We are citizens of the world!


This is the text of my speech to Scottish Greens Conference 2016, Saturday 22nd October. I had the honour of sharing the stage with two great green women: Ska Keller, and Anni Pues.


Good morning friends.

Thank you very much for that introduction, Ska. It is so good to see you again. You are a true friend – of the Scottish Greens, and of Scotland. You are one of the few European politicians who has taken the time to get to know us, the Scottish political landscape, and make our case for us in Europe, perhaps especially around the Scottish Independence Referendum two years ago, and now following Scotland’s vote not to leave the EU. Thank you so much for that. I want you to know how much that is appreciated – how much you mean to us. It is important that we recognise the solidarity you have shown us, and reaffirm our membership of the movement to which we both belong.

Friends, it is a great pleasure, and a great honour to speak to you this morning. It has been an extraordinary year since our time together in Glasgow, 12 months ago. A year in which we have seen our membership become more active. A year in which we have trebled our parliamentary representation. A year in which we have won many new people to our argument that democracy, and participation in democracy, matters. And a year in which we came out of both an election and a referendum with our reputation strengthened and our politics better understood.

But it has also been a year of great upset, great turmoil, and great loss.

At the end of last year’s conference, I started what I think might have become a tradition – we’ll have to see what happens tomorrow afternoon – by leading conference in singing Hamish Henderson’s Freedom Come All Ye. This anti-imperialist, anti-war, anti-exploitation song rejects the idea that Scottish soldiers should be imperial cannon-fodder and colonial oppressor. Rather, Henderson, in this internationalist anthem looks to a future society: one where multiracialism is welcomed, where social justice is at the heart of our world, where war is a thing of the past.

It presents a vision of the future very much like the one all of us here are working together to create.

We have done much to make that vision real. But, I am reminded, daily, that our work is far from over. The current political climate, in Scotland, in the UK, in Europe, and indeed, globally, is as uncertain as our actual climate future.

Globally we are threatened by the Republican presidential candidate.

We must be proud that we were among the first to trip up Trump. But while he seems doomed to failure we must acknowledge that he is still attracting around 40% of the American vote. Tens of millions of people are willing to sign up to his bigotry, his misogyny, his racism.

Lots of us have expressed shock and horror at how many people think that sexual harassment and sexist comments are acceptable. Of course we should be horrified. But sadly, a vast portion of the population does think these things are fine. The fact that millions think Trump’s misogyny is OK is no surprise to women in a world stained by everyday sexism.


I know, as a woman, and as a woman in politics, just how much the attitude of those like Trump can damage not just our politics, but the lives of women. While we abhor his misogyny, we must create a different politics.

Greens have always led on gender equality. Our co-convener structure is now echoed by Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley in England and Wales. We must continue to lead – by working for equal representation for women, actively promoting the participation of women in our movement, and fighting for the rights of women in everything we do.

And we must lead in broadening this work out for those who identify as trans or non-binary.

And of course, politics is both shaped by, and in turn shapes the society around us. Our party must put our beliefs into action: by challenging misogyny in all its forms, from twitter trolls to boardroom bullies; by rejecting the rape culture promoted by men like Donald Trump; by standing up against Tory austerity, which we know hits women the hardest.

Let us ensure that the horror of Trump shows the world that the fight against bigotry must go on. And when he loses next month, let that loss be a clear signal to people across the world who are fighting back: we will win.

We, as Greens, have a crucial part to play in shaping Scotland’s role and place in the world. Two years ago, I led our European Parliament election campaign with the message: A just and welcoming Scotland. That message chimed with many people.

The result of the European referendum emphasises how effective the movement to create an inclusive internationalist politics in Scotland has been. The 62% remain vote stands as a testament to how differently Scots felt to those in most of the rest of the UK. We still have a great deal of work to do. But we have avoided the worst of the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the debate that we’ve seen south of the border.

In Scotland UKIP are a laughing stock. At Westminster they set the agenda for government.

As Greens we are proud to be citizens of the world: and we will work to be citizens of an internationalist, welcoming Scotland; a Scotland that works for Social Justice throughout the world; a Scotland committed to fighting climate change, working for peace and defending human rights.

In her speech to Tory Party conference, Theresa May said anyone who was a citizen of the world is a citizen of nowhere. I have a message for her: I am a citizen of the world and I would be delighted to be a citizen of an independent Scotland.

In the Scottish Green Party, we have a plan to make this happen.

We will create a society as caring as hers is hate filled. We will create a country committed to welcoming refugees – whatever age they are.

