April 25, 2024 - 3:15pm

The Bute House Agreement — the coalition cobbled together by Nicola Sturgeon after her second failure to secure an overall majority in the Scottish Parliament — has today collapsed.

Humza Yousaf fought hard for it. In last year’s leadership contest, he squarely opposed the growing number of Scottish Nationalists who wanted rid of the partnership; even days ago, he was still saying publicly that he hoped it could be salvaged.

But in the end, the prospect of getting dumped by the SNP’s junior partners was a potential humiliation big enough to show up even on the First Minister’s poorly-attuned radar. Instead of letting the Green membership vote on the deal next month, he tore it up himself.

It ought to help that they chose to draw their line in the sand on two policy areas — trans issues and the environment — where they are completely out of step with Scottish public opinion. It was Sturgeon’s desperate push for the Gender Recognition Reform Bill that gave Westminster the opening to wield its veto on Holyrood legislation for the first time; it’s fitting that the issue should crack her coalition too.

While voters clearly value the importance of the climate, the Greens’ policies on this front — a botched deposit return scheme, a mooted ban on wood-burning stoves, paused proposals to close huge swathes of Scotland’s seas from all human activity — have been the distilled essence of incompetent metropolitan posturing.

Yet Yousaf can hardly strike any bold poses on either subject: both were his issues too, as they were — and indeed are — for much of the Sturgeonite wing of the SNP. As such, the repudiation of Bute House is much more a vindication of Kate Forbes, the more conservative runner-up in last year’s leadership contest, than it could ever be for him.

The vote of no confidence tabled by the Scottish Tories today has been backed by the Greens, the avowedly separatist party lining up alongside Unionists to bring down the SNP. Yousaf’s fate may now lie in the hands of Alba’s Ash Regan, who stood for the leadership last year while still an SNP MSP.

There are implications, too, for the next elections to the Scottish Parliament in 2026. Now unburdened by the responsibilities of office — which they did not take especially seriously in any event — the Greens may hope that the SNP will henceforth be the sole focus of voters’ mounting anger about the state of Scotland.

More significantly, it now seems extremely unlikely that the two main pro-independence parties will be able to fight that election on a common platform — robbing them of the chance to claim a direct mandate that might have bounced Westminster into granting another referendum.

Another question is the extent to which a falling out between the SNP and the Greens affects voters’ willingness to split their votes between the two. To date, the Greens have carved out their position at Holyrood by effectively gaming the system, pitching for the list top-up votes of separatist voters that would otherwise have gone to waste when the SNP was winning most of the first-past-the-post constituencies in each region.

If the Nationalists continue on their current trajectory, that cosy arrangement will be much less palatable to them in 2026. If Labour — and, indeed, the other Unionist parties — look set to make real headway in the constituencies, the SNP will suddenly have to start fighting for as many of those list votes as it can get.

All of a sudden, the needs of the party will conflict with any aspiration toward Nationalist unity. The SNP will need to take the fight to the Greens — and may want a leader better suited to the battle.

Henry Hill is Deputy Editor of ConservativeHome.