Rector installation at the University of Aberdeen

Today I had the huge honour of being installed as Rector of the Univeristy of Aberdeen. This is my installation address.

“Good morning Pro-Chancellor, Principal, ladies and gentlemen, and for those of you who organised my campaign, comrades.

I am honoured to be able to address you today, and delighted to stand before you as your rector. It is a huge privilege to have been elected by so many of you to serve you over the coming three years, and I look forward, very much, to the challenges that I hope we will face together. One challenge that it appears I must face alone, however, is the small matter of being carried around on Angus the bull. I approach that with some trepidation, but rest assured, I won’t attempt to filibuster my way through the whole of today to mean that does not happen!

  


I must start with some thanks. Firstly, to all those involved in organising today: Julie Beattie, Emily Beever, and many others – I am grateful for all you have done to pull this together. I am immensely grateful to the students in involved in the Shared Planet society for asking me to stand for election last year – it really was an honour to be asked. And I would not have made it to today without the cajoling, organising, campaigning, banner making, and so much more by Eva, Lina, and the rest of my campaign team. And I’d like to thank the University for being so welcoming and open, helping me find my feet around this mighty institution. And my close friends and family for their tireless support, advice and love. Huge thanks to those who have managed to travel to share today with me. Unfortunately my mother cannot be here – Zimbabwe is just too far away sometimes – but I know she is with me in thought. I am sorry that my Dad didn’t live to see today – he would have loved the robes and Angus. And finally Peter – thank you for your patient support, and for being you.

I am very much aware of the significance of the job that lies before me. I have heard so many good things about my predecessor, Maitland Mackie, and his tireless energy and enthusiasm working for students here. His are certainly big boots to fill, even if the robe didn’t need altering! I am grateful for what I have learned of this role from hearing about his good work, and also the work of Rectors at other universities.

I believe that the role of Rector is at least three fold: 

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, to be an advocate for students, ensuring that student concerns are taken seriously by all parts of the university. I hope to make a nuisance of myself in as positive and nice a way as possible to achieve this. Secondly, to participate in the governance of the university, operating not from a management perspective, but from one that is about democracy and good governance, to ensure that learning is at the heart of everything that we do, and that we resist the ever increasing pressure to become commercial graduate factories. And thirdly, to encourage the university to be much better at transforming our world for good, not just by the education we pass on to our students, but by how we use whatever resources we have to make this world better for all who live in it.

We face two great crises as a society – one that is economic, and one that is environmental.

The economic crisis is manifest in so many ways: the increase in low quality, low paid jobs, motivated by the economic elites desire to turn a quick profit; the decline in standards of living for the majority, the unaffordability of basic human needs like housing, heating, food – things that should be a right.

And the environmental crisis, driven by fossil fuel extraction, the wasteful materialism of capitalism, and the destruction of so many human and non human lives in our quest for more stuff.

And young people are bearing the brunt of these crises – for the first time, our generation (or mine and those that follow me), face a worse economic environment than our parents, with record increases in house prices, poor graduate employment, low levels of economic security, and the threat of environmental catastrophe. Young people are paying for a crisis they had no role in creating. This generation faces greater responsibility, but has less support than any post-war generation, being excluded from higher education, secure work, decent housing, by people who benefited from free education and other universal benefits, and who were not shackled by systems designed to load them with debt.

Those of us growing up after Thatcher came to power in 1979 have been subjected to a brutal attack in the form of neoliberalism, where competition and individualist success, in our school system, in housing, everywhere, are what drive society. A system designed not to develop everyone, but to support the few at the expense of the many, to discipline and punish those who do not or cannot play the game. 

Our generation faces graduate unemployment of 20%, a vast reduction in the number of stable, rewarding careers available to us, the indignity and exploitation of unpaid internships. One and a half million people under 30 are unemployed. The average age of first time house buyers is 37. And that’s before you consider the long term impact of climate change and the privatisation of  the NHS in England. We must continue to create a better world, not abandon what we have achieved over the past 70 years.

And while this is happening to us and our future generations, the elite get wealthier, the inequity gap gets wider and the planet gets hotter.

So, what is to be done?

We need is a just transition away from dependence on fossil fuels to clean energy systems and from an economic system that creates huge inequality to one that puts people before profit. We need to create a politics that recognises generational differences. We need a generational politics.

And this is no mean task! 

