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Greens' Hornet is buzzing

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I can't really justify putting this on Better Nation. But it must live somewhere - today's News of the World has Patrick Harvie as Green Hornet.

An extraordinary position to be in.

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carolineagain.jpgDon't believe the politicians when they tell you "only X can win here", with or without dodgy bar charts. Proper polling should be listened to, of course, but the bookies are perhaps the most reliable source of intelligence. 

They put their money where their predictions are, after all, which is one of the reasons Political Betting is such a popular site.

When I joined this movement in 1998 I would have struggled to believe that in little more than ten years our sister party would be odds on to win a Westminster constituency. Yet Ladbrokes offer the following national odds:
Green Party to win a seat - 5/6

Despite the prospects in Norwich South, where Greens have topped local election results each year since 2007, most of this is because the bookies rate Caroline Lucas the favourite for Brighton Pavilion. She's at evens, followed some way behind by the Tories at 7/4, then Labour at 3/1 and the Lib Dems at 66/1. 

The party did an ICM constituency poll at the tail end of last year, which gave this result:

Green: 35% (+13%)
Tory: 27% (+3%)
Labour: 25% (-10%)
Lib Dem: 11% (-6%)
Others: 2%

The main local politics blog credits Greens with the momentum, the Independent have today more or less called it for Caroline, and the paper came canvassing with her at the weekend. Political Betting discussed the poll over the holiday too.

There's no sign of local complacency either - the whole constituency gets a visit every month, and Greens from across the UK are helping out. I'm looking forward to a trip down before the end of March, and I know many others are too. Better to win one seat than to come closer in a few more.

If you're looking for betting value on Greens, though, I'd go for Norwich South at 4/1 or Edinburgh East at a whopping 100/1. Robin's represented the area for a decade, after all, and you only have to walk the streets with him to see how well known he is.

We've arrived. Last night on Rush's radio show he had a go at us over golf balls (even if Patrick was described as "a US lawmaker"). I kid you not. You can listen to the craziness below - the golf item is from 11 minutes 45 seconds, with Patrick quoted from about 14 minutes 10 seconds.

theadygil.jpgLike many, I find the jar-rattlers and direct-debit-form-wranglers intensely irksome. It's not just that I'm tight: I've given some serious thought about which charities to support, and I already make regular payments to each.

It occurred to me today to talk about the organisations I support in my own tiny way, and to put up some donation links. 

I feel strongly about all four of them. Typically they're not the big names in the voluntary sector: to pick a topical example, although both Poppy Scotland and the Peace Pledge Union do good work, my view is that my donations will make more of a difference elsewhere. 

In reverse alphabetical order..

Survival International. The leading charity defending the land and rights of indigenous communities. As an anthropology graduate, this was the first organisation I started giving regularly to. Most impressive recent action? Helping the Bushmen to take the Botswanan Government's eviction plans to court, and winning. Donate.

Shelter Scotland. The largest organisation I give to, slightly going against my rule of thumb. For me, homelessness is Scotland's most glaring social problem, and Shelter are practical and effective. If you want to see how pragmatic campaigning works, check out this pageDonate.

Sea Shepherd. A more militant offshoot of Greenpeace, Sea Shepherd specialise in anti-whaling campaigns, and some of my money just went to buy the insanely impressive new boat shown above. Story here. The relationship between them and Greenpeace ain't great, but I think they both do great work. I give to Sea Shepherd both because they're smaller, and because you know exactly what your money goes on - directly saving actual whales. Donate.

Scottish Green Party. You won't be surprised to know that I donate to the party, and as a member of the party's Operations Committee I can assure you a little goes a long way. If you find yourself agreeing with any of my ramblings, please donate here.

Scottish Green conference 2009.

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Patrickbeingfilmedsmall.jpgThe party gathered in Dumfries at the weekend for Annual Conference, and despite the comedy mumping and moaning from elsewhere, turnout by the membership was about the same as last year when we met in Glasgow. 

