Grateful for my re-election as co-convener, there is still much work to do!

radical-hopeI have been re-elected as female co-convener of the Scottish Greens!

A huge thank you to everyone who voted for me – I appreciate the confidence you have placed in me, and I will continue to work hard to ensure that our Party gets stronger and our ideas to transform Scotland reach more people in communities across Scotland.

It is a difficult time at the moment – with ongoing austerity, with rising fear, bigotry and xenophobia, with the far right threatening the most basic principles of social justice and human rights.

So we have our work cut out for us: we must stand together in solidarity with those who are suffering economic, social or environmental injustices. We must fight for equality across our communities, across Scotland, and across the world. We must continue to build the movement for social transformation that delivers sustainable jobs, warm, affordable housing, and dignity and respect for all.

I am delighted to be able to lead you in these struggles, and I look forward to joining you in your local campaigns and activities over the coming weeks and months.

Thank you again! In solidarity.

Love trumps hate: solidarity rally and march

Today, in Edinburgh, a couple of hundred folk came together in solidarity across continents with those who have been and who will be victims of the misogyny, racism and bigotry that Trump’s election success is normalising. I was invited to speak. Here is what I said.

Good afternoon  friends.

Thank you so much for being here. For being here in solidarity, in hope, and in love. And thank you for inviting me to say a few words to you all.

I am Maggie Chapman, Co-convener of the Scottish Greens. But, for today, I am just a woman, an immigrant woman, standing with you all to gain the strength, share the determination and show the resolve I know we are going to need over the coming days, weeks, months, years.

The US election result devastated me. Trump’s win is, I think, the culmination of years of a political system and a political elite working to support an economic system that marginalises, that alienates, that excludes.

These two systems have worked together, have collaborated

  • To cause people to act against their own interests,
  • To give the majority of people little hope that their lives can be better,
  • To treat people like they don’t matter, like they are expendable.

This is devastating and I am mourning. Mourning for what might have been, mourning for the destruction that is to come. Destruction of people’s lives, of communities, of democracy, of our climate.

But grief is a funny thing. You learn to live with it in so many different ways.

I think we are all gathered here today to work out how to live with our collective grief. What to do with it. What to do with ourselves.

For me, I have to remember what has happened over the last couple of years, to remind myself of the horror that has been, so I can better equip myself to fight it.

I have to remember just how abhorrent Trump really is. During his campaign over the last couple of years, Trump did lots of horrific things: 

  • He promised to create a system of surveillance targeted specifically at Muslims
  • He promised to deport US citizens with whom he disagrees
  • He promised to build a wall between the US and Mexico
  • He advocated war crimes and endorsed torture
  • He threatened women generally, and his opponent specifically
  • He showed himself to be a chronic liar, a sexual predator, a tax avoider, a climate denier.

This is a man who is not worthy of our cooperation, our diplomacy, our understanding, our silence.

We must not allow ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of security by the seeming normality of politics as usual, or his failure to act, immediately, on the promises he made during his campaign, of the accommodating noises being made by the establishment.

It is not going to be alright!

We must be extra vigilant, extra aware, extra willing to condemn fear, hate and bigotry.

We are going to have to work very hard, with friends across the world, to prevent the institutions of democracy and justice being dragged into Trumpian dystopia. We are going to have to resist the normalisation of his hate, his bigotry, his fear, in the media, in our places of work, in our schools, colleges and universities.

And let us remember that we do not fight alone, even in the United States: Trump did not win the popular vote. The majority of Americans did not vote for his hate, his bigotry, his fear.

So, we will not be silent. We will not maintain diplomatic politeness in the face of racism, sexism, misogyny, intolerance.

We will not lose our ability to notice, be shocked at, and show our outrage when Muslims, immigrants, women, people of colour, disabled people, poor people or anyone is targeted.

We will not compromise our values of tolerance, respect for diversity, love of difference, compassion, justice and equality.

