Interview: Patrick Harvie, Scottish Green Party co-convenor

Principled, dedicated and openly bisexual, Patrick Harvie seemingly defies the stereotype of being a politician in 21st Century Britain. Since 2003 he has been a member of the Scottish Parliament and co-convenor of the Scottish Green Party. During the Scottish Independence referendum his message of social justice, equality and the removal of Trident from Scotland struck a chord with many, most notably young voters. 

As Scottish Greens announce their largest ever slate of candidates for the forthcoming elections, I sat down with him to discuss The Daily Mail, the “green surge” and what’s next for a post-referendum Scotland.

The Daily Mail once described you as the “voice of the irresponsible, left-led, anti-family, anti-Christian, gal whales against the bomb coalition”. How do you respond to that?

I think it is hysterical! You know, the Daily Mail are what they are and they have the agenda that they have. One of the things I’ve noticed about folk who read it is that a lot of them don’t take it anymore seriously than I do. It has a pernicious impact I think, on the promotion of misogynistic values, the promotion of homophobia and very often racist and anti-immigration attitudes. But I think very often the best thing to do is poke fun at them and make people find them foolish rather than get angry.

71% of 16-17 year olds voted yes to independence. How would you describe the attitude towards politics in Scotland, particularly for young people?

I think young people have a right to be very angry with my generation and those who came before for the state of the planet, the economy; the state of our society. The referendum was a chance, particularly for first-time voters, to vote on something that really mattered. Something that wasn’t just different versions of the same product at election time, but a defining choice about the country you want to build. Something of that energy is still there and we need to try and harness it to change the political landscape we’ve got.

What do you think has caused the recent surge in support for the Greens, particularly in Scotland, but also across the UK?

Yea membership has more than doubled. I think there has always been a latent Green vote out there and so what we’ve seen is an increase in attitudes of openness to Green ideas. But we haven’t capitalised on it, we haven’t reached it. Other parties are successful in taking a tactical enough pitch: “don’t vote Green or you’ll get something worse”, as though elections are about picking winners rather than voting for something you believe in. That’s the tendency with a first past the post system – which is still very problematic.

The University of Glasgow recently made headlines for its divestment from fossil fuels – what more should the university do? Should we break ties with companies like BAE systems?

Well there was a campaign launched today called Global Divestment Day, which and Go Fossil Free campaigns have been working on. I just put a motion to parliament today which mentions Glasgow Uni’s divestment decision. I think it’s hugely welcomed. There are two aspects to this, one is ethical and as with the arms industry and a whole host of other areas if unethical investment, there should always be a moral dimension. But I think a big part of the fossil fuel divestment is also that this is about bad investment decision. Not just ethically but economically.What you’ve got is a bubble, you’ve got an industry which is valued according to its global reserves as though we can turn all of those reserves into economic value, and we can’t. We can’t do it without crashing our eco-system which is the life support system we depend upon.

Scotland’s world leading gay marriage law came into force at the end of 2014. What must now be done to further improve the lives of LGBT people in Scotland?

There are still many social attitudes in Scotland which need to be worked though, particularly bullying in schools. Although this doesn’t make me popular with everybody, there’s still an outstanding question about why it’s right that we send about one in five of our young people to be educated by an organisation that considers LGBT people to be morally defective. Some people feel very strongly about religious education but let’s also recognise the downside and the damage that does get done when young people are brought up in an environment which stigmatises them for their very nature. We need to fully recognise that homophobia and transphobia are global phenomena and therefore the fight for equality must be global as well. You can see the way historical legislation under British rule is still on the books in many countries.

More widely, what is the next social and cultural issue the left have to tackle?

Globally, I think there is clearly the start of a tipping point with regard for more authoritarian approach to drug laws. There’s a recognition that in handing a whole industry over to gangsters, effectively we’ve also handed over huge parts of some countries to lawless and brutal rule. Whatever your attitude towards drugs, the war on drugs approach has been a failed policy.

Do you identify as a feminist?

Yes definitely.

What do you see as the main failures of our political system in terms of achieving gender equality?

[sighs] I suppose I would come back to what I was saying earlier about culture. You can have legislation in place but if attitudes and people’s preconceptions are kicking against that it becomes difficult. Enforcing something as simple as equal pay, people can d=sign up to that on paper but that’s not the same as seeing it happen. When decisions are made by groups of people who themselves don’t embody gender equality then you’re probably not going to see gender equality coming out through the impact of their policies.

Do you support the actions of UofG rector Edward Snowden?

The disclosures? Yes, absolutely! The questions of how you hold power to account are fundamental to being in a democratic society. When governments collude behind closed doors particularly in relation to the secret services or surveillance and try to hold it entirely accountable then it becomes necessary to take risky or extreme measures in order to throw light where it needs to be thrown.

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