Sketch: The Scottish Green Party campaign launch
Professor Adam Tomkins lurked outside the Waitrose on Glasgow’s Byres Road. Flanked by a broadcast camera and assistant, the Tory candidate stood in a tweed coat and handed out leaflets.
Scottish Green party members, on their way to the party’s campaign launch, had to walk right past him to get to the venue over the road. What was his game? Had Ruth Davidson sent him to try and steal Green support? Is that how fluid Scottish politics has become? Standing under grey skies, the Tory candidate was living proof the campaign for the 2016 election has begun in earnest.
The Scottish Greens’ had launched their general election campaign in an organic café last year. This time round it was in the Oran Mor – a 19th century church converted into a bar/arts venue.
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The audience wandered to the top of a long, winding spiral staircase. Sarah Beattie-Smith – candidate for the south of Scotland – stood smiling at the door, like the world’s least threatening bouncer.
The room, at the top of the building, had stained glass windows and old gothic busts lining the walls. It still looked very much like a church. Pillars, lining the path to the stage, had been lit up green for the occasion.
Between the arches and the lighting, it was all pretty dramatic – like the audience had been lured into Patrick Harvie’s lair. Who knows what he had been plotting in there.
The press gathered in front of the stage – though they need not have come. It turned out, perhaps in response to a lack of coverage by the mainstream media, that the Scottish Greens had produced their own newspaper. It was called “A Better Scotland”. Coincidentally, that later turned out to be the theme of Harvie’s speech.
The paper was done in a tabloid format, with pictures of Harvie and Zara Kitson, the Glasgow regional candidate, smiling on the front. “Inside”, it promised, we could, “hear from our top candidates about why they’re standing and what a bolder Holyrood means to them”.
It was hard to know what to make of it. On the one hand it was deeply biased and didn’t really contain any facts. But in other ways it was nothing like a real newspaper at all. Certainly it seemed to have a surprising degree of access to Green candidates for an independent news outlet. Also, it was only four pages long.
But there was no time to debate the freedom of the press any further. Harvie took to the stage, presumably to explain why he was standing and what a bolder Holyrood means for him.
He stood in front of a green backdrop, displaying the new campaign message: “A better Scotland needs a better Holyrood”. Camera bulbs flashed. Harvie shuffled his feet.
It turned out details would be fairly sparse. This was the campaign launch, not the manifesto launch, and there were basically no specifics unveiled.
Instead he highlighted some key policies areas, promising to create 204,000 new jobs in green industries, improve Scotland’s housing, ban fracking, increase community empowerment, introduce a ‘Carers Wage’ and guarantee a job, training or education for every school-leaver in Scotland.
Continuing, he said: “We believe Scotland can guarantee that future for our young people. That Scotland can care for all of our people. We believe that Scotland can ban fracking once and for all. Scotland can unlock the power in our communities. Scotland can provide the good homes that all of our people need. And Scotland can create those hundreds of thousands of new sustainable jobs for an economy that will last into the future.”
“Scotland can”. It felt like there was some sort of theme emerging here. But what was it?
He continued: “The theme of our campaign is Scotland can, because we believe that Scotland can be a better country. We believe that Scottish voters deserve that better Scotland, and to do that we need a bolder Holyrood. Greens are ready to make that happen.”
Watching him do his thing, it was easy to question why Harvie has not been likened to Barack Obama before. Possibly because he looks and sounds nothing like Barack Obama. Still, the slogan went down well with the crowd.
And fair enough. It was passionate stuff. Harvie had whipped them up ahead of the election and they were good to go. What next? Everyone stood around awkwardly for a while. A few people mingled around. A media manager tried to get the candidates together for a photo, but they had all wandered off.
Eventually they were herded back together for photos, before being unleashed, out of the venue and into the campaign.
The message was clear – the Greens want to win a record number of MSPs in May. Whether they can, or not, remains to be seen. By the time they streamed out into the street, Tomkins had gone.
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