I’ve finally got around to creating a new website … you can find it here:
The Scottish Green Party is currently running an internal selection process for candidates for the European Election in May 2019. I am standing to be a candidate, and am asking Party members for their first preference votes.
I had the great privilege of being the Party’s lead candidate for the last European Elections in 2014. In that election, we achieved the greatest ever number of green votes. We also were able to shift the debate, putting forward a strong, positive case in favour of immigration and freedom of movement.
At the time, some people considered this a risky strategy, but it was very clear to me that we needed to make a clear statement that, not only do we welcome immigrants and value their contributions to our communities, but we also think that migration and mobility should not, as a matter of principle, be constrained by race, ethnicity, birthplace, citizenship, or nationality.
Given the backdrop of Brexit and the rise in xenophobia and racism, we must redouble our efforts to put forward a positive case for immigration. As a non-British citizen myself, I have some first-hand experience of the hostile environment created by the UK’s Tory Government (albeit it nowhere near as negative as that felt by people of colour or people who look or sound different to me). And I am committed to ensuring that our campaign will have the positive case for immigration at the forefront of our election campaign.
We need to ensure that we tackle the need for urgent action on Climate Breakdown, and to do this across state boundaries. We can also use our voices in the European Union where Scotland leads by example: on rejecting weapons of mass destruction and outdated military alliances in favour of leadership in peace-keeping and peace-making; on ensuring public investment is seen as a force for good; where co-operation is seen as the best approach to protect our land, seas and animals; and where the EU exercises its diplomatic and trade power in support of human rights, indigenous people, and impoverished nations.
And we must continue to campaign for a more democratic Europe. This must include a reassertion of the principle of handing power to the most local level.
The European Union is far from perfect. But in order to make it better we need to be an active part of it. I would relish the opportunity to lead the Scottish Greens campaign again.
My candidate statement is as follows:
In 2014 the Green European campaign I led changed Scottish politics. It made the case for Scotland’s place at the heart of Europe. Greens must again use this European election to fight Brexit and communicate our vision of a just and welcoming Scotland. We must deliver a radical pro-immigrant campaign making the moral and social case for freedom of movement. And we must show how a participatory democracy and just economy provide the solution to climate breakdown.
SGP National Co-convener since 2013
Rector of Aberdeen University
Chief Executive of a Scottish charity
Scottish Independence Convention Ltd Director
Trade Unionist and peace activist
Former Edinburgh City Councillor, lead candidate for 2014 European Elections and lead candidate for 2016 Holyrood Elections (North East)
Fight to expand Freedom of Movement and against the rise of fascism and xenophobia
Campaign for a Europe-wide Green New Deal to invest in a sustainable future
Use the powers of the European Parliament to refocus on Climate Breakdown
Oppose austerity, cuts and privatisation
Change procurement to allow public money to be spent for positive social and environmental use
First politician in Scotland to call for a Living Wage
Pioneered participatory budgeting
Member of Smith Commission on further powers for Scotland
Member of COSLA’s Local Democracy Commission calling for radical democratic change to empower communities
Campaigned for employment rights, gender equality, equal recognition for all LGBTQ+ people, animal welfare, peace
Scottish Green Party Conference Speech October 2018
Good morning friends. Welcome to our conference, and a special welcome to conference newbies, and to Grace – thank you for being with us.
And thank you, Christy, for that introduction. It is so good to see you all this morning, to be here with you. There were a few days, earlier this week when I wasn’t sure whether or not I’d make it here today. Some of you know that I had surgery on Tuesday. Can I just say that I love morphine. But I love the NHS even more, and I want to pay special tribute and give my heartfelt thanks to the wonderful nurses, surgeons, anaesthetists and others who looked after me so well at Roodlands General Hospital – they are all heroes!
And because of their excellent care – and morphine – I am here today. Excuse me if I grimace at any point – it might be the pain, but it might also be because some people don’t think we still have a problem with the patriarchy.
Every year, when conference approaches, I ask myself why I do this, why you lot matter to me, why what we do is so important. This year is a little bit different, in some ways. We don’t have a national election scheduled – not yet, at any rate. And yet there is still so much happening.
I know that, over the course of the weekend, we’ll all hear more about what our elected representatives in Holyrood and in Councils have been doing. I thank them all for their hard work.
We’ll also hear about, discuss and debate, two of the big constitutional issues of our time: Scottish Independence and Brexit. And I’ll come back to each of these in a little while.
