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« A heavy snowfall of political opportunism - Hague | Main | In praise of frozen fountains »

December 20, 2010


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You seem fair minded, Joan - I hope you will include these facts!

We actually don't have our own government in England. We have the UK Government. And the tution fees legislation was decided upon in England by MPs representing Scots constituencies. If left to MPs from English constituencies, tuition fees would not have been passed. That is a fact.

"As a party, they claim to support Scottish independence, but I see little evidence of this in their campaigning."


I think that you are perhaps a little too harsh on the Scottish Greens.

Having looked at their website policy section and their 2010 Westminster manifesto the SG's don't actually mention supporting independence as an aim of the Scottish Green party.

All they support in their 2010 manifesto is a referendum on Scotland's constitution which would also include a question on devolved powers as well as independence.

Perhaps the most telling contribution comes from a press release about Robin Harper.

"Greens support independence, if or when the people support it..."

In other words the SG's won't support independence until a majority of Scots support it.

There's also an interesting quote from Robin Harper in that same press release about independence:

"For us, it's not about patriotism or national identity. Neither is it about a rejection of our neighbours, nor of the history we share."

Perhaps it's reading too much into the quote but the Scottish Greens don't appear to have strong feelings about the idea of a distinct Scottish identity nor do they have any strong feelings about Scotland as a nation. There's also that, "rejection", word which has the implication that Scottish nationalism is in some way anti-English in its desire for a Scottish state which is a common theme among the unionist parties. Perhaps in the more extreme Greens this idea has expanded into accusations of the SNP being racist towards the English.

"I can't think why Holyrood always reminds me of a school playground..."I disagree, looking at the Labour benches reminds me of Planet of the Apes.

Could I also draw attention to an interesting retracing letter in The Scotsman from Professor Tom Gallagher. It says:

"On closer inspection, I freely admit that the weight of evidence does not support my claim (Letters, 18 December) that the planned imposition of much higher tuition fees on English students is ethnic targeting.

I am glad to find myself in the wrong on this occasion since policies along ethnic lines are not going to get us out of the perilous economic situation that affects all parts of these islands.

I would also suggest that there is now an opportunity for the SNP to craft a policy on education refreshingly different from that in the rest of the UK; it would be one that aims to provide opportunities for many young people to obtain skills and knowledge that equips them for a productive adulthood without needing to follow the university route."

(Prof) Tom Gallagher

Department of Peace Studies

University of Bradford


Whoa. Calm down everyone. It's like an SSP meetings in here.

Meanwhile, in what I like to call the "real world", the Greens are regarded as the joke party they are. In their ideal world, everyone travels by horse and cart and lives off the land in a lentil-munching communist utopia. They get my vote.....not.

The SNP on the other hand, are the highest quality currently on offer in Scotland and, if they can make the election Salmond v Grey, they will win. I just refuse to believe that my fellow Scots will permit such a nonentity as Grey to be FM.

As for the BBC, Joan - I think you missed out another BBC-Labour connection. If I recall correctly, political reporter Laura Kuennsberg's father Nick was a donor to the notorious Wendy Alexander leadership fund. She may not share her father's politics, of course....


Wensleydale IS a silly word, not as silly as Lymeswold though.

I read the Better nation guys because Green is my second preference, so I want to ensure that is justified.

However I have been disappointed with some of the knee-jerk jumping on the SNP, particularly with the SVR and the Weather. Even more, I was disappointed with the holding to these attitudes when the facts bore the SNP out. SVR's problems predated the SNP, the weather was unforecast and heavy.

Betternation's reaction could have come straight from Scottish Labour.

Disagree sure, but be willing to play fair and reassess if things turn out not to be as you first imagined them

I seem to remember our paths first crossed when you suggested I was racist because I thought Wensleydale was a funny word.

Zeal of the convert indeed. Pah.

@Jeff calm down - I see in you the zeal of the convert.

The Greens play the party political game and are not above criticism.

The other comments from Ruth, Doug, and even Mike Small vindicate my position. My concerns are legitimate and widely shared.

The Twitter poster bills himself as a Green Party activist and is known to others.

Comments from red-green types on many forums misguidedly accuse the SNP of racism, while displaying derogatory sentiments towards Scots eg below my own recent piece in The Guardian.

I couldn't care less what you think of me, or my place in the list.

Oh and Alex Salmond will be First Minister after May.

