Scottish Greens vie for coalition with a pledge to abandon protest politics

In campaigning for a socialist alternative to the capitalist parties in elections to the Scottish parliament on May 3, some young people have told me that they too are socialist, and that is why they will be voting for the Scottish Greens.

For some time, the Greens have presented themselves as the natural home for “left” voters—a claim that has been reinforced by Tommy Sheridan’s Solidarity and the Scottish Socialist Party, which include the party amongst the pro-independence “left” tendencies.

The organisation’s stated opposition to the Iraq war has bolstered such illusions, along with its proposals for more environmentally friendly measures to reduce pollution and deal with the threat of global warming.

At the same time, they advance themselves as possible powerbrokers in the new Scottish parliament, well placed to impart a progressive and ecologically friendly agenda within a coalition government.

But the Greens do not represent a genuine challenge to the capitalist profit system and the policies of militarist aggression and social inequality that it is creating.

There are no concrete proposals in their manifesto as to how they plan to deal with the powerful industrial and financial monopolies that dominate economic and political life. As for the Iraq war, this receives barely a mention, as if the turn by the major imperialist powers to re-divide the globe does not constitute a grave threat to mankind and the planet.

The Greens’ criticisms of the transnational corporations reflect the standpoint of a layer of the petty bourgeoisie. When they speak of social justice and equality, this is not to be achieved through the abolition of the profit system and class exploitation but through localisation and smaller-scale production.

All the scientific and technological conditions exist to satisfy the wants and desires of the world’s peoples and eradicate hunger, poverty and disease. But instead, the Greens speak of their commitment to “living within our means” and the creation of “sustainable communities.”

Under conditions of mass urbanisation, such a demand is profoundly retrogressive. In opposition to the globalisation of production, they propose a retreat into national “self-sufficiency” or economic nationalism, which is why in Scotland they are the proponents of separation from England and Wales.

The social consequences of this policy are made plain in the Greens’ economic proposals. Insofar as these are set out in any detail, they are essentially aimed at redirecting greater swathes of public spending into small businesses or “Social Enterprises.”

“We will improve the ability of small businesses to tender for public sector contracts,” the manifesto states, and “ensure at least 10 percent of public spending goes through social enterprises by 2012.”

Such a proposal defines the Greens’ essential political role. Not only does this leave the vast bulk of spending to be directed into the hands of the major corporations, but it also provides a smokescreen that allows this state of affairs to continue unchallenged.

Labour’s deepening of the Conservative policy of privatising social services through the so-called Private Finance Initiative (PFI) has met with increasing opposition, not least within sections of the ruling establishment who consider it too costly and wasteful. Combined with popular hostility to what is rightly seen as backdoor privatisation, the search is on for a new means to legitimise public subventions to private corporations.

Hence the advocacy of “not-for-profit” companies, “municipal bonds” and “social enterprises” in the manifestos of virtually all the parties. None of these measures represent a fundamental intrusion into private ownership of the means of production or the drive for profit. They are merely a more roundabout way of diverting public monies raised through taxation on working people into the private sector, with selected nongovernmental organisations, religious and community groups and charities competing for contracts against specially created private enterprises. With the banks reaping the dividends, there will be constant demands for efficiency and cost-cutting through voluntary labour that allows for job losses elsewhere.

To the extent that the Greens can claim any socialist policy, this appears to be based on their support for a “Citizens Income.”

On the Young Green’s web site, under the headline “Is there a Green Road to Socialism?,” Peter McColl describes Citizens Income (CI) as being at the heart of creating “a society in which the means of production is harnessed to the good of all in society.” This “would ensure that everyone was given enough of a share of the collective resources to live happily, and could provide a level of security to individuals that would eliminate the psycho-social stress of poverty.”

The Scottish Greens manifesto outlines its support for a “citizens income scheme, which would replace all tax allowances and most welfare benefits” and “set at a level to provide basic shelter, food, clothing and heating.”

But existing welfare benefits and tax benefits already supposedly provide for a subsistence income. When I rang the Greens’ press office in Edinburgh to ask how its proposal differed from the current set-up, I was left none the wiser. The main emphasis appeared to be on scrapping the existing benefit system—mentioned several times—which “costs a fortune to administer.”