The venue was the very impressive Easterbrook Hall, part of the Crichton campus, fittingly, and the organisational skills of Chris Ballance and the team meant the whole weekend went very smoothly *. 

We didn't get as much media as I'd have liked, though, or indeed as much as I'd expected. BBC came out (left), and we got a bit on STV too. Patrick also did the Politics Show, and our voting intention figures got a great show in the Sunday Herald and News of the World. 

This was our first conference since Debra Storr and Martin Ford said they were moving our way, and Debra renamed her blog accordingly. They were both very warmly received, and I was pleased to hear positive feedback from them too - apparently attendance at Green Conference is roughly the same as Lib Dem Conference, despite them having four times the membership.

It was also the first conference since Louise Batchelor joined - every serious political party needs a former BBC journalist nowadays, so we're clearly in the big league. I'm looking forward to finding out from her everything we're doing wrong with our media strategy. I bet she's got a list.

Socially it was magic too - I forget how many good friends I see only at conference, and having somewhere to stay with proper mod cons on Saturday night made a big difference. My strangest moment by some margin came earlier that evening. 

We went out for dinner to a country pub in a wee village called Haugh of Urr. First, we looked thoroughly out of place in their Halloween fancy dress party, then we were serenaded by a red-jumpsuited Elvis. Finally Jack Charlton turned out to be at one of the other tables. Not a Jack Charlton impersonator: the real thing (left).

Policy discussions, though? Dunno, I missed them all. Fringes? Nope, them too. If you want a flavour, some of them both were discussed in the appropriate Twitter hashtag. Maybe next year. Stressful as the runup always is, I'm looking forward to it already.

* One exception, though, which was not his fault, was being told at 2pm on Sunday that "all the logins for the wifi have been used up". My first question every time a conference venue is proposed is normally "will we have wifi?". Next time it'll be "will they guarantee wifi all weekend without bogus logins or interruptions of longer than an hour, or failing that give us half our money back?"
debrakayak.jpgDebra Storr, erstwhile Lib Dem Councillor, enthusiastic kayaker, and staunch defender of local residents against rapacious developers, has put in her form to join the Greens. Her website has gone very green as well, but, like Martin Ford, she'll stay as part of the Democratic Independent Group on Aberdeenshire Council. She says: 

"I urge others disgusted at the failure of political leadership amongst current elected representatives in the north-east to join me in the Scottish Green Party as a first step to giving the north-east a better set of representatives for the future." 

It's great - that will take us to ten Councillors who are also Greens. I've really enjoyed being Martin's colleague, and I'm looking forward to working with Debra too. 

I wonder if the bookies are offering odds on a Green MSP being returned again for the North East in 2011?

Lord Rosebery's long shadow.

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It's a source of some despair to me that an increasing proportion of our news is just rehashed anniversaries. Nevertheless, I do want to mark a barnstorming speech given 100 years ago today in Glasgow by Lord Rosebery, the former Liberal Prime Minister. 

He addressed "the business men of the city", and I have a copy of the speech in pamphlet form. Apparently over 6,000 applied to attend, and he was warmly received. But they would say that, wouldn't they?


Rosebery had gradually become estranged from his former colleagues, and indeed told the assembled gathering: "I have long ceased to be in communion with the Liberal party".

This was no exaggeration - the purpose of his visit was a full-frontal assault on the "People's Budget" presented by his former colleague Lloyd George, and specifically a critique of the Land Value Tax and Inheritance Tax proposals contained in it.

His language is intemperate, even if Edwardian English sounds so polite, and his anger is clear. Land Value Tax is described as "the violent onslaught on land", presumably making income tax a violent onslaught on work, and so. 

He also claims that "almost all the value of land comes from what the owner does or spends on it", which is misleading in the extreme. It's presumably no coincidence that the richest person ever to be Prime Minister, the owner of twelve homes, would find much here to dislike. 

And this bitter assault was surely nothing more prinicipled than the resistance of a substantial landowner to anything approximating social justice in taxation. He talks about the "persecution of land", neatly conflating the owner and his property. Was the land itself really to be hunted and punished?