But, in many ways, much more importantly, we’ll hear, if we choose to listen, to the real green politics of our members: the campaigns and activism happening up and down our country, in the rest of the UK, indeed, around the world. Some of these activities make media headlines: huge well done to all of you involved in the many and various tenants rights campaigns, banning assault on children, immigrant solidarity actions, slavery-remembering campaigns and anti-Trump protests across Scotland. But many of the actions that you, our members do to change the world, go un-noticed. I would just like to take a moment to acknowledge these, and to thank you for doing what it is you do.
Because, in many ways, these are the activities and goings on that are most important to me. Being a part of something much bigger than our parliament, or our representative democratic structures. Because these structures are the institutions of a dying world. I know I’ve said this before – I’m sure you’ll allow me a bit of recycling – but that Gramsci quote: “the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear” is still true, still strikingly relevant.
The morbid symptoms we see – the monsters – are all around us: Brexit, the tarnishing of immigrants and ordinary people as scroungers, Austerity, the insatiable desire of capitalism to suck dry our environmental resources. We see the devastation of the old systems everywhere we look.
And it is precisely this that I want to focus on this morning: Green politics, our politics, give us the skills and the tools to navigate our way into the new world, as long as we are prepared to be the midwives for this new world. More than this though, our Green politics, our radical politics can show how hope and compassion can win over fear and indifference. Now is the time to be true to our radicalism.
Because the centre has collapsed. Where being moderate, where triangulating to the centre, were seen by many as the way to success, they are no longer. Moderation has never delivered the kinds of radical change we know we need to see in the world. It wasn’t being moderate that got the anti-fracking demonstrators freed from prison. It wasn’t by being moderate that the apartheid system in South Africa was overthrown. And it certainly wasn’t by being moderate that some better off women won the right to vote 100 years ago.
People across the country understand that, from the economy to the constitution to the environment we face deep crises, and they are looking for those with the proposals, and the convictions, which match the scale of the challenges before us.
One of the areas where it is most obvious that the centre has collapsed is in social security. The last Westminster Labour government and the Tory-led administrations from 2010 onwards have crushed people’s lives using what they call welfare reform. The old centrist aim of a welfare system based on means testing is simply no longer possible. Instead we have a choice between the Tory immiseration strategy and a universal basic income. As we approach the centenary of the brutal murder of Rosa Luxemburg, her belief that we face a simple choice between socialism and barbarism has never been more true.
Over the past 30 years we have seen various attempts to locate the responsibility for stopping climate breakdown with individuals and their lifestyles. And of course it has always been in the interests of the wealthy and the corporations they own to shift responsibility for climate breakdown from their actions to our actions. Well I believe we can all take personal actions to stop climate breakdown. But those actions have to be radical political actions to change our society and economy: divestment from fossil fuels, a just transition in our energy economy, valuing environmental resources as more than just commodities, the end to the agribusiness complexes that pollute and contaminate our world.
We were all horrified by the graphic images of plastics in our oceans. But the answer cannot be banning plastic straws or merely encouraging beach cleans – as important as clean beaches are. As Greens have always argued the answer must be to stop the big corporations who benefit from single use plastics from producing them in the first place unless they are absolutely necessary. And it must be to stop those who profit from dumping plastics in the sea. Where others think that recycling is enough, Greens have always known that we need an economy that sees nature as a partner with humanity, rather than a resource to simply exploit.
According to the IPCC we could face climate breakdown in 2030, or we could have transformed our world. And the things that will keep our climate stable are the things that will make everyone’s lives better. Less work, time with our friends and family, better food, more vibrant local economies, clean water and air. And yet people talk about halting climate breakdown as if it were a cost. It is only a cost if you are profiting from the destruction of our planet. It is time to take these corporations head on. The 100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions, their cheerleaders and the governments they have captured must be our targets.
Because what we need is system change not climate change.
We need a transport system that meets the needs of all our communities. At the moment our country is scarred by cuts to rural transport. Our cities suffer from the emissions compounded by grand scale corporate lying about diesel emissions.
We need a totally new approach. We need to nationalise the railways now. We need our buses to be run for communities not for profit. We need to harness new technologies to provide universal high quality public transport. And – personal opinion (for now, I hope!) – I think that public transport should be free – thanks to the Young Greens for your motion!
In international affairs we have seen the move away from cooperation. Brexit is only one manifestation of this. The Trump regime is systematically undermining agreements, from the Iran nuclear deal to UN Convention on human rights. Most seriously the US is undermining international action on climate change and human rights.
