ASPECTS of New Zealand’s politics are ringing bells pretty loudly with Scotland right now, but there are some differences we shouldn’t forget.
Both countries enjoy world famous scenery, and export food and drink with a strong reputation for quality. As a result, both benefit from a global profile that exceeds our size alone. But the events of 2020 have shown some similarities that go beyond these background factors.
Jacinda Ardern and Nicola Sturgeon already had some elements of shared agenda, having shown an interest in “wellbeing economics”. While neither has yet followed through on this thinking to abandon GDP as an inadequate and unsustainable economic measure, it shows a direction of travel and a recognition that the dominant global economic system is broken.
This year they have both been tested, as has the leader of every government, by a pandemic that none were properly prepared for. New Zealand’s geography has made the elimination strategy easier to follow, but it was adopted by both countries and is undoubtedly the right path.
Both leaders have recognised that in these difficult times people don’t just want leaders who are capable; they also want leaders who can communicate with clarity, and show empathy and solidarity.
I expect Scotland’s First Minister would be the first to admit that it would be very hard to show less clarity or empathy than Boris Johnson. But there can be no doubt that both Ardern and Sturgeon have put in a shift, and emerged with a high degree of public trust through this crisis.
These steps are urgently needed everywhere, and while they are currently outwith devolved power in Scotland, they also remain beyond the political will of the SNP
As a result, Jacinda Ardern has just been returned with a PR-busting majority and Nicola Sturgeon is polling strongly for Scotland’s election in May.
But New Zealand’s history is very different. Most fundamentally there’s New Zealand’s history of colonialism, in which many Scots participated. While the Maori experience was not as horrific as the genocide carried out against so many other indigenous cultures, it was one of decline, discrimination and marginalisation.
So it’s an important moment to see the Maori Party regain its position in the NZ Parliament. Their voice deserves to be heard at a level beyond the electoral arithmetic of their single seat.
New Zealand is also a country which has done more than just declare a climate emergency and increase its renewable energy generation.
It has divested its $1bn pension fund from fossil fuels and ended all new permits for oil and gas exploration. These steps are urgently needed everywhere, and while they are currently outwith devolved power in Scotland they also remain beyond the political will of the SNP. The involvement of the NZ Greens in coalition has been critical to these progressive achievements, it’s essential that a Labour majority doesn’t put them at risk.
Individual leadership matters. But even a leader who carries public trust must respond to political pressure. Even a leader with a majority in Parliament needs to welcome the energy and vision of other political movements.
I’m proud to be part of a Green movement that’s bringing that energy and vision into politics in Scotland, in New Zealand, and around the world.