Scottish Greens Support Minority Government In Holyrood
Accord With Scottish National Party Gains Cooperation On Global Warming
by Mike Feinstein, advisor, International Committee of the Green Party of the United States

Despite falling from seven to two members in the Scottish parliament, the Scottish Green Party has helped to determine who will govern the country over the next four years.

On May 3rd, Scotland held elections for the 129 seats in its parliament, informally called Holyrood. In 1999, Scottish Green Robin Harper became the first Green elected, after the British government had approved the use of proportional representation for parliamentary election there. In 2003, six more Greens were elected, giving the party seven MSPs (Members of Scottish Parliament) in the 129 member body.

This time the party hoped to continue increase its share, but instead was met with a rising wave support for Scottish nationalism, reflected as an increase of 20 seats for moderately left-of-center Scottish National Party (SNP), making SNP the largest Holyrood party with 47 seats. As a result, only Harper (Lothians) and fellow Green Patrick Harvie (Glasgow) held their seats, but Harper moved quickly to negotiate with the SNP.

On May 11th, the two parties published a Cooperation Agreement, which committed the Greens to vote for SNP leader Alex Salmond as Scottish First Minister, in exchange for an SNP commitment to nominate a Green MSP to chair a Holyrood committee. The Co-operation Agreement also committed both parties to working constructively together on policy areas where there was common ground.

On May 16, Salmond was elected First Minster with Green Support. Harper said “we voted for Alex Salmond today because we believe the people have voted for a change of government and it signals our intent to engage constructively in the interests of the electorate. We look forward to working with the SNP administration on areas of common agreement whilst at the same time working with all parties to deliver positive Green action over the next four years.

“There are of course significant policy differences between the SNP and the Greens, on transport policy in particular, and on those issues we will continue to promote our distinctive policies.”

Harvie added: “The situation is not ideal for any party, but the central concern of everyone today should be to meet the expectations of the electorate who want politicians to work together and get things done. It is unchartered territory for Scotland, but there are many urgent issues that require politicians to work together in the public interest, not for their own party political interests. We promise to hold the minority administration to account, and to press for change as best we can.”

Salmond added, “The Scottish Greens represent a substantial body of opinion in Scotland, regardless of MSP numbers. Their formula for co-operation across parties short of formal coalition is an excellent example of the consensus we are seeking to build in the Parliament, and sets a positive tone for the incoming Government.”

As part of its Cooperation Agreement, the SNP and Greens committed to working together to enact early legislation to enact binding annual cuts in carbon emissions and to oppose the building of new nuclear power plants. On June 7th, Harvie was appointed Convener of the Transport, Infrastructure and Climate Change Committee of the Parliament. As a fierce critic of new road-building projects and a strong advocate of public transport, Harvie was a controversial choice to some, but one that pleased the Greens. “Members of the committees must strive to work constructively,” said Harvie, “putting the interests of the country and, in this case, the planet, before short-term political objectives. The decisions we take will have far-reaching impacts long beyond the term of this Parliament, and I welcome the opportunity personally to play a crucial role in this process.”

Despite these positive developments, the original intention of both the Greens and SNP was to establish a stable majority in Parliament for a shared program of government, either under formal coalition or under what is called a “confidence and supply” arrangement, which in a parliamentary system means a minor party or independent MP will support the government in motions of confidence and budget votes.

However, without a legislative majority between the Greens, SNP and enough other parties, this could not be accomplished, leaving the two to work together as other opportunities arise. One such example has already come about, as the SNP also moved forward on proposed action by the Greens to stop a controversial ship-to-ship oil transfer project in the Firth of Forth, which is the estuary of Scotland’s River Forth, where it flows into the North Sea past several key Scottish cities and towns, and serves as host to over 90,000 breeding seabirds every year.

The Forth plan, by Melbourne Marine Services Ltd, aims to transfer Russian oil into ‘Ultra Large Crude Carriers’ en route to the United States and the Far East. Greens argue it could cause massive oil spills by attempting transfer of millions of barrels of oil every year between ships at swinging anchor.

In local elections, also held on May 3, the Greens won seats for the first time, electing three City Councilors in Edinburgh and five in Glasgow, as Scotland changed to Single Transferable Vote (STV) for municipal elections. The three Edinburgh Greens were initially involved in coalition talks with other parties but which eventually fell through.

According to Steve Burgess, who was elected in Edinburgh’s Ward 15, “We stood in all 17 wards in Edinburgh for the first time, some of which were 3-member, some 4-member. All were elected by STV. The three seats were won using a ‘target to win’ strategy used with success by the Green Party of England and Wales, whereby volunteer time and funds are focused on winning in the most promising electoral area rather than being spread across all areas. Once one area is secured, the neighboring areas are targeted next. This time we targeted four priority wards relatively intensively over the course of a year, while a further four wards (“second tier) received a partial leaflet drop in the final month. Relatively little activity was focused on the remaining nine wards.”