Very good post Joan and the irony of it is that the responses from James and Jeff rather reinforce your point.

The reflex antipathy of Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems to the SNP is a given but who'da thunk the cuddly old Greenies aren't awfully keen on them either?

I used to be quite fond of the Greens, they were like the nice guys who got your second vote automatically. My opinion of them changed though after Patrick Harvie's peacock like strutting about in a previous SNP budget. Here was a man who thought he was a lot more important than he was when it came to the final vote on that budget.

I'm afraid your Green tweeter simply echoes the desperate efforts of the Labour Party to find racism in the SNP.

Hang on Joan, how am I not engaging with the argument? Your post almost entirely hinges on a comment raised on Twitter by a single person, a comment that you chose not to link to and a person who James suspects is a lapsed member. That is the basis of much of your argument and it has been positively skewered, with little sign of contrition from your good self.

What has a random person's (mistaken) observation that the SNP is showing casual racism by increasing tuition fees for English students got to do with Dungavel? I can appreciate the SNP's frustration at the regular insinuations that it is a racist party (a laughable assertion if it were not so serious which you are correct to point out) but to lash out at the Greens is, I'm sorry, just bizarre and, I think, borne out of an annoying belief that May 5th won't go the SNP's way and that independence referendum looks a long, long way off despite being so tantalisingly close so recently.

In your post, you then go on to bemoan the fact that the Greens have not fallen lockstep in line behind the SNP, neatly overlooking the fact that it is a completely separate party. You hold up the fact that the Greens are pro-independent as a reason for their guilt but we can spin that logic around the other way. The Greens equivalent policy is fighting climate change so a Green blogger could easily rhyme off numerous examples of where the SNP is falling short in that regard and thus call into question the veracity of the manifesto claim. The SNP, in turn, can argue the case and then we have a democratic disagreement and healthy debate. You seem to suggest the opposite, that any arguing of the toss is unacceptable disobedience of the SNP's position.

My comment is only "disappointingly sour" because you invited such a response (your post is hardly 'sweet' in comparison I hasten to add)

I have no dislike of the SNP, "frothing" or otherwise, and they have more than earned another four years of power in my view. However, Alex Salmond is not "of course" going to be re-elected as you put it Joan. That's the kind of nonsensical comment that just rubs people up the wrong way unnecessarily.

Iain Gray could be First Minister, Alex Salmond could be First Minister. Until we have the election we don't know how it will go. Again, the Nationalist thin line between thinking one is right and just being out and out self-righteous comes to the grating fore.

There is a growing attitude from within the embattled SNP that if you are not slavishly behind the party then you are against it and it is offputting for fairweather fans like myself.

It was undoubtedly unfair and unkind of me to mention your position on the list Joan, that was irrelevant, but I am genuinely at a loss as to where this post emanated from as it just doesn't stack up under scrutiny (as James has shown with his more detailed comment).

Even the title is incorrect. Why "racist slurs" plural given there was only one?

The Better Nation guys seem to have a frothing dislike of the SNP.

But to accuse them of racism is ridiculous. If I were a nastier individual I might point out that the alternative movements that gave rise to the Green movements also gave is Eugenics, but I don't accuse Greens of advocating that.

The SNP has a duty to the people of Scotland, no matter where they originate, and that seems to be the line they take.

Why should they make extra provision for people in England, whether English, Welsh, Irish, Scots or other? They shouldn't. It is up to THOSE people to put pressure on the Government they elected.

A disappointingly sour response from you Jeff. James had more grace. You don't engage with the arguments at all. The other comments here and on facebook demonstrate that I am on to something worthy of discussion. As for my place on the list, I am not a career politician, so it's not something I am particularly perturbed about - indeed I am delighted at doing so well as a first time candidate - the only people ahead of me are elected MSPs. I will continue as a writer and commentator whether or not I am elected next May. Alex Salmond will of course remain First Minister after that date.

To engage with the slightly broader argument and be a bit less politically specific, sadly this attitude seems prevalent amongst some people. Many times talking to otherwise intelligent leftist minded people,(usually middle class Guardian readers without much idea about Scottish politics), I have come across the idea that all nationalisms are somehow essentially racist. People who see themselves as British often think of nationalism and sadly think that Le Pen in France and Griffin in these islands are somehow essentially the same thing as the SNP.

