Scottish Parliament elections – implications for the Trust
Arina Russell is the Public Affairs Manager for Woodland Trust Scotland. Arina has written a blog with her reflections on the election results and outlining her work to influence politicians and policy.
As many of you know on the 6th May we had elections for the Scottish Parliament. These elections were different from any others due to the current times we live in so a lot of the Woodland Trust engagement with Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) before the elections and with candidates during elections was via Teams, Zoom or just emails.
Ahead of the elections we prepared a manifesto with asks the Woodland Trust wanted to see in party manifestos and we also ran a campaign asking supporters to write to their candidates asking them to ensure that the Trust’s manifesto asks are reflected in their party’s manifesto. For the whole of the Trust, it was a busy time due to elections being held in Wales and also local government and mayoral elections in England too.
Scottish Parliament make-up post election
In Scotland the SNP won a record constituency vote, however, they ended up with 64 seats – one short of the 65 needed for a majority in Parliament, which is very hard to achieve in Scotland’s proportional representation system. The largest opposition party is the Scottish Conservative party. Scottish Labour are the 2nd largest opposition party, and the Scottish Greens are in 3rd place having gained two seats. The Liberal Democrats are now the smallest party with only four MSPs. With the Green MSP Alison Johnstone elected as Presiding Officer, the Parliament is now split at 64 SNP MSPs and 64 opposition MSPs. The SNP and Greens are holding talks about entering into a formal coalition; these talks are expected to conclude at the end of June. You can write to your SNP and Green MSPs asking them to prioritise nature recovery in the party cooperation talks: https://www.fightforscotlandsnature.scot/news/uurge-your-snp-and-green-msps-to-prioritise-nature-restoration-in-party-cooperation-negotiations-and-together-we-can-revive-nature-in-scotland/
Turning now to the Scottish Government, the new Cabinet was appointed on the 19th May and the junior minister appointments followed the next day. The forestry brief sits with Mairi McAllan, junior minister and former special adviser for Roseanna Cunningham. Mairi McAllan is a junior minister under Mairi Gougeon – Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs (responsibility for crofting and agriculture and the islands) and Michael Matheson – Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport (also with responsibility for Nature Scot and biodiversity). Letters to all of these have gone from Ian Price, interim director for Scotland. We are also writing to the planning minister, Tom Arthur MSP and expect to be arranging meetings with these officials in the next weeks and months.
Implications, challenges and opportunities
Looming in the background we have the manifesto commitment from the SNP and Greens on a 2nd independence referendum, Europe and Scotland’s place in it, and also the aftermath of Brexit which is still going to occupy this Parliament. At the forefront at the moment, we have the Covid recovery – the first two weeks of Parliament were focussed on debates about Covid and the economy, health and education, and this topic will rightly occupy front row for months to come.
We have around 40 new MSPs all of which will need to be briefed on issues of importance for the Woodland Trust and on the nature and climate emergency. This is a big intake of new faces, and the environment sector has a challenge to ensure everyone is up to date on these issues. Many of the manifesto commitments that the Woodland Trust wanted to see in party manifestoes are well reflected in party manifestoes and so we have a very good base for discussions and for securing action for trees and woods in this Parliament: there is cross-party support to increase native woodland cover, the SNP are the only party to have made a commitment to create a register for ancient woodland and to work with landowners to protect these sites, and we have commitments to save Scotland’s rainforest, a globally important habitat in the west coast, in the SNP, Conservative and Green manifestoes.
At the Government level with forestry moved from the rural economy portfolio to the environment and biodiversity portfolio we are hopeful to see more of the kind of trees and woods the Trust envisages: woods and trees that deliver for climate, nature and people. Recently Mairi McAllan’s first ministerial engagement was to launch the Clyde Climate Forest, a project that the Woodland Trust contributed funds from our Emergency Tree Fund.
Immediate steps and what’s next for the Trust’s Public Affairs team
All new MSPs have been briefed and we are also reaching out to returning MSPs, especially those that have been assigned relevant spokesperson roles for their parties. We have sent letters to all relevant new Ministers and look forward to meeting with them soon. Throughout the summer we will organise site visits, particularly for those MSPs taking part in the Nature Champions initiative, to showcase our sites and our work and build relationships. In the autumn we have our eyes set on opportunities brought about COP26 and also on the National Planning Framework 4 where we want to secure improved ancient woodland and veteran tree protection. In the longer term we expect changes to deer management legislation which will be very relevant to improving the extent and condition of native woodland and restoring peatlands, and also the review of the land use payments post-Brexit.
A new member will join the team from the end of June as Public Affairs Officer with the main priority to focus on the National Planning Framework 4 and to secure the Trust’s goals around that.
Scotland Public Affairs Manager
8th June 2021