Greens hope to bloom in Falkirk as smaller parties eye advancement

Falkirk Greens organiser Craig Allan is encouraged by local interest in the party
Falkirk Greens organiser Craig Allan is encouraged by local interest in the party

The independence referendum may be over. But its impact has been credited with fostering a new upsurge of political activity.

The SNP and Greens have both reported large increases in membership across the country in the weeks since September 18’s historic vote.

And Falkirk district is no exception. A new branch of the Scottish Green Party is in the process of being established. Its first meeting was held last month and attracted 31 people. Organisers are hoping for even more when it meets for a second time on November 6.

That situation is matched by the Scottish Socialist Party, which relaunched its Falkirk branch in August.

On the opposite side of the political spectrum, the UK Independence Party also views Falkirk as an area where it could do well.

MEP David Coburn, UKIP’s sole elected representative north of the border, said the party would be targeting Eric Joyce’s seat in next year’s Westminster elections, along with other central Scotland constituencies.

UKIP recently gained its first MP in the House of Commons after triumphing in the Clacton by-election, which returned former Conservative Douglas Carswell. The party expects to add several more English seats in 2015.

It all adds up to smaller parties increasing their profile and, potentially, returning more elected members at the expense of Scotland’s ‘big four’ political parties.

Craig Allan, from Stenhousemuir, organised the first meeting of Falkirk Greens. Previously, those from the district wishing to join the party had to become members of its South Lanarkshire branch.

The 28-year-old was inspired to join the Greens after hearing a talk by Alison Johnstone MSP earlier this year. He hopes the Falkirk group will soon be big enough to become an individual branch in its own right and be able to field candidates in national and council elections.

“A majority of people at our first meeting said they were Yes voters, but not all,” he said. “The question was how do you keep the interest generated by the referendum going, how do you keep Falkirk talking about politics? The answer was to join a party.

“What the Yes campaign was really good at doing, and the No campaign as well, was getting people out on the streets and talking about politics. It’s really energised people.

“For a lot of our members, Scottish Greens leader Patrick Harvie’s performance during the referendum campaign was the biggest reason why they joined.

“Quite a lot of members are new to party politics, although some have joined from the SNP or Labour.”

Craig explained that the prospect of methane gas drilling near Airth was of great concern to local Green members. “It’s the issue that’s really driving us,” he said.

Polling expert Professor John Curtice said that the rise in support for the Greens and UKIP was a UK-wide phenomenon and not confined to Scotland.

“It cannot simply be down to the referendum. What we’re seeing is an electorate that is more willing to experiment by voting for other parties,” he said.

“Polls suggest that 20 per cent of people across the UK plan to vote for a party out with the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

“The question is how far this figure gets squeezed on election day.”

UKIP eyes up Eric Joyce’s Falkirk seat

The UK Independence Party is unlikely to win the seat currently held by Falkirk MP Eric Joyce, according to one of the country’s most respected polling experts.

Falkirk was one of several “rust belt” constituencies in central Scotland identified by MEP David Coburn as a possible target for UKIP in 2015.

“We’re looking at the Scottish rust belt,” he said. “It’s the Central Belt of Scotland, where people have just been abandoned or given sops to keep them happy.”

But Professor John Curtice said that the chances of UKIP winning the Falkirk constituency were remote.

“UKIP will not a win a seat in 2015 in Scotland – the support is just not there,” he said.

“It’s questionable whether Falkirk can be considered ‘rust belt’ in the first place. UKIP may have achieved 39 per cent in the Heywood by-election, but that does not translate into support for the party in Scotland.

“Scottish politics is still focused on national concerns like greater devolution. Issues such as the European Union and immigration have not dominated the agenda here as they have in England.”