Alison Johnstone, elected to represent Edinburgh’s Ward 10, said the change in voting system allowed the true Green vote to show through. “This is an historic day for this city. All over the world the Green movement is growing and, in Edinburgh, thousands of people have been Green supporters for years but their views have been ignored because of an unfair voting system. At last we can start making Edinburgh a leader in the fight against climate change – by tackling waste, reshaping the way we use energy and delivering real quality of life into the bargain.

It is worth noting that the only two places where Green MSP were re-elected – Glasgow and Edinburgh – were also the only places where the party ran full slates of City Council candidates and elected new members, suggesting synergy between municipal and parliamentary campaigns.

In keeping with this synergy, soon after the election Edinburgh Councilors joined MSP Harper to support a tram system for the city. “Modern hi-tech trams are a 21st-century solution providing high quality, comfortable and rapid public transport across the city,” said Harper. “This is part of the necessary move to a low carbon economy and delivering viable alternatives to the private car. That is what the frustrated motorist sitting in a traffic jam wants, and that’s what we want.

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UK Greens And The ‘Balance Of Power’
Accord With Conservatives On Energy And Conservation Program
by Mike Feinstein, advisor, International Committee of the Green Party of the United States

“This is a major success for the Green Party with national significance. In addition to huge carbon savings it will achieve, it is the first scheme in the country that gives free insulation to residents whatever their circumstances.”
– Andrew Cooper

Although the UK Greens don’t yet have a City Council majority, in the city of Kirklees (Yorkshire County), about 180 miles north of London, local Greens won their fourth seat on the 69-member Metropolitan Borough Council. This gave them ‘balance of power’ for the second term in a row, enabling them to leverage policy concessions in exchange for supporting the minority Tory administration (20 seats), together with the Lib Dems (18 seats).

In the just-concluded term, this cooperation led to a subsidy of £21 million (approximately $42 million) to insulate 40,000 homes. According to Green Councillor Andrew Cooper, “households will see their annual fuel bills reduce by an average £150 and at least £5 million will re-circulate back into the local economy each year rather than into the coffers of energy companies.” The scheme will see £10 million of Kirklees Council funding matched by £11 from the Scottish Power private utility, under their nationally-mandated Energy Efficiency Commitment requirement.”

“This is a major success for the Green Party with national significance,” said Cooper. “In addition to huge carbon savings it will achieve, it is the first scheme in the country that gives free insulation to residents whatever their circumstances. Furthermore, it is making the mandates under the Energy Efficiency Commitment workable and practical, because the geographically-focused scheme enables the utilities to deliver on their commitment in a timely, organized and large-scale fashion, compared to trying to find willing participants on a one-by-one basis.”

While cooperation with the Conservatives remains controversial within the Green Party, this success has led to its continuation for a second term, again based upon delivery of Green Party policy objectives.

This time according to Cooper, the party has gotten agreement on establishing an initial revolving loan fund of £3 million that will subsidize solar panels, biomass boilers and other home-based renewable energy sources, with payback based upon a charge against the sale of the house when sold, with the borough acting as guarantor until that point. Just as with the home insulation scheme, Cooper sees this program as groundbreaking for the UK, with the likelihood that as it proves to be workable, it would also attract private utility funds under the Energy Efficiency Commitment requirement.

By contrast, the Green Party has formally withdrawn from the coalition administration with the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats that had run nearby Leeds for three years. Councillor David Blackburn, Green Group Leader said: “At the start of this new municipal year it is obvious that decisions have to come to a head on incineration and we cannot support a policy that takes us down the route of building an incinerator.”

Should the Greens continue these forms of cooperation? According to party Male Spokesperson Dr. Derek Wall, it’s important to remember that “these are not formal coalitions. Rather, each local Green Party decides who to work with, and the ‘confidence and supply’ model allows them to support specific policies, rather supporting formal coalitions with the ‘grey parties.’ Especially in Green strongholds like Oxford, Norwich and Lewisham, by providing a clear opposition to the grey parties, Greens are growing in seats with each passing year.”

UK Greens Run And Win Most Local Government Seats Ever
1,419 Candidates Compete Across English Cities And Towns

by Mike Feinstein, advisor, International Committee of the Green Party of the United States

Under the slogan “One World. One Chance. Vote Green Party,” the party’s election platform focused on five key areas: climate change, health, education, housing and democracy.

In the May 3 elections, the Green Party of England and Wales ran 1,419 candidates – the most ever in their party’s history going back to 1973 – for what are called Principal Local Authority seats.

In what was called a “breakthough election” by Green Party Principal Speaker Dr. Derek Wall, the party won 63 seats, including holding 39 existing seats and gaining 24 new ones, while losing only seven that they had previously held. This gave the English Greens a net gain of 17 seats, leading to a total of 110 sitting officeholders in local government, also an all-time high.

Scheduled elections took place in 312 District, Borough, Metropolitan Borough and Unitary Councils outside of London.

Districts and Boroughs are responsible for planning, housing, leisure, environmental health, solid waste collection, and local roads. Unitary authorities and Metropolitan Boroughs are all-purpose Councils providing the full range of local services in their area so that, besides the above, they are also responsible for education, social services, libraries, waste disposal, principal roads and other transport matters. They also play a part in running the police and fire services. Councils also have a broad authority to promote the economic, social and environmental well-being of their area.

