If you do, of course. I raise the question because at Scottish Green Party conference this past weekend, we were discussing who should get to decide whether we accepted a coalition deal. Conference, after a lively discussion which is continuing over here on Bright Green Scotland, we decided that we wanted both the Party’s National Council and an EGM open to all members to endorse any coalition deal.
I spoke up (no, really, try and pretend to be surprised) for the motion, because I think that, fundamentally, going into a coalition, particularly as a junior partner which, realistically, is the most likely for us Greens right now, means breaking election pledges, and that is something that needs serious consideration from people who aren’t steeped in the discussions with other parties, hopped up on the heady air of the political bubble.
Councillor Martin Ford, however, takes the other view, and takes it forcefully. I hope I’m paraphrasing him reasonably* when I say that his point was that voters vote for candidates expecting them to seize and use power to the maximum, and that turning down an offer of coalition was a betrayal of what voters want when they vote for us.
And it made me think: really? When people vote for Greens, particularly in Scotland where we have small (at the moment!) numbers on councils and in the Scottish Parliament, what do they think is going to happen to their vote?
I think it’s safe to say that, while Green voters may well dream of a Green majority government, it’s not in the sole hope of that happening that they entrust their votes to us. Something other than (short of?) government is clearly an aspiration worth voting for, too. Must that be to be as close to the centres of power as possible? What’s it worth laying aside to have a finger in that pie?
To me, the other option is more persuasive. We don’t have all-or-nothing presidential government. A vote that is unlikely to contribute to electing the First Minister is not a wasted vote in a Parliamentary (or council) system. MSPs from a non-governing party can develop and introduce legislation, affect policy, lead rebellions. And, of course, do the consituency/ case work that is the less public side of being a representative.
Formal arrangements short of coalition, such as “confidence and supply” are another way to influence Government without, quite, being part of it. But this isn’t so much about what’s possible as what people want when they cast their vote.
The elephant in the room is, of course, the ConDem coalition. Did most of the people who voted LibDem in May this year think that their vote would lead to the implementation of most Tory election pledges? I think probably not. Do most of those people think those Tory policies are a price worth paying for the concessions made to the LibDems? I will not even try to get inside the mind of a LibDem voter, but I think it’s certainly not a definite “yes”.
So, people who vote Green, or, I suppose, for other parties unlikely to form a majority government, what do you think you’re voting for? Good people whom you trust, as close to the heart of power as they can get? For the manifesto policies to be implemented? How? For meaningful opposition to other parties you disagree with? For good local representation?
What’s in a vote? I think if we asked everyone to write on their ballot papers what hopes, dreams and dreads they were putting into that simple cross or row of numbers, we’d get as many answers as papers. But I also think it’s a question we need to ask, as we face a future where we will probably have chances to influence government in any number of ways.
*James thinks I have overstated MF’s views, by the way, and not mentioned that he’d rule out a lot of coalitions.