Migration and the stoking of hate and fear by a xenophobic media

I was pretty disgusted by the Metro’s front page headline and story today: “Migrants ‘ready to die for your British benefits'”:

Metro 291014


Stories like this serve only one purpose: to criminalise those who wish to come and be a part of our country’s future.  And it sickens me that so many of our politicians (most of whom should know better!) fall back on the lazy and irresponsible argument that immigrants are to blame for unemployment, low pay and poor housing.  Oh, and the erosion of British culture and identity – whatever that is.

But these societal ills are nothing to do with immigration.

Government austerity, the savage welfare cuts, attacks on workers’ rights, and the failure to build affordable homes are to blame.  Not people coming here to contribute to our economy, our communities and our future.  Indeed we know that immigration is a net contributor to our economy: over £22 billion between 2001 and 2011.  And we can’t escape the fact that the UK is a mongrel state, made up of many different identities and cultures; a product of centuries of movement of people.  If the Scottish Independence Referendum is anything to go by, it is clear that we cannot identify a single British identity, a single British culture.  And nor should we try to do so.  Instead, we should celebrate our diversity, and value the richness that it brings to our lives.

Back in January, as I saw in the new year in Edinburgh, I tweeted a welcome message to Romanians and Bulgarians who achieved full rights to live and work in the UK.  The European principle of freedom of movement is one we should treasure.  Indeed, I wish we would extend it beyond European boundaries: geography should not determine someone’s legitimacy.  I hope that, at least in Scotland, we will be able to move towards an immigration policy that is based on internationalist principles of equality and justice.  It seems that most of us want this, and perhaps we can then dispel the myths and prejudices peddled by those who seek to use fear and hate as a means of control.

Repost: The importance of International Women’s Day

I have been away from my blog for a while! In an attempt to fill the void that has inhabited these pages, I am reposting some of what I’ve written elsewhere over the last few months. In each case I will state where and when the article first appeared.


This first appeared on Yes Scotland’s pages, on 7th March 2014, the week Ailsa McKay died.

International Women’s Day is important. While some see the fight for women’s liberation as won, there is still a long way to go to equality. Women are still paid substantially less. Women have borne the brunt of the cuts being imposed by the Westminster government. Women’s work is treated as economically unimportant and unworthy of reward. And women still face blame when they are attacked.

I am indebted to the work of Professor Ailsa McKay (pictured), who died this week. AilsaHer work on gender budgeting and Citizens’ Basic Income has been instrumental in making economics a feminist issue. Her work on child care has become a vital part of the Scotland we all want to see.

For me changing the perception of women’s contribution to society and the economy is one of the most important things we can do in the new Scotland. We must not fall into the trap of seeing women’s role as being merely that of caring and domestic work. But we must recognise that this is the reality of many women’s lives, and acknowledge this in government funding and policy. And doing this successfully will help to reduce the gendered nature of work. It will encourage men to take on domestic work.

I believe the best way to do this is to introduce a Citizen’s Basic Income (CI). This was an initiative that Ailsa worked to develop and promote. It is a universal income paid to all citizens, allowing a decent quality of life. It will guarantee an income for women who look after children and reduce dependence on work. Citizen’s income would provide Scotland with a lever to end poverty, by removing the benefits trap. The security offered by Citizen’s Income will make it easier to move into work and avoid losing benefits.

Those of us influenced by Ailsa owe it to her to make this vision real. Independence offers us the opportunity to do that.

While there has been much progress in women’s quality of life in Scotland, the great recession has seen women bear the brunt of the government’s economic restructuring. This reflects a belief that women’s contribution is less significant than that of men. Money has been cut from child benefit while the highest rate of tax (overwhelmingly paid by men) has been reduced.

A report produced by a range of women’s organisations points to the clear gender impact of the UK government’s austerity agenda. Cuts imposed by the Westminster government to services like Sure Start, reduced funding for services dealing with violence against women, legal aid for women subjected to violence and discrimination, inadequate healthcare support – with cuts to disability and other benefits all have had a disproportionate impact on women. The UK Government appears to believe that manufacturing, finance and construction are more important than caring. This is simply not the case, and we must reverse it. That is difficult when only 4 of 20 of David Cameron’s Cabinet members are women.

There is little thought given to the gender impact of cuts. We must ensure that services used by women in the new Scotland enjoy the same esteem as others. It is simply not the case that caring is less important than the monetised economy. Had we focused more on caring and less on speculation it’s doubtful the economy would have crashed.

With a Citizen’s Income, a change in the perception of women’s work and a move away from Westminster-imposed austerity we can create a better Scotland for women. And a better Scotland for women will be a better Scotland for everyone.

