Closing Address to Scottish Green Party Conference 2013

I had the honour of giving the closing address at the Scottish Green Party Conference in Inverness which finished this afternoon. This is a slightly edited version of my speech.

Thank you conference.

Well, what a weekend this has been! We have had a great time here in Inverness – sunshine and warm weather (in Inverness, in October!), ceilidhs, curries, constitutional motions, policy debates, discussion, meeting up with old friends, making new friends, party buses; what more could one want? And all of this has happened because of huge effort – please let us thank Highland branch, Myra, Eleanor, Fabio, and all the others who have worked very hard to make this a successful event.

And thank you all for coming. And for staying to what is nearly the bitter the end!

This is an important conference that has, I hope, recharged you and given you enthusiasm for the year ahead. In a year’s time we will meet in Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city; the first conference after the referendum, and we will then know what kind of future we have to work with.

So, the coming 12 months are important: it is a year that includes two vital events for us, for our Party and for the place we call home.

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In May next year we will win our first Member of the European Parliament. We will do that on the back of newly reinvigorated local branches around Scotland, through generating enthusiasm for our already popular policy positions, by widening our appeal to and reach into communities where we know we can really make a difference to people’s day to day lives, and by recruiting new members, supporters and activists. And all of these people, all of you, as individuals and local branches will ensure that the Party is then ready for the other challenges to come – the small issue of the independence referendum and the Holyrood election in 2016, where we have the ambitious target of electing 8 MSPs.

But, I stand here with the huge honour of being your lead European candidate, facing election in 228 days (not that I’m counting …). And that is really exciting, for me, for the party, and for the possibilities that the campaign gives us.

The European campaign offers us the chance to show that we really are on people’s side. It offers us the chance to make the argument for a reformed, democratised European Union. And I thank conference for supporting the suite of motions on Europe yesterday; those decisions mean that we have a very strong platform on which to campaign.

We need a European Union that is for people and for planet, not for bureaucrats and bankers. We must fight for a democratic EU.

But perhaps even more important, we must fight for a fair and just European Union. We reject utterly the cynical austerity politics that has reduced the people of Greece to a state of grim impoverishment and promises to do the same to the people of Ireland and Portugal. This does nothing to improve people’s lives. It does nothing to improve Europe. All it achieves is the further enrichment of the already wealthy. And we now have a very clear position on this: we will NOT participate in austerity, and we will do whatever we can to oppose austerity at every opportunity – that is quite a challenge for us as a party, and as individuals, one that all of us, but particularly, perhaps, the 16 elected politicians, need to work at.

So we want a new Europe. A Europe with compassion at its heart. A Europe that refuses to cave in to the free market orthodoxy and institutions that exist to make the rich richer. A Europe that shares its considerable wealth and prosperity and helps to build a new world.

As an MEP I will work to end European directives that encourage privatisation. I will ensure we develop mechanisms that enable our local producers to meet local needs. I will make it easier for the people of Scotland, for us, to own our own infrastructure. Our public transport, our utilities and our land.

As one of Edinburgh’s Green councillors I’ve been part of an incredible team which has opposed privatisation of services. We have stood shoulder to shoulder with blacklisted Trade Unionists and we’ve fought for stable, secure jobs, not zero hours contracts.

As your MEP I will work with Greens and others across the continent who share our beliefs and principles to achieve a better Europe. Not a bosses Europe, but a people’s Europe.

I will oppose the militarisation of Scotland, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the development of weapons that kill (mainly innocent civilians) and our involvement in overseas wars. I want no part of nuclear alliances like NATO and will make sure that Scots who agree have their voice heard in Europe and across the world. And we are in a very good position on this – we alone as candidates from the only party stand for peace – something with which many Scots identify.

And this ties in very nicely with the need for us to communicate our vision for Scotland over the coming year. We have a better opportunity than ever before, with the independence referendum, to make the case for a Scotland that serves its people, not corporate interests.

We heard earlier from Mike Danson that the UK has some of the worst inequality statistics in Europe; we should be utterly ashamed that we treat our sick and disabled people worse than any other EU state; it is a disgrace that our investment in defence far outstrips investment in our communities.

During the referendum debate, and through the process of independence, we have the chance to claim back our economy. We must take our economy back from big business and the vested interests who put their own self-aggrandisement ahead of people and planet.

We have the chance to create a welcoming home for immigrants. We can be rightly proud of our open borders policy; not only because it rejects racist and paternalist identifications of other people. It values all peoples equally, and as an immigrant myself, I know how important this is. And also, it offers us the means of securing skills, knowledge and creativity that will make our communities stronger, happier and more sustainable.

It is an opportunity to create a Scotland that leads the world in peacebuilding, not warmaking.

Yes we want an independent Scotland. But more important than independence is the Scotland that we will create through the movement we help to build.

The European election and the referendum campaign are crucial in the process of creating the Scotland we want. We need full powers over our economy. We need our own currency. We must have a democratically elected head of state. We must not replace London rule with Edinburgh rule. We must give power back to people across Scotland. We offer these people a fresh Green voice who speaks up for decent jobs and a decent living for all. And who speaks for our collective desire for a better world.

The European election and the Referendum are different. But they carry the same importance. They are about what kind of future we want. We want a future that is compassionate, that protects people and planet, that rejects austerity and the dominance of the market. We can have that future, and we will have that future. But only if we work hard to get our message across to the Scottish people on the doorstep in the media and in our daily lives.

I’ve already said that we need to reach more people than ever before. As a Party, we already punch well above our weight, and that is thanks to the hard work and good effort by everyone in this room. But to secure our success, we need proper investment: we now must engage the Scottish people in a way that surpasses anything we have done before. We can’t reach all of them, or even most of them, face to face. So we need to use other approaches: communicating in a whole number of ways, through literature, media, social media.

And all of you have a very important role to play in that. But for now, thank you all for coming to conference. Thank you for all the work I know you’re going to do – I will see you on the campaign trail.

And next year we will meet in a new country, with a new MEP and a new place in the world.

Thank you, and good bye.

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