The decision of the Scottish Greens to stand in only three of Scotland’s 59 constituencies at next month’s general election could go down as one of the most costly misjudgments of Scottish political history.
There are no seats to be lost, of course, but at stake here is the credibility of the party, and the damage that could be done to its future. It has taken many years for the Greens to build a movement, and when once they could only have dreamed of political representation in a national chamber, now they have six MSPs at Holyrood. Much of that hard work could be undone if the electorate decides that the party had its chance, and let people down.
That is a harsh verdict, but voters can be ruthless. Just ask any of the nine of 11 SNP MPs who lost their seats in 1979 after the party joined a vote of no confidence against the Labour government.
The Greens’ plight is not on that scale, but the long-term effect on the party could be just as serious a risk.
Yesterday – two days too late – the Scottish Greens said that they would be standing in only three seats because they can’t afford the cost of a second, unscheduled, election campaign straight after all available resource was ploughed into the last one. That’s a valid reason for taking this difficult decision, but unfortunately for the party, a lot of people will have made up their minds already, when the news broke earlier this week. The Greens have been accused of being in the back pocket of the SNP, and that perception – right or wrong – is going to be very difficult to shake off, particularly when it is mentioned every week in Holyrood.
Even if cost was an issue, a far bigger commitment than three seats should have been attempted. Opting out sends the wrong message to the 77,000 voters who gave the Greens their first preference vote last week, and all the others who backed them with second or third preferences.
And sadly, considering this is a party with a lot to offer Scottish politics, we have to conclude that the Greens no longer merit representation on a forthcoming televised debate, where they will come under predictable attack, that will only be a distraction from more significant issues. If the BBC can’t bring itself to drop the party, Patrick Harvie should do the decent thing and stand down the Greens from a debate which, by his own rationale, must be just like this election – “unnecessary”.