SNP, Greens, RISE and Labour talk collaboration at Bright Green fringe
It is sometimes said that Scottish Green Party conference spends far too much time discussing policy, and nowhere near enough discussing political strategy.
With that in mind, Bright Green was pleased to be given the opportunity to host a fringe at #sgpconf entitled ‘Left-wingers of all parties, unite! Cooperating across party divides post-2016.’ We welcomed speakers from RISE: Scotland’s Left Alliance, the SNP Trade Union Group, Labour and the Scottish Greens, chaired by Katie Gallogly-Swan from Common Weal.
In post-referendum Scotland, cross-party cooperation has been a recurring theme. Activists that worked together during the independence referendum naturally found common ground and made good friends, and when the independence referendum ended were reluctant to go back to the old ways.
Our final speaker Jonathon Shafi from RISE reflected on this time when he told the room that the last time he’d visited the SECC, it had been for a Radical Independence Campaign conference at which all members of the panel had spoken in one capacity or another, and proposed that working together as issue-based activists within social movements may be one way in which to foster cross party collaboration. Now is a particularly good opportunity, given the fluidity of the political situation, he said.
Maggie Chapman, co-convenor of the Scottish Greens and one of Bright Green’s founders, also spoke extensively about the importance of social movements. She outlined that the Green Party had its foundations in the movements for environmental justice, for LGBTI+ rights, for gender and racial equality and others. She remarked on the importance of political cooperation, reminding us that “our political objectives are far more important than our political boundaries. We can’t afford to be precious.”
We were fortunate to hear from Kirsteen Fraser, secretary of the SNP Trade Union Group, who told the room of the importance of understanding each others’ different positions rather than simply condemning them. The right wing disagree almost as much as we do, but when it comes to it, they stand in absolute solidarity with each other. She said “Empathy is very important – we are facing a Tory government seemingly without empathy. I am willing to work with anyone if they want to make the world a better place.”
Mary Lockhart, former chair of the Cooperative Party in Scotland, long time peace activist and Labour Party member identified a number of issues upon which the left could cooperate, namely nuclear disarmament, the anti-trade union bill, the EU referendum, welfare reform and the Syrian refugee crisis, reflecting many themes from the rest of the conference. She lamented the proliferation of party tribalism in Scottish politics, and suggested that a next step may be to call an event at which the left of various parties can sit down to agree a common agenda on a short term and extra-parliamentary basis.
It is perhaps unsurprising that a group of speakers who were willing to come together for a discussion were in favour of more cooperation, and there are plenty of members and activists in all parties who have no interest in such work. But we hope that our fringe was a small step on the way to a reduction in party tribalism, and a relationship between parties which is respectfully critical when necessary, and cooperative where aims are shared.