11 November 2007

Green politics

"Very often I hear Greens say things with the best of intentions like 'our single greatest asset is that we're right' as though that will simply result in eventually everybody realising we're right. Being right isn't enough either."

Thus spake Patrick Harvie, Green MSP for Glasgow. Now he's correct to say that just saying that they are right won't win them votes, because they will say - and honestly believe - that they are right. But then, so will every other political party. Each party will, or at least should, say why they think that they are right, in an attempt to persuade people. Just being there and being right won't win votes.

But the way Patrick Harvie talks about being right, he makes it sound like an absolute. He believes the Greens are right. But I believe the SNP are right. Terry Kelly believes Labour are right, and so on. No one, therefore, has a monopoly on being right. Patrick Harvie thinking, and saying, that the Greens are right doesn't make the Greens right.

The Greens have influence, despite having only two MSPs - the Parliamentary arithmetic has seen to that. They also have a staying power, highlighted in the fact that they held on and retained Parliamentary representation when other smaller parties lost their places in Holyrood. Tommy Sheridan's Solidarity party now has just one Councillor in Glasgow. The SSP have just one Councillor in West Dunbartonshire. The two parties combined, therefore, are weaker in terms of national politics than Action to Save St. John's Hospital, who have three Councillors and a seat on the Executive in West Lothian. The SSCUP are no longer in Parliament, while of the Independents, Jean Turner's bid for re-election failed, the best that can be said of Campbell Martin's attempt for a mandate of his own was that he kept his deposit, and Margo MacDonald managed to get re-elected, but even her share of the vote went down. The Greens, however, survived, with two MSPs, and eight Councillors - five in Glasgow and three in Edinburgh. Plus which, they were formed to campaign on an issue that is gathering more and more momentum with every passing day. As a result, they should be here to stay, and they should have the potential to become a force to be reckoned with.

But they have to drop the sanctimonious, superior "We're right" tones - they did for Labour just as they did for the Greens, remember - and find a better way of putting their approach across. "Climate change is a problem, so vote for us" will never bring them support. The same message can be presented using more positive language, like "Together we can deal with climate change". Simple alterations like that make them sound less like preachers and zealots, offering sermons from lofty positions, and more like activists who want to do something positive and take some sort of useful action.

Can they rise to that challenge?

11 comments:

Sir James Badger said...

How about: "If you don't accept what we say, you're a snivelling, sanctimonious toady!"

Tact - that's the essential thing.

Richard Havers said...

"Thus spake Patrick Harvie, Green MSP for Glasgow. Now he's correct to say that just saying that they are right won't win them votes, because they will say - and honestly believe - that they are right. But then, so will every other political party."

Will, I guess I'm a bit of a cynic but I think being right about something, and belief, went out of most politics a long time ago. The SNP and the Greens are similar in that they have something that binds them together (as separate parties). In the case of the Greens I predicted well in advance of the election that they would be squeezed in the vote, I thought though that they would do better than two seats in Holyrood. I predict that they will do less well next time around as their single-issue type of politics will be embraced even more by their opponents. Not something that one can say of the SNP whose single issue is at least one that embraces more people and is not as contrived as the Greens.

Ted Harvey said...

Err... isn't this thread more than a wee bit daft?

"He believes the Greens are right. But I believe the SNP are right. "

I think you are then meant say; 'ya boo shucks.'

But it is wholly possible and wholly acceptable that you both can be wrong.

I'm sure what we are all after in post devolution Scotland, is a better and more rational politics? (I of course exclude the unconstructed old elite who still cannot accept the historical change last May).

A better politics means that it is more important to make a 'good' decision than seek to always make the 'right' one. In other words, seek to come to a considered and reasoned decision based on the evidence and 'what works' for the interests of the community.

Such a decision may turn out in the long run to be 'wrong' but it will still have been a 'good' decision because of the way it was arrived at. Moreover, the rational approach will also include consideration of how to minimise the costs or consequences of being 'wrong'.