The Lords did vote the People's Budget down, leading to a constitutional crisis and an election at which Lloyd George was returned with a reduced majority. The Budget then went through, but without its land value tax element, and the powers of the House of Lords were trimmed by the first of the 20th century's Parliament Acts. Rosebery had done his bit, though, on land value tax.

A hundred years later and it's back on the agenda, with Compass and the IRRV both taking a look, although the Greens are now the only party to support a version of Lloyd George's proposals (with some notable exceptions, including Labour Land & Lib Dems ALTER). SNP MSP Rob Gibson is also a supporter

Sooner or later, the shade of Rosebery and his peers will have to be lifted. It's hard, however, to take too vehement a personal dislike to a man who can send this self-deprecating telegram to the pamphlet's publisher.


Immodesty permits.

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greenquestionmark.jpgThe Iain Dale blog-ranking bandwagon continues to roll, and thanks to you kind readers, I came second again in the Green list, and moved up three places to five in the Scottish list, despite failing Jeff's peculiar test.

Thanks in particular to Jim, who made me blush spectacularly with these words. There are a fair few Green bloggers who I think do better work than me, and his is the best of those. I'd have asked for a recount if I'd beaten him.

But, as Jim asks in the comments to that piece, what about the others? There are some good Scottish Green blogs out there, and listed to the right (updated today), but there's nothing from our councillors, our branch convenors, or even any of our once and future MSPs. Even Patrick doesn't really blog, but he tweets enough to make up for it, and I don't think I'd recommend him trying to fit a blog into his schedule.

So bring on the competition. I'd love to keep doing what I'm doing and come way behind loads more active Green blogs. Get it together, folks. It's incredibly rewarding, especially on those occasions when people say to me "I saw that bit on your blog and I really agreed/disagreed because.. " That's better than any award. 
almedalen.jpgEvery July since 1982 the scenic city of Visby on Gotland has held an unusual type of political conference at Almedalen (link in Swedish). 

Rather than the usual political conferences, where all the parties retreat to their own ghettos to talk to themselves, it's a properly cross-party week. The event traces its history to speeches given there by Olaf Palme in 1968, incidentally.

In addition to the 1,000+ free events, the leaders of the seven parties in the Swedish Parliament each have a 30 minute speaking slot, which the other leaders sometimes go to. Just because, y'know, it might be interesting. 

Working in Holyrood is less partisan than many people imagine from the outside, and there are people I like and get on with in all parties. I'm sure minority government helps that, but there's still nothing quite like this in Scotland, no place where ideas get regularly discussed between parties without a vote on them at 5pm.

Last week, while out for drinks with a couple of other bloggers, we discussed whether something like this might work in Scotland, and we think it could be a goer. The initial idea is for something short and simple, perhaps including a dinner, to be held next summer: we're also short of social events with the demise (?) of the Scottish Political Journalists' Association dinner. 

If that works, then we might look at a longer event in August 2011. We'll all be out of election mode and rested, and there'll certainly be a lot of interest in how the new balance of power at Holyrood works, whatever it is.

Any thoughts? Feel free to tell me it's mad. Sure, Almedalen is also a lobby-fest, which isn't exactly what any of us want to see, but would you find something like this interesting? How would you make sure it's for the public, activists and civic Scotland as well as the political classes? 

Scotland's certainly spoilt for suitable venues, and in need of smarter and more open discussions about the problems that face our country. We have to draw the line somewhere, though. Talking about Almedalen, Anna Wramner says:

".. it's very informal, it's probably the only time each year you'll see the Prime Minister walking the streets in a swimsuit."

My eyes! They burn!

A belated election review.

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Now everyone else has hashed and rehashed the Euros, here's a wee review. At every level, the silver lining comes with a black cloud attached. (image from b3ta)

Scottish good news: It was our best ever result in a Scotland-wide election, even above the famous 1989 surge, and we continue to move up as the Liberals move down again.
Scottish bad news: The Westminster parties have never been less trusted, and we should have done better. Despite their total chaos, Labour won almost three times as many votes as us. 

