Shifting Paradigms: hope for the future

Shifting Paradigms graphic

I was delighted to be asked to give the closing keynote speech at this year’s Shifting Paradigms conference, organised by the Aberdeen Political Economy Group. This is what I said:

Good afternoon everyone, and thank you so much for inviting me to give the closing speech this afternoon. It’s a huge honour to be here, and I’m very pleased to have had the opportunity to be involved in such an engaging and interesting weekend – well done to all of you for organising and participating in such a great weekend. It’s a real privilege to be invited to speak on a platform with such a variety of top class speakers. I’m only sorry I was not able to attend more sessions … some of you will be aware of some shenanigans happening on campus over the last few days – I’m afraid the struggle for democracy has taken up rather more time that I would have liked.

But here we are.

I am Maggie Chapman, and I am co-convener of the Scottish Greens, and Rector of this university. You have heard, over the last couple of days, some really interesting and challenging ideas about the consequences of the dominant neoliberal or capitalist economic paradigm. Alongside these, you’ve been encouraged to think about how we go about constructing liberating alternatives that do not repeat the discrimination, alienation, individualisation, disciplinarisation or, to put it bluntly, the abject failures of the normative systems in which we currently function.

What I want to do this afternoon is try and bring some of these themes together, and to outline some of the ways in which we, as an informed, educated and diverse society, can create something different. In some ways, I hope this can be seen as a partial answer to that eternal question: ‘What is to be done?”

So I will begin with one of my favourite quotes, this from Gramsci: The old world is dying, and the new world struggles to be born: now is the time of monsters.

Now none of us have to look very far to see monsters: Brexit, Trump, Grace Mugabe, austerity, cuts to social security, tuition fees, the Better Together campaign against Scottish independence, and so on. These monsters are all around us, consuming our resources, our energies, our hope.

So we have a battle on our hands. For the last 40 or 50 years or so, people have been fighting this battle, but in many ways, they’ve been fighting this battle on very restrictive and uncomfortable territory, that of neoliberalism. Because, as Thatcher famously said: “There is no alternative!”.

But neoliberalism, by design, forecloses possibilities. And, importantly, it forecloses political possibilities. The monsters we see emerging from the death throes of the old world are all determined to put politics back in its box; to squash the ideals and hopes of those mobilised by the exciting energies of the Radical Independence Movement in Scotland, or the Sanders campaign in the US, or the Corbyn (and perhaps the Richard Leonard) phenomenon in the UK.

So, this battle we have on our hands is profoundly political – it is about power and democracy. And so, for me, I think we have to talk about our politics, our democratic systems, our power structures, and how they relate (or don’t) to our economies.

I think re-thinking democracy is the unprecedented challenge of our age. We still use the democratic systems from the 19th Century. Yes, there’s been some tinkering around the edges: women sometimes get to participate in them, for example. But they are still pretty much what they were 100 years ago.

At the same time, we have a population more educated, and more used to making decisions than ever before in history. The almost inevitable consequence of this is a deep seated frustration with a political process that is often profoundly exclusive for people who are used to being included. So, need to look at ways in which we can democratise the structures that govern people’s lives – how we get people to be more involved in governing workplaces, having more information about what government is doing, having more control over resource provision, and so on.

Fundamentally, we need to think about democracy differently, and give people lots of opportunities to do democracy, and to do democracy differently: it cannot just be about going to a polling station on a Thursday in May to put an X or a number in a box.

And so we need to ensure that our education systems include proper teaching about democracy: anyone who understood how democracy worked would understand Brexit as a bad idea, unless you want to smash the state … but that’s a different talk!

But I’m not just talking about constitutional democracy, and certainly not just about representative democracy. We need to rethink ownership. In an economy where intangibles are evermore, ownership models that are more inclusive become even more important.

I suppose, at the heart of this, I’m talking about democratising our economies.

Neoliberal economics works against democracy: it is about concentrating power and control in the hands of elites: global corporations, financiers, bankers and so on.

Between 1945 and the 1970s, the economy was a truce between the forces of capital and the forces of labour. The power of labour, expressed through self organisation and trade unions was supplemented by the state’s tolerance of nationalisation. So, whilst there was great inequality, society was not anywhere near as unequal as it is now.

That truce, though, was destroyed between the late 1970s and 1990s: the agreed settlement was lost. The state started selling off assets, trade unions were squashed, and capital ran wild. We got to a point where capital had over-reached, driving down the share of value going to Labour, and benefiting executive pay, dividends and shareholder profits … Instead of sharing the fruits of growth, capital (shareholders and executives) hogged it all. Interestingly, too, characteristic of this period was the rise of ‘the executive’ – proportionately executive pay even outstripped growth in dividends to shareholders.

And the effect of driving down demand (as wages for the masses decreased and more money was off shored in tax havens) was economic stagnation. This was compensated for by increasing credit: mortgages. Credit became much easier, loans became much easier, eg car loans too. These stimulus tools  – focussing on driving demand back up, create huge credit bubbles … and we all know where this led us – the financial crash 10 years ago.

So, the structure of the economy we have had for the last 30-40 years is not one given to democracy – it’s one given to bailing out the banks. And that means we can’t just tinker around the edges of it … We need a structural revolution in our thinking. When we see popular revolts like Brexit (the first time the population had the chance to hit the city of London), we begin to see that a lack of democracy in the economy is compensated for by radical countermovements by the people. And those countermovements don’t always lead us in the right direction.

So, the need for a new way of thinking is increasingly urgent. We currently have a situation where much of the economy is made up of low skill, low productivity and low value work, in sectors like retail. And this is something we have to take seriously, because these are exactly the sectors that are most likely to see high levels of automation, and therefore job destruction (just look at supermarkets and check-out machines). But I welcome this: let’s get rid of the crappy jobs that don’t provide a great deal of satisfaction, nevermind being often unpleasant and precarious.