We will not blame the vulnerable or the poor for the failings of the economic system.

We will reach out our arms to shelter and protect those fleeing persecution and war.

When Theresa May talks of ‘divisive nationalists’ she talks about her own prejudices, her own hatred of others and her own bigotry.

When the Tories and others want to subject those escaping terror and torture to medical and dental checks to see whether or not they deserve to live in safety and security, they reveal not only their lack of compassion, but their inhumanity too.

Theresa May implied that I, as an immigrant, am not welcome in Britain anymore – that those born abroad are not welcome.

You know what, Theresa? I am happy to leave Britain.

But I’m not going on my own. I think many of us are happy to leave, and we are going to take Scotland with us.

More and more new-Scots like me are coming to the same conclusion. More and more of us are looking at the xenophobia of the British state, and agreeing that it is time to leave Britain behind, and build a just, welcoming country on the northern edge of Europe: an independent Scotland, that remains a part of the EU, for everyone who chooses to make this our home.

What’s more: while we’re still part of the UK we won’t stand for our neighbours, friends, colleagues who happen to from other countries being used as ‘bargaining chips’. We won’t stand for the the continued stigmatisation of our neighbours, friends, colleagues, as they build a home here, as they learn here, as they care and are cared for. It must stop. And it must stop now.

As an immigrant I have always felt welcome in Scotland. I am heartbroken that the British Government and their dog whistling UKIP sidekicks have stoked racism and xenophobia, making people, including many in this room, feel like they don’t belong. I want to extend the welcome I have felt to all immigrants.

Please know that together, we can all be neighbours, colleagues, friends. Family. I want you to know that you are valued, not just because of your economic worth and the skills you have, but as a human.

And, I know it is not convention to applaud the leader of another party, but we should when they have done the right thing in the face of opposition. I want to thank Nicola Sturgeon for saying, so clearly, that Scotland is home for all those who choose to live here.

As a migrant myself, I can’t tell you how much that means to me.

As if Theresa May’s hate-mongering wasn’t enough, she has imposed Boris Johnson as foreign secretary.

This is a man who complained that Barack Obama hates Britain because of his Kenyan roots. This is a man who thinks it appropriate to use racial slurs that were even seen as offensive when first used over a century ago. And this is a man who spouts disgusting views about people across the world, from Turkey to Papua New Guinea.

Let’s be clear, and I don’t use this word lightly – this man is a racist. Maybe a public school educated racist, maybe a racist who speaks Latin, but a racist nonetheless.

Being represented by this man on the world stage is an embarrassment. And we deserve better.

That is one reason why I am glad that we will have the opportunity to again make the case for an independent Scotland. As in the last independence referendum, our pitch will be based on what we can do with the powers that independence will bring, not on independence for its own sake, or on claims to nationhood. We hope that independence will give us the chance to build a society based on social and environmental justice. We believe that independence will give us the chance to play a much more positive role in the world. We know that independence is the only way to remove the weapons of mass destruction on the Clyde.

We know now just how unstable the British state is. It is clear it is an old imperial state writhing its death throes. A state which blames the weak and the vulnerable, which blames immigrants for the failures of its elites is a state that is in terminal decline.

We can do so, so much better.

But as always, doing better means going back to our core green principles.  We don’t just need more power in Holyrood – we need more power in communities across Scotland. Local authority elections offer us the chance to make that case this coming year.

Now, I know it’s not always an easy case to make.  

When I was a councillor I made the case for giving communities the right to decide how community grant money was spent. Not everyone agreed. They said it would result in worse decisions – because apparently politicians always know best. They said there would be very little interest. In the first year 400 people turned up – surpassing everyone’s expectations. And as we heard from Mel yesterday, Leith Decides has gone from strength to strength year on year.

It’s such a success that the Scottish government has decided to put £2 million pounds into participatory budgeting projects like Leith Decides all across Scotland.

When I suggested a Living Wage for all Edinburgh Council employees, people got it confused with the minimum wage, or argued it wasn’t practical. They thought it was not practical to pay workers a wage that enables them to live in dignity and comfort. Now, that once radical idea is seen as common sense across the political spectrum.

I am proud to have been a part of the Edinburgh Green Councillors’ Group, and I’m proud that we have Green councillors across Scotland pushing for the changes we so desperately need. If the job of the radical is to make hope possible, this is a very real way we can make hope not only possible, but make change real.

