Scottish Greens walk out of Holyrood debate on Queen’s jubilee

Republican campaigners have applauded a decision by Scottish Green MSPs to boycott a Scottish parliament debate celebrating the platinum jubilee, with some walking out before it began.

Several Scottish Green MSPs, including the party co-leader and junior government minister Patrick Harvie, left the Holyrood chamber before Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister and Scottish National party leader, led celebrations of the Queen’s 70 years as monarch. Their colleagues were already absent.

The most overtly pro-republican demonstration yet seen in Holyrood was heavily criticised by Scottish Conservative MSPs. Sharon Dowey, the Tories’ culture spokesperson, said every other party had joined in thanks for the Queen’s service.

“The Greens’ refusal to do so is petty, student politics at its worst,” she said. “Their transparent attempt to woo anti-monarchy voters will frustrate the vast majority of Scots who recognise [the] celebrations as a chance to show our gratitude for Her Majesty’s tireless dedication.”

Graham Smith, the director of the anti-monarchist campaign group Republic, said the Greens’ actions were symptomatic of growing republican sentiment, particularly among younger voters and in Scotland.

“I think it’s quite extraordinary,” he said. “There are big political changes across the whole of the UK and certainly in Scotland. It wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago.”

Three Scottish Green MSPs were absent, either on an official visit or working from home. Those that did walk out declined requests to discuss their protest, but a spokesperson said on Wednesday the party believed Scotland needed an elected head of state: “We respect others hold different beliefs. Our MSPs decided to absent themselves from today’s short debate and instead spend their time serving their constituents.”

Celebrations of the jubilee in Scotland appear more muted than in other parts of the UK. While central London is festooned in union flags and vast crowds have gathered for the weekend’s pageantry, there are no mass-participation events planned in Scotland.

The official jubilee events website reports that more than 7,000 street parties and public events have been registered in the UK, fewer than 250 of which are shown in Scotland on its map.

Alongside beacon-lighting ceremonies, Scottish events include a national service of remembrance in Glasgow on Sunday, a picnic and live broadcast of London’s pageants in central Edinburgh, the temporary ordination of two schoolboys as Buddhist monks in Aberdeen, a horse stunt show in Jedburgh, a parade by 70 historic vehicles through Perth, and a 70-lap run round a park in Peterhead.

The Scottish government has given the Queen a commemorative bottle of Johnnie Walker whisky and a special tartan throw. A jubilee wood is being planted in Holyrood park, adjacent to Holyrood palace, the Queen’s official residence in Scotland.

Speaking before she attended the service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s on Thursday, Sturgeon said: “The occasion of the platinum jubilee is not just about an institution. It is, above all, about the life and service of an extraordinary woman.

“We should all pay tribute to that. Let us congratulate her warmly on a reign of unprecedented length, and let us acknowledge with deep gratitude and respect, her dedication to duty.”

A recent poll for the thinktank British Futures found only 45% of Scottish voters wanted to keep the monarch, compared with 60% at UK level, while 36% of Scots said the end of the Queen’s reign would be the right moment to establish a republic.

It found 48% of Scots were interested in the jubilee, compared with 78% of people in Wales. Only 40% of 18- to 25-year-olds across the UK favoured keeping the monarch. YouGov has found support for the institution has fallen over the last decade, from a high of 75% in 2012 to 59% in March this year.

The only equivalent parliamentary protest in the UK took place in the Senedd in 2004, when the Welsh nationalist leader Leanne Wood was ejected for calling the Queen “Mrs Windsor”. Her Plaid Cymru colleagues walked out with her when she left the chamber.

• This article was amended on 2 June 2022 to clarify that not all Scottish Green MSPs walked out as the jubilee debate began; several were not in parliament.