Balancing the bank balance: Why the Greens are right to only stand three candidates

Louise Wilson

The Scottish Greens have received quite a lot of stick from other parties when first it was suggested it would stand less than ten candidates, then confirmed it was only standing three. Accusations that it is not a ‘real’ party, that it is bowing down to its ‘SNP master’, that it is ‘letting voters down’ have been flying around the media over recent days.

The thing is, of course it isn’t standing many candidates. Anyone that suggests it should be doing otherwise is being naïve or malicious.

The Scottish Greens, unlike any of the other four parties represented at Holyrood, do not have a single MP. Indeed, the party has never had an MP. Nor is it likely to gain one this time around. It would be folly for it to stand a huge number of candidates, particularly given that it costs £500 to do so.

To put this in context, the Greens stood 31 candidates in 2015, meaning the deposits totalled £15,500. In only three of these did the Green vote top the 5% threshold required for deposits to be returned: Glasgow North (6.2%), Edinburgh North & Leith (5.4%) and Edinburgh East (6%). The party lost £14,000 before campaign expenses are taken into account. At the time, this money was considered to be an investment, allowing the Greens to begin building a strong base for the next two elections where it was considerably more likely to make gains: the Scottish Parliament election in 2016 and the local authority election last week.

Now though, we are (touch wood) a few years away from the next election. Standing in this one would only create unnecessary financial pressure on what remains a small party — at last count it had just 9,000 members. Two of the constituencies the party has chosen to contest, Glasgow North and Edinburgh North & Leith, are ones where the party has the best chance of retaining its deposits while keeping it on the political map. In addition, Glasgow and Edinburgh are the only areas where the Greens have had a continued existence for the last decade (in the form of councillors).

The final constituency, Falkirk, was very much a decision by the local Green party branch based on local concerns. Unlike many political parties, the Greens do not dictate that branches must or must not stand in any given election. Fracking is a prevalent issue in the area and the branch was determined to be vocal about that, hoping to place the argument on the agenda, in full knowledge it may not see its deposit again (it didn’t stand here at all in 2015).

On top of the deposit, parties must also spend considerable funds running campaigns. In 2015, the Greens spent £34,863 — a figure dwarfed by the other four parties (in fact, many individual candidates spent more than this in one constituency alone). It has limited resources — it does not have a wider UK party to fall back on (recall GPEW is entirely separate) nor does it have the backing of large corporations, the unions or ‘generous’ donors. It is being responsible with its funds — would you trust a party that was not?

Snap elections are not particularly inclusive, given it can take smaller parties and independent candidates a while to build up the capital necessary to run a campaign. A notice period of less than two months does not allow for this. Parties are therefore essentially forced into selecting a handful of target areas to contest, if they are to do so at all.

This also mentions nothing of the human cost of elections. After rolling out its largest ever General Election, Holyrood and local authority campaigns over the last three years, Green activists are tired. This is true for all parties, but with such a small membership (and no doubt even smaller active membership), the burden is larger.

To suggest the Scottish Greens are therefore not acting like a ‘proper’ political party is ignoring the fact that it is so unlikely to win (and very likely to lose a lot of money). It is party political game playing, using any possible ammunition available to try denigrate the party that: a) was willing to work with the Scottish Government to pass a budget, therefore getting some of its own aims delivered, and b) the only one that will help the SNP get its second independence referendum. The Scottish Greens are apparently giving other parties much cause for concern, jumping on every SNP/Green agreement with glee but sweeping any difference in policy under the carpet.

If you are not a fan of Green politics, that’s fine. But attack them for that, not because they are tired and overstretched. Alternatively, donate £50,000 and watch the party repeat its 2015 result.