Holyrood needs a proactive and radical voice
This weekend Green activists will gather in Glasgow for our biggest conference ever. After the membership surge which took place throughout last year we find ourselves with a membership more than six times what it was just eighteen months ago. At last year’s annual conference we did our best to increase capacity, but had to turn away many members who wanted to be there. So I’m looking forward to meeting new members as well as catching up with longstanding activists as we meet at the Armadillo on Saturday.
Looking forward to next year’s Holyrood election we know it’s always hard to predict the result. Opinion polls find it hard to gauge support for smaller parties, as the margin of error can span the difference between wipeout and a record-breaking success. But over recent months most polls have suggested we’ve got the potential to make real progress next year. More importantly for those who’ll be meeting at the conference, we’ve always known that with a very small activist base it was impossible to reach the voters as we need to. That’s what has changed this year, and we have the chance to run a campaign like nothing we’ve ever managed before.
So we’ll be aiming to make sure that every voter in Scotland knows that Greens can get elected in every part of the country, and that the policies we can take into Parliament offer opportunities for a greener, healthier and more equal society.
As well as those policies we’ll be reminding people of our track record – we’ve maintained a presence at Holyrood in every election since 1999, and whether we’ve had a single voice or many in Parliament we’ve always aimed to challenge ministers when needed while being constructive wherever we can be. Radical, transformational ideas in politics can divide people. But it is possible to represent a radical agenda while still seeking out common ground and working together.
So anyone who’s saved money from their energy bills thanks to the energy efficiency programmes we persuaded ministers to adopt has seen the benefit of this constructive, radical politics. So has every community which has seen a local project supported by the Climate Challenge Fund, which was the first budget concession we ever gained from the minority SNP government.
Likewise every football supporters’ group which wants the chance to take ownership of their club, to manage it carefully for the long term, could see that chance made real as a result of my colleague Alison Johnstone’s work persuading MSPs to back her amendments to the Community Empowerment Bill earlier this year. Just last week the Government published its consultation about how to put that Green achievement into practice.
Every tenant in the private rented sector could have something to gain if new proposals on rent controls become a reality – this is something which we’ve been campaigning on along with organisations like Shelter Scotland and NUS Scotland. While the Government was initially closed to the idea of rent controls, we’ve helped to successfully make the case that spiralling rents at a time of low interest rates are inexcusable, and that the many thousands who’ve been left with no option but private renting deserve a better deal.
And of course every community threatened by unconventional gas extraction, such as fracking and underground coal gasification, will know that it is relentless pressure on Ministers which has given them the temporary protection they have today. Community groups, environment organisations, and the new anti-fracking group within the SNP’s own membership have all been part of that, and I’m proud of the persistent role the Scottish Greens have played. We know that to turn the temporary moratorium into a permanent ban will take even more relentless campaigning, and we’re determined that at least one party in Parliament must give voters in May a clear and unequivocal policy in opposing these extreme energy industries.
But as well as that constructive pressure, Holyrood also needs a proactive and radical voice which will challenge Ministers when needed.
If we want to close the wealth gap in Scotland, and build strong local economies, we’ll need to commit to restore truly progressive tax at both national and local levels, and rebuild a welfare state that’s worthy of the name.
If we want to speed the transition to a sustainable economy we’ll need to stop indulging the fossil fuel industry’s every demand, and begin divesting before the carbon bubble bursts.
If we want to do more than merely set climate change targets, and finally begin meeting them, we’ll need a clear change of direction in areas like transport policy, instead of ever more roadbuilding and aviation growth.
Greens have our work cut out for us, but we also face an opportunity like nothing we’ve ever seen. As someone once said, “bring it on!”