How the Greens separated across the devolved nations

Dr Mitya Pearson is a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow at the University of Warwick. He previously completed a PhD on the history of the Green Party at King’s College London. In this article, he discusses the party’s development across the different parts of the United Kingdom.

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Dr Mitya Pearson

The Green Party (then called PEOPLE) was founded in England, in Coventry to be specific. Though PEOPLE was ostensibly a UK-wide organisation, it took some time for the party to build up its presence in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The handful of PEOPLE candidates who stood in the 1974 general elections were all in England.

It was in the latter part of the 1970s that the newly-renamed Ecology Party began to establish itself north of the border via a group of activists centred around Edinburgh and involved in opposing Torness nuclear power station. Accordingly, when the party stretched itself to stand at least 50 candidates in the 1979 general election (to qualify for a television broadcast) this included a candidate in Edinburgh South – alongside two in Wales.

Though the 1979 election was something of a breakthrough for the Party, subsequent progress across the UK (including England) was achingly slow. Candidates stood again in Wales and Scotland at general elections during the 1980s, and in Northern Ireland.

The Ecology Party became the Green Party in 1985, and in 1990 the Scottish Green Party became a separate entity from the rest of the party. The Green Party in Northern Ireland (GPNI) followed the Scottish Greens in becoming a distinct political organisation from the rest of the UK. In 2006 it voted to join with the Irish Greens but remained a separate entity with its own leader, convention, manifesto and members.

These amicable separations reflect the party’s long-held commitment to decentralisation and it is partly for this reason that there is some affinity between the Greens in Scotland and Wales, and the SNP and Plaid Cymru respectively. Demonstrated, for example, by the successful joint Plaid Cymru and Green Party of England and Wales candidate in the 1992 general election in Ceredigion and Pembroke North.

In the years since the Scottish party went their own way, the Greens’ electoral fortunes have improved across the UK. The Greens are a rare example of a party outside the big two which has managed to overcome the challenges of the UK political system to achieve a modicum of consistent electoral success across the UK. This includes an MP at Westminster, previous representation at Stormont, and repeated success in Holyrood elections culminating in the Scottish Greens joining the government in 2021.

Getting to such a point has been hard-fought over 50 years but, looking ahead, there are some significant challenges for the Greens to maintain and develop their standing within the UK political system. Having lost the platform of European elections, the GPEW will now seek to keep their representation in the House of Commons in light of Caroline Lucas standing down.

The dramatic GPEW success in local elections in England has yet to be matched in other parts of the UK (though there are some reasons for hope in this regard). Moreover, in Scotland the Greens face a changing national political situation where SNP support appears to be declining, the GPNI must plot a way to regain a place at Stormont, and in Wale, the GPEW need to find a way to gain a place in Senedd Cymru for the first time.