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Watermelons? Perhaps, but very influential ones

Watermelons? Perhaps, but very influential ones

by Andy Maciver

As the Scottish Greens head into their one-day conference today, they have reason to be in fairly good spirits. With six MSPs they are Scotland’s fourth party, and last year’s Holyrood election can be considered a good (if not great) result.

They hold the balance of power in the Scottish Parliament, and with the Lib Dems a less palatable ally for the Scottish Government on many issues due to their constitutional position, Patrick Harvie is increasingly Nicola Sturgeon’s Queenmaker of choice.

This was evidenced most clearly in the recent Scottish Budget; in the final analysis it is fairly clear that the Lib Dems were never going to support Derek Mackay, but despite this he was always relatively relaxed because he knew he could convince the Greens to do so. We can debate about whether or not the Greens caved easily and ‘sent through cuts’ (Labour’s line) or whether they secured over £100m for local authorities, but either way it is clear that they held in their hands the ability to defeat the Government and trigger an election, if they so wished.

The ultimate test of that Queenmaking power, of course, will come when (and it seems like a ‘when’ rather than an ‘if’) the First Minister asks the Scottish Parliament to vote in favour of a second independence referendum. When she does so, she will have locked in 63 votes in favour (SNP MSPs) and 59 votes against (Tory, Labour and Lib Dems).

The Greens, with their six votes, will shape the future of the country. But what is their own future?

It has always struck me that the Scottish Greens, with the furthest left agenda of any mainstream Scottish party (which at times would make Corbyn look moderate) as unrepresentative of a large section of their voters, more so than any other party.

The Green movement all over the world is leftist, so it goes with the territory. For the newer Green voters in regions such as Glasgow (including many SSP/Solidarity refugees) this is likely to be a direct strike. But for other voters, such as those in the leafier parts of Lothian, one wonders if they always know what they’re voting for. The old adage that Green voters in Edinburgh are simply Tories that recycle may not be fully comprehensive analysis, but there is truth to it in part.

What does seems to be reasonable is an assertion that leftism is now the driving force within the Green party, with environmentalism taking a back seat. Now, Greens will tell you that you can’t have one without the other and, whilst this is not true, it is the case that the right has failed to make any kind of compelling environmental case, certainly in this country.

But it remains the case that when the Greens speak, you can guarantee the language will be ‘red’; you cannot guarantee it will be ‘green’. This may be a sustainable long-term strategy after #indyref2 has ended our constitutional discussion one way or another. The far left will always need an outlet, and with the SSP (or RISE, if it still exists) hapless and Tommy Sheridan persona non grata, the Green party is the obvious home. If the SNP splits after the referendum, they may find the ‘Join Us’ page on the website crashing.

So, are they watermelons, with green on the outside and red on the inside? It is a fair if crass description. But they’re extremely influential watermelons nonetheless, and that influence shows no signs of dissipating.