Thursday, 31 May 2012

It's Time...for Green Nats to come home

It's now almost a week since the 'Declaration of Cineworld', the start of a 29 month march to independence or somewhere else. To be honest, I can't get too excited about it all.

They say that if you can keep your head when everyone about you is losing theirs, then you don't understand the gravity of the situation. Maybe in my case that's true, but the whole independence thing never has set the heather on fire for me.

To set the record straight, I am in favour of independence. It's just that when the planet is being trashed in the way it is, diverting all your energy into how our own little patch of it is run shows you have your priorities all wrong. 

It's clearly stating the obvious to say that's not how SNP members see it. What perplexes me though is how Green Nationalists see it. I, and many fellow Greens, often come across SNP members who say they are really Green but we need an independent Scotland first, to facilitate a Green and fair society. Once we've got that, they say, we'll happily join you.

First off, I dispute this premise. Post-independence, the same people will be living in Scotland and making most of the decisions. Perhaps we will still cut subsidies to public transport and be just as obsessed with road building in an independent Scotland as we are just now. Perhaps the Donald Trumps will still get their golf courses and trash SSSIs along the way. True, we could get rid of Trident and pursue a wholly non-nuclear future, but exporting our oil instead of burning it looks more to me like sleight of hand than the hallmark of a Green economy.

Moreover, if the Green Nats are true Greens, surely now is the time to come home. Arguably, their being in the SNP has helped to build up that party to its current position of dominance, enabling it to force through a referendum. But what now? If they join the Greens at this point, they can still campaign for a Yes vote as we are doing. If independence is achieved, they say they intend to join us anyway; if the vote is for the status quo, it could be a generation before their objective is achieved. What state the planet by then?

I'll probably get round to signing the Declaration of Cineworld sometime over the next two years. I may even find the time to share a platform with the Nats to explain to people why I think Scotland should be independent. But my arguments will not focus on some hazy Green Utopia vision of the future, because a Green future for Scotland is something we can and should be fighting for right now, and should not be dependent on what's printed on the front of my passport.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

First council meeting

Today was the first meeting of the council since the elections and if this is anything to go by, it's going to be fun.

On the face of it, most of the proceedings went to plan. Nominations from the SNP-led coalition for provost, council leader and respective deputes, were all voted in as expected. A call by the Labour group for all votes to be recorded as 'roll-call' (i.e. with individual votes recorded rather than totals) was perhaps a sign that the opposition is playing hard ball, but only time will tell if this becomes a regular feature.

Something else which may become a regular feature is the time-outs; twice adjournments were called - first by the Labour group which insisted it hadn't had enough time to consider proposals presented by the coalition during the meeting, then again by the coalition which wanted to consider amendments to its own motion to accommodate objections by the Labour group.

I hope my own position became clearer to both sides too. Playing hard ball does not endear me to anyone, and I did feel Labour's call for more equal representation on external committees in the interests of more consensual politics didn't sit easily with its own record when in power. I did, however, agree with its argument; but consensual politics is a two way street, and I'll be watching closely to see a commitment to this from both sides before deciding whether the motives are genuine or cynical.

I also don't take kindly to being bounced into making decisions. Politics should be about being in full possession of the facts, listening to both sides of the argument and then making an informed decision. Worryingly, I saw failings here today too. As it's the start of term and a lot of us are new to this game, I'm prepared to cut a little slack. But be warned; put forward a proposal without warning and no matter how sensible it seems on the face of it, don't assume I'll automatically back it.

It was all very enjoyable to be in the thick of it, and I look forward to further installments. However, probably the most exciting thing I did today was to finally start getting in touch with constituents whom I had spoken to on the doorsteps during the election campaign. This is getting off the ground more slowly than I'd hoped in some cases where I need to get some preliminary information from council officials first. However, I managed to phone one person and wrote an initial letter to another with more prepared, and that for me was the main achievement of the day.

Monday, 7 May 2012

A kingmaker is born

It's certainly been an interesting week!

I naively thought that after the count on Friday, I'd be able to take a few days' rest. However, given the arithmetic following the Midlothian result (8 Labour, 8 SNP, Independent Peter de Vink and myself) I suppose I should have expected the phone calls from the SNP and Labour groups over the weekend, though being thrust into the position of 'kingmaker' was not something I had really thought much about.

Fortunately, the Greens have been in this position before at Holyrood, where frantic bargaining took place mainly over the budget, but it has concentrated the minds of everyone in the party on the pitfalls and risks associated with delicate negotiations in such circumstances. This has been of enormous benefit - many of us in the party have discussed in depth how we should approach it, and I think as a result we are relatively mature in how to deal with it.

I'm also amazed at how much trust the Green Party puts in its representatives to handle such negotiations - after all, the wrong decision could backfire spectacularly on the party as a whole, and I think that has helped those in my position to be extra cautious about how we proceed.

My decision to back an SNP-Independent coalition was not too difficult to make. I did of course consult with the Midlothian Greens before making any commitments, but I'm very happy to say the position I was minded to take was supported 100% by the membership, which was very reassuring.

During the campaign I was highly critical of how the previous Labour administration had run the council, particularly in its management of finances. To campaign for change, then to prop up what I maintained was a failed administration would be, to say the least, inconsistent. I could not do a deal with Labour. I also believe there is a history of a lack of transparency within the council, and allowing the same people to continue in control may have obstructed change.

On the other hand, I could not stay absolutely neutral. The last thing any council needs - particularly at this time, when people's jobs and livelihoods depend on decisions being made - would be to allow paralysis on the council. With Peter de Vink's decision to back the SNP group in a formal coalition meant that a decision by me to side with Labour would result in stalemate - where even the decision on who runs the council would be made with a cut of the cards.

Looking at the overall results in Midlothian, there was a clear shift away from Labour and the Liberal Democrats towards the SNP and new voices. This was hardly a resounding vote of confidence in the way the council has been run; it was a call for change, not resoundingly for the Nationalists, but change nevertheless. I had to respect that.

Going into a formal coalition with the SNP-independent group would have been risky. Although Peter de Vink and I do share some common ground (particularly in a desire to see more transparency and better financial management), our politics are quite far apart - as I believe are his from the SNP's. The coalition could prove fragile and my ability to remain flexible in changing circumstances could undoubtedly leave me with some interesting options if it all falls apart.

The overriding concern for me is for stability and an environment where the council can function. I hope to remain on good terms with both the SNP and Labour groups and will endeavour to do what's best for the people of Midlothian, and especially the Bonnyrigg ward, whilst pursuing what I entered politics for - to create a fair and sustainable society which caters for the needs of future generations as well as ourselves.