As the polls close on the Scottish Greens co-convener elections, William Mohieddeen (@Mocko500) argues that Patrick Harvie’s leadership of the Scottish Greens must now come under scrutiny.
The Scottish Greens now come away from a keenly contested female co-convenership election ready to enter the Holyrood election campaign. The debate between Maggie Chapman and Zara Kitson, I believe, was healthy for the party. We have enjoyed a level of media coverage that would otherwise never have happened (like this front cover), and it has given an opportunity for all members to have a lively discussion about the values that we wish to see the party leadership espouse.
The debate will make us stronger. It doesn’t matter if it is party politics, a third sector organisation, or a multinational corporation – constant evaluation is good, and if you’re standing still, you’re going backwards.
With that in mind, for the good of the party, should Patrick Harvie seek re-election as party co-convener in 2016, he mustn’t be allowed to run unopposed again.
Harvie’s appeal as a public figure, representative of the Greens, is a very interesting one. He is undoubtedly a confident speaker, yet not immediately of a style one would expect of a political leader. His carefully considered, measured delivery; sentences which ensures any possible clarification to add to his point is covered, is more resembling of a particularly enthusiastic Glasgow University sociology lecturer, than an inspiring, up-and-at-em leader of people such as Jimmy Reid, or with the pace and flow of Nicola Sturgeon.
He is unquestionably the most visible face of the Scottish Green Party, having been thrust into prominence as the independence referendum debate progressed. An interesting caricature of him has been created: he was probably the inspiration of the famous “bairns, not bombs” slogan, his brand will definitely be the most distinctive candidate campaign of Holyrood 2016, and he commands a warm and cuddly, family friendly niceness that the Greens often get associated with (a trait exemplified in a nice little nugget by Highlands and Islands candidate Isla O’Reilly at the last Autumn conference.
However, the brand overshadows one important thing – he is a politician. For the members of the Scottish Green Party to do the party justice, we must hold to account his politics and his suitability to lead the party. We crave a plurality of ideas in Scottish politics; we would be hypocrites if we didn’t expect the same of ourselves.
The case of Harvie’s politics represents an itch that the party is struggling to ignore – we must reconcile the fundamental Green commitment to sustainability with the possibility of identifying that value as being socialist.
Despite the “contest, not a coronation” nature of the election, it was only a recent Bright Green Q&A with the 2015 co-convener hopefuls that reminded me that Patrick Harvie was actually a candidate too. The main contest on the card is of course Maggie Chapman’s and Zara Kitson’s bid to become female co-convener. Both their responses were articulate, thoughtful and visionary. Patrick’s contributions seemed very unsure, lacking direction and were underwhelming. As long as he is not challenged, he can afford to be.
I was further dismayed by his recent video address to the NUS Scotland Zone Conference. All leaders of current Holyrood parties were invited to send a short address to delegates from colleges and universities from all over Scotland. Harvie’s Green address consisted of a commitment to free education, to invest in Green jobs, and to challenge the issues of the private-rented sector. While all are sound, off-the-shelf, rhetoric, all three miss with the priorities of the student movement.
The address finds the Greens behind Scottish Labour and even the Liberal Democrats in terms of progressive education policy. The Lib Dems resonated with their policy raising the salary threshold to repay student loans from £15,000 to £21,000. Meanwhile, Scottish Labour caught the mood of the movement with ‘Green’ values like addressing Scotland’s failing performance in student drop-out, an increasingly weak student support package, the gap in widening access to education, the effects of college cuts on women, and a commitment of grant funding to looked after young people.
It’s shameful that we haven’t responded to the inspiring work of Who Cares? Scotland given our easy-sounding rhetoric of working toward a more caring, compassionate, equal society.
Kezia Dugdale also included a Labour commitment of closing the attainment gap between the rich and poor. This focus, and acknowledgment, of the gap of opportunity which exists between the socio-economically privileged and underprivileged, right now, sits very uncomfortably in the Scottish Greens despite its fit with our sustainability commitment. (All party leader addresses can be viewed here).
The gap between those politics and the politics of Patrick Harvie is exposed in the Bright Green Q&A. On whether class matters in politics, Harvie tells us “yes, but it means something very different to what it meant in previous generations”. On anti-capitalism, he says that it “isn’t enough” and the Greens are distinctive by our “willingness to explore new economic ideas”.
On socialism, while Maggie Chapman says “socialism isn’t a dirty word”, Patrick Harvie, at the 2015 South of Scotland Green Party Conference, declared “if you think we’re a socialist party, you’re very much mistaken”.
Sustainability of planet is absolutely inextricable from the sustainability of people. We understand that capitalism is allowed to thrive by an unbalanced exploitation of the riches of nature and the value of labour. We can not sustain the planet by allowing the consumption of its natural resources, such as the extraction of fossil fuels, overfishing the oceans or the industrial treatment of animals to continue as it is, in much the same way we can not sustain the wellbeing of the people while we continue to allow the most vulnerable in society to be pushed further into poverty while a minority accumulate obscene levels of wealth built on the exploitation of labour.
The vagueness and insubstantial nature of what Patrick Harvie says, and the representation of how the party would bring about the caring, compassionate and equal society has to be addressed if we are to have sights of taking the Green movement to become a considerable power in future Holyrood parliaments. The reconciliation of the Scottish Green Party with socialism must take place if we are to be able to articulate the ideas of the sustainability of people and planet, and also bring the people of Scotland with us.
If the level of accountability Patrick Harvie receives from the party continues, the leadership of the party will fail to represent fully the ideas the party generates to achieve the sustainability of people and planet, and the party will never reconcile how socialism is embedded within Green politics. For the party to progress, Patrick Harvie must face a challenge for the leadership of the Scottish Green Party.