I know there have been a couple of sessions on automation this weekend, and I’m sure you’ve discussed the huge risks associated with this. But I think, if we work on democratising the processes that lead to automation, and also democratise control of the technology that we are developing, we open up huge potential for changing the way humans interact with the economy, and for unlocking the liberating potential of technological advancement: no one wants to go back to washing everything by hand – similarly shouldn’t expect people to earn a living by sitting at a check out. We must ensure that we use automation to create job opportunities in the ‘3 C sectors’ –  caring, creating, and collective decision-making. These jobs are always going to be more fulfilling – for example, whilst we have no typesetters anymore, that role has been replaced by graphic designers, a more creative and more fulfilling job.

And it is not about machines taking over the world: to give you an example – how many of you are chess players? Well, various research on chess shows that a chess computer will beat the chess grand-master every time, but the grandmaster working with a chess computer beats the computer on its own.

So, as employment moves to the areas which have to be filled by humans, such as caring and the creative industries, so democracy becomes much more important. Indeed, we are already seeing that the most effective models of business are adopting more horizontal, and by necessity more democratic, organising models. The IT industry has perhaps led the way on this. Now there is lots that is wrong with Silicon Valley and how it operates, but their ‘Agile’ approach to business is more empowering for their workers, and more productive in terms of creative output, and more flexible which is good for creating more cohesive communities.

And, speaking of technology, there are potentially exciting opportunities for not only emancipating labour but also supporting the democratic participation more broadly in communities, in neighbourhoods, and elsewhere. Scotland is home to Europe’s largest computer – ARCHER, son of HECTOR, is based in Midlothian. The potential to use the ever increasing data that is gathered on all of us all of the time for good is definitely something we must be involved in. There huge opportunities to use the increasing data analytical powers to improve people’s health and wellbeing: for example by having much more understanding of things like the human genome, or of behavioural patterns that could lead to better health outcomes. What we have to ensure, however, is that the control, ownership and governance of these developments are not limited to the political or economic elites. And that means ensuring our people have the skills and knowledge to have a decent debate as a society about this. That is another challenge to our education system: in the same way that there needs to be much more discussion about democracy, so there needs to be much more teaching about technology.

There are exciting developments in other sectors that we are already familiar with – housing co-operatives, workers’ co-operatives, and so on. And also in areas that perhaps we would not think of as particularly open to democratisation or participation: the Netherlands is experimenting with care co-operatives, or Buurtzorg.

So, people – workers – are already beginning to design more participative ways of doing things. These things may not be transformative in and of themselves, but collectively, they begin to presage the future of a much more democratic labour environment. These initiatives are not without challenge – we only need to look at how resistant to democracy higher education institutions are – places that really should know better – but that they are flourishing at all gives me hope.

We also need to look at the ways in which we can try to create social control of investment. I believe we should give workers a right to vote for a buy out of their workplaces. I also believe we should back those buy outs with socially controlled sources of investment. As I was writing this speech I had a wonderful worked example for you. That of the BiFab workers – whose profitable business was scheduled for closure by its owners. It is in the renewable sector – exactly where we need jobs and investment – I’ll say a bit more about this in a minute.

At BiFab, the workers should have been able to hold a ballot. A ballot they would have won. Then a Scottish National Investment Bank would supply the capital for a buy out. The business could then be run as a cooperative. What has happened instead is that the Scottish Government has stepped in. I am very glad that they have, but the cooperative option would have been so much more transformative! There is still the opportunity for a key role of a Scottish National Investment Bank here though, and I think this example is worth keeping an eye on. And of course, a National Investment Bank is not the only source of such investment: we need to be supporting credit unions, public banks, social enterprises, and so on.

One area that perhaps offers us, more specifically in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK possibly, is to re-think one of the fundamental aspects of our economy: energy – generation, provision, use, and so on. And, being a Green, it is perhaps no surprise that I’m going to talk about this.

The energy sector provides a profound example of the problems with a non-democratised sector, and the very clear necessity for democratic intervention. Scotland should be a world leader in energy, and energy that does not contribute to climate catastrophe. (As a side note, I think talking about climate change is not good enough – the climate always changes … it is the threat climate catastrophe that we need to be taking much, much more seriously).

So, energy in Scotland: we have the potential to transform our system from fossil fuels, which are a resource, to renewables, which are a technology. There is an important and profound difference between these two: because the more you use ff the more you deplete stock, so the more the price rises, whereas the more you deploy renewables, the better the tech gets and the lower the costs go. And because the fuel is essentially free, you don’t offset the increases in efficiency and economies of scale with rises in fuel costs: the more wind turbines we put up, we don’t (contrary to conspiracy theorists) we don’t reduce the amount of wind. It is clear that the 21st century will see energy costing much less … if we get the politics of it right.

We cannot rely on neoliberalism to pass on these reductions in cost to us – as Victoria was talking about earlier. We know, to the very real cost of so many in Aberdeen, that the UK govt is not looking to the future in terms of energy generation: it is so hostile to renewables that it refuses to support any initiatives that support the just transition of the North East’s economy away from oil and gas – cuts to support for on-shore wind and solar generation are just part of the picture. More seriously, I think, is that most of the current renewable sector is privately owned. We need to see substantial moves into community/public ownership of energy, making this mainstream rather than peripheral.

And so we see very clearly, in energy, the need to democratise our industries, and allow for by properly supporting it, the transformation of the associated workforce to secure high skilled, well paid and secure jobs.

Building democracy into the workplace can help to address two of the key problems we have in society. A lack of control for citizens over their lives, and the need to have long-term investment. This can happen in a number of ways, as I’ve discussed: cooperatives, thinking beyond nationalisation in unions (e.g. RMT want railways to be owned ⅓ by workers, ⅓ by passengers, ⅓ by the state), and more horizontal workplaces – agile as a way of working.