Instead, we will come together, as women, Muslims, people of colour, disabled people, poor people … as human beings.

And we’ve got our work cut out for us.

We know that demagogues like Trump, those that will allow fascism to take a hold of our societies, exist closer to home too. We see it in France, with the Front National. We see it in Austria with the Freedom Party, and we see it in this country with UKIP and May’s Tory government.

We must organise. We must stand firm. We must be clear that we will not be silent bystanders and let fear and hate take hold in our lives.

We must win the argument for an enlightened society. We need to develop an exciting vision of the future that defeats the racist, sexist, bigoted future that Trump and others herald.

And the way we do that needs to be through actions that reject the politics of division by gender, race, religion and nationality. We must act to unify just as Trump acts to divide.

The antidote to Trump and his ilk, to their vile-ness, to the strategy of dividing us by race, by gender, by religion, by ability, is to come together. To fight inequality and injustice in all of its forms, every day.

Let us remember that our feminism, our intersectional activism, is powerful.

And together, we will show that love really does trump hate! 

Scotland, the North and economic development: compatriots or competitors?

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I was honoured to be asked to contribute to a workshop facilitated by SPERI, the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute, yesterday. The subject of the roundtable discussion was “Scotland, the North and economic development: compatriots or competitors?” And, as co-convener of the Scottish Greens, I was asked to speak for a few minutes about my take on on the politics of this issue. These are my introductory comments (I will write more about the full workshop at a later date).

Good afternoon everyone and thank you very much for inviting me to join you today. It is a great pleasure to be here, and I am very interested to hear what you have to say in the discussions a bit later on.

I am Maggie Chapman, co-convener of the Scottish Green Party, and I guess, given who else is on the panel, my role today is to focus on the politics, and perhaps the political possibilities, of devolution, and how democratic power interacts with the economy.

I campaigned for a Yes vote in the Independence referendum, and a Remain vote in the EU Referendum. I want Scotland to be independent, not as an end in itself, but as a means to something much better: a socially just, truly democratic and welcoming, peace-making country that has a positive influence on the world. I want Scotland to remain part of the EU, not because I think the EU is a beacon of democratic transparency and economic equality, but because I believe in the free movement of people and in the necessity of international agreement and action for things like tackling climate change and refugee crises.

So, how can we, in Scotland and the North of England, use devolution to improve the lives of our people in our communities?

The most important aspect of devolution, for me, is the relocation of democratic power: from Westminster to Holyrood, and then, hopefully, from Holyrood to Local Authorities and from Local Authorities to communities and neighbourhoods. Giving power back to people, letting them have more control over the decisions that affect their daily lives, is the only way to re-engage communities with politics, and therefore deal with the pressing issues of inequality and unemployment. And we’ve not cracked this in Scotland. Our local government is anything by local: we have the least local local government of anywhere in Europe, and the SNP government does not seem to be doing anything to change this. It has centralised public services and restricted local tax raising powers. Rather, we need communities to have real power of budgetary decisions. We need much more citizen involvement in decisions about local service provision. And we need to harness the skills, expertise and creativity of our people to address the big social and economic challenges we face.

But, at least in Scotland, we do actually have some of the building blocks for challenging centralisation and alienation.

My understanding of the Northern Powerhouse, of the attempts to rebalance England’s economy, is probably more limited than many of you here, but it strikes me as significant that the Northern Powerhouse agenda is an economic one, not a democratic one. Yes, there are some democratic tweaks, such as Manchester getting an elected mayor, but no real change in how power is controlled. And this is a key weakness. True devolution is about the relinquishing of real power, not just tokenism. I was struck, during the EU ref debate, by the comments of someone from the North East saying that they were voting Leave because the EU had done nothing for them. This, despite the fact that a key reason Nissan and the thousands of jobs it supports are in the North East of England is down to EU membership. This is a classic interaction of democratic alienation doing damage to economic reality. People feel so distant from the democratic process that they are willing to risk destruction of the roots of local prosperity. In Scotland, demographically similar communities voted to remain – even without export based manufacturing.

