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!