If we can also work towards transparency (long lost in Scottish and UK politics), I believe that the electorate would became forgiving and eventually appreciative of the politicians who practice in this way.

For now, the electorate are just increasingly alienated by any and all politicians who persist in asserting that they are always 'right'.

doctorvee said...

It's a problem with the left in general. All too often I hear a socialist when being challenged say something like, "Well, I don't know much about it -- BUT AT LEAST I CARE!" As if nobody else cares. They must actually think that non-lefties go around the place saying, "Isn't poverty just marvellous!"

Will said...

Ted... in many ways, you're actually making the same point that I set out to make - I'm arguing that rightness is subjective, and that politicians, activists and bloggers can talk about whether or not they're right till the cows come home...it's voters who will decide who and what they think is right, and I agree that the main criterion for judging this will be whether or not an idea is workable. And, post-May, no one is going to get their own way, there is going to have to be give and take, but steps can be made in positive directions.

Richard... being a cynic and having a fair point aren't mutually exclusive. Certainly there's more an emphasis on personality these days - and the SNP are guilty in this department, for sure - and preferring to talk about how hte other side are wrong can get in the way of presenting a clear, coherent programme of your own - that's Labour's biggest problem.

The Greens remind me of the guy who walks around with a placard reading "THE END IS NIGH! SINNERS REPENT!" OK, we know that bad things are happening and that more are going to happen. What they need is to explain what they would do about it, rather than saying "We told you so" during freak weather conditions. I still think they have the potential to carry far more clout than they currently do, but they're going to have to apply a little pragmatism... simply un-inventing the aeroplane isn't an option.

James... you're eerily close to summing up Wendy Alexander's idea of consensus!

Will said...

Duncan, I'm not convinced that the attitude of one group having the monopoly on caring about X (where X can be anything you want) is confined to the Left.

After all, anyone who supports the Euro is branded as someone who wants to "sell us down the river to Brussels", and remember how Geroge Bush peddles the "if you don't agree with me, you support Bin Laden/Saddam/Iran/North Korea" line.

But whoever's saying it, the "I don't know much, but at least I care" line makes me laugh... if they cared that much, they'd make a point of learning more about it, surely?

ASwaS said...

They must actually think that non-lefties go around the place saying, "Isn't poverty just marvellous!"

They do.

I went to the University of St Andrews. It's educational to watch Tories in their natural habitat.

Ted Harvey said...

1) Will OK then maybe it's just that old 'presentation' thing we differ a wee bit on.

2) Will I so agree with your point about 'if you don't support me you believe in evil' and
how this is very definately not confined to the left.

I would literally get enraged by Tony Blair (I did say 'not confined to the left') and his unctious mantra of " I know others differ with me but what people have to realise".

This would lead onto how anyone differing from him believed in, for example, destroying: the NHS/reinstating Bin Laden/letting severely dysfuctional neds take over the country etc.

Of course it all comes unstuck, if you add onto that list that people who disagreed with him also believed that there was no evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq.

Richard Havers said...

"I would literally get enraged by Tony Blair (I did say 'not confined to the left') and his unctious mantra of " I know others differ with me but what people have to realise".

Ted, that's how I feel about the FM and his national conversation. It's less a conversation than him telling us what's going to be best for us.

Will, I love the un-inventing the aeroplane line. That sums them up erfectly.

Anonymous said...

Interesting timing.

Today (15 Nov) the parliament votes on the Abolition of Bridge Tolls (Scotland) Bill. The committee which looked into the bill concluded that it will increase:

- greenhouse gas emissions
- local air pollution, noise & vibration
- traffic volume and therefore traffic queues
- journey times to and from Fife

It also found there had been no public consultation on the bill, that it was inconsistent with the National Transport Strategy and the Government's climate change targets and that any economic benefit to Fife was 'marginal'.

Yet the only party to vote against it are the Greens. Is it any wonder they go around thinking they're right the whole time?

Baron Higham-West said...

Next, Will!