But Greens always knew that states negotiating on behalf of their own interests, drawing up nation to nation deals, wouldn’t be enough to deliver the change we need. Our commitment to peace making and to global social movements is needed more now than ever if we are to see negotiations on behalf of global commons taken seriously. Governments won’t give us change, we must demand a better world.
The old certainties of the market economy sank 10 years ago. And all attempts to refloat that economy have failed. We are at risk of another crash. Possibly bigger than in 2008, and conventional economics has no answer to the question posed by so many in 2008: what have we learned from the crash. When students at Manchester University started asking why their economics course hadn’t adapted at all to economics after the crash, they set up “Rethinking Economics”. And their lecturers had no answers to what economics after the crash should look like.
Before modern medicine, apothecaries would treat all sorts of ailments by applying leeches to suck the patients’ blood. When this didn’t work – and in many cases, it didn’t – the answer was simply to apply more leeches. So it is with austerity. When cuts make things worse, the answer has been, of course, more cuts, with similar consequences for our society to those blood-drained patients. In the UK, in the US and elsewhere, governments spent money they didn’t have to try and save capitalism. But that wasn’t enough. We saw, on our streets, in our banks, and in our pockets, a catastrophic experiment in the economic equivalent of bleeding with leeches. And as I think we can all agree: we’ve had enough of these cuts.
We demand an economy based on planetary health and human wellbeing. We’ve always argued for this. Now is the time to give full voice to the demand for an economy that puts people and planet ahead of profit.
But it is not just about changing the policies we make or implementing policies we’ve been advocating for decades. Our Green politics is quite clear: we must also change how we talk with people about politics – how we appeal to them. We must change what politics means to people. We must change how society works.
We know that scaring people is not a good way to convince them to change. Shouting and haranguing people will not bring them onside. Alienating people by telling them they not good enough, or are ignorant or stupid for not doing the right things will only push them further away from us.
Rather, we must act with compassion, with understanding and in love. We must listen as well as talk. We must give space for others to think, learn and change. And we must not be afraid to think, learn and change ourselves.
I think that the approach that our politics points to is that of social movements. Social movements are the animating force in history – we know that movements like Occupy, the movement for Scottish Independence, and movements against austerity like UK Uncut, can change societies. The campaigns for Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn and the rise of Podemos show that social movements are making an impact in party politics too.
And if Green politics is about anything in terms of an organising principle, social movements give us that organising principle: we have never believed we should exist as an elite political party with personality politicians, protected from the daily machinations of life by ministerial limos and parliamentary protocols. Rather, we know that our strength lies in our commitment to move beyond the old institutions of representational politics by intertwining it with genuine participatory democracy. But this isn’t just a strength of Green politics, it is fundamental to how we do things. Bringing people in, giving them power, creating inclusive and dynamic decision-making processes are our life blood.
And with participation comes a responsibility to work with others, to seek common cause, to break down institutional and societal boundaries. And we have been doing this over the last four decades: we have stood alongside the anti-nuclear and peace movements, we have been and continue to be an integral partner in the feminist movement, we have spoken out for social and environmental justice together with communities and organisations across the world. We understand the importance of solidarity, of standing with the vulnerable, marginalised and oppressed, of the immense power in collective organisation and mutual cooperation on which the trade union movement is based.
Perhaps the most effective example of this was how we worked with others in the run up to the 2014 Independence Referendum. We sought – and found – common cause with RIC, WfI, National Collective, even other political parties, to deliver an exciting vision of a very different Scotland: a progressive Scotland that would be a global force for good. That Independence campaign could so easily have been the “It’s our oil” campaign. Rather, because we and so many others worked together, stood together, fought together, it was a campaign for a socially and environmentally just, peace-making Scotland. We must not underestimate the impact this has had on issues like currency, the decentralisation of power, and very strikingly, in comprehensively winning the argument about fracking which many in other parties were determined to see go ahead. This extraordinary working with others allowed us to have an impact on Scottish politics where green ideas have a resonance well beyond that in many parts of Europe and certainly beyond the rest of the UK.
