Green Around the Gills

Source: Derek Bateman Green Around the Gills

As you’ll understand, a retired gentleman has more to do with his time than follow the daily tittle-tattle in the gutter Press. What with checking the share prices and giving the Burgundy bottles in the cellar a half turn, there’s barely a moment worth wasting on the verbal histrionics of the hacks.

But on putting my feet up on the ottoman in the salon yesterday and opening my Herald – from whom I am in receipt of pension provision after many years dedicated service – I was struck by a tale from Holyrood with the hysterical headline Bloody Nose for SNP.

This was one of those exaggerated coups de theatre common in the Lilliputian world of the politicians in which one gang manoeuvres the other lot to catch them with their pants down so they can point and laugh. If I follow, it means that decisions made by regional health authorities to modify services, no doubt under the relentless burden of reducing budgets, must be ratified by the government. Not, you understand, to change a single one of those decisions but merely to embarrass the government who face either the ignominy of being pointed and laughed at or else will be obliged to ‘defy the will of parliament’. And this is serious politics, we’re told, at least the kind that causes smirks of satisfaction among the plotters.

But if the changes to health services are not to be made, what I wondered is the alternative. I could find no answers from the plotters. If, as everyone agrees, the Westminster cuts to Scotland’s operating budget necessitate spending reductions, where are they to fall if not on some health services which, as I understand, will not in any case disappear but simply gravitate to other centres. They are being rationalised to make better use of dwindling resources. Unfortunate, of course, if you like all your services in a local hospital but too expensive in the current climate, remembering that 85 per cent of the budget is still operated by a London Treasury hell-bent on shredding public spending. In any case, if you face a complex operation, do you want it done in a specialist centre by an expert operating crew who do it every day, or in your local base where the surgeon does the job once a year? Seriously…

So the opposition had a laugh at the government’s expense and Kezia remembered to press the right button this time. You may wonder why that is a ‘splash’ story at all given that the vote changes nothing of substance but the answer to that lies in the newsgathering judgement of an editorial meeting which might as well be Entertainments Committee of the Masonic Lodge as far as we are concerned.

I daresay ‘government loses vote’ is news of a kind but hardly a shock when the party in power has no majority. So it would pass as just one more day at the coalface for Bob Servant and his juvenile chums except for one detail that caught my eye. The result was 64 to 62 which, even by my shaky maths, must mean the motion that defeated the SNP was backed by the Green Party. And indeed it was.

Good for them, I thought. They are quite right to vote to their hearts’ content and for anything they deem appropriate. That’s how parties are supposed to work. If they want to embarrass the government then they should go right ahead. But was this the same Green Party that leafleted my house asking for my second vote last year?

In the log basket I found an old Guardian I use for lighting the fire. There, in May, just before the vote, was Mr Harvie of the Greens. The copy read…. ‘see the Greens as a way of maintaining pressure on the nationalists to match their progressive words with progressive deeds. Bold is the word Harvie uses when he talks about pushing the SNP beyond their comfort zone. At the same time, he is clear that the Greens favour constructive opposition…’ Interesting. He is quoted thus: ‘we’ll be able to do more if people have that sense of boldness and elect a parliament with a good strong group of Green MSPs.’

Well, I agree it’s bold – voting with the Tories to back Anas Sarwar and Kezia Dugdale could hardly be anything else when you tell people you’re a radical. And it’s certainly keeping the SNP on their toes. In or out of their comfort zone.

Can’t help but wonder though at those thousands of nationalists lured into handing their second vote to the Greens because they were told they were blood brothers and soul sisters when it appears they may be more like false friends.

I totally respect the Greens and their agenda but I don’t vote for it. I didn’t vote for it in May because I wanted an SNP majority to prevent exactly the kind of petty gamesmanship we saw this week. If the vote was on a substantive motion, for example to allow fracking to go ahead, I expect Greens to do their duty irrespective of warm words to the SNP pre-vote. But I don’t expect them to play along with the glib and shallow Sarwar in point-scoring. I don’t expect them to show us how bold, daring and progressive they are by voting with the Tories. I don’t expect them to overturn health decisions made by local boards in the interests of the people they serve. Despite my cynicism, expressed forcefully before May last year about spreading votes around, even I am dismayed.

I suspect, had I lent them my vote, I would be fuming. A letter to the editor of the Telegraph would be prepared.

When the Green group failed to back Sturgeon for First Minister I took it to be a statement of intent that ‘we won’t be lobby fodder’. Churlish but forgivable. The pattern emerging is disconcerting.

Yet it won’t be long before Greens are again asking for votes under STV in the council elections and to be fair, I normally deliver for them a second preference. I don’t close my mind to doing that again but I’ll be weighing it more carefully than usual after this week.

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