Posts Tagged Scottish Greens

Fracking is not just an issue for a small corner of England

As I write this Caroline Lucas MP is being detained in the back of a police van and likely making her way to a charge desk for her part in the anti-fracking protests in the sleepy English village of Balcombe. If you’re in any doubt as to the pros and cons of fracking, this piece by the Northern Irish green researcher Ross Brown should set you straight

Caroline will be the first MP arrested this year for reasons other than fraud, sexual assault and perjury. This alone is a feat to be applauded. What will be interesting is how the rest of the Commons reacts to one of their own being detained when they have previously shuffled uncomfortably in their shoes and looked the other way.

Caroline Lucas is no George Galloway, and bundling one of Britain’s more popular MPs into the back of a police van is unlikely to make the government’s support for fracking any less dubious than it already is.

The reason that Caroline was the only MP at the protest is that she is, at present, the only English Green MP. That may well change at the next election if people suddenly find gas wells popping up at the ends of their gardens and draw a blank when writing to their local parliamentarian. Rather shamefully, every single other English party has refused to properly assess the risks of the technology. The Lib Dems and Conservatives are all on board because their energy policy is such a woefully inept compromise of ill-informed dogma and private interest, and Labour have offered some typically non-committal assurances that they will look at the impact of fracking once it is underway. They tried the same with PFI ventures and we all know how that ended.

So it has been left to Westminster’s solitary Green to stand up for what any right-thinking MP should be and protect the energy bills, water supplies and integrity of the English public’s landscape.

How and where fracking might happen in Scotland is less clear cut. The Scottish Government currently exercises control over planning but not over energy. What’s more, the Scotland Act means that the Westminster government could feasibly overrule Holyrood if push came to shove. This might sound unlikely, but the dash for gas is so great that speculators will be looking longingly north. As we all know, there is pretty much nobody in Scotland to complain anyway. It was at least easier in the old days when you could just force people off of their land if you fancied using the natural resources.

Neither should we rely on the benevolence of the SNP in safeguarding Scotland’s communities and natural resources. As Trumpgate has shown, the modern-day SNP behemoth is no more a friend of the small man than Labour or the Conservatives when money is being waved about. The biggest challenge will be to appeal to Alex Salmond’s past as an oil economist – hopefully even black-eyed Alex will see that the sums don’t quite add up.

If the SNP or, in the future, Scottish Labour decide that fracking is a good idea they’ll be met with all sorts of opposition from Greens and non-Greens alike. As the German Green Party have shown in Stuttgart and elsewhere, riding roughshod over the rights of communities and public opinion does not make those pesky environmentalists go away. It instead leads to them having a workable majority in the local state parliament. MPs and MSPs all across the central belt would be wise to do a bit of research before they do as much as invite Dart Energy and the rest of Scotland’s fossil lobby around for a cup of tea and a slice of Dundee cake.

Caroline Lucas’ arrest is a sign of the seriousness with which we should be taking Britain’s worrying energy politics, but also a concrete illustration of the commitment which Greens across the board have to doing as much as talking. You can pass as many climate change acts as you like, but when push comes to shove there is apparently only one group of parties in the British Isles and across Europe that has the courage to stand up and be counted. Hopefully there’ll soon be a lot more of them to count.

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What now for the Scottish Greens?

This time two months ago, Jeff, Malc and I were working ourselves into a lather with prediction-itis.  And getting most of it horribly wrong.  Meanwhile, James was otherwise engaged with proper politicking on the Scottish Greens’ election campaign.  The polls suggested that the Greens would take anything between 5 and 8 per cent of the regional vote:  a big break-through was beckoning, or at least a return to a 2003-sized Holyrood group.

Not that I care to crow – much – but this here burd trumped the Better Nation boys.  Three Green seats I think I said.

As it turned out, the Scottish Greens did well to return with two MSPs intact.  In the face of the SNP juggernaut, it alone managed to hold its vote at regional level and at least stand still in terms of parliamentary arithmetic.  I’m sure it was a huge disappointment to everyone in the Scottish Green Party and to many others but, putting it all in perspective, it wasn’t actually a bad result and it’s hard to see what else the party might have done to turn it into a great one.

But what do they now?  They have reached a fork in the electoral road – which route do they take?

There was much to admire in the Scottish Greens’ election campaign and manifesto, not least their dogged insistence on relatively unfashionable leftist economic policies.  But the outstanding memory I have is how Alex Salmond and the SNP effectively out-greened them.  Sure, on the little stuff – on recycling, on community based issues, the Scottish Greens were solid and worthy.  But on the big stuff – the renewable vision thing, of how it could create a real Scottish economic identity, and jobs – real jobs – in the future, well, the SNP won hands down.

It marked the difference in the level of ambition between the two parties: one aspired to be the next government, the other contented itself with being the home for protest votes.

And the problem with being the erstwhile recipient of the protest vote is that it is fly-by-night.  It cannot be relied upon.  Given its relative youth in party years, this might suffice but it does not provide a solid springboard for increased membership or indeed, representation.

The Scottish Greens have to decide if they wish to become a serious electoral threat.  The right strategy and tactics can pay dividends, as Caroline Lucas and the Brighton Greens can testify.

To replicate their success, the Scottish Greens need to grow and broaden their appeal.  For starters, that means increasing the membership.  The current membership levels are more reminiscent of a club not a fully-fledged political party – with very little effort, the membership could be doubled or even trebled.

Appropriate targeting would encourage members of other parties to switch but also encourage currently non-aligned people to sign up.  And that means getting the demographics right – it’s friends for life the Greens want, not the fairweathered variety.

At the same time, a stronger activist base is required.  The Scottish Greens have a great opportunity to make considerable gains at the local government elections in a year’s time but only if they get candidates in place soon-ish and get out there and work.  In local media, on local issues and on local doorsteps.  There is definitely a gap in the market for a principled and oppositional party to fight hard on local community issues, to offer something different from the mainstream.

Success at this level does not require a national campaign;  instead, the Scottish Greens need to focus relentlessly on winnable wards and concentrate effort in particular councils.  Some high profile gains in certain councils could propel the party into a king-making role (if they want it) and would have much greater impact than a smattering of Green councillors across the board.  To achieve this will involve someone sitting down and reviewing the local scenes, doing the maths and applying the science.  Winning hearts sometimes involves targeting minds.

But before tackling any of this, the Scottish Greens need to think about their party’s personality.  It is currently dominated by their ace in the pack, their co-convenor, Patrick Harvie MSP.  If the SNP can be accused of being a one-man band, what can be said about the Scottish Greens?  Moreover, the party is more of a movement, fluid and free-flowing, yet electoral success requires discipline, structure and format.  Not something that will sit easy with many of its members.

Finally, there is the adherence to principle and refusal to bend to pragmatism.  A lofty, highly laudable position to adapt but realistic?  How attractive is it to the majority of people who try to be Green but do not always succeed? Who aspire to Greendom but know that practicalities often get in the way?  How Green do you have to be to “be a Green”?  At times, it can seem as though rather than engage with the reality of politics, the party is keener on taking an outer stance and sticking to it, no matter what.  At times, it can smack of posture politics.  A refusal to compromise can be seen as dogmatic and downright pig-headed, turning as many voters off as on.

The Scottish Greens can continue on the path they have chosen but that might well mean being resigned to staying as they are:  a small parliamentary presence on the fringes, dependent on a protest vote, that some elections might not swing their way.  But if they wish to move forward, and truly become an electoral force to be reckoned with, they have some thinking to do.  Some shifts, uncomfortable though these might be in the short term, might be required for long term gain.