Yes and No campaigns got it wrong, say pro-independence Greens in Scotland

Greens favour separate currency pegged to sterling that gradually breaks free

Patrick Harvie, co-convenor of the Scottish Greens: “My least preferred outcome is an incredibly narrow win for Yes because the other side will not accept the legitimacy of it.” Photograph: Mark Hennessy

Patrick Harvie, co-convenor of the Scottish Greens: “My least preferred outcome is an incredibly narrow win for Yes because the other side will not accept the legitimacy of it.” Photograph: Mark Hennessy

Tue, Aug 12, 2014, 01:00

Patrick Harvie, the public face of Scotland’s Green Party, hurries out of the lift at his office in St Enoch Square, Glasgow, holding a bicycle saddle.

Harvie, who as co-convenor “but not the leader” of the Scottish Greens, is part of the Yes campaign dominated by the Scottish National Party.

By general consent he has performed well – partly because he has been able to speak to a relatively narrow strand of public opinion compared to the SNP’s broad church.

Neverthless, he believes the SNP’s Alex Salmond has been too cautious: “He has certainly emphasised the so-called reassurance strategy to a far greater extent than I would have liked.

“He has emphasised at every turn the things that will stay the same after independence, rather than emphasising the things that will change,” Harvie says.

Last week’s TV debate between Salmond and former Labour chancellor of the exchequer Alistair Darling was a bad moment for the Yes campaign, Harvie accepts. “The currency question should not be a difficult question to answer,” he says while accepting that Salmond sought to reassure voters fearful of the unknown.

Wider audience

Harvie favours Ireland’s post-Independence model: a separate currency pegged to sterling that gradually – “when conditions are right” – breaks free of London.

The referendum has given the Scottish Greens a wider audience, even if their relationship with the SNP inside the Yes campaign has been fractious at times.

Like the SNP, it believes the Trident nuclear missiles at Faslane on the Clyde should go but disagrees with it on the subject of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, believing an independent Scotland should be free of it.

The Greens also want higher taxes: “Labour is right, saying that you can’t have Scandinavian levels of services and US levels of tax. We’re for the Scandinanvian option in both,” he says.

Life after the referendum, particularly if it is defeated, will pose challenges for the SNP, which has been the majority party in the Scottish parliament since 2011. “The SNP is a very broad church. There are people on the left and the right; people who are passionate environmentalists, people who are climate sceptics.

“There are people who are socially conservative and those who are not: all brought together by one over-riding principle – independence. It’ll make things interesting for them,” he says.

While the SNP’s “cautious” campaign has frustrated Harvie, the pro-union group Better Together’s campaign has depressed him. “I am convinced that I could make a better case for the union if we all swapped places for a day,” he says, adding that the Greens have never portrayed independence “as the land of milk and honey”.

Salmond’s failings last week during the TV debate helped to mask weaknesses in the No side’s argument, since Scotland is not being promised the authority to set its own economic policy if it votes No, says Harvie.

“They are talking, sure, about transferring the responsibility to manage the effects of Westminster policy making, but only so that Scotland can administer cuts decided by others,” he says.

The campaign will be won on the ground, not in TV debates: “The undecided clearly see the attraction of independence; if they didn’t they would have ruled it out already.

“Something is holding them back. Maybe it is confidence: the confidence they feel in their politicians, in their communities, in Scotland, in themselves,” he says.

Harvie can imagine a victory for either side: “My least preferred outcome is an incredibly narrow win for Yes because the other side will not accept the legitimacy of it.

“Scottish negotiators would be playing off an incredibly weak hand in the transition negotiations that would have to happen if it is a 50.1 per cent result.

“A very narrow loss will still be seen as a dramatic step forward for the cause,” he goes on.

The people who would agree with that most of all are Scottish Greens.

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