This general election was certainly a game-changer for the UK, and while it was a big challenge for the Scottish Greens, it was also a chance to speak to an electorate that is engaged as never before. Whilst the prospect of five more years of Tory austerity is of grave concern, the transformation of our political landscape provides us with huge opportunities in the year ahead. Ever since the independence referendum made Green voices prominent in Scottish political debate, the arguments we made for the kind of society we believe we can build have led people to join the Scottish Green Party in unprecedented numbers.
Greens are now closing in on Labour and the Conservatives in terms of membership numbers in Scotland, while our sister parties in the rest of the UK are also rapidly gaining strength. This shows our support is not simply down to the majority of Scottish Greens supporting independence. Something bigger is happening.
Sadly, Caroline Lucas remains the UK’s only Green MP, despite a share of the vote across the UK increasing from 265,243 in 2010 to 1,157,613 in 2015 – a 336 per cent increase. First past the post is a relic, and many will wonder how the voting system can reward some parties so richly while leaving others with almost no MPs, even if they gain more votes.
Electoral reform at Westminster has to be on the agenda over the coming months, in addition to firm opposition to the scrapping of the Human Rights Act, cuts to support for the vulnerable, and more regressive, anti-trade union laws already on the horizon.
There is a widespread sense that a larger number of diverse voices in our debates can only strengthen our democracy, and casting an eye towards next year’s Scottish Parliament election, polling consistently puts the Greens on ten-12 per cent, suggesting that if we work hard we could gain seats in every region.
Greens have long been the ones who encouraged members of other parties to push their leadership towards action on vital issues – we see this with fracking, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and community ownership of football clubs. We’ve long been the people asking the tough questions, pointing out the social and environmental flaws in policies, and making the case that if what you are building is not sustainable, then you are not building a society that works for the many, rather than the lucky few who will prosper in the short term.
We didn’t win an MP, but the Scottish Greens still represent a different way of doing politics that is growing in popularity as the lack of a meaningful opposition is all too clear to see. We want an end to the corporate welfare and bailout culture, and a robust taxation system put in place that ensures those who can afford to pay their share in tax for the common good do so – and an end to the national disgrace that is our reliance on food banks. Being serious about tackling poverty means investing in the sustainable, community-owned industries that are our future, with a fair transition of jobs from industries like oil and gas.
We’ll have to work hard to defend the wellbeing of many people and challenge the UK government’s agenda, but we’ll be doing so in a strengthened position thanks to the work being done around the country.
Defending people against the £12bn of further Tory cuts is of critical importance, but the chance is there to build a fairer political system in the UK, one that can finally represent the electorate it should serve.
Alison Johnstone is a Green MSP for Lothian