Canary goes belly-up in Yes Scotland campaign

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.

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28 Responses to Canary goes belly-up in Yes Scotland campaign

  1. Pingback: Canary goes belly-up in Yes Scotland campaign – For Argyll «

  2. Patrick Harvie has said that the story is not an accurate description of his, or the Green’s, position. Even Tom Gordon is believed to disagree with the headline put on it by the Editorial staff. See Newsnet Scotland for an accurate report.

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  3. Patrick Harvie has made it quite clear that no decision has been made and will not be made until the party conference in October.

    In fact, he recently tweeted:

    “Not leaving – quite the opposite. Actively seeking involvement. Frustrated that it remains an SNP vehicle”

    Even if the Greens formally leave the Yes Scotland campaign in October they will still be voting YES. And . . . in one way multiple YES campaigns from different parties rather than one monolithic one that is seen as an SNP bandwagon could be a good thing.

    It is a pity Newsroom does not bother to check her facts before hastily rehashing any old article she finds in the mainstream press that fits her current predjudice set. I suspect that it is more her new-found enthusiasm for shooting the SNP fox rather than her concern for the welfare of the canary that motivated this rather poor piece.

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    • From what Patrick Harvie has said, there IS a decision by the Scottish Greens not to make an intended commitment to Yes Scotland at this point – for the reasons he gave.
      This situation is to be REVIEWED at the party’s October conference.
      The core issue is the one Harvie has described in accounting for a campaign that has not – yet – proved inclusive of its participants.
      He has said that the Greens should not be used simply to wave a flag for someone else.
      This resonates with a memorable situation in the 1988 American Presidential Election where the charismatic black leader, Reverend Jesse Jackson, was judged by the Democrats not to be politically acceptable as Presidential or Vice Presidential candidate.
      But they needed the votes and the liberal credibility he could deliver.
      Jackson, unforgettably, used the language of the slave trade to account for the position the party expected him to adopt, saying:
      ‘I cannot be asked to go out into the field, pick up votes, bail them up and deliver them to the big house where policy is made without being part of that equation’.
      The parallel between where Jackson found himself then and where Patrick Harvie finds himself is obvious.
      We continue to hold the view that the willful waste of the support of Harvie and the Greens is damaging.Fences may be mended by October but only the blinkered would seek to believe that what has happened now is of no account.
      Harvie has been the most persuasive voice for the independence case – because he has not fudged issues, has been seen to be thinking in response to questions rather than parroting a pre-existing line – and has has been relaxed in his transparency.

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  4. It’s a bit like the lottery… need to be in it to win it. If the Greens are in the huff is it any surprise they have little or no influence in the “yes campaign” and is it therefore any surprise that it will be dominated by members who understand that it is, or should be a single issue campaign on the matter of Scottish independence, not a platform for personal issues or party policy however green, pink, blue or tartan those policies happen to be.

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  5. Can we have a little less of the partisan reporting from the newsdesk, and a little more of trying to present a balanced picture of the developing situation.

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  6. On the Greens website Patrick Harvie is quoted as saying:

    “If we are to formally sign up as a party we need to know on what terms. We don’t want to end up simply cheerleading for the SNP. It’s entirely possible the membership takes the view that Greens help shape another pro-independence referendum campaign.”

    So no decision until October . . . and as I said before, there is a lot to be said for the other parties each having a pro-independence campaign, or even just one other YES campaign between them. It will take more than committed SNP voters – not all of whom necessarily support independence – so it is essential that the other parties are seen to be involved, not just ‘cheerleading for the SNP’ as Patrick puts it.

    I see Patrick’s comments as very positive.

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  7. I’ve rarely read such bunkum.

    As Dumbarton CA convener of the SNP I invited the Local Greens to meet me and representatives of other parties to discuss the organisation of the local yes campaign. Indeed the SNP group resolved that the campaign should be chaired by someone who is not an officebearer of the SNP so that we are a broad church and the SNP does not dominate

    After two weeks I’m still waiting for the courtesy of a response

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    • Which bunkum are you referring to?

      As an SNP member myself I am a little concerned to see a party official slagging off another pro-independence organisation on a public forum, whether justififed or not.. I don’t see that as the way forward.