UK good news: Our friends down south saw the biggest increase in their support of any party, and came out on top across Brighton and Hove and also Norwich, the party's two top targets for the UK General.
UK bad news: Seeing Nazis get elected, especially in the Northwest, where just 5,000 more Green votes would have seen the wonderful Peter Cranie returned to Europe instead of the vile Nick Griffin. The BNP's vote fell and they gained seats. More than a quarter of a million more people voted Green, but we got no more seats, narrowly missing out in a few regions.

European good news: Greens were the big winners across the continent, with great results in France, Germany and elsewhere.
European bad news: The far right in Hungary, Netherlands and elsewhere also did well. Nick Griffin will have plenty of friends, even if they're furriners.

Looking again at the Scottish result, it seems clear that the SNP have positioned themselves as anti-Westminster, despite some shocking abuses of the expenses scheme, and so were ideally placed to pick up the reform/protest votes here that we might otherwise have won.

Vote Green.

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It's too late for policy arguments, so here's something more shallow. You'll be in good company, including Alexei Sayle, Mark Steel, Joanna Lumley, Jonathan Freedland, Mark Thomas, George Monbiot and Peter Tatchell (who's a member), not to mention local blogger Malc in the Burgh

Even better, drag someone else out to vote too, ring your family and make sure they vote, all that good stuff. 

One vote counts for three or four with a turnout this low: think how much difference a handful could make.

Just to encourage you, here's a cute picture of a baby fox.
Numbers just out from ComRes* put us in a great position UK-wide. I couldn't resist a bar chart, although I refuse to label it "Only Greens can win here".
Jeff and others always love their Scottish subsamples, so here are the eye-popping Scottish numbers for your delecation.
That's right, it shows us in third, ahead of the Lib Dems and the Tories. It's a small sample, and it's only a poll, so no-one get complacent, mm'kay?

* note: our Green colleagues down south commissioned the poll, so feel free to tell me the customer is always right.
martinford.jpgFour months after he resigned from the Liberal Democrats, and a bit more than eighteen months after his casting vote saw Donald Trump's daft golf scheme temporarily hit the rough, Martin Ford has joined the Greens.

Here's his statement in full, released today:

"I believe we need a more liberal and democratic society, one where power and wealth are more equally shared.

"Fairer distribution implies a reduction in the use of natural resources and waste generation to sustainable levels, so future generations are not unfairly penalised. We have to recognise that there are absolute limits to the planet's capacity to cope with human activity. Creating a society that respects planetary limits - for example, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions - is the biggest challenge we face.

"I have been involved in politics for most of my adult life. I got involved in order to further the liberal, democratic and environmental ideals I believe in. I have stood for election and been elected to Aberdeenshire Council three times on a commitment to support those ideals on the Council.

"After a period in which I have not been a member of any political party, I am joining the Scottish Green Party to further those same liberal, democratic and environmental principles.

"In decisions ranging from road building to airport expansion, all of the four main parties are still pursuing policies that will significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions while promising to reduce them. No wonder there is a serious problem of public trust in politicians.

"I have concluded that only the Green Party can be relied upon to consistently support policies that will prevent climate change emissions reaching dangerous levels. That alone is more than enough reason to join."

A lot of people in Scotland think protecting our natural assets is more important than sucking up to Donald Trump. Plenty of people think gouging the Aberdeen Western Peripheral through rural Aberdeenshire is a crazy idea. 

Even more want real action on climate change, constructive policies to make a real difference, not more hot air. It's more clear than ever that the Tories, Labour, the Nats and the Liberal Demcrats cannot be trusted on these issues. 

I'm personally delighted that Martin's joined us. He's both calm and passionate on the issues that matter. He's an outstanding campaigner, someone who put his clear principles ahead of personal advantage. In short, he's a Green.

Green heroes.

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abbiemarland.jpgThere are some excellent people amongst the 50 entries on the Green Heroes list, run by the SDC and the Scotsman, with the final 10 being named at a very enjoyable "round up the usual suspects" event last night.