We will face significant opposition and challenge, from those who are benefitting from the status quo. Already the criticism of the desire to change has started. Resistance similar to that faced by those developing a gender politics, a politics of race, or of sexuality – the important struggles that defined previous generations, but are still significant today. All of these must receive attention if we are to create a better world. And we will need to work hard to counter the voices that say it is not possible to reclaim a caring society for our and the next generations. We know from the struggles against slavery and apartheid that social change is possible.

But such change needs effort, it needs spokespeople, it needs a movement of supporters behind it. It needs a new politics. And it needs places for this new politics to thrive.

I believe that Aberdeen University can be one of these places – universities are often where social and economic change originate. By taking your enthusiasm for a better world, by drawing on your experiences of rent inequalities, dodgy landlords, poor employment prospects, you are crucial to the movement for social change. And I want to use my role as rector to support you in these aims. I hope to be able to bring this new politics to the role of Rector. To campaign on the things that matter to you, to improve the transparency and openness in our governance so you can take this out into the world beyond university. To make sure the university is in the lead in promoting sustainability and the transformation away from a fossil fuel based economy towards a green economy. Just as there needs to be replacements for the high paying jobs of the ff industry, we need to find new ways to generate energy that work for the common good. Aberdeen certainly has the potential to be a world leader for a caring, socially just and sustainable future.

I promise to work hard with you all, staff and students alike, with Emily and her team of current sabbaticals, and Genna and the new team, recently elected, to ensure our students are well prepared for this challenge ahead. I will continue to campaign against the terrible consequences of austerity, genera rational discrimination, and the demonising of the young and the poor. 

Together, we can create a better world, where we can all look forward to a fulfilling future, and where we put people at the heart of everything we do.

I hope you will accept my invitation to join me in this immense task.”

Memories, music and eclipses

Where has the last year gone?

Dad2010

Dad, in his hat! This pic was taken 4 years before he died, during a very happy trip to Cape Town.

At 3.10pm (Zimbabwe time) a year ago today, my Dad died. I can’t believe that it was 365 days ago that Mum and I stood holding each other up as he slipped away from us. In some ways, that moment seems like yesterday. In others, it was a lifetime ago.

And so much has happened in this past year that he missed; things of which I know he would have loved to be a part. He missed my failure to be elected to the European Parliament. He wasn’t there to see such a wonderful week of music that celebrated 50 years of Musicamp in Zim. He didn’t get to discuss the consequences of the No vote in Scotland’s Independence Referendum. He didn’t get to see me become Lord Rector of the University of Aberdeen. He missed the snow on New Year’s Day in Perthshire, and the first snowdrops in February.

But he was there, through all of these times, with me, with my Mum, with us. In memory and thought.

This morning, I stood outside in the strange light that was the eclipse (93% complete in Edinburgh!), in the middle of Sighthill, with some of my students, marvelling at the world in which we live. I had the song I sang at Dad’s funeral – Schubert’s “Du bist die Ruh” – going through my head (for most of the time anyway, until one of my students started “Total eclipse of the heart” …). It seemed like the perfect way to remember him extra specially. He and I often used to lie on the lawn stargazing. He woke me up one night to see my first ever lunar eclipse. And he pointed out Halley’s Comet, when it passed our way in 1986, urging me to remember to look out for it as an 82 year old in 2061.

Here’s to you, Dad. xox

Something for nothing, but only if you’re rich!

There have been so many responses to and analyses of George Osborne’s budget, so I won’t pretend that I can offer much new insight.  However, one thing struck me very plainly: the real ‘something for nothing’ culture is alive and well, supported by millionaires, for millionaires.  The cut in Inheritance Tax means that asset rich families will become asset richer, whilst those who can never hope to own significant assets do not see any benefit.  The message: if you have lots, you’ll be rewarded with more.

This is NOT the politics of community or the economics for people I want to see.

Let’s stand up against xenophobia!

In a world where it is apparently acceptable to equate a government minister with a fundamentalist and a nation’s leader with a despot, those of us who fight for equality and against xenophobia and racism have much work to do. Part of this must be to call out xenophobia whenever and wherever it happens, which is the basis of the #notmyxenophobia campaign launched today by Jean Urquhart MSP, Roza Salih and me.

notmyxenophobia

As someone who came to Scotland from southern Africa nearly 17 years ago, I’ve always found a warm welcome in this country. Sadly my experience isn’t shared by others. The ward I represent, Leith Walk in Edinburgh, is the most diverse in Scotland, and I want everyone in my ward to feel as welcome as I did when I came to Scotland. The crass comments by UKIP’s MEP for Scotland, David Coburn show that there is too much xenophobia in Scotland.