      A fortnight is not a long time in the (Autumn 2014) scheme of things.

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  8. I see that Newsroom has moved on from describing the SNP as having fascist tendencies to being merely totalitarian (which is at least a more appropriate, if still inaccurate, description). She is of course not alone in this and various commentators having been going on about Scotland becoming a one party state equivalent to Zimbabwe (which, ironically, is slowly becoming a more pluralistic state).

    This has been brought about by the SNP winning a majority in the Scottish Parliament, representing the democratic will of the Scottish electorate. Funny how minority and coalition governments are always decried at Westminster, where first past the post is seen as the necessary tool to deliver “strong” government but when a party in Scotland achieves a majority (despite the quasi-proportional voting system) this is seen as being not “strong” but “monolithic and intolerant” to quote Newsroom. Maybe someone doesn’t like the Scots to have a clear voice and leadership in government? Heaven’s forbid, we might actually get something done for a change!

    Having experience of leadership and sharing my experiences with fellow CEOs, one of the abiding shared experiences was that, no matter how much effort was put into communication with staff, employees would invariably cite the need for improved communication as one of their top gripes. So it seems with Mr Harvie. He acknowledges that he who pays the piper etc (and the SNP are definitely the source of the referendum piper’s largesse) but I wonder if his public utterances are more about jockeying to gain more influence within the Yes campaign rather than any genuine complaint about SNP “one road” leadership? He knows that the importance of the Greens in the campaign is more about credibility than practicality: the Greens are not going to deliver much in terms of either money or foot soldiers to the campaign. I suspect that Mr Harvie recognises only too clearly the extent of his power to influence policy within the Yes campaign and is cleverly using what limited influence he does have to maximise the Green’s bargaining power within the campaign. Such is the role of a good party leader and astute politician, Expect the Green Party to formally endorse the campaign in October at their conference.

    So, are the SNP totalitarian in their leadership of the Yes campaign? What do other non-SNP groups within the campaign say? From today’s Herald:
    “Meanwhile, Colin Fox, convener of the Scottish Socialist Party, said their experience was different to that of the Greens.
    He said: “As far as we are concerned we are fully part of the Yes campaign, and my attitude is that it has been a success.”"

    Margo MacDonald (not a natural cheer leader for Mr Salmond) also expresses her firm commitment to the campaign and sees her role as a mediator and facilitator in ensuring that all of the parties within the campaign rub along together. She notes that there is a need to improve things but I don’t detect anything other than an acknowledgement that we don’t live in a perfect world.

    I’ll be interested to see how the “No” campaign get along together, given their supposed antithesis over policy except on the Union.

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  9. You are forever talking about ‘The Scots’ as if you represent everyone in this country – please take a telling for this is not the first time I have had to point it out to you – you don’t – the SNP got only 24% of the vote at the last election – so let me see – 100% minus 24% = 76%.
    OOoops – looks as if you are well outnumbered 3 to 1.

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    • Malcolm – and you are forever misrepresenting the SNP’s share of the vote at the last election. Since I have pointed this out to you on several occasions, I can only conclude that you are deliberately trying to mislead readers.

      If you read my post again, you will see I talk about the Scottish electorate and not just the Scots.

      At the risk of being tedious, let me just gently reiterate why your numbers are wrong: the SNP won almost 45% of the total vote (average of constituency and list polls). This is fact and can be seen here:

      Now, I’m not sure where you are getting a figure of 24% from but it is clearly wrong. I presumed that you were applying the turnout percentage (50%) to the share of the vote but that would suggest your maths are even worse than your analysis as that would give around 22.5% not 24% Perhaps you could explain where the 24% figure comes from (I seem to remember I asked you this the last time and you just ignored it).

      You also presume that those who did not vote for the SNP are necessarily against independence (or indeed the SNP led Scottish government). However, on the list results, 12% of the total votes (a quarter of a million votes in total) went to candidates other than the main 4 parties (SNP, Labour, Tory, Lib Dem). Given that 2 Green MSPs and Margo MacDonald were elected, we can presume a fair proportion of these votes went to them and some to the SSP – all of whom who support independence. Unfortunately the BBC does not give a sufficiently detailed analysis of those quarter of a million votes but let’s assume 2/3rds went to the Greens, MM and the SSP. The number of “other” votes on the constituency was only 21,480 so not important either way.