My father stood for the SNP in the early 1970s and on more that one occasion was informed on doorsteps by war veterans that they had risked their lives fighting nationalism. I recently read an article in the Scottish Review of Books on a Sean Connery biography in which the biographer is quoted as describing Connery's nationalism as "offensive and stupid." I also remember watching Newsnight following the publication of the Calman Report and Nicol Stephen cheaply went to some lengths to try and accuse the SNP of risking the Balkanisation of the British Isles.

I think therein lies the problem. Some people who do not support the SNP, or who disagree with the idea of Scottish Independence, are simply unwilling to accept that the SNP are promoting civic nationalism rather that anything ethnic. These people are not going to be found engaging with the arguments of say, Tom Nairn. This wilful ignorance and often deliberate slur is, of course, offensive nonsense. It is something of a problem, as it is not the sort of thing that will often be responded to with careful argument, given how unfair and ignorant it is. Nationalism basically depends on what you do with it. Obviously Salmond is not Gandhi, given what you acknowledge is Scotland's complex relationship with Empire, but it is infinitely more ridiculous to imply he is some kind of budding Milosevic. To give a more moderate example, I have sometimes heard Swedish people daftly refer to how the Norwegians don't like them. So even they have to live with this notion, long after independence.

To suggest that Scotland exists and therefore may be governed differently seems simple and logical. And it is. But in the eyes of Unionists, the United Kingdom is a Union state, and were Scotland to gain independence, unlike, say, Catalonia or the Basque Country leaving Spain, it would mean that what they see as their primary national identity would cease to exist entirely. And therein may lie the source of such vitriolic opposition.

My own suggestion is that SNP members do what Salmond himself does, as I once saw him do on Question Time. Simply groan and dismiss the idea as offensive nonsense. After all, there were only 53 nation states in 1900, and there are now 195. Surely 142 countries didn't all come into existence because they are populated by racists.

Two points to make here:

1 - As James has already pointed out, it is outrageously poor to point to one Tweeter's comments and then gross that up as applying to the party as a whole. That's the kind of logic that the SNP regularly objects to when applied to its own party so it is surprising, and disappointing, to see it working in reverse here.

2 - You seem to want the Greens to be some sort of subset of the SNP, simply because it happens to be in favour of independence. My impression (and I'm not a member of SGP so it's not really my place to say) is that the Scottish Greens would prefer independence on balance but there are more important issues to be addressed which the Greens feel the SNP isn't doing enough to solve and Harvie and Harper choose to focus on those. The never ending drilling for oil and a new Forth Road Bridge, for example.

It's regrettale that Greens are more likely to advance in number at the expense of the SNP rather than Labour, unless more FPTP seats can be won by the Nats. Perhaps you are feeling the pressure yourself Joan, given you are number 4 on the regional lists? Worried the Green candidate might nab 'your' space in the Parliament?

Greens chipping away at the SNP's record to boost its representation is perfectly fair. An SNP candidate generalising about a whole party off the back of one single tweet is not.

James - No-one expects the Greens to put independence first - a reason why there will always be some doubt about the degree of commitment to that policy - but the issue seems to be completely dormant in the party. Joan's point is valid that independence never gets explicitly supported beyond the text of election manifestos.

The reality is that James is right about large chunks of SNP policy where they are still wedded to oil and roadbuilding and I agree that the real reason Stewart Stevenson should have resigned was putting 3% annual emissions targets in the 2007 manifesto then coming back to Parliament with 0.05% for 2010. I agree.

The reality is that the SNP needs to build a coalition around a vision for Scotland - and that vision needs to be one based on sustainability not on the old idea of growth for growths sake or on a petro-chemical economy. If this vision includes social justice (think properly insulated homes and fuel poverty) then a large rump of disaffected Labour would come over as well.

Having said that, it's extremely disappointing that the greens can't be more imaginative in their opposition and see common cause with much of the SNP and the wider independence movements ideals.

On Trident, opposition to nuclear power, on the Climate Change Fund and on renewables there is a raft of policies that could be built on that are hugely popular throughout scottish society and could be the battering ram with which nationalist and greens gain lasting power and real impact at Holyrood for the radical change both parties want.

Maybe the greens should just drop their support for independence? Maybe that's what causes confusion and differing expectations? James writes: 'we didn't get into politics driven by a burning desire for independence.' But its an odd thing to have in your manifesto and not support or campaign on?