Edinburgh Council agrees to consider a divestment policy!

At today’s full council meeting in Edinburgh, my colleague Chas Booth and I were all set to have an argument. We fully expected the Conservative Group to challenge our motion calling on the Council to explore the possibilities of divesting Council investments, including pensions, from fossil fuel companies.  Over 6 years ago I tried this for the first time, only to be told by the then LibDem/SNP administration (and the Tories, of course), not to be so silly (despite the fact I quoted the LibDem’s own divestment policy).  However, somewhat surprisingly, today the whole Chamber agreed.

fossil-freeI’m keen on divestment for a number of reasons. As a South African who opposed apartheid I know the impact and the value of the divestment campaign in changing the minds of the South African government about the future of apartheid.

So why Fossil Fuel divestment. Well, firstly climate change is a serious threat to our existence – it is the global emergency we face today – so we should do everything we can to stop it.

And that means that we must constrain the amount of fossil fuels we burn. Even the most conservative estimates suggest that burning 20% of the claimed reserves will push us to the limits of climate change – 80% must remain in the ground. This is something which many governments are starting to address, because of the drastic consequences for communities around the world.

The claimed reserve is essential in understanding this. A claimed reserve is a resource that a company has identified and has the rights to extract. It actually exists – it’s not about exploration rights – and the company can control it. It is in no small part on the basis of these future reserves that the value of companies is set. That means that the fossil fuel companies are already massively over-valued – they are valued on claimed reserves that we cannot afford to burn.

So we can’t even burn the fossil fuels that the companies claim on their balance sheets. But in order to keep their valuation the companies must keep finding more reserves to prove their future sustainability. That exacerbates the problem even further. More money is invested on the basis of reserves that we know cannot be used. This creates a carbon bubble – even Mark Carney agrees that this is happening now – and so we have the problem of ‘stranded assets’. Where have we heard this before?

Last night, Richard Murphy, a leading economist and accountant, speaking on the future of Scotland’s economy, said: “Fossil fuel investment is a nightmare – it is where the next economic crash is going to happen.”

I really do hope the decision in the Chamber this morning is the first step towards a fossil fuel free city – we must pay attention to our fiduciary duty and ensure we consider our pension investments with intelligence and diligence.

Vote Maggie Chapman #1 for Holyrood 2016

I am standing for selection to the regional list of the Scottish Greens for next year’s Holyrood elections. Here’s why.

I think this election is vital: it is important that we use the next Holyrood session to shape our economic, political and environmental future. We have seen the growth in appetite for a new kind of politics; a politics that is participatory, inclusive and puts people before profit.

IMG_1612

I believe I have the experience and platform to take this politics onto the campaign trail and into Parliament:

  • I have been the SGP Co-convener since 2013
  • I have been a SGP Councillor for the Leith Walk ward since 2007, and I am Convener of the Petitions Committee in Edinburgh
  • I am Rector of the University of Aberdeen, chairing the University Court
  • I am a Trade Union Activist, being newly elected Vice President of the EIS-ULA – the Universities part of the Educational Institute of Scotland

If elected, I will:

  • Oppose austerity, cuts and privatisation, including TTIP
  • Campaign for public services in public hands
  • Oppose fracking and support the development of green jobs through the reindustrialisation of Scotland that focuses on renewable energy
  • Bring radical democracy to Holyrood using participatory decision-making to include communities across the Region in my work
  • Fight for the decentralisation of power to local communities

As Councillor, I

  • Was the first politician in Scotland to call for a Living Wage
  • Pioneered the hugely successful £eith Decides participatory budgeting process
  • Worked with Trade Unions and the Voluntary Sector to improve work conditions and oppose privatisation
  • Won cross-party support for Scotland’s for Peace, Transition Towns and Edinburgh World Justice Festival
  • Campaigned on animal welfare 

I have significant party and campaign experience:

  • I was the Lead European Candidate in 2014, delivering the highest ever green vote across Scotland
  • I was and continue to be a prominent speaker and campaigner at Radical Independence Campaign, Women for Independence, and Green Yes events
  • I was a member of the Smith Commission on further powers for Scotland, arguing for full devolution of economic and social justice powers
  • I was a member of COSLA’s Commission on Strengthening Local Democracy calling for a radical transformation of our democracy to give power to communities

I passionately believe that, with the strong voice I promise to bring to the campaign, we can transform society and deliver an economy that works for people not profit, and a politics that serves communities not corporations.