I am confident that we do understand that our strength lies in building common cause across political and other boundaries, and that we will continue to do just that, treating others as equals, as partners. I think these values are needed as we fight for democratic control of Brexit, and I look forward to seeing how we embrace these values when we debate our position on the People’s Vote – the principle of which I am very much in favour of. Similarly, I think that there is clearly common cause to be made with those determined to see a better Scotland: over 100,000 people on the streets of Edinburgh just a couple of weeks ago, and the phenomenal support for SIC’s fundraising campaign – nearly £50,000 in just 5 days – show just some of the opportunities for us to be part of something bigger than ourselves, to work with others and be a part of delivering that better, green, fair, peaceful and welcoming Scotland.
That is our task. Our challenge. We want to create a new world that people are desperate to live in rather than the racialised dystopias of the right or the daily dissatisfaction of the centre – a dissatisfaction that people have had enough of. Our radicalism can take us there. We have seen, very recently, Greens across Europe doing well. And there is a pattern to their success: where others pander to racism and hatred, Greens stand up to the forces of evil. Rather than spread fear and hate, they give people courage and hope. And they didn’t do this by talking only to themselves, by alienating others, by being tribal. They did it by looking out beyond themselves. They did it by having one foot in their Parliaments, but also, very clearly, one foot on their streets.
We have always been a radical party, a party with solutions that deal with the root causes of the problems we face, rather than simply treating the symptoms. That is, after all, what radicalism is – going to the root of things.
As radicals, we can, and will, deal with the root causes of inequality, environmental destruction and climate breakdown.
We can, and we will, transform our society.
Our time has come.
This article first appeared in the Press and Journal, on Friday 23rd March, 2018
I was a very keen remain voter in the European Referendum. But I can very much understand why others voted to leave. Fishing communities are top of the list of leave voters for whom I have sympathy. I can understand why people living in places devastated by the Common Fisheries Policy voted to leave. Theresa May’s decision to continue the UK’s membership of the Common Fisheries Policy is another Tory sell-out of those fishing communities devastated by Tory policy in the 1980s.
During the 1980s the UK government, under Margaret Thatcher took a strategic decision to focus the UK economy on finance, and on developing the city of London. In Europe this meant trading away the rights of fishing communities to safeguard London’s status as the financial capital of the world. All of the larger countries in Europe did this for different parts of their economy. Germany protected its manufacturing and let Frankfurt’s status as a financial centre fade. France protected its small farmers. Spain prioritised its fishing communities, and so on around Europe.
While the European Union has done much good, its record on fishing is pretty dire. The Common Fisheries Policy meets neither the needs of our fishing communities, nor does it protect our fish stocks. Allowing massive trawlers from all around Europe to come and fish out our waters does us no good, it does our environment no good, and it is a situation no one should support.
The European approach to fishing played a major role in Norway’s and Iceland’s choice to stay out of the European Union. Norway, in particular has developed an approach to fishing that has allowed its fishing communities to thrive while preserving its stocks. Now is the time for us to learn from that approach, which may allow both the regeneration of our fishing communities and the regeneration of our fishing stocks.
While the UK government is very active in Europe protecting the interests of big finance – vetoing regulation that might help to recover taxes being avoided by big business, it often fails to attend vital meetings on fisheries. The UK government showed no interest fishing communities it saw as far away from their priorities in the City of London. That’s why selling out fishing came so easy in the current negotiations. My preference would be that Scotland had a seat at the top table in Europe, so we could put the case for a more rational fishing policy. By taking a real interest in fishing we could change the policy approach – having our seat at the table would make that case all the stronger.
What the UK Government has left us with is the worst of both worlds: in the Common Fisheries Policy with no say over the Common Fisheries Policy. Being a law taker without being a law maker.
As much as I want an independent Scotland with the influence to change the Common Fisheries Policy for the better, the most important thing is that we find a way to improve the lot of our fishing industry. Whatever happens, we need to protect fish stocks and fishing communities. The Norwegian example offers us an avenue we must investigate. That’s something we now know we can’t rely on the UK government to do for us.
It is great to be here in Greenock with you all, for what I know will be a great day – talking about politics, learning from each other, catching up with old friends, meeting new friends, and perhaps even having some fun.
And we gather together at a time when things seem more unstable and unpredictable than they’ve been for a while; when institutions that have survived for centuries are starting to crumble; when the old world is dying, the new world is struggling to be born, and monsters are, indeed, all around us.
We are on the brink of great change. And it is up to us to decide on, and then design, the nature of that change.
Throughout history, change has often seemed impossible. But once it comes, it seems THAT change was always inevitable.
