Younger, Calmer and a Little Less Ideological: An Outsider’s View of Scottish Green Conference
This is a Guest Post by Jim Jepps, who blogs at The Daily (Maybe).
This weekend I attended my very first Scottish Green Party conference. As a member of the Green Party of England and Wales (GPEW) it was fascinating to see how our Scottish brethren organise themselves. There seemed to be more differences than similarities although there was some delicious constitutional head of a pin dancing at points, which made me feel most at home.
Certainly the attendees were very friendly, the waistcoats were more tasteful, and James (from Better Nation) very kindly plied me with exotic booze on Saturday night, including a rhubarb rum, which certainly made the whole thing much less painless. I didn’t do a survey but the conference also felt younger, calmer and perhaps a little less ideological.
My personal highlights of conference were Patrick Harvie’s many speeches (I seemed to be accidentally following him to all his fringes), the fringe on the European Greens where the GPEW was rather unfairly slated by the speaker for wanting to leave the European Greens only to be told by the other England and Wales delegate that this simply wasn’t true, and the serious approach to political work exhibited by the delegates I spoke to. Very heartening.
Having just one two day conference a year made the process much tighter and efficient I thought and was in contrast to the sprawling mechanical nature of the GPEW’s two four day conferences which are both more bureaucratic and have far more member organised activities. That’s good and bad I think, certainly official organisations like Unison and Victim Support probably feel they get more of their money’s worth but the stall holders also see less of the delegates as there is far, far less browsing time.
I certainly learned a great deal from the policy making process, like the way policy discussions are meant to take place in branches before conference, although taking motions from the floor made me literally gasp in shock when I realised what was happening. Like many organisations the lack of volunteers to stand for certain committees is probably a familiar theme, although personally I can see why someone might be put off when delegates can ‘negatively vote’ against specific candidates, which just seems an unnecessarily bruising way of conducting elections.
The politics were, understandably, very similar. I detected some nuanced differences in a far greater focus on tax in the economics debates and most discussions were tilted towards the powers of Holyrood, naturally enough, although this aspect felt a little parochial at times. After all you wouldn’t hear a delegate at GPEW conference say they wouldn’t vote for a policy motion because only Parliament had the power to do such and such a thing, rather than their regionally elected body. There were also fewer motions and therefore less subject areas covered – which again is either a good or a bad thing.
Having said that the Scottish Parliamentary elections are the most important elections for Greens in the coming year and so it’s not only right that you focus on Holyrood but also we in the GPEW need to think about what kind of modest help we might be able to provide.
It was good to see some discussion on how to approach the aftermath of the coming election that could see the Greens in an extremely powerful position as a powerbroker. There was clearly consensus that Greens should use that position to win as many concessions as possible, but the fact that we’ll be the only party entering the elections who actually oppose the cuts leaves us with few allies that we’d feel comfortable getting too cosy with.
The differences lay in how formal to make this process and how much freedom to give the negotiating team as they go into the lion’s den. Although there was agreement in the room about roughly the kind of negotiations that should take place the points of sharp debate were between those who felt there was an attempt to overburden the process with structure and inflexible political lines in the sand and those who felt it was important to set out clearly in advance the mechanisms for negotiations.
That’s your discussion, not mine, so I’ll stay out of that but I’m sure that if we are in the happy position of having increased representation in a divided Scottish Parliament the Greens will once again use their position to good effect.
Reading Derek Wall’s book the Rise of the Green Left on the train home also reminded me that I’d spent an entire conference without hearing about the indigenous peoples of Latin America. Again, you pays your money and takes your choice.