Black Forest to Green Wood?


The Green party’s election victory in the German state of Baden-Württemberg is expected to have a major impact on industry and politics. What does it tell us? It’s a vote blow for Merkel but is it also a sign for the Scottish Greens at Holyrood?


Where do the roots of the Green victory in ‘Germany’s dynamo’ lie? In 1976 when ‘the death of the Black Forest’ first featured in Stern magazine? Or in May 1986 when a downpour drenched Baden-Wuerttemberg in caesium from Chernobyl? My daughter’s friends, the toddlers of these days, barred from sandpits and paddling pools, would become the voters who put the Greens and the SPD in power for the first time in the history of the land. Politics in the Musterlandle, or ‘wee showcase province’ (the Swabians are as addicted to diminutives as the Scots) aren’t necessarily ‘Germanic’ but embrace a localism which is both pre- and post- national.

The tradition isn’t conservative but liberal. The Federal Republic’s first President Theodor Heuss, came from the wine-town of Heilbronn, representing that mix of localised mittelstand capitalism and co-operation, not far from the small- town Scotland of old. Manfred Rommel, son of the Desert Fox, former CDU Mayor of Stuttgart, and anything but a party zealot, explained their success: ‘we had no coal, no ironstone, no seacoast, so we had to be very ingenious.’

Baden-Wuerttemberg in 1980 didn’t seem the best of places to settle. The UK had North Sea oil; the pound was exchanging for almost five Deutschmarks. But this was Thatcher learning monetarism the hard way by wrecking 20-odd percent of UK manufacturing, allowing British investment to flood into the Landle encouraged by its CDU Minister-President das Cleverle Lothar Spaeth. In the Landtag socialism was represented by the thoughtful Erhard Eppler, friend of Neal Ascherson and John Le Carre.

The Swabians’ work-ethic transcends religious division, and makes for frequent comparisons with the Scots, so why the CDU dominance? And dominance it was. The ‘first-past-the-post’ electoral map was for years totally ‘black’, with the exception of one SPD seat in Mannheim (the party made up for this with list seats). Now it’s been joined by nine Green seats, nearly all centred on the university towns: Heidelberg, Stuttgart, Konstanz and my own Tuebingen.

Spaeth was a remarkable innovator: the pawky, centrist creator of a ‘bourgeois regionalism’ whose influence reached out to Catalonia and Wales, and created friction with Bonn and Helmut Kohl. His problem was too close a linkage with the Landle’s huge firms – Bosch, Daimler-Benz, Audi, etc. Of his successors, Erwin Teufel stayed too long in office, Guenther Oettinger and Stefan Mappus had little profile outside the party organisation. This opened an opportunity for the Greens, and also for a ‘feminised’ SPD whose Beate Weber was the first woman Mayor of a German city – Heidelberg, from 1990-2006.

The nuclear issue we have met; it became politicised by the influence of state-run Electricite de France on the regional power company, and conflicts with the local Stadtwerke which provide fuel, sewage, and transport in towns are which are still strongly independent. The alternative to the reactors – and there are earthquake problems in the Land: Basel was flattened in 1354, Hohenzollern Castle damaged in 1971 – is less using other means of generation than better building standards of ‘passive houses’ and even ‘energy-positive houses’, a strong emphasis on horticulture, local produce, street markets. Megamalls open on Sundays, getting juggernaut deliveries at weekends? Nein Danke!

Odd then that a rail scheme – Stuttgart 2120 – proved the other  point of confrontation. It turned out to be less about rail improvement than real estate, developing several square kilometres of track above the proposed tunnels with a new (underground) station which would have fewer platforms than Paul Bonatz’s massive arts-and-crafts monument. But whatever solution is chosen it will be state-of-the-art, and it will go ahead on time and on budget: these days many Ba-Wue commuters ride right into the town-centres on tram-trains – the brilliant invention of Dieter Ludwig at Karlsruhe – and the greenish politics of the local communes favour local rail as much as high-speed schemes.

His victory has made Winfried Kretschmann, a schoolteacher of ethics – part of a curriculum that once marked the Scottish universities’ first year – and given to lecturing the Landtag on philosophy and ecology Minister-President designate. Emphatically from the Greens’ ‘realo’ wing, his partner will be the young SPD leader Niels Schmid. The last Federal Red-Green ministry, under Gerhard Schroeder and Joschka Fischer, 1998-2005, was hard going, but renewed German industry. Ba-Wue’s manufacturing – dominated by ‘eco-hi-tech’ – went up from 30% to 35% of its GDP, 1995-2005. The UK’s is scarcely half that. ‘We can do everything but speak Hochdeutsch (proper German)!’ is the Swabian slogan. Gruess Gott to that!

Prof Chris Harvie has just retired as SNP MSP; he still teaches British and Irish Studies at Tuebingen and has just published Scotland the Brief (Argyll).

Comments (3)

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  1. Peter Curran says:

    It perhaps reflects simply what is the case in England – voters have no unequivocally green choice other than the Green Party. But Scotland has – one of the two largest parties, the Scottish National Party, is green, anti-nuclear and wholly committed to the environment and renewables.

    So Scottish voters have a real choice – either vote for the nuclear power, WMD, warmongering unionist parties, Tories, Labour and effectively LibDems (in spite of their feeble reservations), or waste a vote on the Scottish Greens – or vote for the only party that can ultimately deliver a green, nuclear-free Scotland, the SNP.

    But I have to say that I hope Patrick Harvie retains his seat, because he is a true statesman in the making, and has a unique, independent voice, delivered with penetrating, principled intelligence that the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish people need to hear.

  2. Ray Bell says:

    I have one major problem with the Greens right now: Their policies seem to be used as a further excuse to tax people even more. We have taxes on everything supposedly for their “carbon” impact, but going into the usual kitty. These taxes are inherently unfair, as the poor pay as much as the rich do for “carbon”. They’re not graded taxes, they’re a poll tax on everyone.

    Environmental solutions need to start saving a bit of money, not raising it.

  3. Ray Bell says:

    p.s. Should have said…. These taxes are raised by the LibLabTory crowd, but use the Green movement as a foil. Precious little of them make their way towards environmental causes.

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