The press office explained that CI would be set at an unspecified amount and payable to all. Any money earned from employment would be in addition to CI, although there would be an increase in the top rate of tax for those earning above a certain level. CI would help supplement those on a low income, the press office explained, whilst for the unemployed it would form their basic income and encourage them “to get additional work.”

The press office pointed me to the Citizen’s Income web site for further information on the policy. This explains that the purpose of the CI is to “overcome the failings of the present welfare state.” This is “absurdly complicated and inefficient,” it states, leaving many in poverty and preventing others from taking up low-paid work.

The answer is to simplify the tax and benefit system, incorporating all existing taxes into one system and abolishing income tax allowances and relief. The money saved from existing social security benefits and on administration—together with greater revenue to the Exchequer “because the income tax base would be wider”—would enable an initial CI to be paid amounting to “£18 for adults and £15 for children at 2001 prices and incomes.”

Thus, they declare without embarrassment, the “idea of a safety net which can be relied on but which does not stifle initiative and incentives would become a real possibility.”

Of course, these are figures from the CI web site, not the Greens (who do not quantify their proposal). But an unemployed person could not possibly subsist on £18 per week, let alone a mother with children. The aim is clearly not only to cut administration costs but to force people to accept poverty wages, with the only beneficiaries the Treasury and employers.

It is significant that the Citizens Income web site points up the recent report on “Welfare in the Future” by David Freud, former columnist for the Financial Times and senior corporate financier at UBS bank.

Freud was commissioned by the Blair government to look at ways of driving even more people off welfare and into work. Amongst his proposals was the move towards merging existing tax and benefit systems—“complexity in the benefit system acts as a disincentive to entering work”—which the Citizens Income web site states is of “particular interest.”

In the article by McColl cited above, he writes with enthusiasm about the influence currently wielded by the Greens in Sweden, New Zealand and the Netherlands. He is, however, silent on the Greens’ other “success” story—the seven years in which the party shared power with the Social Democrats in Germany.

During this period, the Greens helped pave the way for a dramatic transformation in German social and foreign policy.

Domestically, the Greens championed then-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s Agenda 2010—the greatest attack on social welfare in the history of the German Federal Republic—the consequences of which have been an unprecedented increase in poverty and social inequality.

As foreign minister, Joschka Fischer of the Greens opened the way for German military missions abroad after being restricted to a purely domestic defensive role in the decades since the Second World War. Fischer declared, “There is no Green foreign policy, but only a German foreign policy.”

The party’s opposition to the Iraq war was purely tactical and motivated by the interests of German imperialism, which was not minded to aid the efforts of the United States to gain control over Middle East oil supplies. Otherwise, the Greens have supported German participation in military adventures only sometimes mounted under the mantle of “humanitarian” operations. The party supported both NATO’s intervention in Kosovo and German participation in the US invasion of Afghanistan.

For their part, the Scottish Greens speak of replacing UK soldiers in Iraq with “UN peace-keeping forces from countries not involved in the original invasion.” In other words, the very body that legitimised the intervention against Afghanistan and then rubber-stamped the occupation of Iraq is to be entrusted with safeguarding the “rights” of the Iraqi people.

As their record in Germany and elsewhere demonstrates, the closer the party gets to power the more it begins to distance itself from any socially progressive cause.

With his eye on the prize of seats in a Scottish National Party-led coalition, Greens Campaign Director Mark Ruskell said a vote for his party should be for “progress not protest”—a warning to voters that they should not expect any radical inroads against big business and that his party would work alongside any of the capitalist parties to implement their plans to position Scotland as a cheap-labour, low-tax haven for international finance.

The Greens’ posturing as a party of the left can only take place in the absence of a genuine socialist movement of the working class.

That is why, in our election campaign, the SEP has sought to make clear that the desperate problems facing working people cannot be seriously addressed without a fundamental challenge to the profit system and the domination of political life by representatives of major global corporations. For precisely the same reason, there can be no serious addressing of the threat to the world’s environment without advocating a system of planned production for need, not profit, that would enable humanity to tackle global warming, pollution and other forms of ecological degradation.