Remembering Mandela: Edinburgh Council meeting today

Today, the City of Edinburgh Council remembered Nelson Mandela. In addition to a motion seeking an appropriate memorial to Mandela in the city, after a moment’s silence, each political group was invited to contribute some thoughts. Here is what I said.

So much has been said about Mandela in the last seven days, but I would like to say a few words here today as a fellow South African.

Mandela was truly a remarkable man. We have heard much about his grace, magnetism, personal sacrifice. He has become the personification of the anti-apartheid struggle.

Had it not been for him, it is possible that the transition to majority rule in South Africa would have been very, very bloody. Had it not been for him, it is possible that the role of reconciliation in South Africa’s politics, and indeed global politics, would have been much diminished.

And, in many, much smaller ways, his political actions highlighted a deep commitment to justice and fairness. His first proper job was as a nightwatchman at a mine but he was fired when they discovered he’d runaway from home to escape an arranged marriage. He was branded the Black Pimpernel by the South African media when he defied orders not to travel around the country of his birth, doing so disguised as a chauffeur.

In prison he was elected to a four man “High Organ” which must have had some influence as they were able to get the Commander of Robbin Island reassigned for overuse of violence against the prisoners.

A few years prior to his release Mandela had rejected an offer of release as it came with the condition that he have a “cooling off period” outside the country; he was not prepared to leave his country. And he was the last recipient of the Soviet Union’s Lenin Peace Prize and the first recipient of the Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights.

All of these show personal strength in the face of adversity, a commitment to his people, his country, and his beliefs, and I think a devious cheekiness which certainly served him well in his role as a global statesman.

So, a great man, certainly.

However, he himself rejected the deification of him, as a person, as the single figure responsible for the development of the new South Africa. He understood that the narrative of the great statesman depoliticised the struggle to which he devoted so much of his life. It is much easier to focus on the great personal characteristics of one man than it is to stare inequality and injustice in the face.

It also undermines the work of millions of others, across the world, who stood with him, fought with him, against oppression and for liberation. It is incredible to me that the rest of the anti-apartheid movement has been so utterly forgotten – when Denis Goldberg spoke at the Edinburgh World Justice Festival earlier this year, he did so to an audience of less than one hundred people.

So, let us remember a more complete legacy of Mandela, his human fallibility, his role as a soldier, his role as a radical.

Let us remember, too, that, during his time in government he did not fulfil all of the revolutionary promises to his people, and to hold him as infallible would be an insult to one of the principles he fought so hard for, that of human equality. It is clear that there is still so much to be done in that beautiful country.

His message, that we collectively have the power to make change in our society, should be what we take from his life. That real democracy and real equality are the bedrock of a truly fair society. That injustice of all kinds, whether based in racism, poverty or any form of oppression is something that we cannot tolerate and must oppose.

I want to end with a quote, not from Mandela, but from his great friend and fellow activist, Chris Hani, who, when asked whether or not he was looking forward to being in the new government in the new South Africa (which he never saw, being assassinated in 1993), replied:

“The perks of a new government are not really appealing to me. Everybody, of course, would like to have a good job, a good salary, and that sort of thing. But for me, that is not the be-all of a struggle. What is important is the continuation of the struggle – and we must accept that the struggle is always continuing – under different conditions, whether within parliament or outside parliament, we shall begin to tackle the real problems of the country. And the real problems of the country are not whether one is in cabinet, or a key minister, but what we do for social upliftment of the working masses of our people.”

Colleagues, we still have much to do. Our struggle certainly continues.

But for now, hamba kahle Madiba. Amandlha!

Nelson Mandela: freedom fighter, peace activist, trouble maker, icon

Yesterday, we received the news that Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela died peacefully in his sleep. Much has and will be written about the impact this man has had on South Africa, the continent of Africa, and the rest of the world. I will never be as eloquent as others, and so I won’t try to be. What I do hope is that the city I now choose to call home will have the courage to do something it should have done decades ago, and give this great man a fitting tribute. I have circulated the following to all the party groups on the Council, as an emergency motion for next week’s full council meeting. As a South African citizen, I hope Scotland’s capital will honour Mandela, his life, work and memory.




Notes the death, last week, of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, freedom fighter and first president of post-apartheid South Africa;

Reaffirms the respect and high esteem the City has for him and his dedication to peace and reconciliation, declared 16 years ago when he was granted the Freedom of the City;

Agrees to commemorate the life of this remarkable man by renaming Festival Square “Nelson Mandela Square”, a fitting tribute being the site of the African Woman and Child statue, a symbol of support for the anti-apartheid struggle, and the site of many anti-apartheid protests in the past.


