I’m writing this from the Scottish Greens Conference in beautiful Inverness. Its been a great weekend, full of friendly folk and astutue positive thinking and I’ve thouroughly enjoyed being here. I have never been to a political party conference before and as a result some things strike me as odd about the proceedings. Others are baffling. Other things happened without me even realising they had taken place. New things often confuse.
However, it occured to me that if I ended up taking these idiosyncracies for granted I would have lost the ability to think straight about what these sort of events are for. There have been a lot of motions: to adopt new policy (notably on land reform, education and transport), to make statements and change the party constitution. This is of vital importance: this weekend I have seen the good ideas of a number of grassroots members take their place in the policy book – a simple democratic route that has been practically gutted from the functions of most parties in the UK.
The problem is there’s been little else. Little time to meet new people. Little time to learn about new issues. No time to consider the party’s progress or goals (the AGM was a box ticking excercise, not even including a report from our best paid officials, our MSPs). No time to generate new ideas, make plans or exchange experiences.
The ceilidh was great fun, but it was concerning that it was the only time most of us found to bounce ideas around, chat and organise. The party membership must have its hands on the steering wheel. But this is a very small boat: we have half a member of staff, two MSPs and a handful of councillors. What good is it everyone having a vote on our policies when they have so little chance of being effected?
Ironically this channel of control would be much more important, and is in fact much weaker, for the bigger parties. I have heard a lot of odd things about this party explained to me as being the way they are because “that’s the way party politics is done”.
Well I did not get involved, tentatively as I have done, in party politics only to throw away good ideas simply because they are new ideas. Before this party can deliver its democratic promise: to return power to the people, to put the poorest first, to live on this planet and not just use it up, we need to become the movement.
I say become *the* movement because we do not need to start afresh: this movement already already exists. Growing numbers of people in Scotland, the UK, Europe and the world have been taking to the streets and demanding change, yet they have been ingnored, their tactics criticised at best, condemned at worst. That’s not Green, and we are part of their struggle. Trade unions who are being pushed away from Labour because the parliamentary Labour party is fearful of being a movement: that’s not Green, and we can embrace them.
No left wing political party has achieved radical change by keeping a few thousand members and maintaining a good policy book. We need this, yes, but we need Green to mean A LOT more. Greens needs to have the vision to be a broad, anarchic, grouping of progressives. Maggie Chapman’s policy to enable affiliation to the party (adopted yesterday) is a long-overdue move in this direction. We also need party organs to grow individual membership and its branches. That involves professionalising a drive to recruit people, and in general, to become *a lot* more welcoming to new faces. This will require a huge shift in the mentality of this party.
Our main event in the year cannot be a conference which ticks boxes and debates ineffectual policy. We need growing our membership, not maintaining it, to be a core aim of our committees, events and (as Gary Dunion often says) campaigns. We need events that are fun, social, and useful; events that people come to because they want to not because they should. We need training in how to run branches and campaigns, and crucially, how to get more people involved. And we must bring the movement with us: involving unions and formal and informal activist groups and networks in our policy and practice.
The GreenYes campaign (to be launched next month) provides an exciting way for Scottish Greens to put this into practice this year. It is a tremendous opportunity to become involved in a wider movement and to make a big difference in this country’s future. The European Election campaign similarly, provides a nationwide project through which to engage people in our party and get folk involved in making change. We need to embrace these opportunities. We also need to make opportunities of our own. In October 2014 the Scottish Greens could hold a radically refreshed conference in a soon-to-be independent Scotland. I look forward to such a moment. But to get there we will need to do a lot of hard work.