Green ideas are the future. Where Greens get elected, we bring these ideas into the open. We push them onto a wider stage. We find ways to show that our ideas work. And, often, we find other parties quickly shift from mocking our proposals to pretending they always agreed with us.

And that means that even a small group of Green councillors can make a huge difference to their area. Every community across Scotland needs a local Green presence. The people of every Local Authority in Scotland deserve Green councillors.

In May next year, people across Scotland will have the opportunity to choose who will lead, transform and develop their local authorities. This presents perhaps our best opportunity to ensure our green principles of participatory democracy form the bedrock of our local government.

We Greens will offer an alternative to the centralising tendencies of the SNP.

We Greens will present plans for local government that are inclusive and participative.

We Greens will be leading the charge against austerity and cuts to local jobs and services.

And whilst I’m talking about jobs, I am delighted that the RMT are attending conference this weekend, highlighting their campaigns for fair pay for for safety at work.

We know that austerity is an ideological tool used to hammer the poor. It was sold to us as a way to pay down the national debt. Yet Britain’s government debt has doubled since 2010. David Cameron (remember him?) was fond of saying ‘We are all in this together’. Yet, in the midst of austerity, the wealth of the richest in society has doubled. Some of us are clearly more ‘in this’ than others.

Austerity is about disciplining the poor and the workers, making people unable to rock the boat for fear of losing work or benefits. We must continue our fight against this. And the local elections in May give us another opportunity to shout loud and clear that we say no to cuts, we say no to privatisation, and we say no to isolating and demonising our communities.

In just the same way that we want to rescue our country from those who spread racist, xenophobic and sexist hate, we want to give our communities the opportunity to flourish. And we need Green Councillors across Scotland to do this.

We are all grateful to those who are standing as candidates. I look forward to our conference next year where we can welcome record numbers of new Green Councillors. New Green councillors protecting local communities from government centralisation and from the cuts and austerity that has done so much damage to our society.

So, if I may, can I ask all those who have already been selected to stand in the Local elections next year to stand up …

Conference: these are the people who will play a leading role in giving power back to people, in building greener, healthier, happier communities. Thank you all for standing, and can I wish each and every one of you the very best of luck.

Friends, I am reminded, often, of the words written by James Oppenheim, sung by the women who led the Lawrence Textile strike in Massachusetts in 1912. This strike, for better pay and conditions, united workers from over 40 nationalities, and together, they sang these words:

As we go marching, marching

We bring the greater days

For the rising of the women

Means the rising of the race

No more the drudge and idler

Ten that toil where one reposes

But the sharing of life’s glories

Bread and roses, bread and roses

There is so much in these words that encapsulates the work we have still to do today: we must work together, with citizens of the world, to create a fair, just society that treats all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or any other category, as equal citizens of the world.

I am proud to be part of a party, of a wider movement that makes this our daily struggle. I am proud and grateful to be a citizen of the world.

Thank you.


A welcome to the new academic year

As Rector of the University of Aberdeen, I write a column in the student newspaper, the Gaudie. Given the recent discussions (!) about immigration and education, I thought I’d post my piece from a couple of weeks ago here.

Image taken during industrial action supported by AUSA and the student body earlier in 2016

Welcome (back) to Aberdeen, and to this wonderful community of learning, living, playing, and laughing. As Rector, it makes me very happy to see you start or return to your studies at the start of a new academic year. I welcome you all, wherever you come from in the world: regardless of what is happening in the media and in UK politics, I want to assure you that you are welcome here.

And I am pleased, too, to be writing this column, reinstating the Rector’s Rambles; my take on issues, events or other ponderings that I hope will be of interest to you, and will challenge you to think a little bit differently about the world.

The position of Rector is an interesting one; one that tells you a great deal about this institution and and Scottish Higher Education more generally. Rectors are directly elected by you, the students, every three years, and they chair the University’s governing body, the Court. They are a clear statement of and commitment to “the democratic intellect”: that universities exist to serve not just themselves, their students, or their staff, but the wider public good, to improve and support our society and make our world better for all.

At the start of the year, we might all take a moment to pause to consider the important role education plays in Aberdeen, in Scotland, and the wider world, fostering the intellectual life of this great city and of the nation. Education is not just for the very rich who can afford it, but for all who can benefit from it. Education is about so much more than obtaining knowledge and skills to become cogs in the machine of the labour market. It is about expanding our minds, our horizons. It is about pushing the boundaries of the possible to create a better future for our people, our communities, our world.