Radical Independence Conference 2013 Speech

It was a great privilege to be the opening speaker at this year’s Radical Independence Conference.  This is my speech:

“Welcome to the real face of the Radical Independence Conference. It’s a great honour to be able to speak here, and to be able to open this conference. And a huge thank you to Johnny Shafi and all those who have made today happen.

This is the conference of a revolutionary movement.  A movement that can transform Scotland. We can create a Scotland that is more just, that is fairer and that creates a new economy and a new society.

We all know the failings of the British state:

  • A crippling devotion to corporate power;
  • An unbending commitment to an economic model that collapsed, not for the first time, in 2008;
  • A ceaseless drive to blame foreigners, the poor and the vulnerable for problems created by the rich.

We can do so much better. So very much better.

This moment in Scotland’s story is vital. We have the opportunity to reverse the corporate capture of our state and the intrusion of the market into every aspect of our lives.

Over the last year we have driven the debate to the side of humanity. Rather than trumpeting lower corporation tax as a central reason for independence, the debate has shifted to universal childcare.

Instead of arguing for a deregulated neo-liberal state, the Yes campaign is opposing the bedroom tax.

We have put the issue of a Scottish currency on the table and I am convinced this is an argument we can, and must, win.

And, importantly, we, as RIC, have shown that there are people beyond the SNP who want independence. Greens, socialists, non-party members – we must all contribute to developing this radical vision for independence.

We must keep this progress up.

We must campaign not just to defend the social security system we all value so much. We must fight for social security that does not divide people. We must have a system that provides for all. When Nicola Sturgeon calls for an end to the attack on social security, she is right. But an independent Scotland must go further. We should value every citizen and ensure a citizen’s income, a basic income for all.

We must, and do, think radically about the way we organise, and the way society operates. For too long global corporations have profiteered through the flogging off of our public services. We must rebuild faith in public and community ownership of our services.

We should all be proud of the fact that Holyrood defended our NHS from Westminster privatisation. We should be delighted that the SNP have promised to renationalise the Royal Mail. But an independent Scotland must go further. For our country will only be run by the people, for the people, if the major economic decisions are made by the people, for the people. So, we need worker control, community ownership, participatory budgeting, and a new commitment to local democracy.

We need to allow workers to buy their workplaces. A government investment fund to support buy outs would have transformed the Grangemouth dispute. With the right to purchase the business and the funds to back that we could have had a very different outcome.

Last year Cat Boyd said we need a Scotland for the millions, not the millionaires. We’ve seen to our great cost what a Scotland for the billionaires looks like.

We must ensure that our public utilities are governed democratically. This will not only end the greed culture that has impoverished so many. It will make further sell-offs impossible.

We can create an economy that destroys the notion that there is ‘no alternative’ to privatisation, deregulation and tax cuts. We can create an economy which shows the way out of the neo-liberal nightmare that Westminster is determined to lengthen.

So what is to be done?

The Radical Independence movement is a great start. We’ve already shaped the debate. But we need to make an even bigger difference over the next year. And referendum day cannot be where we stop.

We need a movement on the streets. We need a movement in parliament.  We need a movement that operates in our communities. We have to go beyond the referendum to create the economy we want and we need.

We showed the world that Scotland rejects UKIP’s racism and bigotry. I salute those who drove Nigel Farage out of Edinburgh. We must continue to fight fascism wherever we find it.

The lessons of Scandinavia have been well aired. But we must learn the lessons of Latin America where practical action has rolled back neo-liberalism and elite rule. We need to take control of our assets. Of renewable energy; of our currency; of our communities. And we need to run those assets in a democratic way.

Today will explore many of the ways we can do this. I’m excited by the potential for the Radical Independence campaign over these coming years. And I’m excited about creating a radical Scotland.”

Gender inequality in University Governance

I am fortunate enough to be the Educational Institute of Scotland’s University Lecturers’ Association (EIS-ULA) delegate to the STUC Women’s Conference happening in Dundee this week. One of the (30 or so) motions up for discussion was on gender inequality in higher education governance (full details of motions here). The motion was proposed by Angi Lamb, from the University and Colleges Union, UCU, and I seconded it on behalf of the EIS. Below is my speech.

The story of Scottish higher education is overwhelmingly a good one. Scotland should be proud, rightly proud, of its Higher Education system. The intellectual engagement that happens in our universities rivals, indeed many would say exceeds, that of our southerly neighbour. And this intellectual tradition has, I believe, a crucial role to play in Scottish society, culture and economy. How this system is governed, therefore, must be of concern to us all.

