Comment on SYRIZA victory in Greek election

I am delighted personally, and on behalf of the Scottish Green Party, that SYRIZA have won the Greek election. We have an economic system that is destroying our society and our environment. Greece is a vital arena in the struggle against that economic system. Since 2007 austerity has been the tool used to keep a system in its death throes on life support.

This election is a victory for a coalition of the radical left against austerity. The Scottish Green Party stands with SYRIZA and the Greek people against austerity. We stand for a future that puts people and planet at the heart of politics. The Greek people need support from around Europe and we are ready to do our bit in providing that support.

I hope today is the beginning of the end of austerity. I hope today marks the beginning of a new politics of hope.

Greek Green Party aligns with SYRIZA and the Radical Left

I’m delighted at the decision by the Greek Ecologist Greens to join SYRIZA, the Coalition of the Radical Left, ahead of the Greek general election on 25 January. SYRIZA stand a good chance of winning the election, which is widely seen as a referendum on the austerity imposed by the ‘Troika’ of the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission.
On behalf of the Scottish Greens I’m very happy to welcome the decision of our Greek comrades to join SYRIZA, the Coalition of the Radical Left, ahead of this month’s election. SYRIZA are the party best placed to end the worst cuts, and put Greece back on the road to democracy.
At our conference in 2013, the Scottish Greens made clear that we are totally opposed to the austerity being imposed on Greece and other European countries. We stand in solidarity with the people of Greece in their fight for decent lives and against austerity. I am looking forward to supporting both SYRIZA and the Ecologist Greens in their stand against austerity.

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

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

Metro 291014

 

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

But these societal ills are nothing to do with immigration.

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

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

Repost: The importance of International Women’s Day

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

THE IMPORTANCE OF INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering Mandela: Edinburgh Council meeting today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, a great man, certainly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But for now, hamba kahle Madiba. Amandlha!

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

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

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EMERGENCY MOTION – NELSON MANDELA

Council

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

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

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

woman&child

Radical Independence Conference 2013 Speech

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

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

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

We all know the failings of the British state:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We must keep this progress up.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what is to be done?

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

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

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

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

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