Fairer, Greener and Healthier
1st May 2016
‘Fairer, greener and healthier’ – that’s the core pitch of the Scottish Green Party manifesto. It’s an apple-pie trio of aspirations that’s difficult to challenge. There’s two other key ideas that run through the SGP message. First they argue that the Holyrood parliament needs to be bolder and more ambitious within the current settlement and second that “Holyrood – and Scotland – needs diverse politics and progressive champions to hold the biggest parties to account.”
It’s important for parties that are clearly not going to form a government to position themselves, and the Greens have successfully done so as the bulwark against any backtracking on Fracking and on other key issues such as housing and land reform. In the last few years they have successfully redefined themselves beyond being a single-issue party to one that has a track-record of articulate championing of social justice, LGBT rights and a coherent set of policies about local democracy.
The palpable green surge in the polls – is predicated on three other factors. It’s supported by Patrick Harvie and Alison Johnstone’s obvious competence in Holyrood over the last five years, by a host of quality candidates such as Andy Wightman (Lothian list) and Sarah-Beattie Smith (South of Scotland), and thirdly by having come out of the Yes campaign with respect and integrity and having cast-off the ambiguity on the constitutional question that previously undermined them.
Unsurprisingly its the Environment that sits centre-stage for the Greens, though it does now need to jostle for its place amongst the other policies in a way that sometimes seems quite odd. They say: “The environment is the foundation of our society and economy. We have a responsibility to use our natural resources sustainably to meet both our own needs and the needs of future generations. The Scottish Greens propose policies to revitalise our food systems, protect environmental resources, and support society to respond to the challenges of climate change.” They are virtually the only party that has anything interesting to say about food and farming – proposing a Food Farming and Health Act to ‘reshape food systems’. It proposes: ‘to provide the basis for a new social contract between citizens, farmers, food producers and the wider industry; set a range of targets such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions from food production; address rising food insecurity amongst Scotland’s poorest; establish a statutory commission to monitor progress and report annually to Parliament; incorporate the Right to Food in Scots law, as set out in the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.’ This is a holistic bold and essential set of ideas. The challenge will be political, to what extent the Greens can have this agenda advanced by influencing the SNP.
In Culture the SGP have the most innovative set of ideas of all the parties that we can see. They have put forward to: “encourage the use of publicly-owned empty space for cultural activity, and support ‘right of first occupancy’ and ‘community right-to-buy’ legislation to protect formal and informal venues for cultural activity and live performance across Scotland.” They argue for gender equality in the media pointing out that ‘In 2013, men held 95% of editorial positions and 100% of political editorial positions in the UK’s daily newspapers.’ They aim to raise funds through a Overnight Visitor Levy (though I don’t see the detail of how much this would raise). They have led the way on Community Sport and argue for the repeal of the Offensive Behaviour in Football Act (2012).
Housing has been a distinct focus for the Greens. Under their proposals tenants would be protected by a new housing watchdog with the power to punish rogue landlords and set rent levels. They point out that it’s not just just a case of building more homes but controlling the shambles of the rip-off rental market.
The plans for a ‘circular economy’ seem underdeveloped at best. The ‘Moving to a circular economy’ section of the manifesto mentions the Green MSPs campaign for a Deposit Return Scheme for drinks bottles but little else.
On Jobs and the Economy the Greens argue convincingly for the transition away from an oil-based economy: “With skills in sub-sea engineering concentrated in Aberdeen we have an opportunity to excel in offshore wind, tidal and wave energy. The Scottish Greens’ Jobs in Scotland’s New Economy report, published in 2015, demonstrates how to create over 200,000 new jobs by 2035, compared with the 156,000 jobs currently provided by the Scottish fossil fuel extraction industry.”
This shift isn’t just vital for our environment. A more diverse economy and energy policy will strengthen the case for independence and takes away the charge that we are a small nation over-dependent on a volatile petro-chemical.
There’s gaps and inconsistencies in the Greens manifesto and some of it seems policy-thin. They have had their internal struggles and the risk of both diluting their ideas and veering towards focusing on a few key individuals is palpable.
But the innovation and relative radicalism they offer and the quality of many of their candidates shines through. The case for an infusion of renegade pro-indy Greens into the Holyrood parliament is overwhelming.