Vote Maggie Chapman #1 for a campaigning and listening MSP!

Women in Politics: reflections on the referendum and beyond

On 4th March, I was privileged to be a member of the panel at the Centre on Constitutional Change’s discussion event at Stirling University on Women in Politics. The focus of discussions was about how to maintain and build on the increased engagement in politics, especially by women, during the referendum period. This is more or less what I said in my introductory remarks, and some further thoughts following what was an inspiring and energising evening.

IMG_0072.JPG

Good evening everyone, and thank you very much for inviting me to participate in tonight’s discussion – I very much look forward to hearing from you all about your experiences and challenges in politics, and perhaps especially how we can enhance the scope for women to get more involved. I am Maggie Chapman, co-convener of the Scottish Green Party, local councillor in Edinburgh, and Rector of the University of Aberdeen. So that makes me part of the 24% of female councillors in Scotland, and also one of the very few women who chairs a public institution.

I was first elected as a councillor nearly 8 years ago, and this only happened because of the gender balancing mechanisms we have in the Party, but I won’t dwell on that just now. I would like to share a little snippet of one of my earliest experiences as a councillor. As new councillors, we had various training sessions and one of these happened at Murrayfield Stadium; all very swish. At the end of the day, three of us newbies hopped on to a bus to head back into town: two men, and me. We got chatting about our involvement in politics, why we were there, and so on. One of the men said words to the effect of “women shouldn’t be in politics; they should be pregnant, barefoot and in the kitchen”. In 2007. Pretty incredible for the 21st century, I think.

Incidentally, the same councillor (who is still on Edinburgh Council) a year or two later, accused me, in the council chamber, of being ideological. Quite astonishing, and quite a start to my elected career.

Since 2007, one of my key priorities has been to work hard to make politics more participatory; participation in politics is the lifeblood of a socially just society. We see around us, on a daily basis, the alienating effects of neoliberalism: it works to undermine people’s democracy and replace it with market democracy, moving us from one person one vote to one pound (or perhaps more accurately, one million pounds) one vote. This is not democracy.

Five years ago, with the support and tireless energy of a female council officer, I managed to pilot a participatory budgeting process, £eith Decides, in Leith. This gave local people the power to decide what community projects got council funding. I faced opposition to this from various people, including fellow councillors, as they thought that local people would make the wrong decisions, and it would obviously result in the usual loud mouths taking all the resources for themselves. But this is clearly not what happened. Leithers of all ages take part, engaging with each other in quite incredible ways. We’ve had over 1000 people at the last three events, and it is now a permanent fixture in our annual programme of community events.

The referendum has shown us that there is a huge appetite for genuine politics – if people think their vote makes a difference, they will take and interest and get invovled. Exactly as we have seen happen with £eith Decides.

In the Referendum, I think, key to getting more people involved, especially women, was the community-based campaigning, the local focus of activities; at least that was my experience on the Yes side. It was not dominated by the yah-boo, and often very chauvinist attitudes of the stale, grey and male politics we see in Westminster, and it wasn’t about tearing strips off each other as we see in debating chambers across Scotland. It was ordinary people talking about what mattered to them in their day to day lives; important things like jobs, childcare, social security.

We need to harness the renewed interest in politics by giving power back to people, through more participatory budgeting, real local democracy and through serious engagement in the political process, and women have to be supported and encouraged in this.

We can see the success of this already with politicians being pushed around (quite rightly) by the electorate on issues like fracking, TTIP, and, dare I say it, Corporation Tax cuts. This must only be the start, and we all have a role to play.

Further comments

During the group discussions and Q&A session, several things stood out for me.

Firstly, as a woman in politics, I have a clear responsibility to support and encourage other women, perhaps especially younger ones, to come forward and get involved.

I firmly believe that we also need to think about politics differently: it is not just about putting an X or a 1, 2 or 3 in a box every 4 or 5 years. This is not politics, and it is certainly not democracy! Politics must be recognised in communities, in work places, in every aspect of our lives. I don’t want 129 people in Holyrood deciding everything for me. Power must be devolved to local people.

Lastly (for now) it is clear to me that I need to be better at challenging sexism and gender discrimination, wherever it arises. It is perhaps easier to challenge men on this, but as women, we are often our own worst enemies, and I stated clearly my intention to challenge my sisters (I think I said I promised to fight more with women – in a good way!) when I feel they are undermining other women, or making it more difficult for women to engage and participate in politics.