Have you ever attended an election hustings? As a candidate at the Holyrood elections last May I attended many, in some cases three each day. These public hustings are a great opportunity for local residents to ask parties where they stand on issues before people give them their vote. At many of the hustings last year the panel was asked if and when they would support a second independence referendum.
Scottish Conservatives were absolutely clear that we would say no to another divisive referendum in this Parliament. Lothian Green candidates promised voters at hustings that they would only support a second referendum if there was public support for it. At the time of their manifesto launch last year the Greens even said one million signatures would be required in a citizens-led petition to trigger one. These pledges seem to have been totally disregarded.
Today the Scottish Parliament will start a debate to be held over two days on a motion from the SNP seeking support for another independence referendum through a section 30 order. The First Minister’s announcement that she wants to drag our country back to the divisions of 2014 – despite promising repeatedly that that decisive vote would be a once in a generation event – has been greeted with dismay and alarm by people across Edinburgh and Lothian.
It is clear that a majority of Scots agree with the Prime Minister that now cannot be the time for a second independence referendum when all the efforts of the UK Government are focused on securing the best deal for Scotland and the UK in the Brexit negotiations and when the UK’s future relationship with the EU is not yet clear, yet alone the possible relationship an independent Scotland might have with the EU.
All of the opposition parties will vote against the SNP’s divisive move except the Greens, whose now unconditional support for Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP means it will ditch the election promise it made to local residents and support the SNP, despite poll after poll showing people do not want another referendum.
Ahead of May’s local elections I have been out knocking on doors in Edinburgh and Lothian several times a week and I am very clear that Green MSPs are totally out of step with many of their own voters – and the vast majority of all local voters – on this issue.
Many previous Green voters I speak to agree with former Lothian MSP and Green leader Robin Harper who voted No in 2014. They are deeply concerned that the Greens seem to be acting as the SNP’s cheerleaders for a second referendum and all the division and uncertainty this will cause and they believe – as I do – that the Greens should instead be supporting other opposition parties in trying to hold the SNP to account for its poor record on health, education, transport and the environment and forcing it to get on with its day job.
It is now clear that Nicola Sturgeon will desperately seize on the support the SNP receives in the local elections in May as evidence of public backing for a second referendum but she will also assume that Green votes in that election are a similar indication of such support.
It is therefore no wonder that many previous Green voters in Edinburgh and Lothian are telling me that they will now think twice about backing the Greens at the council elections. I encourage voters to challenge their Green council candidates to set out their position on a second referendum. And even at this stage I call on Lothian’s two Green MSPs to listen to the vast majority of Lothian residents who do not want to return to the disunity and discord of 2014. Edinburgh and Lothian voters will be watching how the Greens vote – I don’t think they will ever be able to trust a word they say at an election in the future if they support it .
Miles Briggs is a Conservative MSP for Lothian