NEWS ANALYSIS: Norway’s small but resurgent Socialist Left party (SV) has always been on the left side of Norwegian politics, but now it’s getting both more left-wing and environmentally minded than it’s been for years. “Redder and greener” is how media commentators were describing the party, that’s interested in becoming part of a new left-center/red-green government coalition, but not if it has to make too many compromises.
SV was part of the last Labour Party-led government that former Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg (now the head of NATO) ran from 2005 to 2013. At that time SV was around the same size as the Center Party (Senterpartiet, Sp), with each holding around 6 percent of the vote. SV later lost voter support and the entire coalition lost government power to the Conservatives and the Progress Party in 2013, but SV has since been gaining again while the Center Party has surged on efforts to pit Norway’s outlying areas against a “political elite” in Oslo.
The Center Party now holds roughly twice the amount of voter support as SV, and has deeply cut into Labour’s standings as well. Labour and the Center Party remain widely expected to form a new coalition if they win enough votes in the upcoming national election in September, but they’ll likely still need SV and perhaps the Greens to form a majority. That prospect remains entirely unclear, and SV is now making some demands that neither Labour nor the Center Party may accept.
Opting for controversial ultimatums
Five of those demands came after a vote at their annual national meeting at Gardermoen over the weekend. Topping their list are plans to further even out affluence among Norwegians through annual increases in child welfare payments (barnetrygden) with extra payments to low-income families. SV also wants to help young people lacking support from their parents to be able to buy a home. SV’s battle against social differences can lead to some radical taxation policies that neither Labour nor the Center Party will accept.
SV also differs sharply from Labour and the Center Party on the future of Norway’s oil industry. While Labour is bullish on more oil exploration, even off Lofoten and in sensitive Arctic areas, the Center Party is also keen on the jobs oil and offshore can create and one of its deputy leaders, former Oil Minister Ola Borten Moe, is now active in the oil industry himself. SV, however, is firmly opposed to more oil exploration and wants to unconditionally protect Lofoten, Vesterålen, Senja, Møre and the Arctic from more oil and gas industry activity. “If the world is to solve climate problems, large portions of the world’s fossil resources must remain untapped,” SV declared in its party program. “Norway must contribute to climate efforts by cutting its own emissions at home.” Both Labour and the Center Party also claim Norway must meet the goals for carbon emission cuts, but think that can be done while still pumping up more oil and gas on the Norwegian Continental Shelf.
SV also made a demand for more teachers in the schools, for ratios of one teacher for a maximum of 15 primary school students and one for a maximum of 20 students in grades five to 10. Labour’s education spokesman, Member of Parliament Trond Giske, all but scoffed at the proposal, sending a message to SV that “let’s win the election first, then we can talk.” Newspaper Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reported that Giske added: “You don’t go into (government) negotiations with ultimatums.”
Yet SV had a few more: The party doesn’t want any private companies that deliver public services (like day care or asylum center services) to earn a profit on their ventures. “Fundamental social welfare services are an assignment for the public sector, not the markets,” SV declared. SV is also demanding that Norway clearly support an international ban on nuclear weapons: “A new Norwegian government must immediately start working towards a ban on nuclear weapons.”
The party thus took on a role that seems keen on exploiting whatever voter support it gets to be a swing vote on key issues. Several media commentators in Norway claimed that SV seemed less interested in making itself amenable to Labour and the Center Party and more intent on exerting influence in opposition. That prompted Kjetil B Alstadheim of DN to bring SV’s own credibility into question, since it spent eight years in the last left-center government without scoring on many of its most important issues, like increasing child welfare payments. While blasting increased quotas on the purchase of tax-free alcoholic beverages, SV leader Audun Lysbakken also seemed to forget that his predecessor, Kristin Halvorsen, increased quotas while she was finance ministeras well. SV was also the first political party in Norway to favour dual citizenship, but it didn’t win support for that during its time in government, and now it’s the conservative, less-regulatory parties that are opening up for dual citizenship now.
Paying ‘tax’ to their own party
SV still wants Norway to leave NATO, despite Russia’s annexation of Crimea and rising tensions, but there’s little if any chance it will ever win on the that issue. It’s open to far more immigration and acceptance of asylum seekers, also at odds with most other Norwegian parties that seek to control immigration. It agrees with the Center Party in being anti-EU and in favour of dumping Norway’s trade agreement with the EU (the so-called EØS-avtale) but that’s unlikely to ever win support from Labour.
The party also rolled out all the social welfare programs it thinks should be totally free of charge for Norwegians, including school meals, day care and after-school programs, sports activities and admission to museums. All Norwegians under the age of 20 should get free dental care and free meetings with a psychologist if needed, believes SV, but former Party Secretary Kaski claimed it wouldn’t add to state expenses because “we’ll cut in other areas.” The party wants to dump multi-billion transport plans, for example, to build a ferry-free new E39 highway along the west coast, and it also opposes construction of a third runway at Oslo’s main airport at Gardermoen.
SV, meanwhile, remains one of the few parties in Norway that actually charges its elected officials to pay a share of their incomes to the party, rather like a party tax. Party leader Lysbakken, for example, along with veteran MPs Snorre Valen, Heikki Holmås and Karin Andersen, have turned over more than NOK 500,000 of their annual incomes each to the party in recent years, via a 9 percent “party tax” on SV’s MPs and 11 percent on SV members who become government ministers.
Asked whether turning over around NOK 6,000 a month to her party has ever been a problem, 64-year-old Andersen claimed she really hadn’t thought about it. “For me, that’s just the way it is in SV,” she told newspaper Aftenposten on Sunday. “I pay both my tax to the party and to the state with pleasure.”