Lorna Slater and Patrick Harvie - Scottish Green Party co-leaders

On Saturday 28 August members of the Scottish Green Party will be some of the most powerful people in Scotland.  If we approve the draft cooperation agreement with the Scottish Government, we will make history as the first Green party anywhere in the UK to take on the powers and responsibilities of the state.

There are plenty of reasons why this is the right move for Scotland and for the planet. But with local elections less than a year away, I want to set out why this agreement is the right move for our own electoral prospects.

So, here’s why I think voting Yes on Saturday will help us elect a record number of Green Councillors next May:

1. Delivering change wins votes

‘I really support the Greens but I don’t want to waste my vote’. It’s a line every Green activist has heard too many times to count. Ahead of this year’s elections we decided to explore that a bit deeper, assembling focus groups of voters who like us but don’t actually vote for us, the ‘G2s’ for those familiar with our canvassing scorecard.

The results were interesting. More Green-leaning voters actually vote for other parties than for us. They want to vote Green, but what they really want is for their vote to do some good. Better it goes to an uninspiring party who might do a few nice things than to the folks whose vision they really agree with, but who they believe won’t be in a position to implement any of our excellent ideas. Their thinking wasn’t so much about whether or not we’d get anyone elected but whether those we elected would actually be in a position to deliver.

What better way to completely obliterate this ‘wasted vote’ argument than by entering government, visibly delivering real change every day?

Try as we have done to (rightfully!) claim the credit for our wins from opposition, it’s the government ministers on the news making announcements, wearing the hard hats and cutting the ribbons. This deal would deliver the UK’s first ever Green ministers, sending the clearest possible signal that Green votes deliver real change.

2. 5,000 teachers

The largest single area of spending and responsibility for local government is education. Councils run our schools and employ their staff. I’m obviously biased as our education spokesperson, but as the reaction at teachers’ union hustings earlier this year proved, we have established ourselves as a credible voice in education debates. That’s good for our electoral prospects, given it has consistently been one of the top three concerns of Scottish voters for, well, ever.

On top of curricular reforms which teachers themselves will be pleased by, this agreement gives us a really tangible headline achievement we can take to the doorsteps ahead of next May’s vote – 5,000 additional teachers.

The 1,400 temporary teaching posts created during the pandemic (largely funded from £45million released as a result of a successful Green proposal to Parliament!) will be funded on a permanent basis, something the Greens and SNP already agree on.

The next step is where we really demonstrate the value of Green intervention. The SNP manifesto committed to an additional ‘3,500 teachers and classroom assistants’ but didn’t specify how many of each. Through this agreement though we will deliver 3,500 additional teachers, as well as 500 additional assistants.

A quick population share calculation suggests that should mean around 385 additional teachers for Glasgow and 150 for Highland for example. Those numbers will look pretty good on a ward newsletter.

3. The Community Bus Fund

The overwhelming majority of public transport journeys are made by bus but for a range of reasons including poor service and ever-increasing costs, the overall number of bus journeys has fallen dramatically in recent decades. In the last session of Parliament we passed a Bill which gives councils the power to take bus services back into public ownership, ending the disaster of privatisation. Now we’re taking the next step.

A Community Bus Fund will be established. This will help councils take the next step towards operating their own bus services, giving them the funds to complete the specialist work required. It’s been a long time since most councils had this expertise in-house.

Publicly owned and operated bus services are massively popular. Actually delivering progress on this agenda will make Green candidates pretty damn popular in any community that is poorly served by their existing bus operators (so, everyone outwith the reach of Lothian buses). This is perfect material for a sixty-second survey.

4. Thousands of jobs making homes warmer

One of the clearest examples of Green impact in this agreement is the £1.8billion package of energy efficiency measures. When we talk about how environmental, economic and social crises are interlinked and therefore our solutions must be too, this is what we’re talking about.

This massively ambitious plan will lift thousands of families out of fuel poverty, save millions of pounds in public sector heating bills (which can then be spent elsewhere), hugely reduce our carbon emissions from heat and create thousands of jobs. Those will be quality jobs, because we’ve guaranteed that Fair Work principles will apply to the contracts.

And most of this agenda will be delivered through and by our local councils. Hard to think of a policy which ticks more boxes for a Green local election campaign.

5. More walking, wheeling and cycling – much more!

Right wing commentators and even some of our fellow travelers on the left like to make out that the active travel agenda is a middle class hobby horse, but if you knock on every door on any working class street in Scotland and ask if they wish it were safe enough for their kids to cycle to school, what would be the response? Hundreds of thousands of people live in communities where most families don’t have access to a car. Making it safer to walk, wheel or cycle in your own area is absolutely a working class agenda.

The canvassing scripts will pretty much write themselves as we start to deliver a near-tripling of the active travel budget – in conjunction with other popular local transport policies such as default 20mph speed limits in built up areas and moving money from road building to road maintenance (potholes can make or break any council administration!). Much like the heat agenda, most of this money will be given to councils to deliver as they see fit, giving residents a strong incentive to elect Green Councillors who’ll ensure its value is maximised for their community.

6. Its a local election but the issues are always national

This is a tough one for us to accept. As a party committed to localism and empowered communities we wish it weren’t so, but the reality is that national issues dominate in (mainland) local elections. 2017 grimly demonstrated that, when at the height of anti-indyref2 clamour the Tories more than doubled their Councillor tally despite almost non-existent local campaigns.

A good target to win (TTW) campaign based on the right local issues can absolutely get past this. Many of our incumbent Councillors will attest to that. But it’s going to be a damn sight easier to win new wards when we’re in the news most days in the way only governments can be.

Research suggests that voters need anything from eight to fourteen contacts from a candidate/party before they’ve really taken notice amidst the million and one other things competing for their time. It’s damn hard work for us to do that through local campaigns and the limited media coverage afforded to a small opposition party. As a party of government, getting ourselves on the evening news (still a top-tier way of reaching voters, probably second only to canvassing) won’t be a problem.

Our TTW campaigns won’t need to overcome a lack of national profile, they’ll be supplemented by that enhanced profile.

I could go on. This really is a huge deal and the electoral opportunities stemming from it are vast. I’ll end with an example though. The Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand entered into a similar cooperation agreement with Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party in 2017. They don’t have an equivalent system of local government to point to but despite the dire predictions, at their next national election 2020 they gained votes and seats. Progressive voters saw Green votes result in real change and they liked it, a lot.

I’m voting for this agreement because I believe we have a moral obligation to do all we can to tackle the climate crisis before time runs out. I have no doubt though that it will be an electorally rewarding experience for our party, and that’s a pretty good incentive too.

Ross Greer MSP was a lead Green negotiator during cooperation talks and is a former convenor of the Scottish Greens’ Elections & Campaigns Committee.

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