While politics in England appears to be heading down a dark path, with growing voter apathy and the rise of fear-based politics, Scotland is thriving in the post-referendum buzz. Here, Daniel Speirs discusses the rise of the Green movement in Scotland.
Much has been made of the rise in membership of the Scottish National Party- numbers have been shooting up since the apparent victory of the Unionist side in the referendum, rising from 25,000 to the current total of 92,000.
This rise in political interest is not confined to the mainstream parties. Smaller independence supporting groups have seen incredible growth in the same time period. The Radical Independence campaign- a creative forum for the Scottish left and a major driving force behind the campaign for independence- held its annual conference on November 22nd, selling out the Clyde Auditorium with 3000 attending. Groups like Women for Independence, the feminist edge of the Yes movement which now has over 50 local groups across Scotland, and the National Collective, the artistic vision for independence, which attracts 100,000 visitors per month to its website, have also exploded in popularity.
Left-leaning political parties have, unsurprisingly, been the main beneficiaries of the rapid mobilisation of socialist support in Scotland. The Scottish Socialist party has seen membership treble since 18th September, profiting from disenchanted Labour supporters seeking pastures new after the party’s drastic shift to the right in recent years. But arguably the biggest winners in the entire Yes movement have been the marginal force of the Scottish Green Party.
With just two MSPs and little more than 1000 members, the Green party had a very small voice in Scottish politics prior to the referendum campaign, with a startling inequality in resources compared to the rest of the parties keeping them in relative obscurity. But from holding annual conferences in the back room of a pub, the party has transformed into a serious political force.
The general UK-wide ‘Green Surge’, in response to looming threats such as TTIP and hydraulic fracturing (fracking), was already in full swing north of the border, enabling the party to present an attractive Green vision for an independent Scotland throughout the referendum campaign.
Since that failure, Green branches across the country have swelled in numbers, and are set to contribute to the party’s biggest fielding of candidates ever at a UK general election. But it’s not all plain sailing for the environmental crusaders.
To have any chance of gaining even one seat, the party will need to overcome the first-past-the-post electoral system in UK elections, which effectively rules out any challenge in most constituencies. Despite polling as the second choice among 18-24 year-old voters in Scotland, the Greens will be forced to target marginal seats with several parties competing, their limited resources constraining their ambition still further.
Furthermore, the blessing of support generated by disgruntled Yes voters may soon prove to be a curse as these same voters are confronted with the option of the dominant SNP- the most realistic option for defeating the unionist parties and producing a ‘Yes block’ in Westminster for the next parliamentary term. The populism of Nicola Sturgeon’s party is in sharp contrast with the popular perception of the Green party- that of a protest group campaigning on a narrow set of objectives.
The difficulties for the Greens in Scotland have always stemmed from a perceived class gap. While in England and Wales it is conceivable for candidates to be elected on a largely middle-class left-liberal agenda, the astonishing levels of political engagement now at play in Scotland mean that the Scottish party will have to diversify its message to have any hope at making an impression come May.
That is not to say that it is impossible- the Greens are, arguably, even more geared towards working class people than the SNP in terms of policy, with a £10 minimum wage, ‘citizen’s income’ and land reform central tenets of their radical social justice agenda. The personality of co-convener Patrick Harvie is also a major weapon, with his ability to engage with audiences across Scotland firmly established after the referendum campaign.
It also remains to be seen whether or not the influx of new members will yield any change in rhetoric- the party is quite simply a different beast from the one which emerged bruised and battered on the morning of the 19th September. It is energised and alive with ideas on promoting social justice and challenging unrestrained capitalism.
And boy, do the people of the UK need Green politics. Take your pick from the austerity agenda of the major parties (including UKIP, it must be said), the arrival of unconventional shale gas extraction to our shores and the privatisation sweeping across UK industry and government.
With just a little tinkering, the Green Surge could translate into serious gains for the Party in a country hooked on the pre-referendum vision of a better nation.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Development in Action.
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