It's not a peripheral policy.

I think the problem here is less Gordon's slightly out of character accusation, and more the attitude of the Green MSPs and their staff (James works for the MSPs).

Their attitude is so chauvinistic towards other parties that it must be infuriating. As you point out Joan, the Green Party was supposed to represent the New Politics. A new politics that avoided partisan name-calling and yaboo accusations. Unfortunately Patrick and James in particular appear to think they are the only people in Scotland capable of running anything.

Their attack on Stewart Stevenson after his resignation was not only unnecessarily hurtful, but was utterly heartless. The Green Party is rapidly leaking activists, and the leadership is desperately trying to shore up the Green vote through indiscriminate attacks on other parties.

This looks counterproductive, and with the loss of Robin Harper's warmth and charm, the Green Party looks to be in real difficulty in next year's election.

Doug is right that Patrick and James are very quick to criticise others. This shows little understanding of their own weaknesses and demonstrates how insecure they are in their own political beliefs. Joan is quite right to identify the Green Party as being too concerned with gesture politics.

There is a fair chance that the Green Party will lose their remaining seats next year. And that seems fair given their underperformance in this parliament.

Again, concisely and elegantly put Joan. The Scottish Greens are a separate and competing party so they are going to oppose the SNP. However, the bigger problem you address of English chauvinism is sadly as common on the English left as on the right. The ill-informed prejudice you get in the Daily Telegraph, whether from journalists or in comments on its online forum, is mirrored in The Guardian. It's interesting that the English media always turn this into an England/Scotland issue and avoid the Welsh and Northern Irish dimension - presumably because we are a threat, because we are an asset in terms of resources, etc. I see you did not use the 'c' word - colony - for that is what we effectively are, though it took a long time for me, a lifelong supporter of independence, to acknowledge that. It's vital for the English Ascendancy that Scotland is not seen as a colony, for then the game is up - its very difficult to defend colonialism. Perhaps that's a reason for promoting that reality more explicitly. Of course that would be counter to the SNP's mild-mannered softly-softly approach

@james Now that you have linked to his tweets people can judge for themselves - he is back-tracking furiously but he did accuse us of racism, Your criticism of the solution Mike Russell has come up with suggests a certain sympathy for that position. No solutions of your own I notice. Why do you have a policy of supporting independence when you never do anything to drive that agenda forward, or even full economic independence the only way to create the kind of Good Society you say you want? (never mind messing around on SVR which is so limited it would be almost cancelled out by the cost of raising it.) It was the Lab-Lib governments who let the SVR slip in the first place. The Greens played party politics on that one like everyone else - to discredit John Swinney - a decent man. No acknowledgement by you of the intransigent nature of the Treasury/HMRC who are total control freaks. You were as partisan as the rest of them, as your exploitation of the Stewart/weather situation demonstrated. You have failed to live up to your own ideals of creating a new politics. The whole SVR row was manipulated and exploited by the coalition to distract from the appalling Scotland Bill they were about to impose on this country. That bill will increase poverty and further cut public services - it cons the Scottish people, but Greens very silent on it. I thought you were supposed to "think local and act global"? If you really opposed the imposition of coalition cuts you would campaign whole-heartedly with us for independence - but maybe you are just about gesture politics. I never hear much from you about the economic exploitation of Scotland inside the union - which has also contributed to endemic levels of poverty in this country for centuries. Holyrood has very few tools to address poverty under devolution, but where are the Greens calling for Scottish empowerment? We could use those oil revenues to invest properly in renewables rather than waiting around for London. But The Greens didn't even acknowledge the fact that Scotland didn't get to make the decision about what happens in its own waters. No support either from you for Alex Salmond's condemnation of the coalition using Scottish transmission charges (mainly for renewables) to subsidise nuclear power. As for anti-poverty measures, SNP wanted to reform the council tax to make it fairer to poor people, but the other parties blocked that. Not many noises from the Greens. No audible support for the supermarket tax, as I have already mentioned. Or free prescription charges. Apart from Andy Wightman, don't hear much from you on attempts to reform the Crown Estate. Nor much support for SNP efforts to use water as a public good, not just for Scotland but the developing world. No acknowledgement of our commitment to overseas aid. No acknowledgement that insulaton will not solve all the problems of fuel poverty in Scotland - that's down to poverty and higher fuel prices in our energy rich country...but of course Scotland doesn't control energy policy despite producing so much of the stuff....I could go on. At the end of the day it is the SNP who are the party committed to radical change. It is extremely disappointing that The Greens increasingly side with unionist parties who reprepsent inertia and dampening any ambition in this country. We all know that the three unionists parties have a strategy to come together to attack the SNP and Salmond and our agenda for radical change. It's a shame when the Greens collude with that

First, Gordon's not been an activist for years, and last time he crossed my radar (which was 2009) he was a lapsed member, his Twitter biog notwithstanding.