But I suppose I should mention the role that formal politics has in all of this too. Well, our current, so-called ‘representative democracy’ has not really served us very well: politicians are all too easily co-opted by market forces and the lobbying power of capital. This is not surprising: if your success as a politician is measured by whether or not you are re-elected, you are going to focus on securing the financial backing needed to buy that re-election. I was struck by the quote from Roosevelt’s 1938 Simple Truths speech that Victoria Chick quoted in her keynote earlier this afternoon:

“Unhappy events abroad have retaught us two simple truths about the liberty of a democratic people. The first truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it becomes stronger than their democratic State itself. That, in its essence, is fascism – ownership of government by an individual, by a group or by any other controlling private power.

“The second truth is that the liberty of a democracy is not safe if its business system does not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in such a way as to sustain an acceptable standard of living. Both lessons hit home. Among us today a concentration of private power without equal in history is growing.”

We appear to have come full circle on this. There has been a fantastic range of critiques of the state we’re in. What we need is a discussion of what is to be done. One of the tricks the neoliberals have used is that of foreclosing discussion of the economy, and of the future more broadly.

It is our task to blow that discussion open. When I spoke at the first Radical Independence Convention in 2013, we had to fight to get economics on the agenda. By the end of that campaign serious economic issues were at the heart of the debate. How childcare can redress the issue of gender economics. How a Scottish currency can allow us to reindustrialise Scotland. How community, social and public ownership can be more effective than privatisation. The Scottish Referendum campaign was the first real opportunity we had to shift the discussion. It’s continued with Sanders, and the massive reverse the Tories suffered in the June election. If the new world is struggling to be born, it is our job to be the midwife. There are monsters, but we can overcome them.

And in overcoming them, we shift the battleground on which we are fighting: we make it about people, we make it about communities, we make it about all of us. That gives me hope. And hope is what we need to win.

Thank you.

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Green Party Conference Speech 2017

Green Party Conference Speech 2017

Good afternoon friends.

It really is so good to be here with you all, after quite a year. And it is great to be speaking after Kim and the others who have been so inspiring in their local campaigning. It is good to be reminded that more Council chambers than ever before have Green voices in them.

I was thrilled to hear that Pippa Hadley won a seat on Highland Council, that Steve Sankey is the voice of the greens in Orkney, and that Alasdair Tollemache was elected in Stirling to carry on the work Mark Ruskell has been doing. And of course, to see the green voice in Edinburgh and Glasgow grow stronger, with Mary, Claire, Susan, Alex, Kim, Christy, Jon, Tanya, and Allan joining the existing groups in Scotland’s two biggest cities.

I enjoyed Per’s address earlier. And especially finding out that he went to the same university as me. You don’t have to have studied environmental science at Stirling to speak here. But it does help …

And I am so pleased that Claire is here too, sharing her story about her wonderful campaign earlier this year. The failures of the British state and the disaster of Brexit are perhaps clearest in Northern Ireland. And in the North of Ireland we see so clearly the need for Greens and for our approach to politics.

Claire, you are dearly loved by your friends in the Scottish Greens – many of us were anxiously #AWAKEFORBAILEY as your count went on, and on, and on. I know that many of us are really looking forward to the moment when you join Caroline Lucas in the Westminster Parliament – the way the numbers look, you will be the next Green MP. Bring it on!!

But back to here, now, in Scotland. It is somewhat strange for me being back in this particular building – I used to lecture here – so I am programmed to talk about feminism, social justice and environmental philosophy in front of this microphone … for two hours. I’ll try and contain myself!

Before I start though, I am delighted that two emergency motions, both very close to my heart, were passed this morning. I want to make it very clear, on behalf of our party that we are appalled by the actions of the Spanish state in Catalunya. It takes a lot to make the UK government look like they’ve done something right, but beating citizens on the ways to the polls is not something we expect to see on our continent. I hope we never do again. And hearing the news this morning that Robert Mugabe, the person who has overseen the social, health and economic decline of the country of my birth, has been appointed a goodwill ambassador for the World Health Organisation, just makes my blood boil. We have so much work to do to change the world.

This is a huge task. But there are huge opportunities too. I want to talk a little about our quest: what we need to be thinking about and doing to deliver the kind of world we all are so passionate about. I was reminded, listening to Claire earlier, of the piece of advice I got from another Northern Irish Green – the garrulous John Barry. His campaigning mantra was … ABC … always be canvassing. Well, I want to pinch this idea, and present to you my own ABC for our challenge:

Abolish Alienation
Build belonging
Create Communities

This is our quest. And for us to do these things, we need to recognise that it is not just about MSPs and councillors, or even political parties. It is about working alongside our friends and neighbours in the wider movement. With this inclusive approach to politics, our belief that our politics and our economy can and will be different.

Now, as we all know, it won’t be easy, but before long other parties will be parroting our ideas.

Ideas like an end to assaulting a child on the grounds that it is physical punishment. A campaign that originated in social movements and which I think we’ll all want to congratulate the wonderful John Finnie on delivering.

I’m delighted that John was able to secure Scottish Government support for this in time for conference. Timing truly is everything.

And I’m also delighted the Young Greens are launching a much needed campaign on mental health. The crisis in mental health is one of the greatest indictments of our system. It needs a system change. And system change has always been what Greens are about.

In the 1970s a small group of people believed that that peace, feminism, anti-Imperialism, social justice, gay equality, nuclear disarmament, and the reality that we depend on the environment for our society and economy was so important it needed its own political movement. Since then we’ve come to see that this way of seeing the world cannot survive alongside free-market fundamentalism.

At its heart, our politics remains unchanged.

But another ideology emerged at that time – neoliberalism – the idea that people are subservient to the market, which has done so much to set our world back. The last 40 years has been a struggle between our ideology and the ideology of the wealthy elite. All the other parties have been neoliberal. Some enthusiastically, some because they couldn’t, or wouldn’t, see the alternative.

Now the UK was always going to be a difficult place to make this politics succeed. First past the post makes it difficult to get a toehold, and we didn’t have the parliamentary route open to many other green parties. But we made a difference. And we did that through social movements. For women’s rights, against nuclear weapons, for gay liberation, and for devolution to Scotland.

With that campaign for devolution, we were finally able to get the parliamentary platform we now enjoy.

