07 May 2007

What of the Greens?

The aftermath of this election has uncovered one of the quirks of PR. The Greens had seven seats in the last Parliament, but with the formation of a stable, majority Executive, their influence only really came to the fore when they helped the Executive avoid embarrassment by voting down an opposition motion to abolish tolls on the Forth and Tay Bridges.

So, you would think that with just two MSPs, their influence would diminish, but in fact the reverse is true: those two MSPs could have provided a majority Coalition (if the LibDems were up for it), and even without a majority Coalition, some form of agreement with the SNP looks likely, whether it's a formal Coalition with a Green entering the Executive or just a Confidence & Supply agreement as they've been envisaging for over a year. And with whatever Executive is formed needing to get votes from wherever they can, every member counts. That includes Harper and Harvie, who sound more like a firm of solicitors than a Parliamentary group, but there you go. That means the Greens are important to the process.

And is the result a total disaster? Well, for party morale, particularly outwith Glasgow and Edinburgh, yes. Patrick Harvie only got in because of the SSP/Solidarity fracture, Robin Harper was one of two Greens from the Lothians prior to dissolution, and six regions are now without Green MSPs, compared with two in the second Parliament.

But in Glasgow and Edinburgh, it's a different story: Harvie did gain the most extraordinary piece of luck (which has got to cheer supporters), and there are now Green Councillors in Scotland: five in Glasgow, three in Edinburgh. Not only that, but the party's candidate in Glasgow Kelvin put in an impressive performance, coming third.

Nevertheless, the Greens have a lot of thinking to do: the MSPs have to decide what relationship (if any) they are going to pursue with the SNP. And the Party at large has to reflect on the election result: simply blaming circumstances and complaining how the Labour-SNP battle squeezed them doesn't cut it. Nor does blaming the spoiled papers. In 2003, the Greens were largely overlooked and the SSP were heralded as the upward force in Scottish politics, thanks in chief to the charismatic Tommy Sheridan railing against the War in Iraq. The Greens overcame that to overtake the SSP. This time, they did not make a sufficient impact to maintain their vote, or break into the debate. While the media focussed on the struggle at the top, the Greens simply sat there, convinced of progress but not really showing where it was going to come from or what it would mean.

Not only that, but their policies aren't exactly designed to appeal to the masses. Everyone wants something to be done about climate change, but they don't want to have to work/pay/change for it. So when the Greens talk about the climate, and the environment, people listen. Then the Greens carry on, and they call for a halt to the building of the M74 extension, or the new Aberdeen bypass, and people are horrified. They promote road tolls, and drivers go 'Aaaargh!'. They argue against cheap flights, and people run screaming from the room, forgetting in their panic that they've left the TV and all the lights on. The problem is, it's not clear what (if anything) the Greens can do to solve that. They are going to sound like spoilsports, and it'll take a major crisis - like the icecap melting and flooding Leith before people agree that sacrifices have to be made by everyone including themselves.

But it has to be the messengers as well as the message. Otherwise, they wouldn't have just lost five MSPs, as they wouldn't have had them to lose. Clearly Robin Harper had been a good torchbearer for the Party in the first Parliament, but were the others a turn-off? We can't really know for sure, but the beating can't just be because they don't like cars and cheap flights. In any case, the Party's future electoral prospects depend on what Robin Harper and Patrick Harvie do now. Perform well, and they will be rejoined by others. Perform badly, and they're both toast.



In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. Say: He, Allah, is One Allah is He on Whom all depend. He begets not, nor is He begotten. And none is like Him.

Will said...

Slightly off-topic there, but a few of the MSPs could do with a lightning bolt from on high at times!

Richard Havers said...

I was at an event 18 months ago at which Robin Harper and Shiona Baird both spoke, as did I. Apart from the fact that Shiona Baird kept irrupting me I have to say that the word zealot kept bobbing around my brain. We live a greener lifestyle than most but as I'm fond of saying there's more than one shade of green, the problem for The Greens is that if you're no their shade then you're the wrong shade.

p.s. I went to school with Chris Ballance - he wasn't the brightest button in the box. I also have to add he was the son of the headmaster who told my mother, with me sitting there, that I "wouldn't amount to much", so there is a bit of history!

james higham said...

It's the chicness of greenery and the PC which galls me.

edward said...

Hmm, yes, I am sad about the loss of Green seats. However, I think Harper has to take some of the blame. While he did a great job in his first term, he seems to have lost it.

He put in a couple of dreaful, embarrassing, rambling performances on Newsnight, which must have lost a lot of the Greens more intellectual voters - which is most of their electorate I would guess, and he is a pretty poor performer in the chamber - I saw him at FMQs once. Embarrassing - seemed not to have a clue what he was on about.