Yesterday’s declaration by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, Natalie Bennett (Leader of the Greens in England and Wales) and Leanne Wood (leader of Plaid Cymru) of a progressive anti-austerity alliance continues the SNP’s moves to frame a strong alternative narrative for the General Election, to the tired (and increasingly hard to justify, even on UK-terms) argument of ‘Vote Labour to Keep the (Blue) Tories Out’. With the possibility of perhaps a combined block vote of more than 30 Westminster seats, their chances of playing an alternative ‘kingmaker’ to Nigel Farage – and possibly be Labour’s only way of getting back into Downing Street in May – could give them a strong hand to set conditions for ending austerity, cancelling Trident, introduction of the living wage, and putting some teeth into Smith’s recommendations (rather than the rollback of Smith being hinted at yesterday in Westminster by William Hague, with Scottish MPs being blocked from voting on the budget).
Of course, the potential for a greener agenda for Westminster would not be far away from the negotiating table for any ‘confidence and supply’ arrangement – although I was slightly surprised at the lack of emphasis on more environmentally green policies from the alliance announcement – beyond restrictions on fracking. With the close of the climate summit in Lima last week, this is of course becoming an ever more urgent agenda, with the developed and industrialised nations wanting to postpone any serious decision until 2020. While Scotland’s leading role was acknowledged in Peru – Mary Church of Friends of the Earth Scotland describing Scotland’s Climate Act as “the most ambitious domestic legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions in the industrialised world”, and has largely been responsible for producing the bulk of the UK’s contribution to meeting climate change targets – there were also concerns at the three missed climate change targets. Church noted that given “the totally inadequate pledges on the table in Lima, it is more important than ever that Scotland starts to live up to its leadership role by putting in place further serious, practical measures to curb emissions”, and Lang Banks of WWF Scotland added that “at least the same amount of effort [has to be put] into reducing emissions from transport, housing and other sectors as is successfully being put in to harnessing clean energy from renewables.”
It made me reflect on two friends (both geologists) – one from Cumbria, the other from Glasgow, both of whom identified their politics as closest to the Green Party…and their experience of the Referendum. The Cumbrian was a fairly late convert to ‘Yes’, admitting that his politics were very close to the Greens, except for their backing for independence. Conversely, the Glaswegian was very much for independence from the start. Although most closely aligned with Green politics, he told me that his biggest reservation over that party was the advocacy of homeopathic first aid-kits: scientists have long been critical of homeopathy, as it relies in some cases on dilutions of materials to the extent that mathematically there is simply not even one molecule of the original material left in the mixture…which makes it challenging to understand what the source of their supposed medical potency as liquids would be. In spite of this, he felt the only way to actually see politics happening to a green agenda in Scotland was first of all through independence – so joined the SNP within a week of the Referendum result.
I suspect – given Westminster’s tacit abandonment of green policies as their ideological drive to the Right takes hold – that he is probably absolutely correct. And perhaps that explains the lack of overt traditional environmental policies at the head of any new alliance between the three progressive parties. Any other approach, in terms of trying to convince Westminster of a green agenda first and foremost, might resemble the 4th International Committee members (see earlier post: ‘Sheridan. Charlatan.’: Socialist Equality Party, myopic pawns of Empire and Capitalism)…still holding out for that coming workers’ revolution, like soldiers on a Pacific island who do not know the war is long, long over.
Last week’s YouGov poll indicated the level of dissatisfaction of Scots for the Smith’s recommendations, with 51% saying it did not go far enough (even 21% of ‘No’ voters), against 37% who thought Smith got the balance of powers right, or went too far. Interestingly, this belief was held across genders age and social groups polled – so there is a definite appetite across Scotland for more than Smith. I have noted before (see earlier post: BarnettMax, Fishfood & DevoCon 2014: Sins of ComMission) that the real asset of having the Smith Commission is that it has shown that the middle ground of DevoMax simply will never happen – that is a boon that can only be granted by Westminster, and they have shown how light they are on ‘boons’ for the granting. That will not change. Because they have shown that they are utterly unwilling to give DevoMax – even with the incentive of using it to defuse the threat of a rising call for significantly more powers that, while increasingly ignored, is beginning to translate smoothly into calls for Scotland to be independent. The electorate appear to be coming round to the idea that the only way Scotland gets anything approaching DevoMax, is by taking it – without hoping for grace and favour from Westminster.
And the only way that we can take DevoMax, as has now been demonstrated, is by independence…which is the closest thing we are ever going to get to DevoMax. (Which is somewhat ironic, given that DevoMax was always regarded as the one thing that would stop Scotland wishing to become independent.)
In the meantime, this does increase the pressure to get something more than Smith’s recommendations through Westminster after the May election. The current proposals are closest to what was called ‘DevoNano’ back in February, and are already at risk from even further dilution as they pass through the two openly hostile chambers at Westminster. In Scotland, only voting for the SNP or the Greens has any chance of strengthening those proposals (or even getting the existing ones through). Otherwise, we risk getting an ‘enhanced devolution’ so diluted that it is verging on the homeopathic in its concentration.
‘Vote Labour, Get Watered Down Smith’, could be the (perhaps too cerebral) campaign cry…
“DevoMax is like unicorns; it just does not exist.” (Craig Murray, Former British Ambassador, in conversation with Derek Bateman, 13/12/2014)