Under the slogan “One World. One Chance. Vote Green Party,” the party’s election platform focused on five key areas: climate change, health, education, housing and democracy.

The biggest gains came in the seaside destination of Brighton and Hove City on England’s south coast, where local Greens held on to six council seats and gained six more; and in Lancaster City in north west England, where they defended seven seats and gained five more.

In Brighton and Hove, the Greens pulled within one seat of becoming the primary opposition party on the 54-member local Council, behind the Tories (26) and Labor (13), which lost ten seats. Among elected Greens was 22 year-old Vicky Wakefield Jarrett, a vegan peace and environment activist who was one of three elected Greens nationally 25 years old or younger, giving them a total of seven now holding office aged 27 or younger nationwide.

According to National Election Agent Chris Rose, “the party’s success in winning more seats was, as usual, largely due to careful targeting of resources so as to hold and to build the majorities required to win ‘first-past-the-post’ elections’ in chosen Wards. A key part of this work is the delivery of newsletters to voters throughout the year. These cover local issues, convey a local angle on global ones and report on action by (aspiring) Green councillors. Critical to success is canvassing (knocking on doors and talking to voters on their doorsteps), both well before and during the election period.”

With nine of the 12 Green council seats concentrated in the Brighton Pavilion House of Commons constituency (district), compared to six (Tories) and 5 (Labor), the Greens’ success also gives the party increasing hope of picking up its first-ever parliamentary seat in the next elections to the House of Commons, which has to be held by July 2010.

Just two years ago, Brighton Pavilion City Councilor Keith Taylor received 22 percent in a four-way race for Westminster, only 1.9 percent behind the Tories for second place. These results come in a district where Greens also received 27 percent in the 2004 European Parliament elections. This time Taylor is contesting the Greens’ selection election (party members’ primary) against fellow Green and European parliament member Caroline Lucas, with the results to be known on July 18.

In historic, medieval Norwich in eastern England – often dubbed the “greenest” in the UK before the election because it had the most Green councillors on a single authority – the party won the highest percentage of the overall popular vote, re-electing all three Green incumbents and gaining a fourth seat. Unfortunately they fell a single vote short (after four recounts) of winning a fifth seat against a Liberal Democrat incumbent, meaning they would have become the primary opposition party on the Council.

Green group coordinator Adrian Ramsay, who himself was re-elected with 62 percent in Nelson Ward after winning there three years ago at the ripe young age of 21, said watching the election returns in this close district coming in during the night had been like a “roller coaster ride” for the party.

Labor now holds 15 seats on the local council, the Liberal Democrats 11, the Greens ten and the Tories three. And while that means Labor is likely to continue as a “minority administration”, the Lib Dems have slipped from the party of power just a few years ago, to a desperate fight to remain the largest opposition group ahead of the Greens. Recognizing this, Labor Council leader Steve Morphew said after the election that “we have a good relationship with the Green Party and we will work together on major issues in Norwich.”

Perhaps so, but according to Wall, the Greens’ strong result “places us in pole position to fight for the Westminster seat,” as they hope to replace the Lib Dems as the main challengers to the sitting Norwich South Labor MP in the upcoming 2008 House of Commons elections.

In addition to the raw number of candidates and wins, there were several other measures of success. Political parties in the UK with at least two or more members on a Principal Local Authority are said to have “group status”, giving them the ability to sit on more committees, as well as to second their own motions and ensure debate. Before the May 3rd election the Greens had group status on 17 bodies. Now they have it on 22.

According to Rose, for the 1,412 candidates for which gender was known, 831 (58.9 percent) were male and 581 (41.1 percent) female. As for youth, at least 102 (7.19 percent) were aged 18-30 (age was not known for all candidates), and with the change of national election rules to lower the age limit to run from 21 to 18, at least 22 fell into this age group (1.55 percent.)

Also held on May 3 were Parish and Town Council elections. These are the most local form of government in the UK. They are essentially the same, but with the latter type having a Mayor. There are more than 10,000 such Councils in England, with most holding their elections this year.

They have a selection of statutory local powers such as maintenance of cemeteries, renting land to citizens for growing vegetables, fruit and flowers, bus shelters, community halls and so on. Of particular interest to Greens is that they also have what is called a “power of general competence,” which means they can spend tax revenue up to a certain amount on anything they see fit, so that quite innovative ideas can be pursued. They have recently been granted powers to both promote and spend money on reducing energy consumption in their areas, and on micro-renewables (solar, wind turbines, woodchip [furnaces], etc.).

Many of these Councils are in rural areas where the Greens are weaker. It is often the custom that candidates don’t use Party labels. There are frequently less candidates than seats for election, so it’s easy to get elected “unopposed.”

233 Green Party members were candidates for these elections, of whom 143 were elected (70 unopposed, and 73 in contested votes). Stroud Greens in the west of England retained control of the Town Council there, with John Marjoram being re-elected as Mayor by fellow Councillors. Kirklees Greens won control of Kirkburton Parish Council, where energy expert Andrew Cooper will be trying to stretch the new powers in this area to the limit.

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