THE Scottish Greens held their autumn conference over the weekend and you’ll be pleased to know I’ve read every word of the co-leader Patrick Harvie’s speech so you don’t have to. There were 2400 words in the speech in all, but the word “independence” appeared only five times. How strange. How revealing. How misleading.

I say misleading because of the rather obvious dis-connect between what Mr Harvie said – the thrust of his speech was about workers’ wages and rights – and the issues that are actually driving Scottish politics. According to Mr Harvie, voters who traditionally support Labour are coming over to the Greens because of the party’s track record in delivering the kind of policies the voters want. But he must know there are only two issues that are really driving Scottish politics at the moment: coronavirus and independence.

How else are we to explain the opinion polls? A recent one from Savanta ComRes showed that, in the regional list vote for next year’s elections, the SNP are on 41%, the Tories 21%, Labour are on 18%, and the Greens are on 11%. If that actually translated into votes next year, it would mean the best result that the Greens have ever achieved in Scotland. They would win 11 seats.

So why is it happening? Mr Harvie would have us believe it’s because progressive voters are impressed by the party’s policies, but a look at the UK-wide polls tells a slightly different story. A recent YouGov poll on voting for Westminster had the Greens at 6% – much lower than the Scottish figure – and while some of that will be because there’s a PR system for Scottish elections, it also reflects the different stories of the Greens across the UK: the party is fighting different wars on different battlefields.

In Scotland, the battlefield is independence, with the issue now affecting every part of the system. What that means is that in recent years the behaviour of many voters has been unwillingly distorted by their opinion on nationalism: they may have voted Tory for the first time ever for instance, or stopped voting Labour – who they support depends on where a party stands on independence and policy issues have become almost irrelevant. Mr Harvie can use up more than 2,000 words talking about policy if he likes, but it doesn’t change anything.

All of this is worrying for a number of reasons. First, the dominance of one issue over all others has a distorting and belittling effect on politics: if policies on poverty, or health, or education, aren’t as important as independence, it means a party that supports independence can perform poorly on all on of those issues – as the SNP has done – and it effectively doesn’t matter.

Secondly, the Greens’ support for independence perpetuates the impression that Yes is the only progressive option. In his speech, Mr Harvie said that with independence, Scotland could be genuinely fair and green, the implication being that it’s only with independence that Scotland will be fair and green. “The vision of how Scotland can be different is the reason Scottish Greens support independence,” he said.

However, a belief that Yes is the only progressive choice relies on a number of fallacies. For example, the Greens railing against the British state suggests its current form is the only form it can take, but that isn’t true: governments change. Mr Harvie also pointed out in his speech how badly the party that runs the independence cause has performed against most progressive tests. The SNP, he said, has pretty much the same economic outlook as the Tories ie. one based on the pursuit of perpetual growth.

Finally, and in a way most worrying of all, is the tendency of the Greens to rely on some of the same disturbing nationalist tropes as the SNP. Mr Harvie’s fellow party leader Lorna Slater said recently that, “Scotland is different and it’s getting more different by the day”. She also said “I don’t think it’s up to Scotland to worry about the interests of the UK”. And how about this one: “the more that England drifts to the right … the less and less in common the Scottish people have with the English.”

What Ms Slater says there is the kind of stuff you hear a lot from nationalists but it raises questions about whether Green support for Scottish nationalism can ever truly be progressive. How is it progressive for Scotland not to worry about the interests of its neighbours? How is it progressive to emphasise difference rather than similarity? And finally, can it ever be progressive to assume the “Scottish people” all think the same way? And – most important of all – that you have the right to speak for them?

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