I was particularly proud to see my friend and party colleague Abbie Marland (left) in at number 4 (and, declaration of interest, yes, I did put her name forward). 

The aim of the list was to identify people who have inspired others, and she certainly does exactly that, having worked exceptionally hard on climate change, ecology and a range of community campaigns, notably on ship-to-ship oil transfer.

Funniest moment? My predecessor George Baxter accepted an award on behalf of his boss, who couldn't be there last night. As the Scotsman's snapper got with the Minister he was clearly heard to recommend just Photoshopping Ian Marchant into the picture. I'm sure nothing could go wrong with that approach.

Mark Thomas spreads the love.

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The MTCP was the best thing on television, and thoroughly influenced the politics of a broad swathe of green activists. Here's Mark with a little voting recommendation.

On gender balance.

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There's been a lot of hoohah on the blogosphere about all-women shortlists. (Against, mostly Nats like Jeff and Mr Macnumpty, also Political Dissuasion: for, Labour voices like Kez and Yousuf).

Without wishing to sound like a Liberal, I think they're both right. All-women shortlists are indeed a crude and anti-egalitarian way to try and build gender equality. 

However, I can't stomach the complacency, the desire of some to stick their fingers in their ears when others point out that Parliament is about 35% female, down from almost 40% in 2003.

The position in our local authorities is even worse, and declining. Less than 22% of Scottish councillors elected in 2007 were female, marginally down on 2003, and even further down on 1999 (pdf).

The Green approach is different - our constitution requires that at least 50% of our candidates for winnable seats are female. There's an exemption for sitting MSPs, which is one of the reasons both my MSP employers are male, true, but at the Council level we're exactly 50/50.

Looking beyond the obviously winnable seats, we balance there too, but not as tightly. 40% of all candidates, minimum, must be female, and 40%, minimum, must be male.

Now, this certainly makes it more complex to select candidates, as Green activists will tell you, but it can't be seen as discriminating against either gender, nor is it "positive discrimination". Indeed, in one branch there would have been an under-representation of men without this mechanism.

It's not a magic bullet. It should only be a transitional mechanism, although that transition might be lengthy. It doesn't cover other sorts of equalities, from transgender to race and class. 

This principle has, however, encouraged more women to put themselves forward, and through it we've selected more good women to fight and win elections, women who continue to grow in those roles and who inspire more good candidates to come forward each time we select.

I know it's also easier for us than it is for other parties, given our focus on PR elections like the Holyrood lists and local authority contests. But couldn't other parties try something that's not one of the two failed models the blogosphere has adopted, just as the other parties have? (Malc is an honourable exception here) 

It's a classic false opposition. Parties shouldn't be excluding men, but nor should selection meetings where the loudest and deepest voice wins be the norm.

Eleanor and Patrick.

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EleanorScottPure.pngThe people have spoken. Well, the Green people have, anyway, and so our two co-conveners for the next year will be Patrick Harvie and Eleanor Scott, once and hopefully future Green MSP for the Highlands and Islands (shown left with a hydrogen car in a proper 1970s motor show pose). 

Patrick had the easier job, standing unopposed, but still needed a positive vote. I thought that was pretty likely..

Eleanor is a level head, Green to her core, and I've campaigned with her for years (including a notable balloon non-release in Munlochy). We're in good hands with the pair of them, not that it's exactly leadership like other parties do it. I think it'll be a good year.

Also, I'm now the party's communications coordinator, making me officially responsible for press for the voluntary party, for the newsletter and for the website. Plenty to be going on with. Your views are welcome.
harperharvie.jpgToday is a great day for Scotland's environment and for those suffering in fuel poverty. By the substantial margin of 91 to 15 (i.e. with SNP & Labour support), Holyrood backed our energy efficiency pitch for this year's budget. 

The final motion, which passed by a similar margin, is at the end, with the Green text is in bold.

We believe £100m more a year from the Scottish Government can fund free energy audits for everyone in Scotland, and provide free insulation and financial support on micro-renewables for everyone who can benefit. 

