24 September 2007

Another change in Leadership

This one is in the Green Party: Shiona Baird will no longer be one of the Greens' Co-Conveners. Alison Johnstone has been nominated in her place, pending approval by the party membership. Johnstone is one of the Greens' three Councillors in Edinburgh (where she represents the delightfully named Meadows & Morningside ward), and one of eight nationwide (the other five are in Glasgow).

This is significant, as Robin Harper remains as Co-Convener: both people at the head of the Scottish Green Party are based in Edinburgh, as Harper is the MSP for the Lothian Region. In the short term, this could potentially be disastrous - the Greens can now be accused of being an Edinburgh-led Party, with little to offer other parts of Scotland. I'm sure that the five Councillors in Glasgow would take issue with that, but the accusation can stick, just as Labour have suffered from perceptions that they are a "West of Scotland" party. Similarly, commentators a few years ago were looking on the SNP and seeing it as a party that can only play well north of the Tay - this was of course disproven in May, but it was, for a while, a real concern. And the Tories have to put up with being branded an "English" party, with no real prospects or relevance in Scotland! Whether or not any of those perceptions bear any relation to reality doesn't matter: perceptions they are, and the Greens could now have a problem with theirs.

There's merit in having both Co-Conveners as elected officials: the Greens have two prominent flag-carriers in Robin Harper and Patrick Harvie, who can use their MSP status as a vehicle for their concerns and their Party. This worked to their advantage in 2003, when Robin Harper found himself with six Green colleagues. It worked less well in 2007, when five of them lost their seats, but the deal with the SNP gave them something to cheer about. Alison Johnstone can do the same, using her new position (if she is confirmed in the post) to raise the profile of Green Councillors, creating the idea that you aren't wasting your vote by putting the 1 next to the Green candidate's name in Council elections, and highlighting what the eight they currently have are doing.

That being the case, would it have made more sense to nominate someone from among Glasgow's pool of five, rather than Edinburgh's pool of three? Well, in the short term, the answer would be yes: Nina Baker's name immediately jumps out, and I believe Martha Wardrop was the second-placed candidate in Hillhead ward - no mean feat, even if this area, with Martin Bartos coming third in Glasgow Kelvin as the Greens' first ever Holyrood Constituency candidate, is fast becoming a key power base for the party.

However, therein lies part of the rub: the Green Co-Convenership is designed to promote gender balance, not regional representation. There are two female Green Councillors in Glasgow, Baker and Wardrop, and two in Edinburgh, Johnstone and Maggie Chapman. So the size of the pool of elected officials, if you want your Conveners to be elected, is the same in both cities.

And there's the long term. Robin Harper has been nominated again for the Convenership, but realistically, how many more times will that happen? I don't think it will be that many, and until 2011, when the elections may yet change the look of the Greens once again, Harper's logical successor is indeed Patrick Harvie, Convener of the Transport Committee at Holyrood and MSP for Glasgow. Of course, I'm assuming that they won't win a Westminster or European seat in Scotland - most of the Green Westminster candidates in 2005 lost their deposits, and the number of seats available to Scotland in the European Parliament means that the required share of the vote for representation is not in the Greens' reach right now. However, the fact remains, electing Nina Baker or Martha Wardrop this year, then Patrick Harvie after that, would create an image of the Greens as a Glasgow-centric party, with Edinburgh, it's traditional base, increasingly marginalised.

Johnstone is a nomination for the long-term, and Harper? He'll definitely be out by 2009, but it depends on what the Greens' priority is: the Westminster election, or the European election. If the Greens focus on Westminster, and Brown calls an election before next Summer (so the next few weeks or next May, it's appearing), then next year will see Green Party members voting on whether or not to approve Patrick Harvie along with Alison Johnstone. If it's Europe, or if Brown delays, then 2009 presents them with their last realistic chance to make the switch, as 2010 is cutting it fine with regard to the next Holyrood elections.

No comments: