Campaign report: Edinburgh and Falkirk hustings, and some final thoughts

The hustings for the SGP Holyrood regional selections came to an end on Wednesday with the final Central region hustings in Falkirk.  In a very short time the Falkirk branch have become legendary for their energy and passion and it was great to finally meet them. It was definitely the most enjoyable of the three, the sense of enthusiasm and anticipation – this has not previously been a good region for us, but current polls have us on gaining our first MSP here – was palpable and infectious.

Despite our low presence in the Central Belt hitherto, it can and should be a strong area for us. Ineos’ disgraceful behaviour in recent weeks in trying to bribe local communities into accepting fracking, not to mention the way they’ve treated their workers in the past few years has brought a huge influx of members into the party – indeed, several of the candidates joined and stood for nomination because of Ineos. Ineos aside, the towns and villages of the region have huge potential, but potential that has never been realised due to decades of maladministration by Labour (and latterly, SNP) councils and a lack of thinking around how Central Belt communities can grow alongside Glasgow and Edinburgh. Green policies can have huge appeal here: bus regulation will help reconnect communities that have been cut off by unaccountable bus companies, and the smaller towns and villages of the region would benefit from our local government reforms, devolution of power to communities and community renewables.

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That being so, the party is hugely fortunate to have such a brilliant set of candidates from which to form a regional list, from the hugely experienced Kirsten Robb to new members firmly rooted in their communities – people like Mari-Ellena Corvi and Bryan Deakin. I hope to join them and bring some public policy experience with me, but they will have a fantastic slate without me, and all will be great potential councillor candidates in 2017.

Last week’s Edinburgh hustings was an equally enjoyable and inspiring occasion. Despite the awful weather, we had a large and engaged audience which came up with some challenging questions.  I won’t go into all the questions I got and all the answers I gave as Richard Davidson has helpfully storified Edinburgh Greens’ tweets from the night, but there a few points that I have the opportunity to go into more detail here than I did on the night:

  • Greens have a hugely compelling message on devolving power to communities.  Whilst it may now be in vogue, Greens have been talking about it for years and are the only party that can speak with credibility on it.  And as well as having as having a long history on the issues, it could not be more timely: post-referendum there is a new spirit of community involvement that Scotland needs to engaged before it ebbs away, and more power for local communities, especially around planning and services, speaks to people’s anxieties around unconventional gas extraction, development and austerity.  As well as all that, it fits in well with our proposals on community renewables, local government reform, and with Land Value Tax, and contrasts well with SNP’s disastrous centralisation of public services over the course of this parliament.  For all these reasons and more, I’d like to see it at the heart of our 2016 manifesto, not just as a single set of policies amongst others, but the philosophy of our whole campaign.
  • We need to fully explore the potential of the new powers that the Scottish Parliament will be exercising in its next term. Not only will the Smith process itself (and the revision of Smith that will inevitably follow a Labour hung Parliament in May) be an election issue, even the relatively limited powers currently on the table will create some clear areas of difference between Labour, SNP and the Greens that we can exploit.  With the new devolved taxes and employment services, for example, there is an opportunity to reshape welfare along Green lines and demonstrate the potential of broader Green welfare ideas like the Citizen’s Income.  As I’ve said several times in hustings and previously, a devo+ version of the Green Yes campaign could do us just as much good in next year’s election as it did in last year’s referendum. Discussion of the potential of the new powers has unfortunately been fairly limited during the hustings, but I hope we can rectify this in the coming months.

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I got into this selection campaign not to be an MSP – although I would be honoured to serve if elected – but to encourage a debate amongst candidates and members about some of the policy ideas and perspectives that I think we will need in the forthcoming Holyrood campaign.  It would have been easier to do this had there been more opportunities to meet members, but nevertheless, I hope that I’ve been able to provoke more thought about our policy direction that will help us next year, whoever we select as our candidates.

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