From votes for women to the end of apartheid, many along the way could not see success. When it came, it was quick, and decisive. This year we celebrated 100 years of (some) women being allowed to vote for the first time in the UK. Next year will be the 25th anniversary of the end of apartheid in South Africa. We need people who are committed to making the change we need to see in the world. And we know that we are the people leading that change, right here, right now.
Europe and the European Union are much on everyone’s minds just now. In 2014, in a European Election dominated by UKIP (remember them), and a race to the bottom on who could be meanest about immigrants, we stood for a just, welcoming Scotland. We were the first political party in Britain to break ranks on immigration: we made an overtly positive case for immigration and open borders. We felt so strongly about it, we even put it on a mug!
And we did this, just like we do what we do in the Parliament, in Councils, in our communities and neighbourhoods, because we are committed to creating a different kind of world. The world we are working towards is one of equality, social justice and non-violence; it is a world where radical participatory democracy is how we make decisions; and it is one where the exploitation of our environment, and the destruction of our climate, is not a function of the economy.
These pillars that guide our politics, and our practice, give us a very firm foundation on which to stand. And they provide us with a way to analyse and understand what is happening around us, so we might know how to change them for the better.
We do not have to look very far at all to see evidence, and the very real human cost, of social inequalities and injustices. Significant health inequalities persist between rich and poor, with the gap in healthy life expectancy between Scotland’s least deprived and most deprived communities being 26 years for men and 22.2 years for women. Premature mortality has increased in each of the last 5 years. We know that, whilst employment rates might be rising, this masks the very real insecurity that many precarious workers, like those on zero hours contracts, and increasing numbers of self-employed people, face. And don’t get me started on the gender pay gap: 48 years after the Equal Pay Act and the World Economic Forum says pay equity is still over 200 years away – well bollocks to that. I won’t be around in 200 years, but none of our granddaughters, great granddaughters or great great granddaughters should be having to fight this battle.
And while I’m talking about smashing the patriarchy (and how painfully long that is taking), do we really want our daughters, nevermind our granddaughters to have to suffer gender based violence, or to live in societies where campaigns like #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter are needed because discrimination and prejudice are rife. And yes, when we’re talking equality, it has to be intersectional.
But we know that we’ve got some of the answers to these issues: Greens have led the way with policies whose time have well and truly come: a Citizens’ Income, Living Wage, a green industrial strategy to reboot our economy, equal representation, genuine equalities education, and so much more. But we also know that we do not have a monopoly on good ideas, and are open to learning from others too: I am very pleased that we have the Equal Representation Coalition and Women for Independence with us this weekend, sharing ideas, and perhaps also offering us some constructive criticism, helping us to do better.
But just having the right answers is not enough: we then need to communicate them to others, in ways that make sense to people where they are. We need to work hard, in our communities and neighbourhoods – not just in Holyrood or in Councils – going beyond our comfort zones, challenging ourselves and our own practices and behaviours, to reach out to more and more people to show them how these ideas will transform society for the better, and that we can be trusted to deliver and maintain that transformed society.
Some of those conversations will be easier than others. We know that our commitment to nuclear disarmament is shared by a majority of Scots. And yet the UK government is spending more than a £100billion on renewing Trident, supposedly to keep us safe. But this is a defence strategy which relies on the absurd assumption that hostile governments will never develop the technology to find a large submarine hiding at the bottom of the sea; it is a defence strategy that, sadly and despite hopes to the contrary, the Labour Party at Westminster is utterly signed up to; and it is a defence strategy that does nothing to address the real threats we face, like climate change, and does nothing to deter other threats, as we have seen recently on the streets of Salisbury.
We remain committed not only to the removal of Trident from Scottish waters and soils, but to full nuclear disarmament. We remain opposed to NATO, an imperialist structure of war that inhibits the creation of peace-building and peace-making countries. Warfare is unacceptable on our streets, so it cannot be legitimate to sell weapons of terror to Saudi Arabia and other countries to pursue war elsewhere.
An interventionist, militarised foreign policy is not in the interests of our safety and security, nor that of regions in which the UK has recently intervened. We should not underestimate the ramifications of such interventions: without the invasion of Iraq there would probably not have been civil war in Iraq; without that civil war ISIS would not have got the foothold it did; with no ISIS we would have a very much reduced refugee crisis; and with a very much reduced refugee crisis we would remove the fertile ground for the far right across Europe.
Rather, we want a Scotland that pledges non-violence, not only in its foreign policies, but also at home in how it treats refugees and asylum seekers. We want a Scotland that opens its arms to the world, holding out hands of friendship, dignity and respect. And we want a Scotland that uses the institutions and instruments of the state for peace-building and peace-making.
