Green enough to vote Green?

There are many things that keep the burd awake at night.  This is almost, but not quite, one of them.  What do the Greens have to do to convince a Green like me to vote for them? 

Do I do green stuff?  Hell yes.  I am the burd without wheels, whose garden is organic, who often recycles water from cooking during dry spells, who bemused the Scottish Hydro doorstep rep by welcoming him in and demanding the high cost green tariff and an owl.  I am an ethical consumer whose mother banned her from the supermarket shop in the 80s so she might actually be allowed to buy stuff and who banned the Beijing Olympics from her TV set.  I have many friends whose green credentials are frankly laughable but who have voted Green on many occasions.  But not me.  Oh no.  So what’s that about then?

It’s bizarre on one level, given how much I identify with many of their policies.  But there is something just that little bit worthy and other worldly about the Scottish Greens that makes me hesitate.  Right now on the Scottish Greens’ website their two MSPs are concerned with climate change and gay marriage.  There is nothing on their response to the cuts in services, to welfare reform or to the current economic crisis. 

Yet, unlike many who demand “no cuts,” the Scottish Greens at least have “a better way” to offer.  They have some thoughtful policies on reshaping the economy and our society.  Much of it even makes sense.  And on social policy, I feel an affinity to a lot that they say and do.  I admire their two MSPs and respect the work they have done, particularly on unpopular causes.  But underneath it all, the Scottish Greens irritate me. 

For while I consider myself to be fairly principled, I am also pragmatic.  Politics is the business of making change happen, of translating your policies into action.  The debacle over the Scottish budget in 2009 epitomises my unease with the Scottish Greens.  In a strong position to drive forward change and make a real difference to our emissions and to people’s lives, they went for an all or nothing approach.  There was to be no compromise on energy efficiency measures, this was their red line issue.   The result?  They nearly got nothing and got far less than John Swinney was offering.  The first attempt at the budget failed and eventually a deal was struck with other parties and the Scottish Greens were left out in the cold.  Pointless, puerile posturing.  The kind of over-principled politics that makes me despair almost as much as totally unprincipled politics.  For all that I agree generally with the Scottish Greens and their policies, I cannot bring myself to vote for a party that puts its own self interest and belief before progress, even if it is incremental.  Some change is better than no change at all.

This present a fundamental problem for the Scottish Greens.  And also a dilemma that they might wish to ponder at their conference this weekend.

How do they ensure that people who are living their policies and support their stance on many issues will become Green voters?  They could start by becoming a more mature party, so that people know there is a point to voting for them.  That things will happen as a result.  Otherwise they will stay as a protest movement and vote.  And while the polls are indicating a swell of support for other parties on the regional list vote in 2011, which should serve the Greens rather well, these are fairweather – or rather foulweather – voters.  These are voters who don’t actually believe in what they are voting for – or at least not enough to change their lifestyles – and who will swing away from voting Green at the next election.  Just as their fortunes ebbed and flowed in the noughties, a similar pattern could occur beyond 2011.  They need to find a way of capturing Greens who vote and keeping them beyond a single election.  Otherwise, they will not advance in terms of membership, seats and political support

So, Scottish Greens, now’s your chance.  Challenge my irrational voting behaviour.  Convince me.  Convert me!

13 thoughts on “Green enough to vote Green?

  1. Our fringe at the Green Party conference – Tackling Poverty and Inequality in Hard Times – was by far the best attended at the conference on Saturday. Good to see members of the Green Party so interested. The Government have been very short on detail when it comes to setting out how they will take forward their aim to support the poorest and most vulnerable in their spending plans. Im afraid an equalities statement is not enough. I reckon this is where the Greens will have a key role to play in budget negotiations.

    On the last budget its arguable whether they messed it up strategically. What is good though is that we now have the Universal Home Insulation Scheme which Im sure will prove much more successful than its means tested wee brother the Home Insulation Scheme.

    • I agree re equalities. John Swinney has stated his intention in this area – it will be interesting to see if the budget lives up to that! Scottish Greens also voted not to enter into coalition with anyone whose cuts increased inequalities. A very good, positive move which will put pressure on all the bigger parties after the next election. It’s great that someone is standing up for poorest and most vulnerable!

  2. “if it wasn’t for Patrick Harvie then there would not have been hate crime provision on grounds of disability, something I had campaigned for for a number of years.”

    Not strictly true – that was an SNP manifesto commitment. My understanding is that they were happy for Patrick Harvie to take it forward because he had done so much work on it. So not to take anything away from Patrick Harvie – but it was also SNP policy.

    • There had been a commitment from other parties, but I don’t think that necessarily meant it would have happened this session without Patrick’s efforts.

      Having said that, the cooperation and support we got from Kenny’s civil servants on this subject was first class.

  3. You’re right to ask questions, of any party that you may support. Nothing galls me more than people who vote just because that’s the way their family and/or partner has always voted.

    For a small party, fairweather voters are perhaps a bigger issue than for Labour or the SNP. Since joining the Greens, I’ve noticed a lot of internal discussion on how to turn them into permanent voters, although I’d like to think that’s an “intellectual” permanent rather than a “just because” permanent!

