Green distraction

We can, I think, proceed on the assumption that the Scottish Greens are not going to form the next Scottish Government. They are not going to be in a position to implement their ill-thought tax proposals, or to barge ahead with their half-baked plan to nationalise the Grangemouth facility. Their sole claim to our votes, therefore, is the assertion that their presence in the Scottish Parliament somehow puts pressure on the (SNP) administration. We are entitled to ask just how credible this assertion is.

What basis might there be for supposing the Greens could influence policy in any meaningful way? Would this influence necessarily be a positive thing? Would a significant Green presence at Holyrood be inevitably and entirely beneficial in terms of Scotland’s governance and or in relation to the progress of the independence project?

Patrick Harvie cites rent control, fuel poverty and land reform as issues where the party has pushed the government in new directions. But how hard did they have to push? Were they not pushing at an open door? The SNP administration has shown itself to be adept at keeping back a few ‘bones’ that can be thrown to other parties in order to win their support and, perhaps more importantly, give the parliament at least a flavour of consensual politics.

Where some aspects of policy may be controversial, the SNP has demonstrated a talent for inviting both parliamentary and public support before proceeding. If they look to have been pressured into action by others, this does their image no harm at all, while serving to disarm opposition to the controversial measure they are ‘reluctantly’ being ‘forced’ to adopt.

This is not a criticism. There is nothing reprehensible about such conduct. It’s no more than adroit politics. Something more to be admired than condemned. It gets things done.

The Tories have been the beneficiaries of this political adroitness in the past. Recall, if you will, how the SNP administration ‘acceded’ to Tory demands for 1,000 extra police officers in return for supporting John Swinney’s budget. The Tories got to boast about a ‘victory’. The government got it’s budget through. And the SNP gets credit for all the benefits that those additional police officers brought. Now THAT’S what I call politics!

British Labour in Scotland (BLiS) are a different story. A very sad story. Their practice has been to demand concessions, then vote against the concessions they’ve won. The administration has thrown them many a bone, only to see it spat out at their feet. I don’t know what you call that. But it isn’t effective politics. It’s just embarrassing.

So, the Greens maybe haven’t been nearly as effective in driving policy as they would like us to believe. Although they may have been handy dancing partners, they were never going to force a majority administration to accept anything that the administration wasn’t already prepared to adopt. And if it was something the administration really wanted, it was going to happen with or without the participation of the Greens.

The only thing I can think of that was forced on an unwilling SNP government was the Edinburgh trams project. And that was a minority administration. Perhaps Patrick Harvie would prefer that we forget that particular example.

Not only is the Green’s influence less than they make out, the kind of things they are likely to press for aren’t exactly works of genius. While there are interesting aspects to their tax proposals, the whole edifice is undermined by the pointless gesture politics of the 60p top rate. By putting the party’s ‘radical’ credentials ahead of practical considerations, the Greens have damaged their own credibility.

The ‘magic ingredient’ in the SNP’s successful formula is something I have identified as ‘principled pragmatism’. A capacity for finding practical solutions whilst not compromising fundamental principles. A willingness to put effectiveness before ideology. Voters seem to like this. Patrick Harvie’s party is more concerned with flaunting the principle than formulating the policy. That’s OK when you’re electioneering as a party of opposition. It’s going to ring alarm bells with thoughtful voters if you are claiming to be a force within government.

The Greens claim that our parliament is better for their presence. That may actually be true, in a very general sort of way. Diversity tends to be a good thing. But we have to deal with the specifics of our current political situation. And in that context the Greens look more like an unnecessary distraction than a useful addition.

We should be under no illusions about the nature of our predicament at this time. We are faced with an increasingly hostile British establishment which sees, not just the SNP, but all of Scotland as a potential threat to the established order. The democratic engagement which we have as a legacy of the Yes movement is anathema to the Westminster clique. The distinctive political culture that is developing in Scotland stands as a source of embarrassment to a ruling elite totally in thrall to neo-liberal orthodoxy and dogmatically insistent that there is ‘no other way’.

We are confronted by the not inconsiderable weight of the British state’s propaganda capabilities deployed to undermine confidence in our democratic institutions and public services.

We are daily subjected to a deluge of smears and scares the aggregate impact of which is intended to convey the impression of Scotland as something akin to a failed state.

Under such circumstances, we need a government which can stand against this onslaught. We need a government equipped to defend our public services and our distinctive institutions and the principles which underpin our society.

We need a government which will maintain and preserve the environment in which our new politics can develop and flourish. In purely practical terms, the ‘rainbow parliament’ that we might aspire to is not a realistic proposition in this election. But if we don’t get this election right, it will be one hell of a long time before it is a realistic proposition.

The question we have to ask is whether, and to what extent, we can play games with our votes. We have to be realistic both about what we might gain by voting in a particular way, and what we stand to lose. Frankly, there is no advantage in voting for the Greens. Having more Green MSPs this time around doesn’t make our parliament any better; doesn’t make our government more effective; and doesn’t take the independence campaign forward.

It is surpassingly easy, on the basis of past experience, to predict what will happen to the Green contingent in the Scottish Parliament. For the most part, they will be ignored. They will only get attention from the British parties and the British media when they are doing or saying something that can be spun as ’embarrassing’ for the SNP administration and/or the independence movement. Otherwise, they might as well not be there.

Which is not to say there is no ideological case for voting Green. Only that there is no electoral case for doing so. If you are a die-hard Green, you will doubtless vote for them regardless of the consequences. Partisan loyalty may well blind you to the realities of the situation. No complaints! That’s democracy.

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