Green communities

Websites that give green suggestions can make a social difference because these online communities s

Looking through the nominations for the New Media Awards 2008 that have come in so far I was pleased to see the Big Green Switch there. Similar to Do The Green Thing, it’s a site that can help us all to overcome the apathy that so easily undermines our best efforts to recycle and reduce our resource consumption. These sites, and others in a similar vein, work in the old-fashioned internet way, by enabling communities to cohere around shared interests independently of geography or time zone.

In this case the shared interest is saving the planet, and by providing every member of the community with information about what others are doing, the sites manage to bring out both the competitive and altruistic sides of human nature at the same time.

They encourage altruism by making it feel like the small things that one person or household can do make a difference because they are cumulative over large numbers of fellow members. Reports on how many people have switched, or the progress that others are making, can be reassuring when your neighbours have just bought an SUV and a massive plasma screen.

They also allow for an element of competition in being the greenest, reducing energy consumption the most, and having the smallest carbon footprint. And once we all get smart meters there will probably be a national scoreboard for the home with the lowest electricity usage, while those with solar power and windmills will boast about how much power they are providing back to the grid. This may not appeal to the more socially-minded, but it might persuade people to change their behaviour.

We often miss the way that the pervasive network and easy access to computers have changed the pattern of daily life and made many things that would previously have required far too much effort simple and unremarkable.

Just as ubiquitous mobile phones make it unnecessary to make careful plans for where to meet your mates in town on a Saturday night, because a few texts are all it takes to assemble everyone at the pub with the cheapest beer or best band, so easy access to the net allows us to overcome many of the obstacles to achieving real social change.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

0800 7318496