A strong, focused campaign in Lothian delivered the UK’s first ever Green parliamentarian, and after 4 years of optimism, people gave us 7 MSPs in 2004 because they wanted us to shake the place up, to bring cooperation into Holyrood and move away from the ya-boo politics of Westminster.

Our MSPs in that term diligently worked on the important issues, but with a settled coalition, they were prevented from bringing the change to the culture that was so desperately needed.

In 2007, when we had the opportunity to join a government, we could have done what so many others in a similar position did: gone into government and traded influence, and principles, for a comfy ride in a ministerial limo.

Instead, we stuck to our principles and our values, and ensured that those who voted for us were rewarded with real change instead: the Climate Challenge Fund that saw radical projects spring up across Scotland, and the first Green legislation in the UK, which recognised that a crime can be aggravated by prejudice, giving more protection to minority groups. What we discovered was that you didn’t need to be a minister to make a real change.

At the same time, we had the opportunity, for the first time, to create real change at local government level.

And we did that. We were able to crack open the bureaucratic monolith and get Councils to introduce participatory budgeting in Leith and Leith Walk. A small step, but one that has since been expanded across Scotland. The movement for participation is now found throughout our country. And this is just part of the work underway to create the kind of empowered communities we want, where people feel they belong.

Many of you will know that when I first moved a motion on Living Wage in Edinburgh, opponents got it confused with the minimum wage. Now it’s Scottish Government policy for all public procurement. We stood for election saying that we could make a big change, even with a small number of representatives. That has proved to be true. We need to make the case that with a bigger number of representatives we can make an even bigger change.

Then came the real struggle – the struggle for wider societal involvement.

In 2011 we were cast our greatest challenge yet: an SNP majority meaning there would be an independence referendum, and we needed to take our supporters with us on our belief in independence. Remember: at this time many Green voters didn’t believe in independence. This was a real risk for us.

We can look at other parties whose opportunism and self-interest has done them enormous damage in the period since the referendum and see that our decision to throw ourselves wholeheartedly into the Referendum Campaign with Green Yes, was the right one. We were able to use Green Yes to communicate much better than ever before the full range of green politics.

Green politics is about democracy, so we wanted, and still want, an elected head of state.

Green politics is about power resting closer to people, so we wanted and still want a Scottish currency.

Green politics is about peace, so we wanted, and still want Scotland to be a world leader in getting rid of Nuclear Weapons and dismantling NATO.

Green politics is about equality, so we wanted, and still want a citizens’ income.

And green politics is about an economy that works for all, so we want an economy that does not bleed our environment dry.

At this point, many more people than ever before realised they were really Greens. And we were delighted to welcome them, you, with open arms, to our party.

Since 2014, since our engagement in the Independence Referendum where we first got the opportunity to tell people about Green Politics in its fullness, in all its glory, we have continued to make the case for a better Scotland in a better world.

When we first put the case for a Universal Citizen’s Income that would recognise for the first time the tough unpaid work, often caring work, that so many women do each and every day, and that would end poverty at a stroke, people were confused: one Labour politician confused it, believe it or not, with the tax free increment. We have discovered that, by sticking with a policy that is right, however little known, we, along with social movements, can get it recognised by government.

For years, Green councillors and MSPs have called for socially owned energy companies. I’m delighted that the Scottish Government has decided that this is possible after all. I’m only sorry the people of Edinburgh have had to wait the 10 years, since we first proposed it, for the ability to buy not for profit energy.

Similarly, we have argued for a national investment bank to support socially transformative changes such as community renewable energy. And we have been campaigning to bring our railways back into public ownership for years … finally, it looks as though we might be getting somewhere on this.

At first, they ignored us, then they laughed at us. Then they fought us. Then they put it in the Programme for Government. Nicola, there are plenty of other good ideas in here – *waves Holyrood 2016 manifesto* – feel free to nick them too!

It hasn’t just been on our good ideas that we’ve seen change. It is also the bad ideas of others: I’m delighted to see that the policy with no justification – the tax cut for frequent flying businessmen – cutting Air Passenger Duty has been kicked into the longest of long grass. Let me tell you a secret: they won’t admit it, but they were scared of us, and the pressure we’d put on over on this issue.

And as if that weren’t enough, I am aware of all the work that so many of you have done, working with local campaigns, with social movements, to create the indefinite moratorium on fracking. Let’s leave the debate about whether that’s a ban or not for another day, and bask in the victory that we, yes we, have won.

Faced with an unprecedented assault on immigrants, we stood up. In 2014 we ran the right campaign for the European Parliament. By standing on an overtly pro-immigrant platform we shifted the debate in Scotland – we can build belonging within and across boundaries, within and across racial and cultural differences.

We pushed the boundaries of debate. We ensured, as we always will, that those who think they can scapegoat migrants, will never go unchallenged. We helped create a different political environment in Scotland compared to the toxic, imperial-nostalgia-fest we see emanating from the British state. When the European referendum came – just a month after our Holyrood vote – we threw ourselves into a humane vision for a better Europe. And in Scotland, we won.

But where other parties have conceded the ground on immigration, the vote was lost. And now we see Conservatives trying to use Brexit as a giant axe to demolish everything we hold dear. From workers rights to environmental protection, the Tory approach is wrong in policy. Their attempt to seize back control, not for the people of Britain, but for the old ruling class – is the opposite of our belief in democracy.

But I am confident that Brexit is the death throes of an ideology whose time is over. This is our time. It is time for workers’ rights, time to protect our environment. Time for real, participatory democracy. Time for an economy that puts people before profit and communities before corporations.

Looking ahead, we have a great deal of agreement in Scotland about the future that we want. We are, to coin a phrase, getting on with the day job of creating a better country.

Meanwhile, the Scottish Tories are best epitomised by their new MP for Moray, Douglas Ross.

When asked what he’d do if he was prime minister for a day, Douglas Ross said he’d demand tougher enforcement against Gypsy and traveller communities.

