It would be easy for Greens to sneer at the Women’s Equality Party, but that would be a mistake
— Stylist Magazine (@StylistMagazine) May 5, 2016
Writing from the Edinburgh count at Ingliston, it’s clear that the Scottish Green Party have broken free from the ‘others’ category and become a serious force in Scottish politics, with results comparable with Labour in a large number of areas in Edinburgh, and rumours emerging that they may have beaten Labour to second place in Glasgow Kelvin. It would be easy in this context to be dismissive of parties still very much within that ‘others’ category, including the Women’s Equality Party.
Certainly there are good reasons to criticise these newcomers.
The Women’s Equality Party has been surprisingly timid in its policy formation, which is perhaps not entirely unexpected from a party founded by such liberal feminists as Sandy Toksvig. It has gone out of its way to present itself as a party neither of the left nor of the right, and this preoccupation with the appearance of political neutrality (or rather, centrality) has led to a policy portfolio which fails to adequately address even those issues which the party says is central to its existence. For example whilst eliminating the gender pay gap appears from their leaflets, their supporters in the commentariat and their website to be one of their highest priorities, their policies in this area amount to mentioning flexible working opportunities on job advertisements, saying employment tribunal fees are too high (but not saying what they would do about it), reducing childcare costs, and doing something about pension contributions which doesn’t sound particularly inspiring or transformational.
I was handed a leaflet outside Edinburgh Waverley train station yesterday which mentioned recognition for unpaid care work as a priority for the party. But their policies don’t address this at all, presumably because doing so would require very transformational policies such as the Greens’ longstanding Citizens’ Basic Income, which is apparently too left wing. A friend who is involved in a feminist group tells me that the party’s representative who came to one of their events refused to describe it as a feminist party. This is failure even on the party’s own terms.
But such a response to the Women’s Equality Party would be foolish, given the Green parties’ own histories. It was not long ago that prominent members of the Scottish Green Party described themselves as ‘not left, not right, but green’, and I still occasionally hear similar statements from members of Green Party of England and Wales. The WEP have made something of a strong start, beating Solidarity and RISE in most of our tallying, and we’ll see how that’s reflected nationwide in the coming days. Most importantly, the WEP have made an invaluable contribution to Scotland’s hustings in this election, bringing their answer to every question back to issues which they consider priorities for women. Greens should welcome this.
It would be easy to be dismissive of the remaining ‘others’. But in the case of those parties broadly on the left such as WEP and RISE, Greens should instead be asking ourselves why our own party was seen as inhospitable to their activists and supporters.