University courts are the governing bodies of all Scottish Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), and membership of these bodies is comprised of a mixture of internal university people: academics, university administrators, sometimes students; and external lay people: those whose skills and expertise complement those of the internal members, and serve to challenge institutional parochialism and provide a broader context for governance, of business, international or other important concerns.

These courts have overall responsibility for the mission and strategic vision for universities, oversight of systems and processes, including employment practices, finance, welfare of students and staff. They also, incidentally, have responsibility for the setting of principals’ salaries, which as we heard earlier, have risen to an average of £242,000 whilst academic and support staff have seen their salaries cut by 13% in real terms in the last 5 years.

The last time there as any kind of reassessment of University governance was in the 60s, when the Robbins report sought to democratise institutions, without really changing very much. So, a couple of years ago, the Scottish Government commissioned a review of the governance arrangements in HE. Professor Ferdinand von Prondzynski, the principal of RGU was appointed the chair of the review panel, and he, along with 4 other white men, undertook a review of the governance arrangements in HE. They spoke to people from each university, academics, administrators, students, and they published their report last year. This review contained many recommendations, which both UCU and EIS broadly welcomed – we would have gone further, but the recommendations themselves would be a fantastic start to improve HE in Scotland.

One of these recommendations was:
“Governing bodies also need to observe the principles of gender balance and of diversity. The panel therefore recommends that each governing body should be required to ensure (over a specified transition period) that at least 40 per cent of the membership is female. Each governing body should also ensure that the membership reflects the principles of equality and diversity more generally, reflecting the diversity of the wider society.”

Another recommendation was:
“All governing bodies should also have effective representation of internal stakeholders. The panel recommends that there should be a minimum of two students on the governing body, nominated by the students’ association/union, one of whom should be the President of the Students’ Association and at least one of whom should be a woman. There should be at least two directly elected staff members. In addition, there should be one member nominated by academic and related unions and one by administrative, technical or support staff unions.”

So, gender equality was very clearly positioned as a crucial aspect of open, transparent governance.

In response to these and other recommendations, university chancellors, principals and senior administrators had several fits, and decided to draw up their own Code of Governance, which largely ignored everything the ‘von Prond’ review said, but was agreed by all Universities, and imposed earlier this year. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Code says nothing about gender balance in university governing bodies, nor the active inclusion of women in the key functioning of universities.

At a time of change and uncertainty, when, like with so many other areas of life, HE faces funding pressures, the prospect of tuition fees, restriction in the ability of people to access HE, ever-increasing student debt, and so on, we need strong, effective, open governance.

We want HE to be a significant contributor to what drives Scotland’s future, playing its role as effectively as possible, with the widest consent and support possible. We want our young adults and lifelong learners to be able to fulfil their potential to the greatest extent possible, and with the greatest possible amount of public satisfaction, enthusiasm and support, so that Scotland can be recognised as a place of critical intellectual curiosity, and scientific and cultural innovation.

And so we must have effective and fair governance system. We need to pressure the Scottish Govt to make good its promises it implement the recommendations of von Prond, and implement it in full, including the recognition of the importance of gender balanced governing bodies.

Thank you

Closing Address to Scottish Green Party Conference 2013

I had the honour of giving the closing address at the Scottish Green Party Conference in Inverness which finished this afternoon. This is a slightly edited version of my speech.

Thank you conference.

Well, what a weekend this has been! We have had a great time here in Inverness – sunshine and warm weather (in Inverness, in October!), ceilidhs, curries, constitutional motions, policy debates, discussion, meeting up with old friends, making new friends, party buses; what more could one want? And all of this has happened because of huge effort – please let us thank Highland branch, Myra, Eleanor, Fabio, and all the others who have worked very hard to make this a successful event.

And thank you all for coming. And for staying to what is nearly the bitter the end!

This is an important conference that has, I hope, recharged you and given you enthusiasm for the year ahead. In a year’s time we will meet in Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city; the first conference after the referendum, and we will then know what kind of future we have to work with.

So, the coming 12 months are important: it is a year that includes two vital events for us, for our Party and for the place we call home.


In May next year we will win our first Member of the European Parliament. We will do that on the back of newly reinvigorated local branches around Scotland, through generating enthusiasm for our already popular policy positions, by widening our appeal to and reach into communities where we know we can really make a difference to people’s day to day lives, and by recruiting new members, supporters and activists. And all of these people, all of you, as individuals and local branches will ensure that the Party is then ready for the other challenges to come – the small issue of the independence referendum and the Holyrood election in 2016, where we have the ambitious target of electing 8 MSPs.