It is most definitely NOT about the market, or about treating students as customers. If we look back to Ancient Greece, which, amongst others, created the foundations of thousands of years of Western thought, we see that education was about the power of curiousness, enquiry, experimentation, not the power of the market or the power of citizens as customers.

Given the political and economic context of Scotland, the UK, Europe – and Aberdeen – today, we have to come together and work together to ensure we do not lose sight of the purpose and value of education, of ourselves as citizens, of this great institution.

I look forward to meeting many of you over the coming year, seeing your minds and hearts grow as you learn, teach, work and play, and working with you to create the changes our world so desperately needs.

#Indyref 2 years on – what we won

#Indyref 2 years on – what we won

In the two years since the Independence Referendum the politics of Scotland has changed beyond recognition. Although the realities of inequality remain very much the same, it is worth noting just how different our country is as a result of the referendum and its aftermath.

Scotland entered the referendum campaign in 2012, very much like England – while we voted differently in Scotland, our attitudes to political questions were very different. Scotland now stands politically very much apart from England. The citizens of nations aren’t born with a particular political outlook, be that left or right. The idea that the politics of Scotland’s people was formed with loch and glen is simply wrong. It’s the product of our history, geography and society. But that politics can change. And the referendum shows it can change very quickly.

While Scotland didn’t vote for independence, our changing politics is eroding the UK’s political unity. What is perhaps most interesting was the way in which change happened. It wasn’t  the result of media headlines, press officers, or any of the tools of the late 20th century. It was a mass movement – people convincing other people. And it is this politics that is beginning to change the world, from our political parties to the US presidential race.

The tide that transformed Scotland has seen changes in politics across the world. Radical candidates surge into the leadership of previously centrist parties. Radical parties perform better than over the last 3 decades. This is because of a change in the structure of the economy, a change to how we communicate and on the entry of a new generation to the electorate.

While Margaret Thatcher sought to ‘change the soul’ by making money the dominant relationship in society, the outcome seems to be a generation of people who reject the tyranny of the market. It’s not really a surprise when that market has forced people to take on huge debt to get education, a jobs market that offers little security and often poverty wages, and housing that costs three times (and often more) than what it did for their parents.


But those material changes only sow the seeds for political change. What made the Scottish experience unique was that it was a transformation in a national political debate driven not by a crisis like in Greece or Spain. Instead our change came from the desire to redefine our politics with social justice and equality at its heart. And it came from ordinary people arming themselves with facts, arguments and that desire to make Scotland a better place.


The Green campaign in the 2014 European Parliament election focused on how we could create a just, welcoming Scotland. As anti-immigrant rhetoric from Westminster politicians and tabloid papers sank to new depths our aim was to change the nature of the debate around austerity, immigration and our future. We didn’t win, but we I like to think we profoundly changed the debate.

And we carried that approach into Green Yes. Far from being the ‘narrow nationalism’ derided by our opponents, we willed into existence a Scotland that looked to the world for the best ways to do things. A Scotland that looked to change the world for the better. A Scotland for those at home with freedom.

The contrast with the EU referendum could not be greater. Where our referendum became a cauldron of ideas, energy, excitement and resolution to change the world, the EU referendum was a grand exercise in cynicism. Driven by a narrow nationalism that sought to return England to its status as an imperial power, the debate often felt like a demand to stop the world, so England  could get off – taking the rest of us too.

Of course, for many of those shut out of education, housing and secure employment, this was entirely understandable. Just as it was understandable for many to vote to stay in a United Kingdom they little expected to behave so self-destructively. And just as we in Scotland have decisively shifted the debate on immigration, so we need to shift those in the UK who still blame foreigners for the economic impact of Thatcherism and the banking crisis. 

We must not cease from our work in creating Scotland anew. We face ever greater challenges. It is not just Scotland we must recast. We have communities, cities, workplaces to change. We have the tools that can make that change, it is a matter of finding the opportunities to use those tools. By defining our identity as egalitarian, internationalist and committed to saving our planet we can claim back our souls from Thatcherism. The referendum was only the beginning. Its spirit lives on, and we can and will use that spirit to create the Scotland we all deserve in the world we all deserve

The EU debate: why left leave is making me angry

EU panel debate

I am angry.*

I’ve spoken in a few debates about the EU Referendum recently (the image above is from the Edinburgh People’s Festival debate with Jim Sillars and Neil Findlay). In these, as with my recent blog post, I have tried to present a left wing case for remaining a part of the EU. I have tried to present a vision of a better Europe, one with democracy, transparency, equality and social justice at its heart; along similar lines to the vision of the Democracy in Europe Movement. I don’t, for one moment, think that such a EU is inevitable with a remain vote, just as I did not believe a yes vote in the Scottish Independence Referendum would automatically result in a better Scotland. With Europe, as with Scotland, change and reform will take a great deal of very hard work. It will take the building, developing and sustaining of a social movement across the continent. But creating, having, building and sharing that vision is important. So important.

