Trip to the Green party conference

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 16 October 2015 in Comment

Beards, Mexican waves & the Fracking Dragon: Liam Kirkaldy's trip to the Scottish Green party conference

Arriving at the SECC, a man wandered the car park picking up litter. It was the Green party conference, and there could be no rubbish.

Inside, Caroline Lucas stood nodding sagely while a party member whispered away. Land reform campaigner and green candidate Andy Wightman wandered around in a bright green hoody, looking like a tech savvy wizard, giving a perpetual thumbs-up.

The environmental NGOs were busy. In fact by lunchtime, the RSPB stall was surrounded by crumbs, presumably in an effort to attract birds. Had they come, the birds would surely have been made welcome.


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Moving into the hall, a ripple of excitement ran through the 700 or so attendees. It was the moment everyone had been waiting for. It was time to ‘Meet your Greens’.

And meet them we did. We met Maggie Chapman – a woman so committed to renewable energy that her body reportedly runs on nothing but food, liquid and air – who told us “the rent is too damn high”. Next we met Mark Ruskell, who said the Greens “put planet first and political expediency second”. Which may explain why the Greens are not in power and the planet is melting.

Then Patrick Harvie took to the stage. Criticising the way power had been taken from communities and handed over to political parties during the Smith process, he said: “The question of independence may well be put again, but let’s say that the people of Scotland are in charge of that.

“We propose a citizens’ initiative so that it is the public who say when they are ready for that question to be put, not political parties carving up a deal behind closed doors.”

Citizens’ initiative. Classic Greens. Though it wasn’t exactly clear how a ‘citizens’ initiative’ on another referendum differs from a referendum on another referendum. Or a petition. And is it OK for a party to tell people they have the power to decide on another referendum? Surely it should be up to the people – not political parties – to decide if they have the power to decide to hold another referendum?

At times the Greens appear unaware they’re a political party and not a campaign group, in much the same way that a dog doesn’t know it’s not a person. Harvie described the surge in membership as “bewildering”.

Caroline Lucas followed, lamenting Westminster politics, and revealing she had seen MPs physically shoved into the voting lobbies by spin doctors.

This, she said, “is why you have MPs literally hiding in toilets because they don’t want to be counted”. Later, John Finnie revealed he had made a deal with Harvie and Johnstone never to hide in the toilet. You learn a lot at conferences.

Calling for change, Lucas said the future can either happen to us, or happen because of us. Though a critic might suggest it does both.

Moving forward – into a future that happened both to Caroline Lucas and because of her – Isla O’Reilly took to the stage, choosing to keep things simple. “I am second on the Highland list,” she said, “I like small cuddly things like puppies, children, and Patrick Harvie.”

This was a popular policy – even if Patrick Harvie never looks that cuddly. He looks more like a sea turtle in a waistcoat. Sure, you’d put one in your parliament, but would you cuddle it?

Next, O’Reilly demanded a Mexican wave from the crowd – who seemed happy enough to oblige. Then it happened again. And again. By the third time, surely questions were being asked about whether O’Reilly could be trusted with power? Authoritarianism almost always starts with audience participation. Even Saddam Hussein would have stopped at two.

But there was no time to ask tough questions. It was time to get to grips with key issues. It was time to talk about beards.

Now, on the one hand, the discussion didn’t go on for as long as you might have expected – probably only half of the time the conference spent talking about soil. On the other, given everyone agreed they liked beards, it was hard to say why we were talking about it at all.

You have to hand it to the Greens, they can really fit a lot of weird stuff into two days. From the impromptu chorus of ‘Happy Birthday’ for Alison Johnstone (it was her “birthday weekend”), to the motion regarding Green space travel policy (it was complicated), they covered loads.

At one point everyone even went outside to hold hands in a confusing protest against unconventional gas extraction. Maggie Chapman then tried to make up a chant for candidate Ross Greer, but, apparently unable to find anything suitable to rhyme with ‘ginger’, gave up and walked off.

Meanwhile a dragon watched on. Or someone in a dragon onesie, at least. It was, apparently, the ‘Fracking Dragon’, a mythical beast employed by the Greens to conduct complex, high level energy policy negotiations in its pyjamas. Next to the dragon stood a frog. Or someone in a frog onesie, at least. Was it a ‘Fracking Frog’? What was its policy role? As the party filed back inside for Chapman’s closing speech, a member looked at the frog and explained somewhat sheepishly. “Well, she felt left out.”

The car park was still spotless.

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