Gypsies and travellers were murdered alongside Jews in the Holocaust. They face persecution across Europe. In Scotland, a unique and wonderful traveller culture is on the verge of extinction, driven to the brink by bigots like Douglas Ross.

Well, Douglas, let me assure you, you’ll be back on the sidelines of Scottish politics soon enough.

The progress in Scotland could not be more different to what we see at Westminster: while we are nationalising the railways, Theresa May is leading a train smash government.

Ruth Davidson has the nerve to tell Scottish politicians to get on with the day job while her government appears to think its day job is to create a circus. And short of an invitation to join the circus that is the Tory cabinet, Davidson has accepted an invitation to go on Bake Off. Just as people quickly went off Theresa May when they realised what she was, and are seeing through the buffoonery of Boris Johnson, I fully believe the same thing will happen to Davidson, who is really just another Tory that the media is trying to persuade us to love.

Let’s not let anyone forget that this is someone who thinks her government’s policy of humiliating women who’ve been raped is just fine; who thinks that leaving people to starve for 6 weeks for no reason while they await Universal Credit payments is alright; and whose party is using Brexit to do as much damage to both workers’ rights and the environment as they can. The devastating effects of these policies mean we must carry on the fight to abolish austerity, to abolish alienation.

And I just want to mention one consequence of austerity: the public sector pay freeze, highlighted so passionately to Alison, Patrick and me by nurses and the RCN yesterday when we met them to hear what issues they faced. Nurses caring for our friends and family, for us, doing some of the most vital work in our society, are 14% worse off today than they should be, alienated from decision making and demoralised like never before. This is neoliberalism in action. And it must stop!

So, our journey to the new kind of politics, the better country we want is far from finished. We are still fighting neoliberalism, from schools policy in Scotland, to global trade deals. We face to two of the biggest crises in human history: an economy that is morally bankrupt, and an environment that is in big trouble.

It’s at this time that the world most needs our approach. We must abolish alienation, we must build belonging, we must create communities.

If anyone has the answers to these two problems, with one cause, it is us. And it is our responsibility to step up to that challenge, that quest – now more than ever. It is no longer enough just to stop the bad things like cuts to Air Passenger Duty. We have to create an economy powered by renewables, designed by communities, that works for all, not just in Scotland, but across the globe.

We have started this vital work. We need to see it to its conclusion. The markets that have done so much to protect fossil fuel companies and their pollution must be transformed into systems that protect people and support their, our, ability to care for each other and express our creativity in ways that provides solace for our souls.

We need to make sure it is our vision of an economy for all, a welcoming society, an end to inequality and discrimination that wins.

And our approach of tenaciously supporting what is right, however unpopular with the establishment, being unswayed by the baubles of office or the fads of the day, is more important than ever.

It is difficult to predict what is coming next in our politics but we know that we have the ideas, the roots in social movements, the courage of our convictions, the principles of social justice and equality. And in us, the people, the platform to transform our politics, our society, our country and our world.

And I am so pleased, and honoured, to be able to lead you, as your female co-convener, in this quest.

Thank you.

Getting on with the day job – democracy and social change?

Getting on with the day job – democracy and social change?

This was my address to the AGM Discussion of Democratic Left Scotland

We chose the title for this AGM discussion as a provocation: “get on with the day job” has been the rhetorical battering ram used by Ruth Davidson (and others) to hit the SNP for talking about independence. Her intent is quite clear: she wants the threat of the break up of the British Imperial State removed so that the exploitation of Scotland’s natural and human resources can continue unabated, Scotland’s people can continue to be subjected to the brutal discipline of austerity and the removal of social security.

But, the way in which she puts the proposition, by necessity, is depoliticising. She is happy to talk about how the Scottish Government has problems in education, but her solutions remain unspoken. And of course, the record of her own party in England, investing in vanity projects like free schools, rather than any real attempts to transform the prospects of school students, suggests she has nothing to contribute in this area. She is quick to criticise in broad terms but does not present solutions. Rather, she is appealing to a constituency who are clearly threatened by the energetic and exciting politics ushered in by the referendum.

The brilliance of the Ruth Davidson approach is that it draws on one of the core tactics of neoliberalism: it forecloses political possibility. As Thatcher famously said, “There is no alternative!”. The aim is very definitely to put politics back in its box. For Conservatives, and for those terrified by this prospect, putting politics back into its box is vital and we need to recognise that those people who voted Tory were strongly guided by this motivation.

What arose in the 2014 referendum in Scotland was a belief that it didn’t have to be like this: that another Scotland was, indeed possible. And all of us here today are determined to see this a reality. But we have perhaps lost a bit of the momentum since 2014. And we’ve not always been helped by the Scottish Government.

The Scottish National Party’s instinct is to conform to the dominant politics of the day, so our job is to create the dominant politics that we want. We can see them on either side of this: before July, they wanted to cut Air Passenger Duty and hurt puppies – remember the tail docking vote – these are the kinds of things that Tories love doing, perhaps especially if they are Dalmatians.

However, since the summer, and us choosing to do an event with this title, the SNP have made a clear jump to the left, as we can see with the programme of government – even if some of this is still only at the level of consultation. It includes a Scottish Investment Bank which is a long-term green policy, nationalising Scotrail, creating a State-owned energy company and a wide range of other proposals that Greens and others in the radical Yes movement have been calling for.

This is a good thing, and is clearly a political response to the depoliticising intent of ‘getting on with the day job’.

And I think we can identify three agents that have enabled, and perhaps catalyse this shift; three agents that have functioned together and separately to create a dynamic that has moved Scottish politics into a much more positive space than it was in before the summer.

Firstly, we have Political parties, perhaps especially the Greens – the existence of Greens as a parliamentary force has been essential in pulling both Labour and the SNP to the left. The election of Caroline Lucas in 2010 brought a fresh perspective to radical politics where the left in the Labour party had been associated with older figures like Tony Benn. The experience of Labour activists and candidates in England being outflanked on the left consistently by Greens played a very significant role in popularising the sort of politics articulated by Jeremy Corbyn. Greens in the Scottish parliament have played a different role, but the electoral system here makes the threat to the SNP much more substantial. And the parliamentary arithmetic means that the SNP often rely on Greens, particularly since the polarisation around independence meant that the Tories couldn’t do deals with them so easily any more.

