How Greens can be the Holyrood opposition by 2021

An edited version of this article appeared in The National on the 28th October:

The Scottish Greens today have around the same number of members as the SNP had in 2003. I see no reason why our party can’t grow from that base to become the official opposition in the Holyrood elections after next.

History, after all, operates like tectonic plates: it creeps along at an almost indiscernible speed, then suddenly it changes radically in an earthquake. Politis is different to geology though: we can shape our politics. As we Scots have been discovering in recent years, we don’t have to accept the future dealt to us by those who controlled the past.

Partly, I think Greens can take up such a significant position because it seems the next logical change. Now that the SNP, not Labour, is clearly the dominant party in Scottish politics we can expect voters will seek to rearrange their opposition parties. Since the referendum, the main left opposition will have to be one that’s pro-independence.

But I also think it’s possible because we’re arriving in the future which we Greens have been anticipating for years, and we have ready-made policies designed for exactly the economic, social and environmental changes which are happening around us. As I said to our party conference earlier this month, our time has come.

Mostly, though, I think it’s possible because there’s a clear path from here to there: a path we’ve already started treading. The first steps were breaking out of the single issue the media has always been so keen to put us in. Green politics is rooted in an understanding that all issues are connected and that unless we flatten the pyramids of power in our society, we’ll never win our battles for social justice or for the planet.

We are a some way down that route, though we must keep pressing on. Our messages need to resonate ever more with the lives of ordinary people. We need to continually be relevant to changing realities, and to never be afraid of afraid of standing with the downtrodden, no matter how controversial it is. In the European elections, for example, I insisted we put migrants rights front and centre, and we were rewarded for our principled stand with our biggest ever national vote share.

We need too to invest in our membership. In 2006, the Green Party of England and Wales had fewer members and less money than the Scottish Greens have now. Yet it was then that they invested in a permanent staff member to support the Young Greens: a position which helped transform the organisation into one which was instrumental to the election of Caroline Lucas and the party growth that was to come. We should learn from that, and become the dominant force in Scotland’s youth and student movements.

We need to work closely with Scotland’s trade unions. The party which traditionally claimed to represent them is falling apart, and now faces collapse into a pit of contradictions. As a long term EIS organiser, I was delighted with the launch at our conference of the Scottish Greens’ new Trade Union Group. The party needs to invest in supporting this vital work, and, to quote Natalie Bennett “ask not what the trade unions can do for us, ask what we can do for the trade unions”.

We need to be better at organising in Scotland’s working class communities. As councillor for Leith Walk for 8 years, I saw first-hand how powerful Green politics can be to those who need it most. The participatory budgeting scheme I launched, £eithDecides, has involved many thousands of Leithers in agreeing together how their public money is spent. I was the first politician in Scotland to demand a Living Wage for public sector employees, and thousands of my constituents directly benefited when it was introduced.

As an immigrant who has had to work two jobs most of my adult life to send money home to my family, I know that empty platitudes and abstract slogans about change aren’t enough for those for whom politics is more than a game. As Greens, we need to be able to communicate our radical economic ideas as the sensible proposals they are to work together to take back control of our jobs and our lives and to ensure that we all have the stability that so many of us crave.

We need to get better at the mechanics of winning elections. This means tapping into the skills of the hundreds of members who have joined us from other parties and of our friends in England and Wales and across the world. It means more internal training. It means we need to think hard about how to be a political party in an increasingly digital age: we’ll never have more or better spin doctors than Labour or the SNP, but we saw during the referendum how investment in online can transform debate.

It means not just concentrating on each election successively, but building long term. We should aim to win representation in Council Chambers across Scotland in the 2017 local elections, and that means building now. Being co-convener of the Scottish Greens is a voluntary post, something I’ve done over the last two years alongside my two day jobs. So obviously I can’t do all of this on my own if I’m re-elected. But I can continue to work with members to push the party forwards, because when I look at the injustice in the world around me, I get restless for change.

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