Earlier this month I stood as a candidate for the Scottish Greens at the council elections. This was a process that took months of planning, including campaign strategy, materials, fundraising and of course, the hard graft of knocking on doors. You can imagine my horror when Theresa May made the announcement just 2 weeks away from the council elections, that there would be a ‘snap’ general election. Council elections have notoriously low turn out and are generally viewed with less interest. The drama of a ‘snap’ general election certainly shifts the focus. For the party branch operating on full volunteer capacity already for the council elections being required to plan for another election is clearly a logistical challenge.
Money is Power
The Scottish Greens have recently attracted attention making the decision to only stand in 3 seats across Scotland. However, the Greens are not the only ones. In Glasgow at 2015 general election there were 51 candidates across the 7 constituencies but at this election there will only be 33 candidates throwing their hat in the ring.
The general election is one of 4 elections in the Scottish cycle, also including the European and Scottish Parliament elections. It is alone in offering only one vote as a constituency contest using the first past the post system. By the nature of the system, first past the post leads parties to campaign on grounds of ‘vote X so that Y doesn’t get in’ and is designed for a contest between 2 large parties. For a candidate to get their name on the ballot paper it costs £500 per candidate, per constituency and this is only returned if they achieve 5% of the vote. At the 2015 general election, the Scottish Greens had 3 of their £500 deposits returned. The SNP had all of their deposits returned.
This is the financial cost before a campaign is run. A minimum offering would be to take up the free post delivery option that the general election brings and leaflets for this could cost around £1000 to £1500 per constituency. Party spending alone (before individual constituency spending is added) in Scotland at the 2015 general election was recorded as: Conservative £1.29M; Labour £1.64M; SNP £1.476M. Since we cannot rely on millionaire backers, campaign finance is not an area the Greens can compete on which is why the ground campaign is so important.
The organisational requirements involve vetting and selecting candidates- ensuring gender balance; planning target areas; messaging and developing the manifesto and of course the groundwork of delivering the campaign. When a party struggles to get media coverage, the ground campaign is extremely important and this takes time.
Surely, this is not the type of democracy that any of us would aspire to, where money really is power and where our prime minister can call an election with such disrespect for local democracy because her popularity was at its peak.
Lack of Scrutiny
Moreover, there has been little time for the debate that this election deserves. This is deeply concerning because the election is not about what the SNP will do with schools or the Scottish NHS (the time for that was last year). It’s about what Theresa May wants to do with our rights as she takes us out of the EU; it’s about foreign policy, defence, tax avoidance and climate change. For the people of England and Wales it’s also about health and social care.
This is the prime minister of the party that brought the UK an ill-advised referendum on EU membership with little indication of what ‘leave’ would mean, including for the 4 parts of the UK. Surely the time to try and get a mandate for our planned departure from the EU was to ask that in the question at the time. Failing that (because your party did fail, Theresa May) how about spelling out our future choices on our relationship with Europe in a ratification referendum? To submit us to a general election where the UK population is still not given a clear choice on Europe is really to hold citizens in contempt.
The issue here is not the Scottish Green party making a decision not to stand in many seats out of necessity.
The issue is the way money continues to corrupt our political process; the way the debate in Scotland has been falsely framed as only concerning devolved powers and how the lack of time for a serious debate allows May to escape the scrutiny her plans for hard Brexit so badly deserves.