Surfing the Scottish Surge
Since joining the Scottish Green Party about fifteen years ago I have always remained loyal and enthusiastic, but my commitment to local Green activism has fluctuated. At one time I was convenor of the local branch, and at another, merely a member. Sometimes I would organise a fundraiser. For quite long periods I would rarely attend meetings at all. The usual reason for this is that I was involved in green activism of the kind that doesn’t work well with party politics – for the simple reason that it attracts people from all parties and none. After campaigning for several years for the Tay beavers (a campaign that isn’t over yet), like most people I got a bit excited over the time of the referendum and the subsequent Green surge.
My neighbour, also as Scottish Green party member, said he was heading to Perth one evening after the surge to a Perth Green party meeting and I thought I would hitch a ride. I was used to walking into meetings attended by perhaps eight people. I walked into a room of at least forty new faces and a few familiar ones too. I was immediately struck that nothing would ever be the same again in the local branch, and many things that once seemed impossible would now seem feasibly. Each of these people clearly had some special skill to contribute. I wondered what these skills all were. It began to become clear later.
Now during the quiet times, when I had been away campaigning on other things some very stalwart local members had held the fort. The new members were keen to fight the General Election – some of the old members were less keen and felt that this would be a pointless way of wasting precious party funds. There was some disagreement. But with the arrival of the surge, the old officials were hoping for people to pick up the various roles and give them a much deserved break.
This happened over the next few weeks, but before the changeover was complete an email came round from the out-going co-convenor asking for candidates to come forward. I wondered if there would be new members volunteering, but I thought would put my name forward to contribute to a proper selection process with some competition going on. I felt it was important for someone to run for this election to consolidate our new members in a joint campaign.
In the event, there was just one young contestant in my constituency and I was selected, probably on the grounds of having some life experience and some experience in the local party. My opponent was a very bright guy, but still a student. I was assured that in my constituency it would be a paper candidacy only and the party would campaign for the southern constituency. This seemed manageable so I agreed. But a few days later the other candidate, also the stalwart and probably exhausted former co-convenor, stood down. As the “surge” members wanted to campaign, I agreed to be a campaigning candidate but explained that it wasn’t quite what I’d signed up to in the first place and I would need some support.
In the event the support that came my way proved quite spectacular. Retired professionals some of whom had voted Green all their lives: a teacher, a social worker, a former SNH employee, a current employee of SEPA. Kevin, a former Labour party member who had switched to the Greens in exasperation with Labour in recent times volunteered to be Agent. People came from all kinds of backgrounds all over Perthshire to pitch into the campaign. But they all had something in common – they were kind, intelligent and committed. We had fun, as we draped our fluttering banner over a wallpapering table in windy streets and pressed flyers into the hands of passers by. Ronnie, who claimed he was born without an embarrassment gene wore the spare banner as a superhero cloak. I was booked earlier to be away for almost a week during the campaign. Kevin encouraged me to go. “Don’t ruin your life for this, you’re not going to win.” The campaigners carried on, leafleting the whole of Muirton Estate in Perth during the week-end. I attended one “meet the candidate” session, and one hustings. I missed 2 others when I was away but they were covered by party members.
All through the election SNP members kept cheering me on and telling me that they would be voting Green with their second vote at the Scottish election.
On election day an icy wind blew, but the dedicated campaigners stood at polling stations around the constituency smiling at voters with their Vote Green billboards and wearing Scottish Greens T-shirts over thick jumpers. Kevin kept us all right on election protocol and he and I (driven by my husband Paul) visited most of the polling stations in the constituency during the day. We drove through beautiful countryside, dropping in at Aberfeldy, Pitlochry, Dunkeld and other delightful Perthshire towns. We finally all gathered at the Bells Sports Centre in Perth for the count and I greatly enjoyed the drama and conviviality of the occasion. Sophie my daughter happened to be up from London and joined us. We didn’t pay too much attention to the count, although it was fun to see the odd cross against my name and later little wodges of votes in my boxes. We exchanged pleasantries with members of other parties, kept an eye on the television and enjoyed the free drinks and sandwiches and the chat – sharing our reasons for being in the Green party and mulling over aspects of policy. We held a sweepstake on the vote, putting in 50p each. Our campaign really helped to bond us together. We were there to witness the SNPs excitement as the result of their landslide came in. A huge cheer went up as Jim Murphy’s seat went to Marie Black. I almost felt sorry for him although I was firmly told not to by Kevin. Scottish Green Party votes were coming in the 600s and 800s, and the occasional higher one. I hoped ours would go over the 1000 mark. Four figures seemed respectable. I feared it wouldn’t.
Then at about 3 am they called Perth and North Perth’s results. We hurried up to the stage where Kevin and I were told what we’d got before going up on to the stage itself. (You’ve beaten UKIP he whispered, but not kept the deposit). The number was 1146. (UKIP’s was 1110). I was delighted and couldn’t stop grinning as I looked out from the stage over the excited crowd. When I spoke I thanked the returning officer and officials in the usual way. I said that I’d been fascinated to see democracy at work and hugely impressed with the process. I added that, as it was the first time the Scottish Green party had stood in that constituency our share of the vote was an infinite improvement on the past. My local party supporters cheered – and perhaps some others too?
I also won the sweepstake. (In a moment of optimism I had guessed 1200). Then to my surprised delight I was presented with a large bunch of beautiful flowers – mostly white with a lot of lovely green leaves.
Against all this enjoyment was the rather darker thread of watching the Conservatives win an unexpected small majority. Driving home through the night Sophie and I speculated on what had happened at this bizarre election. The SNP tsunami, the Conservatives’ success, the meltdown of Scottish Labour and of the Lib Dems and – as I later learnt – a million votes to the Greens, although still just one MP. It was a fascinating experience to be part of it and to be surfing the Green surge in such a heart-warming manner.