Interview with Scottish Greens leader Patrick Harvie and candidate Christy Mearns

By Sophie Thirkell

What influence do you think the Green party will have if SNP are just under the majority?

PH: “One of the things I really hope about Glasgow City Council is that if the SNP do as well as people expect, we don’t just see the council pass from the hands of one big party straight to another, I hope we see a more diverse and democratic council. The track record of the Greens, whether at council level or the Scottish parliament, is that we challenge government when we think they need to be challenged we do it constructively wherever we can be constructive, where we think they need to go further, we push them and that’s what gets results and that’s what I’d like to see on Glasgow City Council instead of just one big party running the show as though they have some divine right to govern.”

CM: “It means we can do something similar to what we have done in Holyrood at the moment where we have pushed them to go much further. We have pushed them to be bolder and we have been in quite a good position in many ways. We have had a lot more influence as well as a lot more coverage of our ideas and of our party so it’s been great. Although it has confused people at times in thinking we just agree with everything that the SNP do which certainly is not correct. We will support them if it means we can be constructive with that support and make them go further. We’re not just going to say no no no to everything they suggest if it means we can get a better deal. We don’t do tribal politics, we don’t just vote along partisan lines. We vote in a way that helps the people here.”

 

What would be your main policy? What would you want to enforce first of all?

CM: “With more green councillors we can agitate for more change. We can make sure that we are addressing air pollution in the city we can make sure we are raising these issues and make sure we are being heard. In order to tackle air pollution, we propose a low emissions zone throughout the city centre which would be a way to bring down air pollution by reducing congestion in the city. To come into the city with a highly polluting car you would have to pay for that privilege and that would incentivise more people leaving their cars or bringing in electric cars. Making sure that we have a bus and transport system that’s actually fit for the people who live here, that’s affordable, that’s clean and that is not purely based on profit which at the moment our bus service is. Some people I spoke to in Anderston have a bus come to them once an hour and that’s not good enough. The bus is very expensive and we need to incentivise people to use public transport, therefore make it affordable and clean.”

 

Why have the Greens gained so much more popularity over the last few years?

PH: “We had the most extraordinary opportunity in the independence referendum, not just to talk about whether people were for or against independence, but the point was to talk about what kind of country we wanted to be, maybe a more egalitarian country. That was a huge opportunity to reach voters and members of the public who hadn’t maybe thought much for what the greens stood for aside from a few core issues like climate change.

It was a real opportunity and saw our membership surge hugely and over the last few years. We have put that new capacity to good use and we got more organised every year and more experienced at campaigning.  So this year we are seeing really active local grassroots campaigns in many more parts of Scotland than we’ve ever been able to run before.”

CM: “I think since the Green Yes campaign we had a lot more people who were on the progressive side of the political spectrum. A huge surge in membership, people being engaged in politics for the first time. A lot of young people who want an alternative to represent them, a party who is grassroots, has strong values, who demonstrates what they do in terms of gender balance. We are standing in every local authority area in Scotland for the first time ever.”

PH: “We have spent a lot of energy and a lot of resources on the Holyrood election last year and the local elections this year. We remain a small party so I think I am not giving away too many secrets by saying what we do in general election by nature of necessity is going to have to be tightly focused on a very clear message about the kind of change that the country needs.”

 

What do you think about the attacks on Sturgeon in the media by the Tories?

PH: “The Tories are trying to pull off a trick that in some ways the SNP have pulled off over the last 15 years which is to become an all things to all people, Broadchurch kind of party, but just on the other constitutional side.

Although we have some common ground with the SNP on issues such as independence, trident and opposition to nuclear energy, they do have a pro-big business message for one audience and a pro-social justice message for another audience. They’ve got a pro-renewables message for one part of the country and a pro-oil and gas message in another part of the country. The position is not always consistent and I think that’s what the Tories are trying to become now, its trying to eat into the assumption that traditional, working class heartlands and purely on the basis that the party will stand up for the union who care about that above everything else whilst still pursuing a hard right economic agenda that is what the Tories are all about at the end of the day.

“I hope people see through that, I hope the people see that as an opportunity to challenge the Tories on what their government is actually doing right now. Shifting through a huge amount of the wealth of our economy and away from the poorest third from our society and toward the richer third of society. They are driving an inequality wedge through our society and they are pursuing a hard Brexit agenda which is going to be damaging to a huge number of the social, environmental and economical protections that we had built up as members of the EU. I hope people see through what they are trying to pull off, challenge them and actually cast a vote for something positive and carry a hopeful message for society that we can become more sustainable, more equal and investing more in the future we deserve.”

 

What are the Greens going to do to try and tackle homelessness in Glasgow City Centre?

PH: “Homelessness itself is a hugely complex issue, it’s not just about bricks and mortar it’s about services as well. It’s about people working with people to try and prevent homelessness in the first place. Giving people options, giving people stability and it’s also about transforming the welfare system so there are issues at UK, Scottish and local government level.

“Resource is absolutely critical, if we strip our councils of funding those services won’t be there and the investment won’t be there in the housing that’s necessary. We also need intervene in the housing market a bit more assertively things like the private rental sector its grown hugely over the last decade and a half. Vast numbers of people are now left with no other option but to go into the private rental sector where owner occupation is unaffordable and social rented housing is unavailable to them.

“We need to be willing to say, ‘look, if the private rented sector wants to be responsible for the huge amount of housing need in our society then it needs to be regulated according to need.’ There are good landlords out there don’t get me wrong, but some people are being fleeced for substandard accommodation and that’s not acceptable.

“There’s now legislation that’s been passed to allow councils to put in rent pressure zones. Green councillors will be championing the cause of that in places like Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen where rent has spiralled out of all proportion to owners actual costs. So we’ll be looking to make sure housing is affordable and services are in place and we will be absolutely challenging anything that cuts to the welfare system which the UK government are currently pursuing which are going to leave people at risk of future homelessness.”

 

What about plans for bike lanes in the city?

CM: “We have said for years and years at all levels of government that we want 10% of transport budget spent allocated to active travel. We think that is a sensible figure if we want to invest in the future and invest in clean transport. The SNP are also now saying that at council level which is great, but slightly bizarre since it’s not the case in the Scottish government which is a far larger budget. With 10% of the transport budget dedicated to active travel then the council can start properly planning cycle lanes. Not just peace meal whenever a pot of money becomes available where a new cycle lane will be slapped somewhere without real thought put behind it. And so that it actually meets the needs of the cyclists who use it, cause at the minute it doesn’t.”

 

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