OUR somnambulant UK media, which prefer personality politics to analysing the real thing, have been slow to analyse the transformational showing of the Greens both in Scotland and England, in the May elections.

North of the Border, Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater’s business-like outfit had their best ever election, taking 8% of the list vote and eight seats. That’s two up on before and they were probably diddled out of a couple more by the Electoral Commission’s inexplicable decision to let the semi-fascist Independent Green Voice grouping use its bogus name to syphon off legitimate Green votes.

As a result, the Scottish Greens have established clear water between themselves and the obsolete LibDems. That puts them in a position to become the political home for middle-class, liberal voters disenchanted with the SNP. True, the Scottish Greens did not overhaul Labour, who had twice their poll share. But given the historic trend in Europe for the Greens to replace the old social-democratic political dinosaurs, Anas Sarwar can’t afford to take anything for granted (of which more anon).

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Harvie and Slater have already cashed in their chips by opening negotiations with the SNP over forming some sort of formal co-operation agreement, whatever they choose to call it. Harvie is clearly bored being in opposition but is leery of getting stuck with the blame if the FM dithers over independence or quits, leaving the Greens in tow while steely Angus Robertson or charismatic Kate Forbes hog the headlines.

Equally, a semi-coalition is good news for the Scottish Greens. They can milk the Glasgow UN Climate Change Conference for all its publicity worth and use this as a vantage point to eat further into Scottish Labour’s vote. Plus “being in government” will burnish Green credentials, here and in England. Expect Patrick and Lorna to be doing a lot of spots on Channel 4 News and Question Time.

That said, the Scottish Greens are swimming in a European rip tide for their movement. Last year, the French Greens made significant gains in the local elections. In Germany, the Greens are now on 25% of the popular vote while the old Social Democratic Party has crashed to around 15%. As of now, the German Greens are well placed to win the federal elections this September and form a coalition government with the Social Democrats as junior partner.

In the 2019 Euro elections, the Greens won all of Germany’s major cities, secured a third of first-time voters and hoovered up the youth vote. The electoral dynamics are clear: as Angela Merkel’s ruling CDU moved right to head off the populist, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany party, the Greens picked up centrist middle-class votes that used to go to the socialists or liberals.

In Scotland, the Greens have performed the same trick, nabbing liberal voters who can’t stomach either Nicola or Boris. In England, Starmer looks set to follow the German socialists into oblivion while the Greens eat into Labour votes.

On May 6 in England, the Greens won an extra 99 council seats, gained representation on 18 new councils, came third in the London mayoral election, and were the joint-biggest party in Bristol. That may sound merely worthy but the Green gains were uniform across England, giving the party an army of paid councillors who will serve as a vote-getting machine in the next General Election.

If Starmer continues to flounder, liberal and centrist voters may shift Greenwards as they have in Germany. For the first time, Starmer has a rival party to his left and the squeeze is on.

How far can this Green political re-alignment go? In Scotland and England, the Greens are trading on their status as squeaky-clean opposition parties that talk the talk on climate change without having to confront the realities of economic change. But the closer to government a party gets, the more it has to compromise in order to create a bigger electoral tent. And compromise brings internal dissension.

IN Germany, as the Greens have moved closer to power, they have dropped their more left-wing policies in favour of classic centrist liberalism – albeit still wrapped in cosy climate change rhetoric. For instance, the leadership of the German Greens is careful not to connect their climate policies to any direct criticism of German capitalism.

When Kevin Kühnert, the “Corbynista” head of the Socialist Party’s youth wing, suggested Germany should nationalise its car industry and ban owning more than one home, the Greens instantly dismissed these proposals as irrelevant.

“It’s always good to talk about capitalism,” pontificated Sven Giegold, a leading German and European Green. “But at the moment it’s about whether in future we can give our children the possibility of even talking about different economic systems on this planet.”

Instead, he said, Germans needed to talk about “how to make this market economy social and ecological”.

The trouble with this soggy, liberal line is that free-market capitalism, with its emphasis on profits, is the literal cause of climate change through excess growth and burning cheap fossil fuels. Given the climate emergency, Kühnert was right to raise the notion of interfering with private property rights in manufacturing and land as an emergency handbrake.

Instead, the German Greens are selling their radical political heritage for the keys to the Bundestag. If they get there, they will find themselves at the Glasgow COP26 shaking hands with Joe Biden and agreeing to let American corporate power take charge of “defending” the planet against climate change. That’s the same American corporate power that caused the crisis.

Everywhere in Europe, Green parties rely on a middle-class voting base that is genuinely worried about climate change but which remains professionally too much at the service of industrial capitalism want to bring the system down with a sudden crash.

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Ultimately, the political appetite of Green voters is circumscribed by their role in providing the professional cadres who manage the system. Only those billions toiling in the sweatshops of Asia or enduring the shanty towns of the Global South have a genuine vested interest in bringing down the capitalist growth juggernaut immediately.

The Scottish Greens have added contradictions. Tailing the independence movement has given them easy access to middle-class, liberal voters disgruntled with Westminster. But the Greens have to balance that with appealing to voters who want to tackle climate change.

You can do both, of course. But I suspect the Scottish Greens can only supplant Labour by winning over middle-class environmentalists who are anti or at least ambivalent about independence. On the other hand, if Harvie & Co stick with the SNP or even pressure a reluctant FM towards a second referendum, this opens up space for Anas Sarwar to point Labour towards a politics that puts green before indy.

Which leaves the Scottish Greens in a political quandary. Are they genuinely against the system or a noisy pressure group living off the SNP? Do they really want political power but if so, what would they really do with it? Patrick Harvie is going to have to answer those questions if he opts for a seat in the ministerial limo.