Many people, in the discussions I’ve seen, heard and contributed to so far, have been lamenting the depressing nature of the debate so far: it has been so completely dominated by the political right, by Bullingdon boys arguing about which vote will serve the interests of neoliberalism better. I have said that we, on the left, must take some responsibility for this. We have a responsibility, a duty, to liven up the debate. To put forward more interesting ideas. To propose what the future – whatever the result – would look like.

To date, I have seen nothing from the left leave campaign that paints a picture for me about a positive future for the UK out of the EU. I have asked several people, challenged fellow debate panel members, asked members of Lexit. And I get the same response from most of them: the EU is undemocratic, it has been captured by neoliberal and corporatist interests, it is not transparent, it is xenophobic. And so on.

I know all of this. I agree with it. I don’t want the status quo. But I don’t see that leaving the EU delivers the radically different Europe (or UK, or Scotland) I want to see. The left’s inability or unwillingness to say how things will be better after a leave vote (for anyone) is making me angry.

I have tried to focus on the potential for a different EU. I have acknowledged the problems of the status quo, but not really gone into them in any detail, not really outlined how leaving the EU does not make these problems go away but will probably make them worse. So here’s some more on this. After this rant, I’ll try and be positive again. But for now, three key reasons why leaving the EU will be bad:

  1. If we can’t reform the EU, we can’t reform the world

So much of the commentary from left leave folk is about how it is just not possible to reform the EU. This sounds very much like an acceptance that reform, anywhere, is not possible. When challenged, many reform-of-the-EU-is-not-possible advocates fail to acknowledge just how broken the British state is. If we leave the EU, we will be at the mercy of a British state, a Westminster institution that has shown no inclination to change.

Remember how hard members of the British establishment railed against change in the AV referendum? They fought tooth and nail against AV – a relatively minor change to our ‘democracy’. That is how resistant to change they are.

The Tories (who will be leading any negotiations following a leave vote) want to increase the membership of the unelected House of Lords by 100 peers, whilst reducing the number of members in the elected House of Commons by 50 MPs. That is how antagonistic to democracy they are.

The Tories went to see Mrs Windsor prior to the last General Election to try and get her to say that people should vote Conservative. That is how resistant to any kind of real democracy (never mind electing the UK’s head of state) they are.

And if we want to talk about TTIP (so many people saying that our NHS is only safe outside the EU, that we won’t be able to have nationalised services as part of the EU), how many members of the UK Cabinet disagree with TTIP and will not want to sign it regardless of EU membership? Zero. Whereas Tsipras, as a member of the European Council, has said he will veto it.

And don’t, for a moment, believe that the Tories will fall apart following a leave vote. Leaving the EU removes the biggest issue of division in the party. They have always been, and will always be, very good at uniting after a battle, no matter how bloody – we have centuries of evidence for this. It might mean losing some prominent personalities, but it won’t dent the Tory ability to hold on to power.

Leaving the EU does not leave us with a blank canvas to create new democratic governance structures. It leaves us with a Tory government and the instruments of the British state that have no interest in us as humans, simply as objects (I don’t even think we qualify as subjects) that can be used to further their neoliberal, imperial interests.

[As a side note, it is for these reasons that I wanted, and still want, Scottish independence. That would lead to a fracture of the British state. Leaving the EU won’t result in a fracture of the EU. And it certainly won’t result in a fracture of the British state. In fact, I think leaving the EU will reinforce the British state. But that’s not what this post is about.]

  1. The problem is Neoliberalism, not the institutions of the EU

This is closely linked to my first point above. The institutions of the EU are not only un- and/or anti- democratic, they have been captured by neoliberalism. But so has the British state. We need to work across borders, building social movements that transcend any kind of nationalism, to challenge neoliberalism.

The EU has become an instrument of neoliberalism. But there is nothing inevitable about this. Going back nearly 70 years, the first thoughts about transnational co-operation were about changing things: about ensuring that war was not the default way to deal with disagreements; about creating new institutions that could redefine our relationships with power; about finding and sharing, across cultural differences, a common humanity; about creating peace and understanding, and defining democracy anew. That is the foundation of the EU. That is what we’ve got to use to challenge its capture by neoliberalism. Leaving the EU does not destroy neoliberalism. Let’s not get distracted from the bigger, and so much more important, goal.

