Sat 20 May, 2017

Kim Long

 I used to encounter a strange phenomenon during one of my university jobs. I would be guiding parents on open days for prospective students, and over and over again I saw professional, capable adults dissolve into flapping mini-tornadoes of anxiety, unable to read maps and asking what wardrobes were for. Something about being on campus brought the impending changes in their lives into sharp relief, and they lost their heads.

It's understandable. Stressful situations make people anxious, and can bring out some odd behaviour. I know that the times I've been in crisis mode I haven't been reasonable, I haven't been capable of much high-level thinking, and my Long-Term Perspectacles lay forgotten in a drawer.

So the question surfaced by the past week is this - why is the SNP in Glasgow in crisis mode, when it's only day one?

Decades of living with Glasgow Labour's 'anything goes' arrogance has bred a desperation to get stuck in and do things differently. Great. Everyone in Glasgow wants change. I want it. You want it. The SNP wants it. Good.

Unfortunately, the SNP's approach to their very first fortnight has meant their best laid plans have indeed gone agley. Not because we Greens voted against them (though we did, and I'll come back to that) - but because they overreached. They claimed power that was not theirs and acted just as arrogantly as the behaviour they've always castigated from others.

You don't get a majority on the most powerful committee when you did not get a majority in the election.

You don't get carte blanche.  You don't get everything your own way, when the voters did not give you an overall majority.

As things stand, nobody got enough votes to run the council outright. The SNP got the most votes, so they should get the chance to govern as a minority administration, and that's why Greens gave our full support to an SNP Leader and Depute Leader. We made that clear from the outset of negotiations. We also made clear that we look forward to working with the SNP to bring forward much-needed reform to council rules and procedures. Because Glasgow needs change.

The thing is, the change that the Greens are determined to shepherd in this city is that we grow into a style of leadership that is fair, balanced, proportionate and reasonable. Not words you'd associate with politics, and therein lies the problem. The reactionary, howling-at-the-moon behaviour we encountered after Thursday's votes was astonishing. Why is politics exempt from reason? Are we not grown-ups? Why do people expect so little from their elected representatives when in any other professional context, such behaviour would just be embarrassing?

On two occasions, just two in the whole agenda, and having supported their Leader, Depute Leader and Lord Provost, we chose – as a group - to vote against the SNP. That act in itself will lose us some fans. But hey, if you can't tell the difference between support for independence and support for the SNP we don't have much hope. If you can't tell the difference between independence campaigning and a local council agenda deciding the make-up of committees, we don't have much hope. Those of us who campaign for independence do not have a monopoly on truth, decency, not-being-fascists, ethical behaviour, or - evidently – sanity.

Change in Glasgow means challenging the culture of entitlement. It means behaving differently. It means not assuming power that is not earned. And, shock horror, sometimes it means working with other people, even those with whom we fundamentally disagree, if it means a better outcome for the city from the result of that vote. Local authority decision-making affects our homes, our schools, our social care – these things are too important to get subsumed into a vacuum of constitutional debate. Greens take local issues seriously, and we take local government seriously. That was our position throughout this election and that's how we will be acting in the chambers for the next five years. 

We challenged the SNP because they wanted to have all the power in the most important committee. And the Executive Committee is going to matter more than ever over the next few months while council structures are reviewed, because there will be no Scrutiny Committees in the meantime. It's a basic principle to hold power to account. It would not have been okay for one party, any party, to be unchallengeable for months.

When we raised the unbalanced makeup of the Executive Committee as a concern, the SNP said it couldn't be a larger group because the room wasn't big enough. Aye. Right. We were only asking for basic democratic minimums. They could have listened to us, and had our support. But they charged on ahead demanding a majority on Exec, so we brought and won an amendment to ensure a proportionate group instead.

Yes, that means the Tories get two seats at the table, same as the Greens.  However, in order to pass anything, anything at all, they'll need support from other parties. 

Finally, we voted for a Labour Depute Lord Provost. The Lord Provost and her Depute (and I'm so delighted it's her Depute - we made it clear we would only support a woman) are most importantly ceremonial, symbolic roles. We voted for a sense of balance, one SNP and one Labour, to better reflect how this city voted. We actually challenged the parties to find consensus choices, that the whole chamber could get behind, but I guess it's going to take a while longer to wear down a tribal mindset that can't stomach anything other than a binary choice.

And that's been the most uncomfortable thing this first fortnight has revealed. The sheer potency of tribalism in our city chambers - ugly, tantruming, energy-sapping tribalism. Tribalism is what has held this city back from it's full potential for decades. It's time to grow up. People voted for change in Glasgow. That's what the Greens are going to give them.

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