      What this then shows is that on the constituency vote, the SNP had 902,195 votes to the combined unionist parties votes of 922,827 and on the regional vote we have an estimated 1,037,509 votes for pro-independence parties and 953,542 for the Unionist parties (Con-Dem-Lab).

      So all in all pretty evenly split. Of course this was an election for the Scottish parliament and NOT a vote for independence so the votes cast for the pro-independence parties cannot be assumed to be “Yes” votes in the referendum but neither can all of the votes that went to the unionist parties be assumed to be “No” votes.

      I know you don’t like these facts Malcolm but they are the facts. The SNP was elected by the highest percentage of the vote of any party since the Scottish parliament was reconstituted and they can therefore be properly said to legitimately represent the desires of the Scottish electorate (at least as far as it wanted the SNP to form the Government).

      So, where do you get your figure of 24% from?

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        • OK – at least we know where the number is coming from. But do you not see why your logic in equating all of those who did not vote with being anti-SNP is, to be generous, misguided? Opinion polls suggest that support for the SNP is running at pretty much the same as the percentage of votes cast for the SNP at the election, so a proper interpretation is that those who did not vote would have voted in much the same way as those who did actually vote.

          In a democracy the only votes that count are those that are cast.

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          • “In a democracy the only votes that count are those that are cast” I can not argue against that as its fact. When people do not vote become the majority block with an increasing numbers of followers does this question the validity of the current system. Is there any comparison with voting and non voting with belonging to a type of group. Then take it a step forward and ask what happens long term when a minority group has the power. Should the first step in any democratic process inspire all participants ?.

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          • Doc – can’t argue with the fact that the voting system has empowered the SNP at Holyrood – my objection to you and yours is that you refer to the “Scottish people’ this and the ‘Scottish people ‘ that, as if you had their full backing. The SNP do not represent the Scottish people. If you had got something well over 50% of the Scottish people’s vote then maybe it would be acceptable, but by your own statements you only got 22.5% . It is arrogance to claim that you in any way represent the other 77.5%

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          • Malcolm: you are being deliberately obtuse on this issue. The Scottish Government represent the Scottish people, regardless of how many people actually voted for them or indeed who did not vote. That is the nature of democracy.

            I am not aware of ever having made a statement that ALL Scots support the SNP (that would be manifestly ridiculous). What I object to though is you counting those people who did not vote as being anti-SNP. You simply cannot make that assumption (and the polls suggest it is incorrect in any case) and I would like you to desist from what is a deliberately misleading statement that you must know is false.

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  10. It really is to be regretted that FA has yet again resorted to lazy journalism, in that they have taken an article from one of Scotland’s many anti independence newspapers and simply regurgitated it as truth. The fact is that the Scottish Green Party have not as yet had an opportunity to formally endorse the Yes campaign and had Tom Gordon or FA checked their website they would have deduced this. Martha Wardrop, Co-convener, Scottish Green Party has stated,
    “Most Greens are for independence but we feel it is important to give all members the chance to discuss how closely we associate ourselves with Yes Scotland.”
    I suspect that Patrick Harvie, who has been a member of the all party/no party Scottish Independence Convention since its inception in 2005, ( was quietly told by his party that his endorsement of the Yes campaign, was a personal one.
    The Scottish Independence Convention, will be taking a significant part in the Yes campaign, and believe that all pro independence individuals and parties are united in their single goal- the restoration of Scotland’s independence.

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  11. I think any anxieties Patrick Harvie has will settle down. The YES campaign is a newborn, forming itself from the people who want to be involved. The SNP is certainly active but its aim is to contribute, not to stage a takeover. We already have a structure and communication links, so it’s inevitable that will be one of the tools used to build the initial membership. Nonetheless, the aim is to encompass all who favour independence and that will include the whole political range.
    Some of our members will go off and do the YES campaign. Most of our members will support it, but it’s time for others to be heard and I don’t detect anyone in the SNP who would tolerate any undermining of the importance of those other, Tory, Lib Dem, Labour, Green, Socialist and no party voices.

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