By Morvern Rennie
In which Chris proves that there are more ways to contribute to the movement than showing up to a meeting!
If you’re a regular commenter (or comment watcher!) on the Unofficial Scottish Greens Group you’ll know Chris. He has now taken his passion for writing and developed Wee Radicals a community blog which gives a voice to ordinary Green members and aims to create debate and discourse within the green movement.
MR: As a ‘surger’ what has been your experience of SGP so far?
CN: That’s a hell of a question to start with. The last 18 months or so have been a hell of a ride, from wide eyed noob to actually taking on responsibilities for stuff to burning out and back again. I’ve learned a lot, made a stack of good friends but also been frustrated.
MR: What frustrates you?
CN: There have been various things, but I guess it all boils down to things not being as I imagined they were, or should be. When I first got involved and set about building the group in my local area, there seemed to be a reticence from more tenured faces to support that development. More recently, I’ve been a tad frustrated with how things are communicated and how members aren’t consulted as much as I think they should be. A lot of that frustration can be put down to the growing pains of the party after the surge and the fact that I maybe had an idealistic view of what the ‘participative grassroots democracy’ in the party would look like.
MR:I see a lot of this throughout the yes movement. How do we stop that disappointment from becoming apathy?
CN:I think that a lot of it is about communication and that needs to be a two way conversation, not that ‘high command has decided this, go spread the word.’
People need to feel involved, valued, consulted and that they are given something meaningful and interesting to do.
The way I see it, is that everyone who is a Green – or was involved in the wider Yes movement – comes from a place of being disappointed. If you were happy with how things are, you wouldn’t be joining movements which seek to upset the applecart a bit. There is this perception that Greens are dreamy eyed idealists, when in fact were actually the cynical ones, the ones who’ve taken a look at the world and thought “this sucks, I can’t be having with this…” and set about trying to set it right. Now, people with that sort of viewpoint arent going to be enthused by carefully managed and triangulated political rhetoric, they want to feel listened to, like they are a part of something and that what they have to say and what they can do really makes a difference. Nothing breeds apathy more than managerialism, and nothing breeds excitement more than feeling you are a part of something.
MR: Is that why you started Wee Radicals?
CN: Partly. When I first joined the party I had a wee solo blog about politics that got roughly zero views, but it was just a way to get my thoughts out of my head. Then I got caught up in actually being involved and didn’t have time to write as much – combined with having two kids – and it sort of withered away. Then towards the end of last year, lots of things made me think that there should be a pro-Green blog which is pushing the Green message but also maybe casting a critical eye on the party in a way thats distinct from the likes of Bright Green – who are awesome by the way. I thought there was a definite niche for a blog which was a cheerleader for the Green movement but also a bit of a conscience as well, something which could be a bit scrappier and more emotive.
MR:How does your ‘green stuff’ (inc wee radicals) impact on your family life and mental health?
CN: To be honest, it hasn’t had the best effect and thats something I really need to learn to manage better. I’m pretty open about the fact that I’ve got mental health issues, indeed it’s a part of the reason why I joined the party and later ended up getting involved with the Disabled Greens rep group. I do have a habit to want to do things, maybe to seek validation and it leads to me taking too much on and then I feel bad when I need to back away from stuff. For example, last summer I basically had to walk away from both my elected position on the Glasgow committee and my responsibilities to my shiny new sub-branch, because my mental health was taking a real battering from the strain of trying to do everything I was doing for the party just at the point my second son was born. I’m not the kind of person who really goes half in for something and I do tend to take things personally, which can make a lot of the internal politics and manoeuvring really stressful for me. I basically had a panic attack after presenting a motion at the last Glasgow branch AGM and left in tears – but I’m not sure anyone noticed because I’ve got lots of practise of keeping it hidden. Even at this point I’ve managed to accumulate multiple roles with the Disabled Greens and my sub-branch, plus getting Wee Radicals up and running and it’s probably a bit more than I can or should be doing. That’s one reason I’ve written a fair bit about how the party needs to look after it’s activists better and also be a bit more open about how things are done.
MR:I feel my green stuff is very closely entwined with my love of my children and hopes for their future. Do you feel that too? Do you think that contributes to your intensity of feeling?
CN:Totally. Being a parent is what caused me to become politically active. I’d always been interested in politics but in my 20s, it seemed that the whole system was corrupt and we were basically circling the drain as a society. However, being a parent means that I can’t afford that sort of nihilist anarchism and have to hope for, and try to create a future worth living in for my boys.
MR: There has been a lot of noise recently about our support for the named person scheme – how do you feel about it?
CN: I’m naturally quite an anti-authoritarian sort of person and the idea of ‘government guardians’ poking their nose into how I raise my kids sits pretty poorly with me, so I didn’t like the scheme when I first heard about it. Then, I spoke to friends and colleagues who work in education, social work, the medical professions, who’ve been in care and so on and the support from those folks with a better idea of what’s actually intended and going to happen is overwhelming. At the end of the day, the important thing is stopping kids ending up being abused and neglected and if it stops one case like Mikael Kular then it’s well worth it. The main concern I’d have is that health visitors and teachers don’t get the necessary support, in terms of training, oversight and time to do this, because the last thing these folks need is more work. I guess there is also a concern that a NP might use their power incorrectly if they disagree with parents on something which isn’t really a welfare issue. Again, thats something which can be addressed by proper training & oversight and not a flaw in the concept. So yeah, after being initially skeptical, I’m broadly supportive of NP so long as it is implemented correctly.
MR: I think the confusion around NP is example of where we are struggling structurally. How do you see us resolving these kinds of issues in the structural review?
CN:For a start, I think the rammy over NP is about more than SGP structure, and it’s been poorly communicated and defended by the Scottish Government allowing the likes of NO2NP to get their oar in and muddy the waters. That said, you’re right and I’ve seen on a few forums a lot of SGP members are surprised that we support it and threats to leave the party, not vote for the Greens again etc. if we continue on that path. At the end of the day it’s about communication and letting people feel consulted and part of something, rather than dictated to. There have been a few times in the last while where thing have been done by the MSPs or the campaign team – thinking of the choice to vote against Labour’s penny on income tax and the decision to run with the saltire branding for the election campaign, both of which seemed like attempts to triangulate towards the SNP rather than cleave to Green principles – which have surprised and annoyed members, causing debates that were reactive rather than proactive. Basically, I feel that the membership need to feel informed and consulted about things – obviously there will be times where folks closer to the coalface, especially the MSPs and spokespeople, will need to make relatively quick, executive decisions – but where possible, the membership should be informed in advance and consulted on policy etc. and when it’s not, we need to get the message as to why we went a certain way out quickly and clearly, with an invitation to discuss the issue going forward. Otherwise folks feel distanced from the sharp end of the party, dictated to and there is space in that disconnect for discontent to ferment and thats a bad thing.
MR: What do you see as being your future in the party? Would you consider standing for any internal positions?
CN: Well, I’m still weighing up whether to stand for a spot on the Disabled Greens committee at our AGM on 20th June (cheap plug) and that and/or my duties handling the social media and e-mails for the Southside sub-branch are more than enough for now. I can’t see myself standing for any national or branch positions at least until my kids are in school. I think I took on too much when I first joined the party and I don’t want to burnout again. Never say never though!
Chris shows that it’s ok to step back, important to take care of yourself and whatever your talents you can find a place for yourself within the movement.