5 reasons why #sgpconf changed my mind about the Greens
Until about two weeks, I’ve had one foot in and one foot out of the Scottish Green Party (SGP).
I first joined the Greens not out of love, but out of a process of elimination. As a Glaswegian from a family of old Labour supporters who later turned to the SNP, I grew up without an obvious political home.
Labour would never get my vote after their wee stramash in Iraq, and although the Lib Dems under Charles Kennedy had an appeal, they still seemed to think that political conviction was something a doctor diagnosed you with. Like many, I was unconvinced by SNP’s attempts to appeal to everyone on all issues, and the Tories… well that goes without saying.
In my quest to find a party to vote for, I was left with the Scottish Greens. It felt like getting picked second last in social dance at school – you’re thankful you’re not alone but you’re not exactly buzzing. While I agreed with many Green policies, the party’s emphasis seemed to be on green lifestyle, cooperatives and nature preservation – a far cry from the radical social justice party I was looking for.
But since the SGP Conference in Glasgow’s SECC, things have felt different. It was SGP’s biggest ever – with 700 delegates – and seemed like the culmination of the party’s journey from a nice wee club for hippies into a serious party of the left. Why this change of heart? Here’s a few reasons.
1. Ownership of the footy, that’s real community empowerment
Nothing used to inspire a lack of inspiration in me like Greens talking about community empowerment. There seemed to be a kind of casual acceptance that allotments in Perthshire would somehow end poverty for kids growing up in Possilpark. However, MSP Alison Johnstone’s Fans First campaign to give football fans a right to buy their clubs, is making what felt like an abstract concept relevant to a huge group of people who have no interest in permaculture or beekeeping.
The Greens managed to bag the first win by getting fans’ rights into the Community Empowerment Bill, but the final push to nail right to buy down in law will come this autumn. This could transform how Scottish society views community empowerment – if fans own football, demanding community ownership of renewable energy wouldn’t seem so pie-in-the sky either.
2. Trade unions for the masses not just Scottish Labour’s classes
While the Greens have arrived late in the game, we’ve finally realised that real democracy doesn’t just involve local government. A lot of power lies in the hands of business, and only strong unions can counteract that power.
The conference this month saw the launch of the Scottish Greens’ Trade Union group, which comes just in the nick of time – Scotland’s workers are about to come under a vicious attack in the form of the Tories’ Trade Union Bill, and the Scottish Greens have taken the decision stand with the them and oppose the bill through direct action and non-compliance.
3. Who’s on your guest list?
At my first SGP conference last year, the party had invited COSLA President David O’Neill to speak about local government. O’Neill had only weeks previously said that people who registered to vote for the first time during the referendum should be hunted down for ancient Poll Tax debts in a way that would make the killing of Cecil the Lion seem like jolly good sport. To my surprise, this outrageous statement seemed to concern very few Green delegates or organisers. Weren’t we supposed to be a party that stands up against injustice?
Fast forward a year to conference 2015, where Dr Harry Burns and journalist Jack Monroe gave impassioned speeches on social deprivation, alienation and austerity. It was clear from the cheers in the crowd that this is why most people got involved in the Greens – to do their part in the fight against vicious cuts and unregulated capitalism. There’s no longer any doubt that we are an anti-austerity party that has social justice at the heart of its politics.
4. Diversity is more than crop rotation
Granted, the Greens have always been ahead of the curve when it comes to LGBTQ+ issues and representation. But within the party, it has often felt like the word ‘diversity’ is used as a reference to crop rotation, not to getting new members involved.
Previously, it would have been easy to feel out of place in the party if you didn’t conform to the European eco-life-stylists ways. While there’s nothing wrong with being metropolitan or eating organic food, this stereotype didn’t exactly reflect the people I grew up with in the southside of Glasgow. Unintentionally excluding people because of a niche image seemed a huge shame to me – after all, many of my pals have Green values but would never identify into the Green party clique.
This year, I was struck by how many accents, backgrounds and ethnicities were represented at conference compared to the year before. It looks like we’re finally moving beyond our old image and pulling in new people with new ideas and perspectives – and that can only be a good thing.
5. Greens are the main party of independence
We often seem to forget that as big as the SNP’s post-referendum surge was, the Greens’ was proportionally even bigger. New members now make up the majority of the party, and support for independence is high up on their agenda. This was clear in the conference weekend, as delegates passed policy for a citizen’s initiative to set the date for Indyref 2, and Co-convenor Maggie Chapman was greeted with a huge applause as she stated that “independence is now as necessary as ever”.
Claiming that SGP are bigger on independence than the SNP might seem like a hyperbole. But the SNP’s attempts to be all things to all people and fear of making mistakes make them look like the political equivalent of dating on Tinder. They say all the right things and look pretty slick in their photos but there is little substance behind all the Instagram filters.
In the meantime, SGP have been able to put forward bold new proposals, ranging from a citizen’s income and radical land reform to a just transition from the fossil fuel industry. This desire to look at new solutions came through clearly at conference – policy was passed on rent controls, public and community ownership of energy, Nordic-style parental leave models and a social care system that’s fit-for-purpose.
And that really is the reason why I’ve changed my mind about the Greens. While the SNP are busy micro-managing the nation, the Scottish Greens are the ones taking the radical spirit of the referendum forward. The party is growing – in numbers and in diversity; there are plenty of new ideas; a connection with the things that matter; and determination to go against the neoliberal austerity agenda.
For the first time, I can look at the Scottish Greens and see where our place in Scotland’s politics is – and I’m sure I’m not alone.