If you ask Patrick Harvie what his favourite football team is, he probably doesn’t have an answer for you, instead, brushing the question off with a joke about supporting “whoever has the best legs”.
A consequence, possibly, of the fact he hardly ever remembers a football game being on the telly when he was growing up. He does, however, remember being pushed along in a pram at a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) demo, which he says felt like a “natural, normal thing.”
This early introduction to the front line of political campaigning is perhaps the reason he proclaimed to his mum at 10 that he was going to be the Prime Minister one day, and whilst he stresses he might be a “little bit below the curve on that one”, he’s by no means far-off.
Elected as the Member of Scottish Parliament for Glasgow in 2003, he’s risen to the ranks of co-convener for the Scottish Green Party, making him the first openly bisexual party leader in Scotland. He speaks to RightsInfo about why human rights can’t be divided up, his hopes for political co-operation, and how he’s actually much shorter in real life.
Image Credit: Patrick Harvie’s office
How did your formal education shape you?
There were pros and cons. I was quite good at school, without trying hard, so I probably ended up figuring out that I didn’t need to try hard, and later in life – when I realised I couldn’t just coast through – that came as a bit of a shock.
I think school wasn’t the most fantastic experience for me, it was only at university that I was able to come out of my shell and have a bit of a social life. I think the formal education stuff in many ways was the easiest bit for me, and it was everything else around that (the stuff that matters more in life) that I was a little bit slow developing on.
My earliest political memories would be being pushed along in a pram at a CND demo. That was a natural, normal thing.
What was the most important thing your parents taught you?
I suppose my politics has to be a part of that. My earliest political memories would be being pushed along in a pram at a CND demo, as my mum was a very active environmental campaigner – setting up local recycling, community organisation and being involved with lots of different issues. So I was always brought up with that as a natural, normal thing.
A lot of people I grew up with, grew up without the expectation that politics was something normal to be in, so I’m grateful for that interest, certainly. On the other hand, I don’t remember there ever being a football game on television when I was growing up, and other people grow up with that being a normal thing.
Do you think it’s important that politics is a part of everyday life?
It’s difficult; it’s very easy for people to get disengaged and it’s hard to engage in a bit of political debate. It’s one of the reasons why bringing the voting age down is really important. If schools (as they have done in Scotland since we lowered the voting age to 16), know that they have a classroom, not just of pupils, but of citizens, then voter education is not something theoretical. We can drive up voter turnout, and political engagement, beyond just voting, in that younger age group. If we can do that, I think we’ll be much more successful at keeping that level of engagement later in life as well.
The whole point of the concept of human rights is that it is about all of us – every human being.
Which human right do you value the most?
Human rights, as a concept, need to be seen as indivisible, you can’t separate off one from the other. I think beyond that, there’s a need to draw more attention to some of the issues like cultural, social, and economic rights, which perhaps don’t feature in most people’s conceptions of human rights. They don’t get talked about in terms of rights very often, but they’re really really critical to people’s ability to live a good life.
The far-right press will very often portray human rights as being something that other people have, that’s attached to stigmatised or marginalised groups. But the whole point of the concept of human rights is that it is about all of us – every human being. That sense of human life being something that we all feel a connection to and ownership of, and something that we want to try and achieve.
Image Credit: Shelter Scotland / Flickr
What do you fear about for the future of human rights?
Fascism in general really, we are seeing the rise of a genuinely scary far right in America and Europe, and it’s been given an extraordinary amount of political space. If you remember back ten years ago, the BBC made an extraordinarily controversial decision to have someone from the BNP on Question Time and it was hugely debated, that question about whether that was the right thing to do or the wrong thing to do. Now you get people with exactly the same views getting a platform day in day out, week after week.
The kind of things you see now, mainstream publications suddenly carrying moronic columns about how brilliant tough men leaders are around the world – these are people who have a flagrant disregard for human rights. [There’s] the sense that you’ve got some people who voted for the Leave campaign now starting to say once we’re out of Europe we’re out of human rights – the referendum in no way offered a mandate to leave the Council of Europe or the European Convention on Human Rights.
There’s a real danger that the next generation is going to inherit an even more challenging task than the one after The Second World War inherited.
Yet some of the hard right and the far right are not going to be satisfied, they’re going to continue to try to take it further. There’s a real danger that the next generation is going to inherit an even more challenging task than the one after The Second World War inherited. But they managed it, they pulled something miraculous out of it, so it can be done, or it can be moved in a more progressive direction, it’s been done before.
What surprises people about you?
I think the most frequent one is that people are surprised by how short I am. Television seems to reduce the physical differences between people who appear on screen because you occupy the same amount of space as everyone else. That’s probably the main one.
