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It's not easy being Green

Brian Taylor | 11:50 UK time, Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Update: And so the budget duly carried - by 123 votes to 2. The two being the Greens.

Intriguingly, there was little jubilation in the chamber on the government benches.

Perhaps it was a sense of dislocation caused by the unexpected experience of Labour and the SNP voting together.

Perhaps it was weariness. Anyway, it's through.

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Update: The Greens say they'll vote "No" - unless they receive assurances that the proposed insulation scheme will be free and area-based: that is, not triggered by individual applications.

Right now, they say ministers have dropped this approach. Plus they've now been offered less.

You'll remember the deal on offer last week, eventually, was £22m from the government plus £11m leveraged in from "social partners".

Now it's £15m plus £15m. But the key point, according to the Greens, is that it is a means-tested scheme.

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And then there was one. One party still opposed to the Budget, that is.

And that party would be? The Greens - whose opposition tipped the balance last week.

This morning Labour's Iain Gray added his voice to the litany of support for the £33bn spending package.

Mr Gray freely concedes - how could he otherwise - that he has compromised still further in discussions with the first minister.

A few members of the wicked media suggested to Mr Gray that he had settled for a package eerily similar to what was on offer last week.

To the contrary, said Mr Gray, the deal done today guarantees new apprenticeships for 7,800 people - plus guarantees for apprentices who lose their jobs, money for retraining in struggling areas, a summit on jobs and money for town centre regeneration.

These various ideas have been in the ether for some time but, according to Mr Gray, this is the first time they have all come together.

Cash anxiety

That is true. But it would still appear the offer of 7,800 apprenticeships for a single year was previously made - although not included in the budget bill because there was no deal with Labour.

Still, no matter. Considerable compromise there has been.

There is no guarantee for subsequent years - partly because of anxiety over cash, partly because of concern that Scottish industry may not be able to expand its apprentice system so rapidly.

So what's really changed? As with the Lib Dems yesterday, Labour has taken the temperature - and detected voter disquiet with political machinations at a time of economic crisis.

To grasp the importance of this deal, you have to appreciate the degree of mutual suspicion and hostility between Labour and the SNP.

It's tangible. You can taste it.

Right to the last minute, there were murmurings in Labour ranks, murmurings from senior figures, that the SNP seek to exclude Labour from the emerging consensus.

Formal offer

One even said they reckoned Alex Salmond had two competing spirits on his shoulders: one urging a deal, one counselling mischief.

Ministers are adamant, insistent that they were always eager to reach as wide an accommodation as possible. And so it proved.

Which brings us to the Greens. They have now been made a formal offer with regard to their proposed home insulation package. But it seems that it is less than was on offer last week.

Not surprisingly, given that Mr Swinney has now had to find extra cash to deal with Labour.

Will the Greens vote "no"? I'll get back to you. But the budget carries. And, right now, the Scottish Government will live with that.


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