Green is an emotive adjective.
The Oxford English Dictionary lists no fewer than 13 meanings, some more flattering than others. As well as denoting members of the environmental movement, it frequently describes someone who is naive. Both meanings came to mind yesterday when the Scottish Green Party launched its manifesto in the suitably sylvan setting of the Edinburgh Royal Botanic Garden.
It would unwise to dismiss the Greens as the fringe party they once were. Their very existence has already given their political opponents a noticeable green tinge. In 2007 the two-horse race for Holyrood squeezed the Greens and that still applies. Also the current austerity may make the smaller, more ideological parties look like unaffordable luxuries.
Conversely, with the Liberal Democrats taking the flak for Coalition policies, the Greens are well placed to take votes from them. Some polls even suggest they could push the LibDems into fifth place. Secondly, the Greens may well end up as kingmakers, holding the balance of power, which would give them leverage well beyond their numbers.
Under Patrick Harvie the party has positioned itself to the left of both Labour and the SNP. In this election they are the biggest party to reject the consensus over the need for cuts and are likely to pick up second votes from disgruntled public sector workers and those concerned about public services.
However, like Labour, the SNP and the LibDems, there are serious questions about how they would pay for their programme. Despite omitting road charging as too difficult to achieve in the next parliament, the Greens claim that within a year the council tax could be replaced by a land value tax. Moreover, they claim it could raise in excess of a billion pounds a year more than the council tax, while costing 85% of Scots less. Suggesting that a few property speculators would be virtually the only losers, simply lacks credibility, even if the idea of a land tax is worth considering.
Raising income tax, the ha’penny for Scotland, which they claim would raise £200m a year, ignores the potentially considerable cost of collection. A poll suggesting 51% of voters would pay more to protect public services, ignores the discrepancy between what people say to pollsters about taxes and how they actually vote, as the SNP found to its cost in 1999. It is also dangerous to assume that the Forth Road Bridge is reparable, releasing £1.6 billion of spending. What if it isn’t?
In a formal coalition Patrick Harvie could end up as deputy First Minister, provided he can eclipse George Galloway’s challenge for a Glasgow list seat. As the Scottish Greens support independence, an alliance with the SNP looks more likely, in which case the party’s three “red lines” would come into play. No public service cuts that worsen inequality looks woolly enough to get around, while the policy of free higher education differs little from either Labour or the SNP.
The biggest stumbling block would be the rejection of new nuclear power stations, a position The Herald opposes, which could rule out any coalition with Labour.
Meanwhile, rejection of new coal-fired stations in advance of proven carbon capture technology, a position supported by The Herald, could rule out anything more than a confidence and supply agreement with the SNP.
Nevertheless, it would be dangerous to write off the Greens. They deserve credit for being prepared to be radical. Another dictionary definition of “green” is “fresh”. That description too is apt.
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