And perhaps it’s worth mentioning here, that all the talk about the problem being immigration is a complete red herring. Immigration contributes jobs, taxes and workers willing to do undesirable jobs. The problem is austerity: in 2013 NEF calculated that 80% of new jobs since the 2008 crash had been created in Greater London. This is a problem, but attributing it to immigration is not the answer!

So, democracy is not just some nicety you get as a reward for being wealthy: it underpins the economy. An engaged citizenry and more lively democracy means it is much easier to influence important economic issues, such as supporting job creation, diversifying the economy and so on. And this is perhaps what English political culture has failed to understand.

So, where does that leave us?

The UK’s (and Scotland’s) focus on financial services as the economic driver has meant a collapse of historic industries in the North and in Scotland. Whilst oil has propped up the Scottish economy for the last few decades by increasing the value of the pound, the North of England has had no succession industry. So, when the oil economy begins to falter, Scotland looks to be in very much the same position as the North of England: there is no long-term, sustainable industrial strategy (despite efforts of the Scottish Parliament: Scotland lacks some of the most significant macroeconomic levers). So the questions we need to answer is what succession industries can replace the old industries of the North and Scotland, and how do we make them work in the context of a financialised system.

Now, the EU Referendum vote might mean that financial services take fright and leave, but perhaps that’s just wishful thinking. And, we’ll still have a huge budgetary black hole to fill. In Scotland, some of the answer will lie in investing in reindustrialisation of the renewables energy sector. In the North of England, perhaps the first step must be refocussing to truly devolving power to regions and supporting things like regional development agencies abolished by the Coalition government.

So, perhaps as we negotiate our ways through the mire that is the post-EU Referendum world, we need to prioritise movement building. Collective endeavour and solidarity across regional boundaries, to share experiences, learn from each other, build social capital, and develop strong communities with a clear plan for a positive future. Only then can we resist the xenophobia and bigotry, the victim blaming and finger pointing, the marginalisation of people who are different to us, that seems so prevalent in UK politics at the moment.

[A discussion brief written before the workshop will be published on the SPERI website soon, and you can read/watch the SPERI 2016 Annual Lecture, by Nicola Sturgeon, which followed the workshop here.]

In celebration of the real Living Wage

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Eight years ago (I think!), I stood up in the Council Chamber of Edinburgh City Council and called on the Council to pay all of its staff a Living Wage: a wage that is enough to live on, based on the real cost of living. The then LibDem/SNP coalition administration seemed to find this idea not only unrealistic, but ridiculous: ridiculous to pay our workers a wage that would mean they could live with dignity and comfort.

I am proud to be the first Scottish politician to have called for the payment of a Living Wage for workers. And I am proud that the Scottish Greens have led the way on so many important issues relating to workers’ rights (calling for the implementation of a 20:1 pay ratio and to plan towards a 10:1 ratio, seeking to repeal anti-trade union legislation, refusing to grant tenders to companies that blacklist union-active employees, and so much more).

This week, as we celebrate those employers who pay the real Living Wage and promote the concept of fair pay, it is worth noting how far we have come in less than a decade. The Scottish Government and many Local Authorities pay the Living Wage. Scotland is home to nearly 20% of the UK’s accredited Living Wage employers.

The Living Wage, now £8.45 in Scotland, gives so much more than just extra pennies to employees: it is about more than just fair pay. It is about employee self-worth. It is about valuing employees as more than just cogs in the economic machine.

Last night I was privileged to attend the reception for Living Wage week at the Scottish Parliament. We heard from two young women whose lives have been transformed by the Living Wage: two young women who now feel more confident, more equal in their work and their personal lives, more valued as human beings.