But, I stand here with the huge honour of being your lead European candidate, facing election in 228 days (not that I’m counting …). And that is really exciting, for me, for the party, and for the possibilities that the campaign gives us.

The European campaign offers us the chance to show that we really are on people’s side. It offers us the chance to make the argument for a reformed, democratised European Union. And I thank conference for supporting the suite of motions on Europe yesterday; those decisions mean that we have a very strong platform on which to campaign.

We need a European Union that is for people and for planet, not for bureaucrats and bankers. We must fight for a democratic EU.

But perhaps even more important, we must fight for a fair and just European Union. We reject utterly the cynical austerity politics that has reduced the people of Greece to a state of grim impoverishment and promises to do the same to the people of Ireland and Portugal. This does nothing to improve people’s lives. It does nothing to improve Europe. All it achieves is the further enrichment of the already wealthy. And we now have a very clear position on this: we will NOT participate in austerity, and we will do whatever we can to oppose austerity at every opportunity – that is quite a challenge for us as a party, and as individuals, one that all of us, but particularly, perhaps, the 16 elected politicians, need to work at.

So we want a new Europe. A Europe with compassion at its heart. A Europe that refuses to cave in to the free market orthodoxy and institutions that exist to make the rich richer. A Europe that shares its considerable wealth and prosperity and helps to build a new world.

As an MEP I will work to end European directives that encourage privatisation. I will ensure we develop mechanisms that enable our local producers to meet local needs. I will make it easier for the people of Scotland, for us, to own our own infrastructure. Our public transport, our utilities and our land.

As one of Edinburgh’s Green councillors I’ve been part of an incredible team which has opposed privatisation of services. We have stood shoulder to shoulder with blacklisted Trade Unionists and we’ve fought for stable, secure jobs, not zero hours contracts.

As your MEP I will work with Greens and others across the continent who share our beliefs and principles to achieve a better Europe. Not a bosses Europe, but a people’s Europe.

I will oppose the militarisation of Scotland, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the development of weapons that kill (mainly innocent civilians) and our involvement in overseas wars. I want no part of nuclear alliances like NATO and will make sure that Scots who agree have their voice heard in Europe and across the world. And we are in a very good position on this – we alone as candidates from the only party stand for peace – something with which many Scots identify.

And this ties in very nicely with the need for us to communicate our vision for Scotland over the coming year. We have a better opportunity than ever before, with the independence referendum, to make the case for a Scotland that serves its people, not corporate interests.

We heard earlier from Mike Danson that the UK has some of the worst inequality statistics in Europe; we should be utterly ashamed that we treat our sick and disabled people worse than any other EU state; it is a disgrace that our investment in defence far outstrips investment in our communities.

During the referendum debate, and through the process of independence, we have the chance to claim back our economy. We must take our economy back from big business and the vested interests who put their own self-aggrandisement ahead of people and planet.

We have the chance to create a welcoming home for immigrants. We can be rightly proud of our open borders policy; not only because it rejects racist and paternalist identifications of other people. It values all peoples equally, and as an immigrant myself, I know how important this is. And also, it offers us the means of securing skills, knowledge and creativity that will make our communities stronger, happier and more sustainable.

It is an opportunity to create a Scotland that leads the world in peacebuilding, not warmaking.

Yes we want an independent Scotland. But more important than independence is the Scotland that we will create through the movement we help to build.

The European election and the referendum campaign are crucial in the process of creating the Scotland we want. We need full powers over our economy. We need our own currency. We must have a democratically elected head of state. We must not replace London rule with Edinburgh rule. We must give power back to people across Scotland. We offer these people a fresh Green voice who speaks up for decent jobs and a decent living for all. And who speaks for our collective desire for a better world.

The European election and the Referendum are different. But they carry the same importance. They are about what kind of future we want. We want a future that is compassionate, that protects people and planet, that rejects austerity and the dominance of the market. We can have that future, and we will have that future. But only if we work hard to get our message across to the Scottish people on the doorstep in the media and in our daily lives.

I’ve already said that we need to reach more people than ever before. As a Party, we already punch well above our weight, and that is thanks to the hard work and good effort by everyone in this room. But to secure our success, we need proper investment: we now must engage the Scottish people in a way that surpasses anything we have done before. We can’t reach all of them, or even most of them, face to face. So we need to use other approaches: communicating in a whole number of ways, through literature, media, social media.

And all of you have a very important role to play in that. But for now, thank you all for coming to conference. Thank you for all the work I know you’re going to do – I will see you on the campaign trail.

And next year we will meet in a new country, with a new MEP and a new place in the world.

Thank you, and good bye.