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Greens Prepare to Grow

Laura MacLaughlin

The Scottish Greens met for their annual autumn conference in Perth this past week, their first venture into the three-day conference format, following the big step-up to the SECC for last year’s two-day event.

The theme of the conference, “Think Global, Act Local”, manifested in the discussions of Brexit, independence and the upcoming local authority elections which dominated the agenda. The programme featured several speakers from the Global Green network, as well as the European Greens, while candidates for the local Government elections sat across a wide variety of workshop and fringe panels.

It was clear that the Party intends to focus significant resource on the upcoming election, with several speakers referring to the possibility of having a green councillor on the “majority of local councils”. On the elections, Maggie Chapman said: “This presents perhaps our best opportunity to ensure our green principles of participatory democracy form the bedrock of our local government”, placing the party in opposition to the “centralising tendencies of the SNP”.

In many ways, the theme was a clever harmonising of the thing the Greens are always doing at their conferences, trying to cover huge, geopolitical, global issues within the confines of a short policy motion and the thing they do very well, that is, solid local campaign structures and grassroots, community action. An interesting main stage speech from Ska Keller, a German MEP, described the theme well, as she highlighted priorities for local level Green’s in the context of traditionally cross-border issues like sustainability and responding to the refugee crisis.

Of course, independence featured too, with delegates backing a motion which urged the UK Government to make use of Section 30 order to grant a second referendum. Patrick Harvie spoke of laying the groundwork for a Green Yes campaign and there was an atmosphere of anticipation mixed with a sense of responsibility. It was acknowledged arguments in support of independence needed to be in keeping with Green values as well as robustly and consistently communicated. There was also acceptance of the fact that the chance to hold a referendum would not likely come again. Timing, it was repeated throughout, will be crucial.

In terms of conference infrastructure, it is possible that members engagement hasn’t caught up with the new three-day format, as attendance on Friday was noticeably lower and some fringe meetings throughout the weekend suffered weak numbers (with notable exceptions for well-known speakers and issues like Brexit). The Party’s method for selecting motions for debate and accepting amendments continues to suffer from a lack of structure, meaning undue time was often spent on insignificant points – a matter members would clearly like to see resolved. It is clearly on the radar of the Party’s leadership though so we live in hope that next time round the party processes may better reflect the ever increasing numbers.

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