Fair pay is a fundamental part of securing a fair economy, where no one experiences in-work poverty. And this is crucial to securing a more equal society that creates and sustains social justice. We still have a long way to go: many companies, businesses and organisations do not pay the Living Wage; many workers are still deprived of the National Minimum Wage; precarious jobs with poor conditions are still a feature of too many people’s lives.

But for a moment, let us celebrate all who have chosen to make work pay by signing up to the Living Wage. Let us applaud those, such as the Poverty Alliance and many others, who have made it their business to promote the Living Wage.

Thank you all, and please let us all continue to spread the word!

Re-elect Maggie Chapman as Scottish Greens Co-convener

mcforcocoOver the next three weeks, Scottish Green Party members will have the opportunity to select the people who will lead the work of the party, including the co-conveners, over the next year or two (some positions are elected every year, some every two years).

I am asking you to re-elect me as female co-convener, a position I have held for the last three years.

This is such an important year for our Party. We need to see green councillors elected across the country in May 2017. We must resist the cuts and austerity agenda being passed on to Scotland by Westminster. We must ensure that our vision, for a just, welcoming, peacemaking Scotland in Europe that puts people before profit and communities before corporations is heard across the country.

And in order to do this, we must broaden our appeal, to reach communities beyond our comfort ground, to speak to people where they are, not where we are.

If you re-elect me, I will work tirelessly over the coming year, with you all, to make this happen.

Our constitution clearly states that the co-convener roles are three-fold:

  • Co-conveners will ensure the smooth running of SGP Council;
  • They will facilitate internal communication and cooperation;
  • And they will be the chief spokespeople for the party.

I have had many conversations with people from across the party over the last year or so about our approach to gender equality, both internally and externally. At a time when our group of elected representatives includes four women and 14 men, it is clear to me that we must have a female co-convener with a public, outward-facing role.

I have that profile. I have the media experience. And I have connections with civic society we need to engage in order to be successful: with the third sector, the Trade Union movement, our Further and Higher Education sectors, and other civic institutions in Scotland.

We also need to improve the way the Party Council functions, and we must improve our internal communications and processes. I have been part of ongoing discussions on both of these issues too, and I would welcome the opportunity to continue these discussions. In my report to our recent AGM at our Conference in Perth, I suggested several ways of doing this.

I would be delighted and honoured to continue to work with all of you across Scotland to ensure your voices are heard in our politics and in our party. I want to be able to use my experience as a Councillor, a university Rector, a Trade Unionist and a local campaigner and activist to build our party and contribute to working towards a just and welcoming Scotland.

Please vote Maggie Chapman #1 for Female Co-convener of the Scottish Greens.

Thank you.

 

Candidate Statement – as submitted for the internal election process

RE-ELECT MAGGIE CHAPMAN AS CO-CONVENER

With local elections fast approaching, we must build on our good performances during the Holyrood elections and EU Referendum. It is crucial that our vision – for a just, welcoming, peacemaking Scotland that puts people before profit and communities before corporations – is heard across the country.

As Co-convener, I will:

  • Put anti-austerity at the heart of our Local Government campaigns
  • Campaign for public services in public hands
  • Fight for more participatory democracy and powers for communities
  • Put equality and diversity at the heart of the Party’s practices and culture by fighting patriarchy and centralism, and ensuring members’ voices are heard
  • Build a campaigning culture connecting parliament, council and wider membership

My track record:

  • As Co-convener: helped broaden the Party’s appeal by television, radio and other media appearances, argued for improved representation of young people and for better understanding of intersectional politics
  • As Aberdeen University’s Rector: campaigning on housing and student rights, against military recruitment on campus, and for improved democratic governance
  • As a Councillor: created £eith Decides participatory budgeting, argued for a Living Wage, and opposed privatisation of services
  • An active trade unionist and member of the Smith Commission and COSLA’s Local Democracy Commission

@Maggie4Scotland

Mental Health is a social justice issue

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On 10th October many of us would have stopped for a few moments to acknowledge, remember, and perhaps highlight World Mental Health Day. Many, if not all of us, know someone who struggles with poor mental health. Many of us, whether we acknowledge it or not, are part of the growing number of people in Scotland whose lives are personally affected by mental ill health.

