Caroline Hoffmann: a Tribute
Dr Caroline Hoffmann (1964-2011) was a member of the Scottish Green Party and Bündnis 90/Die Grünen, an ecologist, a sailor and an LGBT rights campaigner. She died on the 4th December 2011 after a long struggle with leukaemia.
In 1998 the Scottish Green Party hadn’t got much in the way of assets. Most of the party membership had become disillusioned and burnt out after a succession of electoral false dawns. What it did have, alongside the irrepressible Robin Harper, was the steely determination of a German PhD student called Caroline Hoffmann that the party could and must do better. Together with her then partner, Philine Gaffron, she helped give the party the hard shove that was required to get it ready to fight an election campaign in 1999. The result of that campaign was the election of Robin, and the creation of a new green space in British politics. Caroline played a massive part in this success.
Caroline moved to Edinburgh to do a PhD at the Napier University Pollution Research Unit, with the catchy title “Investigation into the use of the Vibrio fischeri bioluminescence assay as a direct toxicity assessment (DTA) tool in the activated sludge environment”. The research side of of the PhD – assessing tools for measuring the toxicity of of sewage before discharge – appealed to Caroline’s attention to detail, her love of the sea and her life long passion for environmental protection. When not measuring the light output of V. fischeri at different levels of pollution, the other great draw of Edinburgh was the excellent sailing from Granton Harbour. Caroline had taught sailing in Southampton and quickly got involved in the Forth Corinthians yacht club.
However, coming to the Scottish Green Party conference in 1998 in Edinburgh, she was stunned to find a party that was seriously considering folding itself back into the Green Party of England and Wales, so low were the levels of energy and enthusiasm. Caroline, together with a few others, recognised that despite appearances, the introduction of PR for the Scottish Parliament elections meant the party stood on the brink of a massive opportunity.
Caroline threw herself into getting the party ship-shape and ready for the election. As Convenor of the National Executive and as Euro Election Campaign co-ordinator she gained a fearsome reputation for cutting through the waffle common in green circles. Her broadcasts from boring old realityland were vital in grounding the party and focussing its efforts on what actually needed to be done.
Opinions differ as to whose idea it originally was, but Caroline was a fierce advocate of the ‘Second Vote Green’ slogan. She recognised that the greens would only get a small window of opportunity to get their message across so it needed to be focused. Constant emphasis on a single clear message, she believed, should be at the heart of a campaign – and took the successes of 1999 and 2003 vindication of this.
She was also a passionate feminist and LGBT rights campaigner, and served as a role model for many new female members of the party. The campaign in 1999 to support the repeal of Clause 28, the homophobic regulations that forbade teachers and other local authority staff from treating gay and lesbian relationships as equally valid, was a bitter one, but Caroline maintained her principles and humour, as well as her passionate commitment to equality, throughout.
After a stint working for the Centre for Human Ecology, she returned to Germany, and after working for the Green Group in the the Bundestag and as Senior Advisor to the Council of Baltic Sea States she became the Head of the Environment and Transport Unit at the German Federal Environment Agency. She maintained her commitment to Green campaigning, working hard to get Bündnis 90/Die Grünen candidates elected in Berlin and Brandenburg.
It was in Berlin that Caroline married Katarzyna Nowak last year – in her own words “never give up hope – true love exists after all”.
However shortly after their wedding Caroline was diagnosed with leukaemia, the latest of several bouts of cancer. Despite two separate bone marrow transfusions, associated radio- and chemotherapy and a huge amount of struggle and bravery Caroline died in hospital on December 4th.
There are the ‘Bs’ I will always associate with Caroline. First, birds: she persuaded me that birdwatching could be fun, and her tales of how her group of ‘gay birders’ shook up the almost asexual world of birdwatching in Edinburgh always got a giggle. Secondly boats: I have a vivid memory of sailing across the Forth with her, and Caroline suddenly ducking down to put the radio on. Lo and behold, just as she had predicted, up popped a seal to see what the noise was. Finally (Werder) Bremen – her hometown football club and a source of pride, passion and disappointment in equal measure.
In love, in joy, in memory.
Mark Ballard was a Green MSP from 2003-2007 and ran the 2003 Scottish Parliament campaign which elected 7 Green MSPs.