “I probably knew on a theoretical level that making stuff happen is a lot harder than demanding that stuff happens.

“Getting up on my hind legs in Parliament and saying why isn’t everything better now – that’s pretty easy. It is really difficult to make change happen. And there’ll be politicians in government that I disagree with, but I would respect the difficulty of that challenge perhaps a little bit more than I did before.”

Harvie suggests that the Scottish Government feels this on another level, too, with the “incredible financial constraints” facing the country after 15 years of Westminster-imposed austerity and the “constraints” of devolution.

He stresses that this isn’t about “giving politicians an easy ride” – but all about understanding that running a government in difficult times is a “big ask”.

“So let’s put forward good, positive ideas, show how stuff can be made to work, not just opportunistically demanding.”