Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s new finance minister and a leading figure in Syriza, showed his cultural chops during a Today interview by quoting the poet, Dylan Thomas. He said Greece would not go gentle into the night and would instead rage against the dying of the light. That sort of feisty, principled attitude will be crucial in the coming weeks as those of us on the left advance our arguments for ending austerity and attempt to expose a political system designed to ensure politicians kowtow to big business and wealthy individuals.
I’m reminded of Edwin Morgan’s poem for the opening of the Holyrood parliament: ‘A nest of fearties is what they do not want’ he said of voters. There’s no doubt the electorate across Britain is tired of the bland Westminster consensus, and parties such as the Greens are in a better position than ever to take it on.
There’s a big chance for progressives not just to rage but to exercise substantial influence. My party will stand in the majority of Scotland’s 59 Westminster constituencies – more than ever before – with a high proportion of women and young people among our candidates. With our biggest slate of candidates, Scots will have an unrivalled opportunity to vote for the bold and positive politics that only Greens represent. We’re a decentralised party so the decision to stand has been down to individual branches and members. By contrast, we see Labour continuing to use a top-down committee structure to draw up shortlists.
Our membership has surged to almost 9,000 with one in ten of them ex-Labour members. We’ve seen a steady rise in the polls; we’re regularly ahead of the LibDems across Britain, and when we consider the variations within local constituencies we know that there are some seats, such as Bristol West and Norwich South, where the bookies are increasingly expecting Greens wins. In others, such as Glasgow North and Edinburgh East, we can break old party traditions and create genuinely exciting marginals.
We also know we poll well among young voters. Almost of a quarter of 18-34 year olds intend to vote for the Scottish Greens. And, while other parties are tying themselves in knots with messages about the sort of tactical voting that represents the politics of old, our candidates are out and about engaging with voters on our ideas for protecting public services, reforming democracy and tackling inequality.
Hot on the heels of the referendum, this election has clear implications for devolution. The Scottish Greens engaged as positively and constructively as we could with the Smith Commission. The pace of agreement was frankly daft, and anyone who thinks we got a robust or durable settlement is kidding themselves. We’ve now seen the draft clauses, which are basically the main points of the Smith agreement converted into potential chunks of legislation.
Whoever ends up in government after 7 May will be playing with fire if they try to water down the legislation, but it will have to be made workable. Labour has made itself something of a laughing stock with their varying offers on devolution. First it was ‘Devo Max’, then the ‘Vow’, then Home Rule, and finally (I say finally but I’m not optimistic) the ‘Vow Plus’.
Given that Labour’s heels were dug in deeper than anyone else’s, it’s pretty astonishing to see it try to take credit for devolution in areas like employment and welfare. These were exactly the areas where it had to be dragged kicking and screaming. Indeed, the union movement seemed dismayed at this position. Greens would give exploited employees the legal right to buy out their companies and turn them into workers’ co-operatives and we’d encourage employee involvement in management, product development and innovation.
We would also introduce laws to limit the size of CEO pay relative to the lowest paid workers in the company. Voters who see workplace democracy as a priority should aim for more Green voices at Westminster to drive home the importance of these issues.
As for the assertion that more SNP MPs guarantees the best deal – it’s a neat bumper sticker but let’s not forget the baggage that comes with that party like a tendency toward Laffer curve tax policies, willingness to work with tax exiles, further tax breaks for the highly profitable aviation sector, support for the NATO nuclear alliance, support in principle for the TTIP corporate trade deal, support for maximum fossil fuel extraction and the door left ajar to fracking.
Let’s not forget that the strength of the Yes campaign was the range of voices that could be heard. Those now urging tactical voting are retreating to the politics of old, the kind of politics we worked so hard to challenge. Huge numbers of people who voted last September have been ignoring elections for many years and it’s essential that we continue to encourage them to stay involved.
Telling people to vote X to keep out Y or vote Z to avoid ‘splitting the vote’ simply risks making many retreat, seeing politics as an unchanged, negative business. Instead, the principles and ideas a political party stands for should come first. My fellow Green parliamentarian, Caroline Lucas, has shown that even a small party can make the breakthrough when it is clear, committed and hardworking. Her track record as an MP, promoting public services and standing up against fracking, has proved the only wasted vote is a vote for something you don’t really believe in. Voters clearly want to hear a range of voices. Just look at how broadcasters changed their tune in recognition of that demand.
We can also see with the mobilisation of public protests against fracking and growing concern at deals such as TTIP, there’s a desire for social, economic and environmental progress in Scotland. We can build on that desire by focusing on the possibilities rather than engaging in the divisive language of Westminster, pitting ‘hardworking families’ against ‘scroungers’.
The battle in our society is inequality. Greens address this by a £10 minimum wage to reduce in-work poverty, a citizen’s income, public ownership of rail to provide good quality transport for all, and taxes on land and wealth to ensure those who can afford to pay a fairer share do so.
By emphasising that unique stance, we have a chance to harness the enthusiasm built up during the referendum. So much of British politics is mimicry, with two big parties being as bland as possible to appeal to the middle-ground. It seems that whenever the Tories criticise Labour’s alleged spending commitments, Labour spinners go into overdrive issuing denials and proud boasts of their own plans to cut public services.
On austerity, the LibDems have been cheerleaders for the Tories’ determination to punish the most vulnerable people in society for the failures of banking and big business. All the while Labour has proved an ineffective opposition and signed up to Osborne’s ridiculous budget charter, which commits to public spending cuts. Greens would introduce a wealth tax on the richest 1%, raising billions, and crack down on tax evasion and avoidance to bring in further revenues to invest in new jobs, good wages and public services. We’d prioritise equal pay for women, a fundamental issue that successive Westminster governments have failed to tackle.
By offering a £10 an hour minimum wage by 2020, we show how Labour’s current offer – of £8 an hour – would still leave millions working in poverty, with the public purse continuing to subsidise low pay.
On jobs, we urgently need more Green voices in parliament to make an economy that respects the environment. By expanding industries such as food and drink, chemical sciences, digital technology, construction and engineering, we can ensure a successful and sustainable jobs market. And, by refocusing our oil and gas sector towards decommissioning and investing in skills transfers towards renewables, we can capture the clear opportunity that exists to excel in the clean technology that can bring us lasting prosperity.
By renationalising the railways, we’d show market failure won’t be tolerated and public services – for that is what mass transport is – must be cherished rather than ‘marketised’. Despite this policy’s huge popularity, Labour simply can’t bring itself to adopt it. And as for popular policies, we know that when people are asked to say how they would vote on policies only, like at the voteforpolicies.org.uk website, it’s the Green agenda which ends up on top.
On democratic reform, thanks to the LibDems’ botched AV referendum, it may take some persuading to get people to back a move to proportional representation in elections but, of course, we’ve lived with a couple of PR systems in Scotland for some time. If we see a surge in votes for the Greens but that then not translating into new MPs we can build the case for PR at Westminster. It’s telling that neither of the two big parties is interested. They’re clearly happy to take it in turn to undo the other’s work. It’s a cosy arrangement and the best way we can break it wide open is to vote for what we believe in.
Patrick Harvie MSP is the co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party