Second, I wondered why you didn't link to his tweet but rather paraphrased it. He said "@JoanMcAlpine This smacks of casual racism to me as it doesn't apply to students from elsewhere in the EU! and will hurt our reputation"!/GMasterton/status/15505629946839040

Now I understand Mike Russell's position there and I accept he's doing what he can with the internationals, but it's complicated and at first glance surely you can see why it does look like picking on the English. You're right, we can't just fund every non-Scottish student coming here - the budget wouldn't allow it and the people who pay tax here would get squeezed out. Fine.

But can you find a single other example of Greens accusing SNP politicians of racism? You've said "activists", not "activist". Please don't make him a straw man for all Greens.

Some in the SNP forget we are in opposition too, and don't get that we didn't get into politics driven by a burning desire for independence. We're not the environmentalist wing of nationalism.

When the SNP do things wrong, we will criticise them. For example:
* Pressing on with costly and unnecessary motorway projects (M74, AWPR, additional Forth Road Bridge).
* Ramming the Hunterston coal-fired power station through the National Planning Framework without consultation.
* Blithely accepting Tory cuts rather than looking at how to raise revenue, having let the SVR lapse and not told anyone. Raising revenue doesn't just mean the SVR, by the way.
* Insisting on the failed means-testing model for home insulation at the last minute the first time round (see Budget 2009).
* Being in coalition in Edinburgh, part of the administration that's making a total fist of the trams, and yet still blaming everyone else including us.
* Putting 3% annual emissions targets in your 2007 manifesto then Stewart Stevenson coming back to Parliament with 0.05% for this year - the real reason I would have liked to see him gone, not the snow.
* Rejecting a moratorium on the (we now know) dangerous efforts to drill for oil in ever deeper waters off Scotland irrespective of the risks and climate impacts. In fact, Salmond sounded like Sarah Palin when he rejected it.
* Freezing Council Tax so local authorities can't afford to make different choices, yet they take the blame for the cuts locally. Devious too, this one.
* Doing absolutely nothing to tackle poverty or inequality that I can see.

It'd be interesting to know if you support those things, Joan. Why should we not criticise any government on those issues? It wasn't like we kept quiet from 1999-07 when the road-building programme belonged to Labour and the Lib Dems, for instance.

Where the SNP get it right, we will back them (although these don't make the papers as much):
* Minimum alcohol pricing - only the Greens supported it
* Megrahi release - only the Greens supported it
* Abolishing fees in 2008 - we backed it and so did the Lib Dems

I'm sure there are others there but I can't think of them off the top of my head. Because it's always annoying when someone on the internet is wrong.

It always saddens me to see the Greens attacking the SNP. I've always liked to think of the SNP and the Scottish Greens as the only two good things about Holyrood, set apart from the petty politicking of the other three parties. Patrick Harvie is also the only opposition leader who seems capable of making rational speeches in parliament - I was particularly impressed with his input on the day John Swinney had to address parliament about SVR, where he managed to convey honest anger rather than the put-on self-righteousness of most of the other contributors (Derek Brownlee apart), but without making petulant demands for resignations.

That said, I've found Green activists (and Harvie himself) to be too quick to attack the SNP online, and it gives me a strange sensation of having someone who you thought was on your side suddenly turning round and joining in with your enemy. A bit like someone you thought was your only friend at school suddenly joining in the bullies and their taunts. I can't think why Holyrood always reminds me of a school playground...

I would love the Greens to become the main opposition in Holyrood, particularly as it would presumably mean the three numpty parties had ceased to exist, but they need to become a bit more realistic with their aims before that could ever happen, especially in regards to their attitude towards cars (yes, we should all try to drive less, but try telling people in the country they shouldn't be using their cars, and see how many votes that gets you.)

Superbly written piece Joan, just superb.

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