Universities are at the sharp end of this health crisis, with 4 out of every 5 students suffering, to varying degrees. Student suicides are on the rise. Staff morale is lower than it’s been in decades. And so, as World Mental Health Day comes and goes, again, we perhaps need to consider what we, as the Aberdeen University community, need to do to support our colleagues, friends, fellow students, teachers.

The 10th October is about global mental health education; about increasing awareness of the wide variety of forms ill-health takes; about challenging the social stigma attached to this ever more common social condition.

We clearly all have a role to play to ensure our student and staff counselling services are appropriately resourced. We should be promoting Mental Health training of the University and wider city community.

But we also need to look at the social context of our wellbeing. It is no coincidence that we see individual’s mental health deteriorating at the same time as students (and staff!) have to work more, longer, harder just to pay rent. The pressure on students of fees and the lack of proper financial support for living will making the stress points we face more acute, more frequent, and more damaging in the longer term.

So, we need to be doing more to change the system in which we live, not just dealing with individuals in isolation. We must support collective endeavours such as housing cooperatives, community volunteering, cross-cultural exchanges. We must use our institution’s clout in the City and in Scotland to tackle inequality; to focus on cooperation rather than competition; to value education for the social and cultural benefits it brings, not simply the reductive economic and marketised worth it has in financial spreadsheets.

Poor mental health is certainly a huge problem for the individuals it affects. But it is only when we recognise that it is society’s problem, too, that we will be able to tackle the social causes and improve all of our health.

This article originally appeared in The Gaudie, the student newspaper of the University of Aberdeen, in mid-October

Education: the route to a better future

This is another column I wrote for Aberdeen University’s student paper, The Gaudie, about the Fees Must Fall campaign in South Africa and how education must be the foundation of a better future for all.

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#FeesMustFall image from Connect, the Citizen

I grew up in Zimbabwe just as it was freshly liberated from decades of white-minority rule. And the new government focused on education as the new country’s route to success. That road to success hasn’t been an easy one, but it left me with a commitment to education as the best way for a society to achieve.

I’m currently visiting my family in South Africa, where education is the issue of the day. Students have launched a Fees Must Fall campaign, going on strike over the government’s fees policy. Over the past year this has put higher education at the heart of the debate about where South Africa’s future lies.

In the recent municipal elections the ANC, the party of Nelson Mandela, lost control of  city government in Pretoria (Tshwane), Johannesburg (Egoli) and – most symbolically – Nelson Mandela Bay. The new city governments seem likely to be an alliance of the liberal Democratic Alliance, who want to privatise services, and the ultra-left Economic Freedom Fighters who want to return land and property to the majority. It seems an unlikely marriage. And one most likely built on convenience or opportunism.

The reason the ANC have lost control is their failure to definitively choose an approach that transforms the lives of people sufficiently quickly. Far too many people still don’t have decent housing – or indoor toilets. Meanwhile the towering heights of the South African economy are owned by a tiny, monied, class. A class underpinned by the work and education of the many and the extraction of natural resources owned by all.

So University fees have become a key issue in this debate – with many claiming that University should be the lowest priority for a country with serious housing, health and infrastructure issues. It is a disgrace that South Africa has areas of the worst housing anywhere in the world.

But to argue that these are higher priorities than education is to miss the point. While the huge mining concerns are making massive profits it’s that money that should be used to transform the country. Paying for houses, hospitals and decent public transport can be done with the nation’s wealth, while also allowing people to benefit from open access to University and technical education.

So while Scotland and South Africa are different in many ways, the issues are very similar. If we want decent education we need to make the argument that it is more important than the eye-watering profits of the big companies. In Scotland, as in South Africa, Fees Must Fall!