Secondly, there is Corbyn. Having popularised a form of progressive politics, Greens have seen it taken up by the new leadership of the Labour party whose ability to appeal to the Scottish electorate was reinvigorated between 2015 and 2017. The Labour manifesto with its full blooded call for removal of the market from areas such as transport and energy had an appeal in a way that a centrist SNP manifesto did not. The SNP has responded to this with a move into this territory.

Thirdly, the yes movement itself. The yes movement, having thrown off the shackles imposed by the official Yes Campaign (that it be a marketing and voter contact operation) became a lively and energetic manifestation of new politics. Where the Yes Scotland proposition that things would just be better if Scotland ran its own affairs was overshadowed and eclipsed by the more ideological character of the RIC. I want to draw an analogy here from a military context – I don’t mean this to imply that an armed struggle is appropriate in this context, however. In the Zimbabwean liberation struggle – the Chimurenga – there were two principle liberation forces – the Chinese backed ZANLA and the Soviet-backed ZIPRA. Where ZANLA understood that the conflict was asymmetrical, ZIPRA sought to match the Rhodesian armed forces for firepower. Whereas ZANLA used the advantages offered by their integration with local populations to much more effectively bleed the Rhodesian forces dry.

Over the past 30 years, the left has sought to engage its ideological opponents on territory that favoured the right. The Independence Movement is the first time in a long time that we’ve engaged them on territory that favours us. This, of course, created a set of lessons that have been learnt by the SNP, by the Corbyn campaign, and even in the US by the Sanders campaign, all to much greater effect than would previously have been possible.

There’s been a deep trauma for political parties as we re-enter an age of political ideology – the world really is struggling to be born. So, the question now for us is – how can we be handmaidens of that new world. It didn’t look like we were being very successful in this before the summer. But things change!

So far we’ve mobilised a movement around the proposition that “Another Scotland is Possible”. That movement has been energised by policy positions, but there’s a fundamental question about the changes that will be required to the structure of society and the economy.

We have to ask ourselves what the prefigurative steps are that we need to take to get to that ‘another world’. Things like the Tredegar Medical Aid Society – prefigure the NHS. How do we prefigure the changes we need in housing, governance, in our communities? How do we build the movements to make those real?

There’s a question about where we take these techniques next. We need to understand how we respond to the political realities of the day, how we respond to the crisis within in the British state that is being accelerated by Brexit

Given that we’ve been very successful in achieving our policy objectives up to now, we need to identify how we relate the prefigurative demands are, and how we get those adopted.

We need to have a plan for what happens if the deep crisis of capitalism plunges not into another spate of difficulties but goes into a terminal decline. Especially if that terminal decline is very rapid, as it may well be.

That’s the day job we need to be getting on with. And we will set about it with relish.

The fight for an end to tuition fees

Maggie speaking in front of a banner that reads 'Their jobs our eduction' written over a picture of a fist holding a pen
Maggie speaking at Aberdeen Student Left’s performance night. Photo by Jacob M Campbell

I was very pleased to be one of the speakers at an event last night, organised by the Aberdeen Student Left and English Literature Society. It was a fantastic evening, with poetry, comedy, music, and of course, politics, designed to raise awareness of and money for the National Demo for Free Education taking place in London on 15th November.

As Rector of Aberdeen University, I have been very pleased to support campaigns against tuition fees and also to stand in solidarity with staff against redundancies. As a long time member of NCAFC – the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts – and a trade unionist, I firmly believe that education is a right that should be accessible to everyone. I also know only too well the negative impact redundancies has on students and their education. With the disaster for Higher Education that is Brexit looming, I also believe we have to be vigilant and not lose the benefits that European students currently receive. I want to extend the no-fees policy to all students, but we really can’t afford to see it rescinded for EU students.

So, last night, I stood up to speak in support of free education.

Growing up in Zimbabwe, in a new country freshly liberated from white minority rule, I benefited from the government’s focus on education as the route to success. Now, the more recent reality in Zimbabwe is less positive, but the value placed on education has left an indelible mark on me. Education really is the way to a better society.

I recently returned from a few weeks in Zimbabwe: I was there visiting my Mum, and helping her celebrate her 80th birthday. Whilst there, I had the privilege of speaking at the annual Prize Giving at my old school. I had lots of interesting conversations with teachers who are doing their best in difficult circumstances to prepare the next generation for the world. I also met many students, many facing hardship way beyond my experiences. School fees are required; they are not exorbitant, but they are there, and for families with more than one child, the financial commitments (and difficulties) are multiplied.

One family’s story in particular has stayed with me. I met the parents of three daughters, three young women, who are all in school, all determined to learn, to engage with the world, to make the world a better place for themselves and those around them. But both parents had recently been made redundant, and did not face any prospects of finding decent jobs. To pay for their daughters’ education they had sold their car, sold their cows, sold their jewellery, and even considered selling their house (although who wants to be homeless in the middle of exams?!?).

If secondary education bleeds them dry like this, what future do these three young women have of realising their dreams to go to university?

And I don’t need to convince many of the students I interact with at Aberdeen University and elsewhere of just how important it is to educate people, and to educate women in particular. We know the social and economic benefits that communities gain from educating women. Education is the route to a better society. As such, it should be free, not just for the bourgeoisie!

So, just why is free education so important?

Firstly, the market has no place in education. Market forces do not value what really matter: the market cannot adequately value education or its transformative powers.

Second, tuition fees and inadequate financial support to live leads to debt. And the student debt repayment system is just a nonsense – it is very complex and very inefficient. But more than this. Debt is a way of disciplining workers, of forcing people to pursue market-valued careers, careers that might well be useless (finance comes to mind, given the financial mess of the last nearly 10 years), rather than creative and caring careers that provide solace for the soul or care for our communities. People are driven out of and away from careers that are socially helpful, like nursing, teaching, caring, creating, just to repay debt. And they are forced to be compliant workers: just cogs in the neoliberal economic machine, not complaining, not causing a fuss.

