It’s time for the Greens to stand up to their critics
The National, Leslie Riddoch
Is it time for the Scottish Greens to develop some fangs and bite back at their detractors? Despite having radical and viable alternatives on land reform, fracking, local government and climate change – and despite being led by Scotland’s most popular opposition politician, Patrick Harvie – the Scottish Greens only seem to make headlines when they’re in trouble or doing something whacky.
It’s not fair, but it’s not going to change unless the Greens stand up for themselves – fast.
The first big insult came last year when the London-based BBC Trust and Ofcom gave them minor party status alongside Ukip in the forthcoming Scottish elections. The Scottish Greens are currently on course to increase their MSP total from two to eight or nine in May but “minor status” means they’ll be excluded from BBC Scotland’s Leaders’ Debate while the LibDems will be included.
Many expect Aunty’s position will wobble nearer polling day – as well it should – and last week, STV piled the pressure on BBC Scotland by including Harvie in its leaders’ debate line-up in March. Why did the Greens not crow about this broadcasting triumph – after all, it’s hard to see how BBC Scotland can possibly exclude them now?
Partly because they are not the kind of people to make a big fuss, but partly also because the press already had a Green story that day – the launch of the party’s own brand of beer named Harvie’s Hoptimistic in honour of its co-convener.
Now, it’s great that Greens have a sense of fun and perhaps Oscar Wilde is right – it’s better to be talked about than not talked about. But a party with serious and constructive things to say is in danger of being reduced to a novelty turn. Or a green vipers’ den.
Newspapers revealed yesterday that three Green list candidates have quit after being told they must actively campaign for co-convener Maggie Chapman. One candidate has also quit the party.
Obviously. it doesn’t help the Greens to have their friendly image tarnished by a personality row. Mind you, very few parties are without internal rows and this one demonstrates Greens are power-hungry too.
Perhaps the biggest problem facing the Scottish Greens is the growing campaign to persuade Yes voters to back the SNP in both sections of the Holyrood vote – in the constituency section (where the SNP is widely expected to clean up) and the regional list.
SNP 1&2 campaigners cite an article by academic Professor John Curtice published in The National two weeks ago which concludes: “Those SNP supporters who are thinking of “lending” their second vote elsewhere will eventually have to decide whether they think the ploy will be worth the risk.”
On the basis of this, some have argued that voting SNP in the constituency section and Green, Rise or Solidarity on the list will split the vote and let a unionist candidate win. A party needs around six per cent of the regional vote to get a list candidate elected. The Greens are currently polling more than that, just as they did before the 2007 and 2011 elections. But on those two polling days, the Green vote dipped below that crucial six per cent, leaving the Greens without the list seats they expected.
Some say an over-inflated Green vote will collapse this time around as well, and Yes voters would do better to stick with the SNP in both sections. This argument is unworthy on a small stack of counts.
Firstly, Curtice’s article dwells longer on the potentially disenfranchising effect of voting SNP 1&2. He observes: “Maybe it will prove to be the case that a list vote for the SNP fails to bring the party any advantage, whereas if those votes had been cast for the Greens it might have given them a worthwhile boost.”
Any party that just fails to hit six per cent or a multiple will also effectively “waste votes”. The Greens are not alone with this dilemma.
Secondly, there are reasons to think the Greens’ vote will not collapse this time. The past few Holyrood elections have been a standoff between the SNP and Labour. Since that competition is now over and the SNP have evidently won, it should be possible for Scots to finally support the candidates or parties they really admire, so Holyrood has diversity and a rainbow opposition.
Thirdly, indyref2 is apparently not part of the SNP’s Scottish Parliament manifesto, so maybe it doesn’t need to be the sole criterion for voters this time either? Maybe governing well with a radical opposition matters too?
Fourthly, the appearance of this tired, old tactical voting argument from Westminster elections should prompt real democrats to question the efficacy of our own voting system where 50 per cent of MSPs are elected with all the distortions involved in first-past-the-post voting.
Strange that it’s an outrage at Westminster but perfectly all right when used here.
So c’mon Greens – stand up for yourselves. If you intend to be radical at Holyrood make some waves now.