I’m a Green party member, and during the referendum campaign I canvassed a bit for Yes in my area. My party’s strength in the Stirlingshire area in terms of elected representatives is centred around the Dunblane/Bridge of Allan area, where the marvellous Mark Ruskell is a local councillor. However, that’s 20 miles away, and with active canvassing for Yes happening closer by, it made sense to join my local canvassers. Given that two of the local councillors, Ian Muirhead and Graham Lambie, are from the SNP, the people I mostly canvassed with were SNP activists.
I was warmly welcomed by them, and was very aware that my presence (wearing my bright Green Yes tshirt) helped us – it clearly demonstrated to voters that the Yes campaign was not about the SNP, but about a broader alliance of people from different constituencies.
All the Yes parties have grown since the independence referendum, including the Greens: the first branch meeting I went to after the referendum needed a hall and over 50 people turned up; meetings before the referendum had been in cafés and pubs with half a dozen or so folk! We are still, overall, a small party when compared to the SNP, but we’re not insignificant. Therefore, I was delighted to see that my old friend Peter McColl has been selected as a Green candidate for Westminster in my former constituency of Edinburgh East (we moved from there last year), opposing the present “Labour” incumbent, Sheila Gilmore. This won’t be easy – the seat has been held by “Labour” for a long time, with Gavin Strang preceding Gilmore.
The Green party does not have the resources to stand candidates in every constituency, so it chooses seats where it might realistically be able to make progress. The combination of Edinburgh East and McColl really does offer that – but it’s far less likely if the former Yes vote is split and an SNP candidate stands too. In fact, it might even mean Gilmore gets back in, and the unionists will hold the seat.
I welcome Nicola Sturgeon as the new leader of the SNP, and I think she’s likely to be a very good First Minister of the Scottish Parliament. However, I do think it’s a shame that she seems to have ruled out a party political alliance, even a very loose one, for the 2015 Westminster election. The SNP has said it is prepared to support candidates from outwith the SNP who would stand under an SNP banner: whilst this is very welcome (I can’t wait to see who some of the candidates might be), it seems an alliance between parties is being ruled out.
Alliances are common in many European and other countries, and I see no reason why they wouldn’t work well in Scotland for Westminster elections, given that many of us who voted Yes are keen to have parties in Westminster that will stand up for Scotland. This is something that none of the unionist parties offer, least of all “Labour” – as the former leader of their Scotland branch, Johann Lamont, has made clear.
What I would have liked to have seen is as follows: an agreement that in constituencies such as Edinburgh East, where the Greens have a realistic possibility of unseating a unionist politician with a capable candidate such as McColl, the SNP would agree to not stand a candidate themselves but put their considerable resources into serious canvassing for the Green candidate (the ballot paper could say something like “Peter McColl – Scottish Green Party (Scotland Alliance incl. Scottish National Party)” or similar, perhaps also including the SSP, who were an important part of the Yes campaign). In turn, members of the Green party (and the SSP?) would canvass for the SNP/Scotland Alliance candidate in their various constituencies where they’re not fielding candidates, such as Stirling. Whilst I was out canvassing for Yes with local SNP members variations of this were discussed and generally thought to be a good idea.
Why is this important, when the SNP is dominating the Scottish political landscape just now? Given that in Stirling (and most other parts of Scotland) we, the Greens, are unlikely to be standing a Westminster candidate, I and other Green voters will have to vote tactically, and for many that will mean voting for the (as yet undecided) SNP candidate; I can’t see many Greens voting for the “Labour” party or any of the other unionist parties. Now voting tactically is one thing, but if I knew that the “big beast” that is the SNP was willing to openly work together with smaller parties such as the Greens in an area such as Edinburgh East where the Greens have a realistic chance of defeating “Labour”, I could actually see myself canvassing for an SNP/Alliance candidate in Stirlingshire/Strathendrick (perhaps on the ballot paper as “XXX – Scottish National Party (Scotland Alliance incl. Scottish Green Party” etc.). I simply cannot canvass for the SNP if it does not also represent the Greens. If there is no alliance, then I might try and go back to Edinburgh a couple of times and help canvass for McColl.
Now that kind of call really is for the larger party to make, as the Green statement on the issue says – and it is a shame that it now seems it won’t be happening this time around. Instead, it seems the SNP is emphasising the more narrow party political advantage it thinks it has on the basis of current support. I very much hope that it is not underestimating the might of the forces against it, when the tired old clichés about “vote Labour to kick the Tories out” and similar nonsense will be revived, for sure (or as I like to think of it: “vote redTories to kick the blueTories out”!). Using the undemocratic FPTP system for Westminster to advantage is not something the SNP has been particularly successful at in the past, and even with polls showing overwhelming support for the SNP at the moment, I am a bit uncertain about how that will translate into Westminster seats. Better, I would have thought, to involve as many campaigners and variety of candidates as possible in standing up for Scotland in order to increase the chances of winning seats at Westminster, than to risk not doing so well alone in the skewed system that is FPTP.
This is especially the case since if there is another hung parliament in 2015, it is, I think, entirely conceivable that the red and blue Tories could form a grand (unionist) coalition, possibly with UKIP, that excludes the “separatists” in the form of the SNP and perhaps Plaid Cymru (I expect the LibDems – who? – to be an irrelevance). For the SNP to think it could play “kingmaker” could therefore well be wishful thinking:
- it underestimates the visceral and completely irrational hatred that “Labour” have of the SNP, which, if anything, has worsened since September (and is likely to worsen further if “Labour” really are stupid enough to choose Jim Murphy as Lamont’s replacement);
- the “Labour” party have already said they will continue the economic, military (Trident etc.), social security/welfare and other policies of the Tory party – so there isn’t very much that divides them anyway, making a grand coalition relatively straightforward;
- the Yes campaign members were not the only ones to have collaborated closely – the No campaign also worked closely together: I, for one, will never forget the “Labour” and Tory parties at the Stirling count early on 19.9. celebrating Stirling’s No vote together – who is to say that kind of cosy arrangement doesn’t herald greater cooperation in other contexts? (Incidentally, it amazes me that few on the former Yes side seem to think this is important.)
Of course, you might ask why I don’t join the SNP instead of the Greens and then I could campaign for them in Stirling/Strathendrick without any of these moral qualms. I actually know a Green member who after 18. September resigned his membership and joined the SNP, so it’s not as if others have not done so (in a time of crisis, he said, it was what he felt he needed to do). But I joined the Greens for more reasons than independence – the Greens are much more closely aligned to my way of thinking in most areas, and for me and others in the party, independence simply offers the best way to achieve these things (I note that not all Greens agree on this, with some opposing independence). For me, independence is a tool to achieve greater social equality and a more responsible way of living with our resources and so on – but at the moment it’s a tool we don’t have, and therefore I want to pursue my ambitions for these things in other ways, in the first instance by increasing powers for Scotland via the Smith Commission. I’m pretty confident that independence will come before too long, and quite possibly with Nicola Sturgeon leading the way. But in the meantime, we need to make sure that we have the strongest possible pro-Scotland representation at Westminster in order to ensure that the Devo-Max promises that were made by the unionist parties are kept to. I think working together is a more likely way to achieve that.