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Green Shoots: The post-referendum momentum of the Scottish Greens

TODAY AT 4PM, the Twitter page of the Scottish Greens announced that in the 24-odd hours since Scotland voted ‘no’ to independence, some 2000 people had elected to join their party.

As the tweet so gleefully affirms, they were at one stage confirming a new member of the Scottish Greens every 15 seconds.

For any political party 2000 new members in little over a day is outstanding. For a relatively small, ‘alternative’ party like the Greens it’s nothing less than monumental – especially considering that Scotland voted in opposition to the Greens’ stance regarding independence.

Why then has the referendum been so good for the Scottish Greens?

The answer seems to be threefold. Firstly, there is a significant convergence between those most likely to vote Green and those most likely to vote Yes. 40 years of political science supports this assertion. Secondly, the Scottish Greens are benefiting greatly from the momentum the Yes campaign – in essence, a campaign for change – generated. This is an occurrence with precedence in regards to growing Green party membership around Europe, especially in Germany and France. The final reason for the startling growth of the Scottish Greens these past two days is based on more anecdotal evidence. This evidence suggests that the Scottish Greens are profiting from a sizeable fallout between the Scottish electorate and the Scottish Labour party.

Political science has long studied the potential reasons behind people choosing to vote Green. From Inglehart’s work on the ‘Silent Revolution’ and  post-materialism onwards, a few defining features have been found to be indicative of supporters of environmental movements and Green parties.

Possibly the most important of these indicators is youth. Young people are far more likely to show sympathy for environmental concerns and to join Green parties. This is also true of those most likely to vote Yes. Indeed, if the 65+ vote was removed from the referendum, there would have been a Yes majority of 54.3%. That number rises to 56.6% if the 55-64 vote is also removed. Quite simply, the majority of young people in Scotland voted Yes. Perhaps then, a swathe of young Scots will now decide to vote Green.

Both Germany and France have strong Green party presence in their national politics, with the Greens in Germany regularly getting 10+% of the vote in national elections. In both of these countries, the Green parties grew rapidly after vast public protests demanding a ‘new politics’ and great degrees of change regarding how their countries were run in the 1960’s and 70’s. Both of these demonstration were long-lived and driven mostly by youthful members of the electorate determined to have a  discussion about the symbiotic apathy which existed between the electorate and the political establishment – sound familiar?

In France, it was the student demonstrations of 1968 and the localised opposition to nuclear power in the 1970’s and 1980’s which drove support for the Green parties. Indeed Daniel Cohn-Bendit a key leader of the student movement of 1968 was for years a figurehead in the French (and German) Green parties and was a co-leader of a European Green alliance in the European Parliament.

The same reasons were also behind the growth of the Greens in Germany. However the German electoral system is far more representative than the French, and thus the Greens have had not insignificant success in elections. The German electoral system and the system used in Scottish parliamentary elections share some similarities. The most important likeness is that they are both relatively kind to small or ‘alternative’ parties.

That parallel, coupled with the Yes campaign replicating the momentum created by the issues which caused Green party membership to rise in Germany, have given the Scottish Greens a few reasons to be very hopeful for the future.

What links the two previous sections together is a left-libertarian mindset.

The majority of Green party members in both Germany and France would define themselves as left-wing, as would have the students and activists involved in the nationwide demonstrations in those countries. This gives us some further insight into why the Scottish Greens appear to be in a bubble of rapid growth.

The left-wing youth of Scotland who supported the Yes campaign need somewhere to direct their momentum. Traditionally, these types of voters (young left-wing activist) would have joined the Scottish Labour Party. However the Scottish Labour party actively supported and campaigned for a no vote.

Those same young voters who have been invigorated by political debate in Scotland for the first time in a generation are instead joining in huge numbers the two biggest political parties that supported Yes: the Greens and the SNP (who have also reported that new members are joining in their thousands). These voters are not only members gained for the Greens and the SNP, they are members lost to the Scottish Labour party.

Written by Daniel Rueben Comiskey
Picture Credit: snappybex 

 

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