Image Credit: Patrick Harvie / Facebook
What does ambition mean to you?
I think we should try to make it mean something beyond a narrow sense of how much people might want to earn, or possessions and so on. Most people do have a broader understanding of what really matters in life, what makes them really happy in life, and yet we’re constantly bombarding ourselves with messages about really, really narrow things, [like] what cars people drive. Even little bits of language – how often do we hear about some famous person and they’re discussed in terms of how much they are worth? Well, people aren’t worth amounts of money. That’s not what makes human life worthwhile.
People aren’t worth amounts of money. That’s not what makes human life worthwhile.
If we talk about ambition, we should be talking about the ambition we have to live in a decent society, to live healthily, to have time for friends and family, those wider things that matter in life, should be what we have ambition for. Having an ambition that nobody needs a food bank, that would be a fantastic ambition. There’s a trick that’s been pulled on us collectively throughout most of modern life (and certainly since the Thatcher era) of trying to atomise society, to try and turn everything into individualism, and I think it’s quite at odds with human nature. I think that it’s something that we should be conscious of and not let just happen to us.
What does freedom mean to you?
In the broadest sense, it’s the ability to live your life in line with your values and to not suffer oppression. But it’s such a loaded term at the moment. In particular, the right seems to want to gain ownership of this concept, as if oppression by the state is unacceptable, but oppression as a result of poverty or corporate power, well that’s just the free market, isn’t it?
[It’s] as though freedom of speech means you can say anything at all – except challenging someone else’s prejudice because that’s not line with my freedom of speech; I can say whatever I want. So I think it’s a very contested word at the moment, and I think there’s a need to try and reclaim its full meaning from those who don’t seem to be bothered about the loss of freedom that comes from poverty or corporate power, or from inequality and discrimination.
Image Credit: Patrick Harvie / Facebook
Do you have any memory that stands out as your best ever?
Well, politically there was a particular moment. There was a real sense of dysfunction on the issue of the bedroom tax in Scotland. The SNP and Labour were, instead of solving the problem (which was coming from Westminster) using devolved powers, appearing to be more focused on pointing at and blaming the other side for the fact that a solution hadn’t been found.
There was this incredible reciprocal, neutral feeling of respect, and the very next day Labour and the SNP buried the hatchet.
Then, there came this extraordinary moment, when the final day of debate on the Equal Marriage Bill came through. It was a really powerful moment because it did cut across party lines. There was this extraordinary sense of co-operation and collaboration between Parliament and civil society, to the extent that when the final vote was held, the campaigners in the gallery in Parliament stood up and applauded, and the MSPs stood up and applauded the gallery back.
There was this incredible reciprocal neutral feeling of respect and the very next day Labour and the SNP buried the hatchet on the issue of the bedroom tax, and found a solution and made it work. Now, I’m not saying there’s a direct effect, but the mood in parliament certainly helped to make that more possible, and it was a week in which it just felt that the institution was one, as it was supposed to be. It went beyond battle lines by sharing power, sharing the decisions and making process between parties, and between parliament and the public.
When the final vote was held, the campaigners in the gallery in Parliament stood up and applauded, and the MSPs stood up and appauled the gallery back.
There’s always going to be a requirement and a space for ideas to be contested – and certainly at election time– for people to be given a clear choice between different agendas. But, for the most part, I think people will have more time for those sorts of debates if they also know that the politicians are capable of being a bit grown up and finding where they can work together as well.
Image Credit: Patrick Harvie’s office
What does dignity in dying mean to you?
I’ve been involved with a proposal for legislation on assisted suicide on a number of occasions, and I still support the idea of a change in the law. The most important principle is that people should have some degree of control over their treatment.
The relationship between patients and the medical profession has changed hugely over decades – from a ‘doctor knows best’ mentality to one where people sort of expect (and have a right to expect) to be involved in decisions about their own treatment, and yet we stop that at the end of life.
The relationship between patients and the medical profession has changed hugely over decades. Yet we then stop that at the end of life.
We stop that when somebody is dying because it’s difficult to talk about and it’s difficult to acknowledge. I think that if we maintained that principle, we would absolutely be saying that someone has the right to decide if they [want to] hasten their death if they’re facing intolerable suffering. They should be able to do that in a safe and supported way that’s under their own control, and if somebody doesn’t wish to be treated by a doctor who’s ever prepared to go along with that, they would have that right as well.
For you, what’s the meaning of life?
I think that the best answer I could give is the one that came at the end of Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. It’s nothing special; try to be nice to people, read a good book every now and again, get some walking in, and try to live together in peace and harmony, with people of all creeds and nations. I don’t think I can improve on that.