  1. Immigration and freedom of movement will be worse under a Tory government

I am a South African citizen. I was born and brought up in Zimbabwe. I have experienced, first hand, the consequences of colonialism, IMF-imposed structural adjustment, paternalism. I have also experienced the constraints imposed on foreigners by the UK Border Agency and the Home Office. Several years ago (before the laws became even more restrictive) I bought – for that’s what it amounts to – indefinite leave to remain in the UK.

I say ‘bought’ because I had to pay for the stamp in my passport. Before this I had to pay for the ‘Life in the UK’ test. Before this I had to pay for the books that contained the information required to pass the Life in the UK test. Before this I had to pay for the temporary visas to study and work in the UK. Before this I had to pay for the education required to enable me to be in a position to study and work in the UK. Thousands of pounds later, I am treated with less suspicion than other Africans (still some suspicion, though, but it is further moderated by the colour of my skin and the accent that comes out of my mouth) at border controls because of a fancy little stamp in my passport.

The UK’s immigration system is racist. It is classist. It is xenophobic. It is social engineering: you have to be wealthy enough and well enough educated to be granted entry to the UK. In other words, you must not be poor, unable to speak English, or uneducated.

Most people arguing to leave the EU are British/EU subjects/citizens. Having had the privilege of freedom of movement across the continent (and most of the rest of the world), these people have little idea of what it is like to have arcane restrictions placed on your ability to move around, simply because of where your parents were when you were born, or what their origins were.

If the UK leaves the EU, every single EU citizen will be subjected to similar restrictions that I and thousands of others from around the world are subjected to. Do you really want to expose thousands of Europeans to the racist, classist UKBA? And, if the UK adopts a points-based system like Australia has, how long will it be until people trying to get into the UK are held in detention centres off-shore, where crimes, including rapes, go uninvestigated? This is the reality for refugees at the moment in Europe, which is not on. It is also the reality for would-be immigrants to Australia.

So …

We face a choice. And it may be about choosing the lesser of two evils. But for me, it is a clear choice. We can either allow the Tories to boot out immigrants, to treat other Europeans as appallingly as they treat those from the rest of the world, and to rip up the social charter. Or we can work with those across the continent to build a workers’ movement across Europe, to build a social movement of solidarity that will be our only hope of challenging neoliberalism in Dundee, Brussels, Athens, Harare, Pretoria, Canberra and elsewhere.

If anyone from the left campaigning to leave the EU can give me a clear vision for a better UK outside the EU, I’m all ears.

* Addendum for clarity: Several folk have expressed dismay that Left Leave is making me angrier than the Tories and other right wing groups on both sides of the debate … that is not what I’ve said at all. Left Leave has made me angry because I am yet to hear what their positive vision for either the UK or the EU is if we vote to leave. I am absolutely livid at the content of the mainstream (rightwing) debate and the manner in which it is happening. Please don’t mistake these different sources of anger!

Why I’ll be voting to remain a member of the EU


Two years ago, I had the huge honour of being the Scottish Greens’ lead candidate in the European elections. Our campaign slogan was a just and welcoming Scotland – we put our principles of peace, social justice and democracy and our support for open borders and immigration front and centre of our campaign.

During that campaign, I became very familiar with some of the huge problems of the EU. Then, and this was before the squeeze on Greece, it was seen as being anti-democratic – the parliament not having anywhere as much influence as the Commission or the European Central Bank (or any of the other institutions of the EU) – not progressive in its political or economic outlook, and not succeeding economically for many.

Not much has changed in the intervening years – it has clearly been captured by and for neoliberal and corporatist interests, it is exclusionary, it can be racist and xenophobic as it does not afford non-Europeans the same rights as Europeans. But still, on balance, I think we should vote to remain part of the EU in just four weeks time.

This is not because I endorse the UK government’s approach as outlined in its controversial document delivered to every home recently. No, far from it. I want to argue for Scotland’s membership of an EU that is radically different to the one being talked about by either side of the very male, very blue debate currently taking place.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, we must consider our current political context. In Scotland, and in the UK, a vote to leave will be a victory for the right. The momentum in this campaign comes from and sits with a right wing leave case that says we must shut our borders, that we must reinvigorate the Empire, that we must make Britain great again. That sends shivers down my spine.