The Green scheme is designed to deal with fuel poverty (although it obviously can't tackle all of the pure poverty element of that), improve health, cut carbon emissions, boost green collar jobs in the construction sector, bring bills down.. well, you get the idea.

We went public with the bid just under a month ago, and it appeared on page 2 of the Daily Record (sorry, proud press officer moment). Although this vote doesn't guarantee we'll see this money allocated, it's a great step in the right direction. 

Labour and the SNP get a warm welcome here for backing this call. I'd love to see more constructive politics in Holyrood on crucial issues like this, issues that should be cross-party, and perhaps MSPs have made a start today towards that.

The Tories voted against, despite Alex Johnstone's offer to consider it on the floor of the chamber. I think they could be won round, but I'll have a look at the official report tomorrow to see exactly what they said. Disappointing and inconsistent (see below).

The Liberals abstained. Now, some say the fence is just where they're comfortable, but it's pretty extraordinary on this issue. They're separately backing £800m of unfunded tax cuts, so I suppose they can't be seen to want to spend yet more money on top of that. 

It looks pretty weak, though, and when the vans go round insulating everyone's house for free (touch wood) we are likely to be pointing out that they couldn't support it. The party may claim to be Greens Lite, but the truth is they're now looking like Tories Lite instead.

The irony is this project is largely based on ideas tested out in Kirklees (watch the video) by Green councillors, working with the Tories and the Liberals. I'm staggered that they both want to be on the wrong side of the issue up here. Hopefully they'll get on board, but for now, I'll take 91-15 in favour.

Final motion as passed: That the Parliament recognises the significant role that energy efficiency and microgeneration measures could have in reducing energy costs for householders and businesses, in achieving urgent reductions in greenhouse gas emissions of at least 80% by 2050 and contributing to the eradication of fuel poverty by 2016; notes that research carried out by the Energy Savings Trust suggests that widespread installation of microgeneration could provide 30 to 40% of our electricity needs by 2050 but that current investment in energy efficiency and microgeneration measures is insufficient to achieve these goals, and calls on the Scottish Government to take steps, as set out in the Energy Efficiency and Microgeneration Bill proposals, such as fiscal incentives for householders and businesses, to ensure that microgeneration technologies become widely available and used and to consider other energy efficiency measures for new and existing housing stock to tackle fuel poverty, climate change and security of energy supply; notes the evidence given by Friends of the Earth Scotland to the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee suggesting that an additional £100 million per annum would be a welcome change to the draft budget for 2009-10, and calls on the Scottish Government to consider a comprehensive and fully funded Scotland-wide scheme on this scale to provide energy audits, insulation provision and financial support for micro-renewables where appropriate.

Mike at Political Betting posted a fascinating graph and analysis yesterday, showing the variation in the public's reported interest in the environment. I'm sure he won't mind me reproducing it, especially if I urge you to make any urgent bets on Glenrothes or the US election through his site.

The points he's indicated are interesting, but three more occur to me: May 1999, May 2003, and May 2007.

In the first Holyrood election, around 5% said the environment was their main concern, and we got our first MSP. In one sense, this was our best election ever, because it was the first we elected anyone at, and failure then would have made any success in 2003 almost impossible. However, it was also our lowest level of representation, if you want to look at it that way.

By 2003, according to Mike's graph, the numbers prioritising environmental concerns had halved, but despite that we scored our best Parliamentary results so far, up to seven MSPs. Then, in May 2007, with the numbers up at 10%, just after a peak of around 18%, we fell back to two seats. 

So this polling number, whatever it means, isn't correlated to Green success, at least in Scotland, which might seem counter-intuitive.

Perhaps the reason is that we're not a party purely about environmental issues. We have solid policy on the whole range of political issues, and there are plenty we've made particular strengths of, including opposition to the war, support for equality and civil liberties, fuel poverty, social justice, local food, social enterprise and many more. It looks as though the part of the electorate we appeal to understands that.

Conference beckons.

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