Third, and still on debt: debt is not only bad for the economy, it is bad for all of our mental health. Debt and financial pressures are a major source of anxiety, depression and other ill-health for students and young people. Why support a system that we know makes us ill?

So, for these, and many, many more reasons, I whole-heartedly support the work of NCAFC, of Aberdeen Student Left, and all those seeking to eradicate fees. I won’t be able to attend the National Demonstration in London next month, but I stand with you all: solidarity as you strive for justice!

 

Our movement, our future

I was asked recently to contribute a piece on ‘where now for the left in Scotland and Britain’, for the 100th edition of Scottish Left Review. My contribution initially appeared in the magazine and online here, and is reproduced below.

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” Antonio Gramsci

As time goes on it becomes clear that the 2008 crash was the end of an old world, yet a new world is struggling to be born. To paraphrase Gramsci, now is most certainly the time of monsters.

The situation in the UK is an exemplar of a global situation where neoliberalism has died and cannot yet be replaced. Rather than the world being haunted by a spectre, we are lumbered by a corpse of a dead economic system. But this corpse cannot yet be buried because the alternatives have not yet emerged in a coherent way.

This has produced reactions of the right: most notably Trump and Theresa May; of the left: Sanders, Corbyn and Melenchon; and even from the centre: Macron. All have one thing in common: their reference points are in a revival of Les Trente Glorieuses or “The Glorious Thirty”; the three decades of economic prosperity and improved social security following World War II. We cannot see British or Scottish politics outside of this context.

And we must also remember that this crisis is not just a crisis of finance or of politics: it is a crisis of resources and the environment. Climate change threatens our very existence, but technology is beginning to point the direction to a world of low carbon energy generated by locally owned installations rather by corporations. The first industrial revolution was driven by a shift from local power sources (water mills and wood burning) to energy from centralised sources and fossil fuels. The capitalist age is the fossil fuel age, and the fossil fuel age is the capitalist age.

The independence referendum in 2014 was one of the first cracks in the hegemony of carbon-fuelled neoliberalism. Through that crack, the light got in, inspiring the Corbyn movement and a new bravery in British politics. But this crack has been papered over with a continuity politics of managerialism.

The General Election result sits in a context of deep crisis for the British establishment and elites still unable to find a response to the financial crisis of 2008. They have tried continuity managerialism of Gordon Brown; they have tried austerity; they have tried Brexit. And having tried to crush the Labour Party with the opportunistic General Election, they have run out of options.

The depth of political crisis that followed the financial crash of 2008 is in part due to the failed invasion of Iraq in 2003. The War was always obviously morally wrong, but the inability of the British and American states to successfully stabilise the country after the invasion prefigures Brexit: a project of the British Imperial elite intended to restore the country’s greatness, but one that instead exposes the lack of strategic, diplomatic and planning capacity of that elite.

In Scotland, the SNP’s response to the Independence movement and the mandates given to them by subsequent elections has failed to capitalise on the political energy behind the social movement. In the days after the referendum, Women for Independence ran a successful campaign to prevent the Scottish Government placing a women’s prison at Greenock: the prison was the wrong thing to do. And the Independence movement was able to work with Scottish Government to deliver a better outcome.

This movement approach to politics showed the world we could have. Corbyn’s surprise performance in the election was powered by movement politics. These movements, like the Stop the War movement, have politicised people bringing together political analyses and democratising our politics. The surprise (relative) success of Labour is down to harnessing the power of movement politics.

Placed against this are Tory demands that we stop talking about politics and “get on with the day job”. This successfully mobilises the anti-political emotions of the privileged. The answer, of course, is to reinvigorate the movement politics of 2014. There are plenty of issues where this approach is more needed than ever: housing has been an issue of increased significance for some time, but the Grenfell disaster puts this into sharp focus. A movement must make the case for new collectively managed housing. The private rented sector has failed a whole generation.

We must find ways to bring democracy to more of our institutions. People have the ability to be much more engaged in decision making and a centralised state designed to control an empire has long outlived its usefulness. And in so many other areas of our lives, from social security and workers’ rights to harnessing for good the care and creativity of our people, movement politics show us the way.

The new world that must be born will be prefigured by the movements for social and environmental justice. We can, and must, learn from the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in in 1971, from those who refused to fix bomber-plane engines destined for Pinochet’s Chile, from those who developed the Lucas Plan in 1976. Very much like the Independence movement of 2014, these people-led social justice movements, show us the way forward: they show us how to democratise our power structures and our economy.

In Scotland we need to re-engage our people and recapture the energy to make the case for a better world. But this cannot and should not stop at our borders, nor indeed the borders of the UK. The new world that will be born must share the benefits of the economy with people everywhere.

Basic Income: a radical proposal for a free society and a sane economy. The 2nd Ailsa McKay Annual Memorial Lecture

This evening, I had the honour of introducing the Ailsa McKay Memorial Lecture 2017, the second such lecture, hosted by the Women in Scotland’s Economy Research Centre, in the Govan Mbeki Building at Glasgow Caledonian University. This is what I said.

Good evening everyone. I am Maggie Chapman, Co-convener of the Scottish Greens, and it is my great pleasure, and a great honour to welcome you all here today to the 2nd annual Ailsa McKay Memorial Lecture.

Our speaker this evening, Philippe Van Parijs, is Professor at the Faculty of Economic, Social and Political Sciences of the Université catholique de Louvain, where he has directed the Hoover Chair of economic and social ethics since 1991. Philippe’s work has taken him all over the world, and he is widely known and respected as a key proponent and defender of ideas such as the Basic Income. Welcome Philippe. Welcome to Scotland, to Glasgow, and to this university.

Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow Caley to many of us, saw fit, in 2001, to name this building after a hero of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. As a South African, albeit one who grew up in Zimbabwe, I am always pleased to have an excuse to talk about the struggle heroes who have influenced my thinking and my politics. Govan Mbeki was a leader of the ANC and of the South African Communist Party. Following the Rivonia Trial, he, along with Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada, Walter Sisulu, and several other eminent anti-apartheid leaders, was imprisoned on charges of terrorism and treason, and he spent 23 years in jail. Later, after his release and after the first democratic elections in South Africa, he served in the Senate and its successor (the National Council of Provinces) from 1994-1999.

Mbeki was a man who devoted his life to fighting the great social and economic inequalities produced by apartheid. He and his fellow revolutionaries, amongst them Joe Slovo, talked and wrote much about South Africa’s future freedom, what it would look like, and how social justice and equality could be delivered. Slovo suggested that South Africa required a two-stage revolution: first, a popular movement to overthrow apartheid, and second, an economic revolution to share the fruits of the economy for all.

In Scotland, like elsewhere, including South Africa to some degree – it was, of course, the first country to have equal marriage written into its constitution – we have made significant progress on social equality, on issues like promoting women’s rights, and combating homophobia and racism. There is plenty of work still to be done on these, undoubtedly, but much of the inequality that remains is economic. We have not been successful in taking the revolution into that second stage – economic equality.

Ideas like a Citizens Income, or Basic Income, will, I am sure, be part of the solution to the issues that remain. I remember being at a conference about another heterodox economic theory, Land Value Tax, where one of the speakers said he opposed Basic Income because it would be unearned. We have a strange differentiation in our economy between what is traditionally seen as unearned income (things like inherited wealth and dividends) and unpaid work, which, as we know, is mostly done by women.

It is this unpaid work – the things that make us most profoundly human – caring and creating – that Ailsa was so rightly concerned with in her work on developing proposals such as the Citizen’s Basic Income, on gender budgeting, and so much more. Ailsa, perhaps more than anyone else, made it very clear that our economic revolution has to be on gender terms as well as resource terms: we must value that very human work, caring and creating, properly if we are to achieve economic equality.

Ailsa was perhaps a surprising academic. She left school at the age of 17 and started working at the Department of Social Security. One of her jobs was to assess emergency payments for people on benefits, and she was well known amongst claimants for trusting their assessment of their own hardship and authorising their payments without question … something ATOS could learn from, perhaps.

It was during her time at the Department of Social Security that she became most interested in the idea of the Citizen’s Basic Income. She understood the profound error of viewing the economy as a flow of capital rather than a way to ensure the wellbeing of people. She went back to education in 1981, determined to put herself to work developing ideas that would promote such an economy. In her postgraduate studies that led to her PhD, she drew extensively on the Philippe’s work on Basic Income, and became known as the person to talk to about gender economics. She established the Women in Scotland’s Economy Research Centre here in 2010, and was a founding member of the Scottish Women’s Budget Group.

It is in no small way down to Ailsa that, in Scotland, our approach to the global financial crisis of 2008 has been much better that the UK Government’s “if it moves, cut it, if it doesn’t move, cut it” approach. But too often, still, we prioritise physical infrastructure over social infrastructure. The Christie Commission rightly pointed to prevention as the key to providing public services in the 21st century, but the logical follow through to this – that we create a society where work looking after people and creating is properly valued – is far from finished.

I am very much looking forward to hearing what Philippe has to say to us this evening. His work across the economic, social and political sciences has been influential to many of us in so many different ways. It has been central to a number of arguments around Basic Income, something very close to my heart: we greens are the only political party that has a Citizens Income in our policy documents.

In the social-democratic tradition, Philippe has argued that the right to an income does not interfere with the right to a job, but in fact strengthens it. Similarly, Basic Income does not replace the welfare state; rather it makes it more important, and it reduces the threats to social security. And, most importantly, it forms what he calls ‘the third model’, different to the old social assistance model – charity – and the social insurance model – solidarity. Philippe’s argument for a more egalitarian, more emancipatory perspective was heralded by Ailsa in her work and her desire to be part of a socially just and equal society.

I am sure everyone here today would wish to join me in creating that society – a society that truly commemorates the work of Ailsa McKay. And what we hear from Philippe this evening will, I’m sure, better enable us to create that society.

Welcome Philippe. And thank you.

Put power in your hands: vote green #1 on 4th May

Polling day is nearly here! In about 14 and a half hours, Scotland goes to the polls to elect people to serve their communities, run their councils, and make decisions about their schools, social care, buses, bins, parks, housing, pubs, and so much more … for the next 5 years!

I urge all those Scots with a vote: Scots who are 16 years old or more, Scots who are members of the European Union, Scots who are qualifying Commonwealth citizens (like me!), and some others, to vote green #1 tomorrow. The Scottish Greens are passionate about local democracy, and we want to see green councillors elected across the country to fight for decent public services, to connect communities, to provide affordable, warm homes, and most of all, to put power back where it belongs: in YOUR hands.

You can see more about our priorities for local government in our national manifesto (many local branches have produced their own too).

You should also have a look at our Womanifesto: we take gender equality seriously, and know that women are often the people most affected by changes to council services, and the most active contributors to our local communities.

We believe that young people are our future, and have produced a Young Greens Manifesto.

Our commitment to inclusion remains a top priority, and you can find out more about how green councillors will work for disabled people in our Disabled Greens Manifesto.

And we know that there is still much work to be done to ensure members of the LGBTI+ communities are supported to take their rightful place in our communities and our democracy. Our Rainbow Greens Manifesto outlines how green councillors will do this.

I would like to congratulate each one of our 218 local candidates for all their hard work over the last few days, weeks, and months. And I wish each and every single one of you all the very, very best tomorrow! I look forward to meeting all our new councillors very soon! Thanks too, to all their campaigners, supporters, activists, friends, family and pets who have supported and helped their campaigns.

You are all wonderful!

Enjoy the last few hours of the campaign.

Then get (some) sleep.

Then go and vote Green #1 and put #powerinyourhands!