It means going back to the days of the Raj, and a colonial project in Africa that was profoundly racist. And in the 100th anniversary year of the Easter Rising, which had everything to do with challenging imperial and anti-democratic monarchical power, we need to reclaim some of the collective solidarity of that century-old republican movement.

The right wing case to leave is the dominant narrative, presented by people who think that imperialism is the highest form of capitalism, and that that is a good thing. However much we might wish it not to be the case, siding with these people means siding with those who do not not believe that the world has changed since the 19th century. As an immigrant from post-colonial Southern Africa, that horrifies me.

But, context aside, let’s have a look at some principles, and where they lead us in this debate – there are several that persuade me to vote to remain.

For me, a very important green and socialist principle is the freedom of movement of people, encompassing both the freedoms to live where you wish, and to move when you wish. This is probably one of the most important aspects of the the European Project. Breaking down barriers, such as state borders, is a positive thing. We live and work in an increasingly globalised world. Our economies increasingly function on global or very local levels, not so much at the level of the state. Not only do EU nationals contribute hugely to our economy, but they enrich our lives socially, culturally and in so many other ways. They are our doctors, our teachers, our builders, our professors, and I welcome and value the part they play in our society.

Europe also represents one of the very few real moves to transnational regulation of our banking and finance systems. And ironically, such regulation has been held back by the very forces who now wish to leave the EU. The green cause is advanced by moves to tame the transnational power of capital, and the international influence of the banks. Whilst it is true that, to a large extent, free-market fundamentalism has taken hold across the EU, it is worth noting that this is due to a collective failure of the left to win elections across the continent. And our response should be a call to collective action across the continent, not to separate ourselves off into almost certain right wing oblivion.

And change in Europe can happen – the Democracy in Europe Movement (Diem) is blossoming. It is calling for the EU to embrace accountability. Demands include transparency in decision-making, constraints on corporate lobbying and further democratic input into the EU from citizens.

The European Parliament – which is in many ways far more democratic than our own Westminster parliament (it’s members are elected using a proportional system, for a start!) – should also have the power to instigate legislation, thus building on its ability to block proposals from the Commission. Indeed, an excellent case in point is TTIP. If a majority of democratically elected MEPs choose to vote against TTIP then the deal will be scuppered. Let’s remember that the UK government is one of the biggest cheerleaders for this kind of damaging trade deal. Can you imagine what Britain’s trade deals with the rest of the world would look like if the Tories were left in charge of negotiating them? We’d be signing up to multiple TTIPs with any nation willing to trade with us.

I also want to keep secure cross-border legislation on workers rights, on women’s rights, on human rights. These rights have been hard fought for by trade unions, women and others across the globe, and it is because of the EU they are now enshrined in the laws of every member state. It is because of the EU that temporary and part time workers have something approaching equal rights with full time workers. It is because of the EU that we can have international consultation with trade unions on rights for carers, for stronger protection from dismissal for working mothers. It is because of the EU that we have international policies against sexual harassment, human trafficking, the sexual exploitation of children. It is because of the EU that we have designated funding to combat violence against women and girls, fight female genital mutilation, and so much more.

And, whilst I’m talking about funding, it would be remiss of me not to mention education and university research. Without the EU funding our higher education institutions get, without the freedom of movement of students, academics, and dare I say it, knowledge, enabled by the EU, our universities would be very much poorer.

I think it is clear that we need transnational commitments for environmental protection and tackling climate change. It’s only by working with our European neighbours that we can effectively tackle climate change, protect wildlife and reduce pollution. Thanks to EU rules, our beaches are cleaner and our dirtiest power stations are being shut down.

However, virtually all of these reasons have their downfall, not least because they are either strategic – some might say tactical – or instrumental – using the EU as a means to an end, the end being improved workers or human rights.

Fundamentally, I am in favour of the EU because the whole point of it is to change things, to create new institutions, to redefine our relationships with power, to share. Going back to its inception, nearly 70 years ago, this is what it was all about – creating peace and understanding, defining democracy anew. The EU’s capture by neoliberalism is exactly the reason we must fight to remain: we, the people, must use the EU’s foundational approach of peaceful, transformative and incremental change to take back our economy and renew our democracy.

EU imageThe European story should be celebrated. After centuries of war, countries with different histories and cultures have come together, opting to share sovereignty in some areas while keeping their own traditions, in order to work together for the common good. Being a member of the EU helps the UK meet head-on international challenges like the refugee crisis, international terrorism and climate change.

