Green Day

“Where do you stand on dog turds?” The question was asked in all seriousness at a local hustings. The candidate shuffled, composed himself and answered. It summarises the public perception of local politics. At the Global Teach In in Edinburgh last week Lesley Riddoch captured the extent to which local politics is sidelined and undermined. She put it well in the Scotsman: “How can marginally different people heading the same broken system create different outcomes? That fond, naïve hope is the epitome of “the British way”. We tinker with trimmings but never seriously consider structural change. Problems on the High Street – call in Mary of the Shops. Problems in the school canteen – call in Jamie Oliver. Problems with the Common Fisheries Policy – call in Hugh of the Fish. With no disrespect intended to these valiant souls, celebrity voluntarism is part of the problem, not part of the solution. In fact, Scottish councils are already too large, too distant and too dependent on Holyrood cash. That’s why they aren’t taken seriously enough by Scottish voters.”

One paper wrote: “While the turnout in Glasgow was at a historic low at just 32.42%, Labour claimed the result, if reflected in a Holyrood poll, would have seen Nicola Sturgeon, the deputy first minister, lose her seat.” But poor old tired Labour are hopelessly missing the point. The best tweet of the night goes to whoever it was wrote “A great win for Labour. Can you imagine what they could have done if they had a leader and some policies?”

The reality is that whilst the spin room on twitter is in over-drive the real winners were the Apathy Party, by  a long way. In England they were asked do you want a Mayor? Waves of disinterest broke over the body politic.

This is about power and powerlesness. Rather than politicos rail against the apathetic mob, we should think about what real independence, autonomy and self-determination would look like, and respect the non-voting, disinterested public.

Riddoch again: “Remoteness and loss of power have prompted low turnout – not reversed by the advent of PR in Scottish council elections. As Paddy Bort, of Edinburgh’s Centre for Governance, argues in Scottish Left Review, looking round Europe, there’s a pattern. Councils in Scotland raise 20 per cent of their budgets and have turnouts of 30-50 per cent. French councils raise half their budgets, and have turnouts of 50-60 per cent. In Switzerland 85 per cent of revenue is raised locally and turnout is 90 per cent.”

Wings over Scotland and James Kelly (‘So not only did the SNP secure the most seats, they also enjoyed the biggest gains. Not a repeat of last year’s landslide, but unambiguously a victory’) – are quite right to point to real confusion and manipulation by a Scottish media bored and frustrated by SNP dominance. That the new metric for Scottish Labour’s “huge success” is not getting annihilated from your heartland, is astonishing, and frankly, embarrassing. As Severin Carrell writes in the Guardian: “The SNP met Salmond’s pre-election goal of remaining the largest party by the number of councillors elected and of overtaking Labour as the largest party by share of the vote, as the SNP consolidated its hold on many councils along the east coast. With 1,223 seats up for grabs in all 32 councils, the number of SNP councillors jumped by 57 to 424, reaffirming the party’s dominance of Scottish politics.” For this to be portrayed as a bad day is, well, odd. But the truth is the SNP probably could have taken Glasgow, and it should reflect on why it didn’t, and dalliance with Murdoch is one aspect. Progressive Beacons don’t do that.

But never mind the SNP / Labour feuding and spin cycle. The real media fail is it’s lack of coverage of what was a great day for the Scottish Greens. The truth is that the Scottish Greens represent conviction politics, with a fraction of the resources of the other parties. If Lesley Riddoch points to the structural problem: too little democracy in too big areas. This is the second part of the answer to mass apathy, political activists who actually believe in meaningful change. With the collapse of the Scottish left into internecine fighting, the Scottish Greens are the inheritors of a radical tradition.

Most of the media failed to report that Professor Pongoo was Mike Ferrigan, a clever and highly dedicated climate change activist. As Jennie Macfie tweeted: “In Scotland, Greens more than doubled seats (from 6 to 14). If any other party, would be headline news. As it is, silence.”

This was a Green Day. The tally included:

– A doubling to 6 of Edinburgh Green councillors – twice as many as the Liberal Democrats.
– 5 Greens in Glasgow, more than the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats combined.
– Breakthroughs on Stirling and Midlothian councils.
– A return of anti-Trump campaigner Martin Ford in Aberdeenshire.

Good luck to them, we need them all.

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  1. andywightman says:

    Correction to Jennie Macfie tweet. Scottish Greens went from 8 seats (5 Glasgow & 3 Edinburgh) to 14. Not a doubling. Not a more than doubling

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      True, well spotted. Still a significant jump and under-reported, in our opinion.

  2. Trevor Davies says:

    Another omission – understandable because under-reported. Labour’s manifesto in Edinburgh is a coherent set of practical radical policies towards a council which uses co-operative means to provide services and green the city. It was written through six months of public consultation, not in a back room. People should read it. ‘Poor,old,tired’ is not an epithet to be applied to Labour throughout the country. And I agree the Greens in Edinburgh did really well too – despite a not very inspiring manifesto.

    Lesley Riddoch of course is on the button

  3. SRD says:

    in my council ward, the green candidate won the highest number of 1st preference votes. agree media has not taken these shifts seriously, but honestly what do you mean by “respect the non-voting, disinterested public”?

  4. Doug Daniel says:

    These local elections have shown that the Greens are the new fourth force in Scottish politics. It’s a crying shame the Greens didn’t manage to return to their 2003-2007 number of MSPs last year, because remaining at two MSPs has allowed the BBC etc to continue treating them like a minor party. Imagine the growth of the Greens if they were given the same media exposure as even the Lib Dems? You have to wonder if the prominence given to the Lib Dems is more to do with the fact they are a UK party than their actual strength in Scotland

    The Greens have something different to offer people – not only do they prove independence is not the sole preserve of the SNP, but they also offer a genuine alternative to the other parties. The Lib Dems try to make on they are the party of localism, but the reality is they just favour a slightly less harsh version of the Tories’ reduction of the state ideology. The Greens, on the other hand, genuinely just want power to be devolved to as local a level as possible, so that local communities benefit from their own resources etc. It’s a great message, but it’s stifled by the media’s complete ignorance towards them. In Patrick Harvie, they also have by far the best MSP outside of the SNP and probably the only leader in the parliament capable of an absolute absence of partisanship. The Greens actually stand for something, whereas the Lib Dems just look to survive by offering a slightly different flavour of what the other unionist parties offer. They are moribund. Scotland does not need them.

    If it weren’t for their stance on oil and cars (and perhaps not quite placing enough emphasis on independence), I could see myself joining the Greens. As it is, I just look forward to them increasing in popularity. I always look at Germany in envy at the strength of their Green party, and wish it were more like that here.

    As for the candidate referenced at the start of the piece, I trust his answer was “not at all, if I can help it”?

  5. Stevie says:

    To be fair, the Greens are a minor party, Doug. I think their distinctiveness merits more media attention, but they aren’t on the radar for most.

  6. Doug Daniel says:

    But that will remain the situation as long as they’re starved of the oxygen of publicity. In 2003 – 2007 they had more MSPs than the Lib Dems currently have, and unlike the other small parties which made up that rainbow parliament, they remain an electable – and indeed elected – force. They may be minor in terms of numbers, but they’re not a fad like other parties seem to have been. They deserve more recognition than they currently enjoy and considering the battering Scotland keeps dishing out to the Lib Dems, I would suggest it is only fair that the Greens are given at least equal prominence to the party they will soon replace when we talk of “the four main parties”.

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