The Scottish Greens have joined the club of Irish, Austrian and German Green parties who have established their politics in the governing centre for the benefit of capital, says David Jamieson.
The mocking epithet of Green parties as ‘Neoliberals with Windfarms’ was never so apt. In Scotland, the backing of the Greens for a giant auction of renewable energy assets to big oil and multinationals confirms that the party shares the curse of its European co-traditionists. They have finally joined the club of the Irish, Austrian, German and other national parties who have established their politics in the governing centre and to the benefit of capital.
The ScotWind development (17 January) issued leases to some of the world’s biggest corporations for windfarm development all around the Scottish coast. Scottish Crown estates – a public company reporting to the Scottish Government – netted an underwhelming £700 million for leases to develop 17 huge projects representing 25GigaWatts, well over the estimated sale of 10GW. The final price per unit was far below what was projected, and this in itself indicates the power imbalance between the Scottish Government and the bidders.
Those now in control of Scotland’s seabeds and winds are titans of industry. British Petroleum and Shell are among the biggest winners. Scotland’s new masters are notorious ‘greenwashers’, laundering oil money through renewable investments. They are also overwhelmingly foreign owned and registered corporations, subject to little meaningful oversight by the Scottish Government, let alone the Scottish people, whose society will now be transformed by their activities.
Defenders of the scheme were quick to insist that the investors would need to live up to various obligations under the agreements. The response can only be – whose going to make them?
Of course, responsibility for the auction lies with the SNP leadership. But coalition means collective responsibility, and the Scottish Green party fulsomely celebrated the outcome of the sale. Both Green ministers, Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater, hold briefs covering areas of ecological policy, and Slater an economic portfolio. So this is their work, and there’s no getting away from it.
This is only the latest abandonment of Green policies on the alter of a couple of ministerial posts. In the December Scottish budget, environmental and other supposed Green priority areas like housing took the worst cuts. Environmental regulation, transport, planning for net zero, forestry and much else all took a pounding. Green leverage in the coalition appears truly feeble – though it must be said that Green support for cuts budgets long predates their actual membership of the government.
The fundamentally duplicitous nature of Green politics was on full display on the day of the auction announcement. Three hours before she tweeted support for the sale, Slater shared a message from campaigning journalist George Monbiot that read: “Huge fortunes are innately undemocratic, as economic power translates into political power. If we want a world that works for all of us, we need to level down the billionaires.”
Then came the Green press release: “This is the biggest industrial opportunity Scotland has had for decades…”. An opportunity, that is, for the billionaires she thinks should be ‘levelled down’.
Very obviously, government ministers feel they don’t need to worry about their hypocrisy being examined and this, in large part, owes to the tactic of declaring a ‘public conversation’ about the mistreatment of the rulers by the ruled, any time the ruling comes in for criticism.
On the day of the historic betrayal of their supposed political mission, Green communications focused on something else – revelations that Slater made a list of demands over her working hours at the COP26 conference, that her party and government branded ‘our last best chance to save the world’. Slater, we were told, was being victimised by her critics, a now familiar defence of pro-big business politicians.
It’s worth a side note that Harvie himself was conspicuously low-key on the day of the announcement. Unlike his colleagues, he did not share the ‘good news’ about the sale on social media, nor defend Slater from criticism. It’s a going theory that he uses Slater to absorb bad news, as when she rose in parliament to oppose a National Energy Company – another major concession of the Greens to the coalition. Slater was also tasked with announcing yet another delay in the Green-backed bottle return scheme.
This is what modern public relations looks like. It’s not politics at all, but a simulacrum whose purpose is to paralyse criticism (scarce though it might be anyway) among politics-adjacent professional layers. Journalists, academics, lawyers and educators are much more likely to believe we really do ‘need to talk about’ an economy minister’s workload on the day she conducts a firesale of our natural assets to monopoly capital. The well-practiced scepticism of the wider public, rather than reflecting dangerous populism, merely reflects absence from this public culture.
Finally, the ideological practice of environmentalism must now be questioned. We are watching the ‘Just Transition’ unfold before us – workers are losing their jobs, big multinational capital is cashing in, and Scots are losing our energy sovereignty and security. This is the ‘New Green Deal’ (an awkward mutation of ‘Green New Deal’ adopted by Nicola Sturgeon, presumably to detract from the state-planning implications of the former) the First Minister promised us. Presumably it’s also the ‘wellbeing economy’ and, who knows, also the ‘circular economy’ referred to in Slater’s job title.
The concern must be that we are taking green capitalism – exploitative of our people and injurious to democracy – and painting it red. The principal consequence of leftish rhetoric here is to cover a sprint to the right. And no one seriously concerned for the environment, or its protection and development for human need, can leave that work to the Scottish Greens.
What we are witnessing with ScotWind and other major projects is an economic transformation towards the next phase of global capitalism. Right now, all the signs indicate this will be bourne on the backs of working class people, and for the spoils of an emergent green super-rich (based on the legacy profits of oil). What will future generations think of the cheerleaders, and ‘progressive’ architects of its opening phase?