We know the EU isn’t perfect. We want the EU to be more democratic, to be genuinely accountable to the citizens of Europe. So, rather than capitulate to reactionary forces, our job must be to make the EU better. We need to democratise the EU, and to use it as the beginning of a global social movement of solidarity. And to do this we need to be in it!


Why we must back Nursing Scotland’s Future

I spoke at two hustings organised by the Royal College of Nurses – one in Aberdeen and one in Dundee. In both, I pledged by support for their Nursing Scotland’s Future manifesto. Here’s why.


As a green, I believe that healthy individuals and communities are the basis of a socially just society.


The NHS and our network of social care services in every local authority, is an incredible national asset. But Scotland’s people face unacceptable differences in longevity and years lived in good physical or mental health. These inequalities in health are harmful to individuals and to society. Greens want to take every opportunity to strengthen the foundations for good health especially tackling income inequality and discrimination and prejudice. We believe Scotland can be a society where we fight poverty, build communities and support everyone in need throughout life.


To achieve this, we must put health and well-being at the centre of government, and focus on measures to make our society’s good health, equality and wellbeing the foundation of all Scottish Government policy. Most of the measures we currently use, GDP being the main one, do not deliver this for us. This will help us deliver the first pledge in the NSF manifesto.


Many of our health outcomes are determined by the conditions we face in our early years, sometimes even before birth. So we need policies that tackle child poverty, support healthy pregnancies, build children’s confidence and foster healthy lifestyle habits from a young age. In these ways, by giving our children the best possible start, we can focus on prevention, which is not only more cost effective, but also makes for happier, healthier communities throughout life.


If we look at the health inequalities in Scotland, and indeed across the world, it is very clear that economic inequality is a key driver of illness and poor health. We need economic policies, like a Living Wage, to help address these. We also need policies that will create healthier environments – air pollution kills over 2000 Scots annually and is one of the top avoidable causes according to cutting edge research from Professor David Newby at  the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh in conjunction with British Heart Foundation. And we need social policies that tackle poor housing, promote active travel, and secure jobs with decent conditions.


Scottish Greens are committed to developing a health service fit for the future. Workforce planning is key to this – meaning we can cope with demographic changes and increased population. Such planning has to include engagement with universities to ensure we have enough nurses in the future, as well as funding these places appropriately, so we don’t lose potential nurses with great life experience simply because they cannot afford to train as mature students. We also need to ensure voices of different service users are heard – we must properly include isolated older people in society and enable them to maintain their independence.  


Importantly, we must also ensure parity of of esteem for mental and physical health – in spending, planning, and staffing. We know that between ¼ and ⅓ of all Scots experience poor mental health, and we also know that there are just not enough resources at the moment to support them.


Finally, none of these aspirations for a healthy Scotland would be possible without you, the staff that support us throughout our lives. Greens are committed to treating workers fairly, paying them well and supporting them to develop your careers.

Mental health must gain equal status with physical health!

These comments are taken from my opening remarks at SAMH‘s national mental health hustings that were held in Dundee. I was there representing the greens, and there were speakers from the SNP, Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.




As a green, I believe that healthy people and communities are the basis of a socially just society. And I know that our health, mental and physical, is affected by so many things: where we live, our workplace, our education, and so on. So we must address mental health issues not in isolation, but in the round of our individual and social contexts. Greens want to take every opportunity to strengthen the foundations for good health especially tackling income inequality and discrimination and prejudice. We believe Scotland can be a society where we fight poverty, build communities and support everyone in need throughout life.


To achieve this, we must put health and well-being at the centre of government, and focus on measures to make our society’s good health, equality and wellbeing the foundation of all Scottish Government policy.


Mental health has been secondary to physical health for too long, and too long seen as something separate from inequality, poverty and poor local environment. Green MSPs will fight for equal consideration for mental and physical health – in spending, planning and staffing. We need more and better resources to support the ¼ to ⅓ of Scots who experience poor mental health.


We support the Declaration of Rights for Mental Health to ensure that all people with mental health issues are treated equally, with dignity and respect.


Our education system must also better support the mental wellbeing of the next generation. Green MSPs will fight for early action on identifying child mental health issues, and will support the broadening out of our education curriculum to ensure creativity, confidence and well being sit alongside numeracy and literacy.
I believe that, with more greens in the Scottish Parliament, we can, indeed, to quote Billy Watson in SAMH’s manifesto, be “bold, creative and innovative”. Scottish Greens have the radical policies that will help transform our lives and our country for the better.