So we begin a new year, and I’ve come to the conclusion that those of us who are Scottish Greens need to have a talk about some fundamental things.
What do we stand for?
Up until now we’ve been very clear that we stand for the environment, but truthfully, that’s the only thing we’ve been absolutely clear about. We haven’t staked a firm claim on much else: although we believe in a variety of things that are good and just and would benefit our country and the world, we’ve not committed to them in body and (dare I say) soul. We’ve not made them our drive, our purpose. We’ve not taken the steps to make ourselves synonymous with them.
Partly, this has been because we are a broad church, a wide tent that accommodates anyone who can agree with Green principles. But these principles themselves are, at times, all-encompassing enough that very different views can be accommodated. We say this is a strength, and it is… but when openness becomes lack of consensus we are paralysed.
Moreover, who do we stand for?
Our party likes to say we stand for everyone. We like to say that our policies would benefit everyone. But we are disingenuous about this: our policies would hurt the rich, the privileged, the unjustly powerful. No amount of saying “But a more equal society is better for everyone!” can cover the truth that, actually, our agenda opposes those who have benefited the most from the excesses of Neoliberal Capitalism.
And, let’s be honest, right now our party is predominantly filled with white people from the upper working class and middle class. Not because we only stand for these people, but because we have been unable to articulate specifically who stands to gain by us, and to make it our banner, that they might rally with us.
Both of these problems can be summed up simply: when you say everything, you say nothing. When you say too much, you say too little.
Going into 2017, we need something stronger than this. We need key issues on which our party can reach consensus, clear people for whom we advocate, and no wavering when the hard questions come up. Which means we need to grit our teeth and admit that, while the Green movement is incredibly broad, and many of our cousins in other countries have ideologies that are very varied, we in the Scottish Greens have a very particular form of Green politics that we believe is best.
We need to be prepared to say “This is what we are for, this is who we are for, and if you’re not for these, you are not for us.” We can still work with people who are not for us, on the issues where we agree, but we need to have a clear identity of our own.
Pointing out problems without offering solutions isn’t useful, and it isn’t my style. I would like to offer my suggestions. These shouldn’t be surprising to our party members, because I think we’ve been committed to much of these for the duration of my membership: we’ve just never made them our banner.
So then, here is who I believe we are:
- We are the party of equality. We believe that everyone should equally benefit from the fruits of society, and will fight to see these distributed fairly. We believe no one should ever go hungry or homeless.
- We are the party of ecology. We believe that we are dependant on our environment, and every time we damage it we harm our health and steal from our descendants, who will have to pay for our carelessness. We believe science teaches us how to be good stewards for our land, air and water, and we must listen.
- We are the party of self-determination. We believe that every community knows how to best govern themselves, whether they are a nation or a village. We believe that wherever practically possible, power should rest with the people to whom it applies.
- We are the party of cooperation. We believe that our common humanity is more meaningful than our differences, and that opposition for its own sake is harmful. We believe that we must always be open to working with others where there can be agreement, and that greatness arises when we join together.
- We are the party of dignity. We believe that everyone can contribute to our community, and that every contribution is meaningful. We believe that simple tolerance or respect for diversity and difference is inadequate: we are diversity, and embrace it wholeheartedly.
Taking these together, we stand for everyone who recognises our reliance on each other and our environment. We stand with everyone who believes in dignity, cooperation, self-determination, ecology, and equality. And we will fight for everyone who needs these things, until at last everyone shares in them.
Therefore, the practical issues of the day are: Scottish Independence (self-determination), Scotland in Europe (cooperation), a Universal Basic Income (dignity), a Land Value Tax (equality), and Economic Diversification From Fossil Fuels (ecology).
While we have done good work with all of these, to break out and claim our own space I firmly believe we need to nail a Universal Basic Income and a Land Value Tax to our mast, and shout about them at every opportunity, without timidity or qualification. These are the things I believe people will most readily hear that are most our own, that cannot be easily taken by other parties. I also believe we have the ability to generate the policy detail we need to make these work, and that we can outline a gradual, sensible approach to implementing them that is credible.
That is not to say we neglect the other things. Quite the opposite: I believe that when we are seen to have our own, clear space that people respect and admire, people will take our areas of agreement and cooperation more seriously. It’s my impression that, right now, outside of environmentalism (which although vital is too abstract on its own to garner much interest), we’re seen as riding on others’ coat tails, mercurial and as without solid principle as the Liberal Democrats. And while it’s wrong, I’m not convinced that impression is unfair.
Lastly, we must no longer be timid with our warnings. Where fears are justified, we have to speak to them: we need to talk about economic collapse due to our financial system, we need to talk about ecological collapse due to our reliance on fossil fuels, we need to talk about social collapse due to the selfishness of the very rich. It’s particularly important that we point out the flooding, the extreme weather, the palpable changes to our seasons and say “This is what we mean when we talk about the environment!”
We must remember, that for there to be hope, there also has to be fear. When the fears are real… that is when the hope is most needed.
I think our parliamentarians are more or less there. Patrick Harvie, Alison Johnstone, Ross Greer, Andy Wightman, Mark Ruskell, and John Finnie have shown the diligence and the fire we need. What I think we can bring to them, as Scottish Green Party members, is the mandate that comes with pushing beyond our comfort zone and deciding who we are, and who we stand for.
So let me invite you to consider what we want our party to become across the years ahead. Let’s make some resolutions, personally and together, to grow into the party we need to become.
If not us, then who?
If not now, then when?