It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to: on Greens and the referendum
I am a member of the Green Party. In fact, I am a member of two Green Parties – the Scottish Green Party, and the Green Party of England and Wales – the two have long been friends, but independent. Sometimes, the party annoys the hell out of me. Sometimes, I’m embarrassed by it. But I must confess, for the last few months, I’ve been as proud as hell.
The fact that Greens support independence brought a huge amount to the Yes campaign. Greens bring to the movement a credible, forward looking voice which no one can accuse of being petty nationalist and no one thinks is obsessed with independence. When Greens say we are motivated by bringing power closer to people, by removing control from a corporately captured Westminster, people believe it. Because it’s true. When Greens say that independence is about more than the SNP, it’s utterly obvious that this is more than a line.
Of course, these things are true of many other groups too. But the difference is that the Greens have Members of the Scottish Parliament, and so have secured access to at least some of the more official channels – TV debates, and the like. And many people have said to me in recent days that this – whether co-conveners Patrick Harvie or Maggie Chapman on a stage or screen, or Sarah Beattie Smith, staffing the Green Yes TARDIS on Leith Walk 12 hours a day for two weeks, helped to swing them to a yes vote.
But it’s not the Scottish Greens who make me most proud. Supporting independence has been our policy since 1990, and I’d be surprised if the party hadn’t risen to the occasion. What’s really pleased me is the support of the Green Party of England and Wales, and from the European Greens.
Long before many others (though not all) on the British Left started to wake up to why this was such a thrilling opportunity, our southern colleagues backed independence. First, because, as Natalie Bennett put it “we’ve agreed that on issues specifically relating to Scotland, the England and Wales party will take its lead from the Scottish Green Party” and secondly because they saw the opportunities for remaking politics across the UK.
But that in no way encapsulates the enthusiasm expressed by the party’s membership. I’m told that the biggest cheer at the Green Party of England and Wales conference three weeks ago was when it was announced that the yes campaign had (momentarily) taken the lead in the polls. The week of the referendum, Young Greens arrived in Scotland from Slovakia, Catalonia, Germany and France to help campaign for a yes vote – and, in significant numbers, from England. The European Greens – a major group in the European Parliament, issued a statement that they would fight to protect Scotland’s place in the EU.
Throughout the campaign I got fed up with being lectured by some on the British Left about how solidarity requires Scots (though not the Irish or French for some reason) to be ruled by the British State because that will somehow help to challenge its power. And I was hugely moved by the commitment of significant numbers of Greens from across Europe to a movement in a small country on the mountainous top third of an island in the North Atlantic.
Though their commitment wasn’t to Scotland specifically. It was to solidarity. Not the solidarity of the state. Not the solidarity which starts in an MP’s press release and ends in detention camps at Dover. Not the solidarity of a Labour party which supports no strikes but air strikes; which sent police officers to batter down Glaswegian doors and drag toddlers from their beds at 4am because they happened to have been born in a war zone, then locked them up in a privatised prison before lecturing us on the iniquities of borders; not the solidarity mediated through a post-imperial parliament that demands we vote for one of its chosen representatives or the other to define how fast we sell off our institutions of organised justice.
No. I mean real solidarity. The solidarity which knows no borders. The solidarity that came with young people across Europe who dropped everything they were doing for a week because they saw that the front line of their global struggle had moved north for a while. And I must confess that the fact that these young people were Young Greens fills me with pride.
It seems it wasn’t just me. When I joined the Scottish Greens in 2001, we were a small crowd. Our national conferences would have perhaps a hundred people. We had a target of reaching a thousand members. In the past few days, since the referendum, the party has surged from 1,200 or so members to more than 6000.
Last night, I went along to the Edinburgh monthly branch meeting. The committee had moved it to the biggest hall they could find, to accommodate the new members. It wasn’t big enough for the more than 300 people who showed up, so a delegation of 80 or so people went over the road to the normal meeting room too.
As I wandered round the hall at the outset, there were two kinds of faces – those of new members, smiley, chatting, excited – and, occasionally, dotted around the room, those of people who had been around longer, many of whom were, like me, biting back tears of joy. Scottish politics is utterly changed. If Cameron thought he’d put the country back in its box, he has another thing coming – Westminster may well come to regret ‘winning’ the Scottish referendum. And, whatever Scotland’s future has in store, it seems the Green Party will have a significant role to play. If this is what losing looks like…