Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish elections – a guide for Greens
By Adam Ramsay and Peter McColl
This Thursday, 3 new Governments will be elected in the UK.
Yes, you read right, 3 countries in Britain are electing their governments this week. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are all going to the polls to vote for the people who will run their services for the next 4 (or 5) years. The chambers they are electing – the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, The Welsh Assembly in Cardiff Bay, and The Northern Irish Assembly in Stormont – each has its own set of powers and its own politics. But each one makes significant decisions about the countries they govern.
Below is a quick guide to each of these, from a Green perspective – written for the English reader (or anyone else who is interested).
In Scotland, Greens have been a presence in the Parliament since the multi-colour scarfed Robin Harper was the final Member of the Scottish Parliament elected in 1999. He has represented the Lothians region (which includes Edinburgh) ever since, standing down at this coming election. From 2003-7, he was joined by 6 other MSPs from across the country. Over the last 4 years, the party has been represented by Robin and the Glaswegian Patrick Harvie, with Patrick taking on the co-convener role.
In this year’s election, Greens have been clear about the ‘red line’ issues that would prevent any future MSPs from going into any coalition with anyone: no student fees, ever; no new nuclear or coal; no cuts. Yes, with the tax raising powers that Holyrood has, Greens have offered the Scottish electorate the chance to vote against all cuts. And such is our principled defence of public services, that we will not take part in any coalition which accepts the role of the Tory’s executioners north of the border.
Polls for Holyrood elections are pretty complex. The voting system means that people get 2 ballot papers – one for their constituency, and a second for a regional vote which aims to make the group of MSPs elected from each chunk of Scotland proportional. We only stand on this second ballot, and need roughly 6% in a region to elect an MSP. The current polls have us floating around the 7% mark nationally. This would mean we would elect around 8 MSPs were we to get the same vote everywhere. But if we were to actually get 5%, as some polls suggest, we could lose all our sears, so every vote counts, and every volunteer will make a huge difference. More broadly, the SNP, who have been the government, look likely to be returned ahead of a pathetic, mean spirited, and visionless Labour. Similarly, the Lib Dems are crashing through the floor in the polls, though it will be interesting to see if their hard work in some local areas helps them cling on. It isn’t looking great for the Scottish Socialists or Solidarity and I doubt George Galloway will make it (though we’ll see). We don’t really do Tories in Scotland.
They have a similar voting system to Scotland, but it is a wee bit less proportional. There is yet to be a Green Member of the Welsh Assembly. However, with the best campaign they have ever run, with some proper targeting of resources, and with a huge amount of effort, recent polls have put the South Wales Central region within the grasp of Welsh Party leader Jake Griffiths. They too are campaigning with a clear opposition to cuts, and they need every bit of help they can get this week – if you live in the South of England, you may well be amazed how quick and easy it is to get the train to Cardiff. I (Adam) will be there on polling day, please do join us.
Labour in Wales have been a little more willing to separate themselves from the right wingers in London than have the Scots crowd. Their current First Minister – Carwyn Jones, and his predecessor Rhodri Morgan, have both been slightly more traditional lefties. And as a result, they have maintained their popularity, and look like they might back majority control of the Assembly this year, having been in coalition with Plaid Cymru for the last 4 years. Plaid, in contrast to the SNP, are going backwards. The latest polls have them polling roughly the same as the Tories, around the 20% mark. Lib Dems, surprise surprise, are tumbling to disaster. Worryingly, UKIP may just win their first AM, following on from their surprise success in the 2009 Euro elections in Wales.
More broadly, this is the first Welsh election to take place since the referendum on additional powers for the Assembly passed earlier this year. It will be interesting to watch how these powers are used in the next term.
In Northern Ireland:
Assembly members are elected using the Single Transferable Vote. Since the last round of elections, there has been 1 Green – Brian Wilson (no, not the Beach Boy). He was a longstanding councillor in the area covered by his seat (formerly a member of the Alliance Party), and is standing down at the coming election. However, in his place, another big character is looking to defend the seat – Stephen Agnew was widely respected as a cracking candidate for the Northern Irish Greens in the European elections, and has since bedded down and built a profile for himself. His job – defending a seat won partly on the back of someone else’s personal vote, and defending his Green siblings in the Republic – is not an enviable one. But if anyone can manage it, Steve is surely the man.
More broadly, Northern Ireland appears ready to re-elect the completely stark raving DUP to lead their government. Apart from their obsession with flags, and their offensive homophobia, this is a party with MPs who have requested nuclear waste dumps in their constituencies because, they believe, this will ensure that the Irish government will never want them in a united Ireland.
Other interesting results may include the election of long-time civil rights activist Eamon McCann in Derry. Dawn Purvis, who adds a unique progressive voice for unionism is seeking election as an independent, having left the working-class loyalist PUP over the ongoing UVF feud. This brave decision deserves to see Dawn re-elected – her radical politics, concern for social justice and feminism would be sorely missed.
In the contest for administration positions this Assembly election has featured a significant reduction in the tensions that have marked previous elections. There seems to be much less up for grabs. There are a range of factors in this. There is no new assembly, the DUP and Sinn Fein will be the largest unionist and nationalist parties respectively, and they’re known quantities in government. The big roadblocks of devolution of justice and decomissioning of IRA weapons have been removed. But the DUP and Sinn Fein have been thoroughly uninspiring in government. It’s hard to know what they’ve achieved, and their victories have been handed to them by the incompetence of the Ulster Unionists and SDLP.
The Ulster Unionists give every impression of a party that has no idea what it exists for. They’ve selected a hardline leader, who refuses to enter a Catholic chapel, and yet are still unable to land any blows on the DUP. This failure comes despite the DUP reneging on a promise not to talk to Sinn Fein, and instead getting into government with them. Only an utterly failed party could avoid seizing on the DUP’s lies. The Ulster Unionists are a failed party. The SDLP, by contrast, appear to have become so anonymous as to be totally unable to win vote share back from Sinn Fein. Rather than spiralling into oblivion, the SDLP are fading away.