    But I would take issue with your comment that
    “I cannot bring myself to vote for a party that puts its own self interest and belief before progress, even if it is incremental.”

    More than any other party, the SGP sticks wholeheartedly to its principles, even if it goes against the grain of perceived wisdom. That’s not putting self-interest first, and in fact in some cases can hurt the party’s standing with the public. You cited the budget negotiations as an example, and I’m sure there would have been many members of the public who clucked their tongues and wondered if the Greens were just causing trouble for the sake of it.

    How much easier it would be to protect our “self-interest”, and throw away many policies about tuition fees and nuclear power and progressive economics just because someone dangled the keys to a ministerial Mondeo in our face.

    • I would have no respect whatsoever if the Scottish Greens ever did a Lib Dem about turn! And I know the party well enough to know that would never happen. Many of the principles I agree with wholeheartedly but I think what dismayed me about the budget episode was the holding out for the full monty with all the risks that entailed than accepting some progress and a partial victory. I can understand why that position was adopted but don’t agree with it….

      But hey we’re having a debate and that is good! The key issue remains though: I am a pretty green burd in the scheme of things and am not yet identifying with the Scottish Green party enough to vote for them. The same may well be true of others like me and as long as the party fails to attract voters like me it will always be at risk of the vacillations of less principled voters who turn to the Greens as a protest as in 2003 and then turn away again when something else takes their fancy, as in 2007. Resolve this conundrum and you become a more potent political force than the Lib Dems and also the Tories I reckon in Scotland!

      • Just curious – on the Budget, you’ve not discussed the universality versus level of money question. Do you see where we were coming from there?

        And yes, I certainly want to know how the party can stay true to itself and appeal to voters like you. I’m sure it’s a decent slice of Scotland.

  4. Ah yes. Foolish Greens. Why stick to principles when there is so much to be gained by pragmatism? Ask that nice Mr Clegg.

  5. Interesting one. Interesting because it’s more often the case that you get accused of not being principled enough! I think most of us in the Greens, as a political party, are there precisely because we are pragmatists, more eager to see some change in the right direction than to gamble it all on fundamental change and be left out in the cold. And, yes, the website does not properly reflect the party’s priorities. Therein hangs a long tale; hopefully, one to be resolved soon.

  6. I’m a bit busy ahead of the weekend to get into this in the detail it deserves, but I would say I think that’s a misreading of the budget situation.

    We asked originally for the money to get the job done in ten years – £100m a year, back when the Scottish block grant was still growing – but we also said from the start that we would only vote for their (otherwise relatively regressive and anti-environmental) budget if any money here was not means-tested.

    WWF’s research (which we gave them) has shown that means testing insulation can exclude more than two thirds of those in fuel poverty, and that universality for this is not just the only way to make significant carbon savings, but also to get the biggest boost for jobs, deliver whole streets at the same time – i.e. be efficient, but also to get to those in most need.

    They initially offered £4m a year – i.e. we’d get the job done by about the year 2257 – and means testing only. As the deadline approached we stuck to our guns on means testing and had had some commitments in that area, and we were also negotiating flexibly about the level of money going in.

    A late intervention from a senior level at the SNP scuppered the universality side, and that, not the sum of money, was what we couldn’t support. We’d always have supported a smaller and less well-funded but more effective universal scheme ahead of the flawed one John eventually committed to.

    The civil service in particular were obsessed with New Labour-style means testing, and they got their way – a seriously inadequate scheme, doing virtually no jobs and each one done being very expensive.

    We’ve seen in Australia how a flawed insulation scheme (in their case unsafe) can undermine the argument for decades, and couldn’t afford that here.

    You’re right about the absence of a response to the cuts on our website, though, other than press releases on the topic. There are two reasons for that, the minor one being the pain and suffering that the website’s back end still causes me, and the major one being that we’ll not want to prejudge what our conference says. I assure you that’s all coming, though, and soon. You’re not the only one to have pointed it out, either

    Your last bit is a big question, perhaps the big question for us. Let’s discuss over a coffee. And perhaps I can also find out then what did you do with the owl.

  7. I don’t have a problem with it either and equality is good. The hate crime against disabled is indeed a good provision.

    I’m looking forward to the day the polis haul Frankie Boyle off stage when he’s on one of his “Mock the weak” routines against disabled groups.

    I rather dislike evangelism though and that is how he (Harvie) tends to come across on gay issues.

    I’m completely relaxed and heartily approve of gay (or any) equality.

    It’s just that being gay or being in a minority isn’t compulsory.

  8. Every time I hear Patrick Harvie on the radio his focus seems to be on pink issues rather than green ones…………

    • I don’t have a problem with that and in fact if it wasn’t for Patrick Harvie then there would not have been hate crime provision on grounds of disability, something I had campaigned for for a number of years.

      I respect and support his stance on equality issues. I’m just not sure it’s what is at the forefront of voters’ minds right now and I’d like to hear and see more of their policies on economic and social policy issues.

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