Coal miners used to take caged canaries down the mine with them as an early warning system for leaks of fatal carbon monoxide gas. If the canary went belly-up, the men had just about time to get out. The living canary was the proof of the relative health of the environment.
The Scottish Greens are not a big party but they are a respected one.
Patrick Harvie MSP, co-convener of the party, has been a prominent part of the Yes Scotland campaign for independence.
In political editor, Tom Gordon’s exclusive in the Sunday Herald on 10th June, it was revealed that on Saturday night the Scottish Greens removed themselves from this campaign.
Harvie both advises and takes his instructions from his party and seems not to differ from it in his evaluation of the situation.
He is quoted as saying he has been ‘disappointed’ at the lack of internal consultation amongst the campaign’s participants. The campaign is, unsurprisingly, driven by the SNP and supported by the funds it has raised.
Harvie and the Scottish Greens have been the canary in this essentially SNP campaign. The canary has had a short life down this mine – a disturbing insight into the political environment there.
The Greens and Harvie had been quite a catch for the campaign. There was real value in the public respect they brought with them and in the validation their presence offered to the environmentally responsible credentials of the SNP and, by extension of an independent Scotland they might lead, in the first instance anyway.
This is a loss beyond its apparent weight.
Harvie was the freshest, most open-minded and transparent intelligence in the campaign front line. In the BBC Newsnight Scotland debate between the Yes Scotland and the Yes UK campaigns, he was the one worth listening to,; the one you wanted to hear more from; the one who wasn’t mouthing pre-scripted positions; the one capable of thinking and talking responsively.
The living, present canary is proof of integrity,
At a stroke the Yes Scotland campaign has lost that proof of integrity of process and lost an energetic, trustworthy spokesperson for the campaign, who was, in every sense, independent-minded.
Tom Gordon quotes Harvie as saying that the Greens are ‘frustrated by the lack of progress towards a genuinely inclusive campaign’. For this reasons, Harvie has been unable to recommend to his party that it formally join Yes Scotland.
He makes the irrefutable point that a genuinely inclusive campaign would be making and enacting shared decisions on campaign policy.
It also seems as if he has reason to feel that the Greens were attracted into the SNP-led camp by words about collaboration from First Minster, Alex Salmond, which have not delivered any substance.
A fundamental concern here is that all of this is yet more evidence of an increasingly monolithic and intolerant position by the SNP: ‘It’s our way or no way’ stuff.
This is, at the very least, the foothills of a totalitarianism which is beginning to be evident in many areas of evolving policy.
If this tendency becomes embedded rather than dissipated between now and October 2014, it will destroy the cause in whose service it has crept into being.