THE Scottish Greens conference got under way yesterday with applause for policy announcements, standing ovations for speeches – and cheering for the return of beavers.

Members gathered in Dundee to celebrate what was billed as “18 months unlike any in the party’s history”, after it entered into a co-operation agreement with the SNP which saw Greens entering government for the first time anywhere in the UK.

There was a headline announcement on the Scottish Government refusing to back any plans for coal extraction.

And following on from a similar attacks at the SNP conference last weekend, there was criticism of Labour, particularly over Keir Starmer’s pledge to make Brexit work.

READ MORE: Labour 'threaten to go further' in creating 'hostile environment', says Patrick Harvie

However, there was also a pledge to put forward a “distinct” vision for an independent Scotland, to be set out in the publication of Green Yes papers over the coming months, separate to the Scottish Government’s own prospectus.

Scottish Greens co-leader Lorna Slater opened the day by setting out policies which had been influenced by the party, such as funding for active travel, a local bus fund, and investment in recycling.

She told party members: “We have established the groundbreaking £60 million nature restoration fund, supporting projects all over Scotland: restoring our natural environment, investing in our rural communities and we have reintroduced beavers.”

Greeted with cheers, she joked: “Canadians love beavers, they’re our national animal.”

She went on: “We have confirmed that the Scottish Government will no longer support new incinerators. With the best will in the world, we could not have done this from the backbenches.”

Slater, who is minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity, also announced that the Scottish Government will offer “no support” for coal extraction.

She referred to the Coal Authority granting a conditional licence for coal mining in a geographic area which covers Cumbria and Dumfries & Galloway. Planning permission would be required for any new mines to open in this area, however.

She said: “I can announce that the Scottish Government is adopting our preferred position of no support for coal extraction in Scotland.

“Scotland, the country that helped bring the coal-fired industrial revolution to the world, has drawn a line.

“The era of coal is over and I’m calling on the UK Government to follow us, to make the right call for once, to ban coal extraction for good.”

Her co-leader Patrick Harvie, minister for Zero-Carbon Buildings, Active Travel and Tenants’ Rights, also emphasised his party’s new position, saying the recent law for a rent freeze shows the Scottish Greens can deliver “robust change that actually works for people in the real world”.

He said he still gets “a little tingle” when saying “Greens in Government” and prompted cheers from the crowd as he added: “The wee kid who was sat in the back of somebody’s living room when my mum was going to Green branch meetings back in the 80s could not possibly have imagined to be able to use a phrase like ‘Greens in government’.”

With Labour surging in the polls, Harvie said the prospect of that party replacing the Conservatives in Downing Street would not offer anything better.

“Everyone in this room and millions more like us want to see the back of the Tory government,” he said.

“But we refuse to accept that we can do no better than the prospect over the next few years of a Labour government who will not only fail to overturn that Tory hostile environment, but are threatening to go further.

“And Keir Starmer has made it very clear he has no intention of rebuilding our relationship with the EU, insisting he will ‘make Brexit work’, whatever that means.”

He added: “Scotland did not vote for Brexit. It did not vote for hostile immigration policies. It did not vote for Trident in our waters. But that is what we are set to get whether the winners of the next Westminster election wear blue or red, and that’s why we must have the right to choose a different path.”

READ MORE: ‘The coal era is over': Scottish Greens co-leader tells party conference

Today, the agenda for the conference includes a motion which calls for the Scottish Greens to suspend “formal association” with the Green Party of England and Wales (GPEW), due to office-bearers in the party south of the border engaging in what is described as “transphobic rhetoric and conduct”.

However, Zack Polanski, deputy leader of the GPEW, was a keynote speaker at the conference yesterday, introduced as someone within the party who is a “clear and consistent champion of trans rights in the face of transphobia”.

Polanski also sent a message of support for holding an independence referendum.

He was met with cheers as he said: “You can’t demand that an entire country’s voice should be silenced – Scottish Greens will not be silenced, Scottish people will not be silenced and we will always stand by your right to self-determination.”