Now we know it is not just enough to have the right policies. It is also important that people get to decide how they are implemented and how their communities are designed and controlled. We have heard much – perhaps too much – about ‘taking back control’ over the last couple of years. The Leave Campaign of the EU Referendum was obsessed with the notion of taking back control. They talked about ‘our borders’, ‘our money’, ‘our taxes’, ‘our economy’, and ‘our security’. And yet the ‘our’ they were talking about certainly did not include us – they were not really talking about our borders, our money, our taxes, our economy, or our security.
It has become increasingly clear, if it wasn’t before, that Brexit is just an elaborate strategy to create borders and build walls that will threaten peace as we see in Northern Ireland; to funnel more money from public services and the workers into private, off-shore bank accounts; to secure better tax avoidance and evasion mechanisms for the elites; to create an economy of precarity and vulnerability for the rest of us; and to use the security apparatus to create a surveillance state. This is the road to authoritarianism. After nearly a decade of austerity, the obvious next step for the elites, who are so desperate to cling on to power and to their wealth, was to stoke the fires of xenophobia and anti-politics, causing division and increasing distrust across and between communities.
What we need to do, and do loudly, urgently, and with conviction, is to enable individuals and communities to use their knowledge, experience and expertise to actually take control of their lives: to make decisions about things that affect them, and to have power to change the things that need changing. And again, we have led the way on this, pioneering participatory budgeting with Leith Decides 10 years ago, demanding proper community empowerment in our planning system, fighting to democratise our places of work and our places of learning. Our commitment to radical, participatory democracy is THE antidote to the authoritarianism of the Conservative government at Westminster, and it is therefore the way to open up the spaces for inclusive discussions about the politics of the everyday, where people live, work, learn and play. This is how we really take back control.
Climate change and environment
Because we have seen the damage that the anti-politics of neoliberalism has done over the last 40 years. It has enabled the plundering of the earth’s precious resources and the pollution of the planet we and every other species relies on for life, all the while enriching the elites and exacerbating inequalities. We have been right about climate change, species loss and environmental destruction from long before anyone else cared. And we have never lost sight of how important these issues are, nor how utterly intertwined they are with social and economic justice. We have always led on these issues, perhaps most recently on securing the ban on fracking in Scotland.
We were able to win the fracking ban because we were able to build a social movement around the issue, with and as ordinary people in our communities, with and as grassroots organisers. Our theory of change – of how we make the impossible inevitable – is through social movements. And our biggest strength in this is that we are not alone.
Our theory of change is social movements
I am sure that many of you will have been as moved as I was watching the younger generation react defiantly, passionately and purposefully against gun violence and the might of the NRA in the United States – millennials may succeed where even Obama failed. We have witnessed emotional outpourings of love, bravery and support for Kurdish Afrin in the face of brutality by the Turkish state, and we, once again, reaffirm our solidarity with the Kurdish people. And we have seen, in the last month, just phenomenal solidarity by students across the UK with their university staff who have been on strike in defence of their pensions … A special shout out to the student occupations across Scotland – particularly Aberdeen!
These social movements, our social movements, are working against the old institutions of imperialist, patriarchal elitism. The institutions of previous worlds are creaking. They are in crisis. They are being brought down.
By us: working together, across communities. By mass actions. By mass movements. This is the key to unlocking the door to the new world that is struggling to be born.
So we must work on building and sustaining our social movement. To do this, we must present to those not yet convinced a positive vision of what the future could be. A great wordsmith, Leonard Cohen, once said ‘There is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in’. The first crack in the armour of the old imperialist institutions was the Independence Movement of 2014: the light got in and we were able to start imagining a different world: a world where the market did not make decisions about whether or not people lived or died. Our green voices, our radical voices were central to that vision.
So we must tear at the cracks and let more light in. By opposing the destruction of our climate in the name of short term profits; by decentralising power and promoting radical democracy; by defending peace against war and against nuclear proliferation; and by showing how and why equality and social justice is good for everyone.
We greens have always led the way. We have always been the light that creates the conditions for change and sparks the inevitable. And I am so proud, and honoured, to be here with you, sharing this exciting moment of change with you all.
Good morning everyone, and thank you very much for inviting me to speak this morning – it’s great to be at another RIC conference, with so many folk eager to discuss how we can build ourselves a better country – one that is equal, peace-making, outward looking, welcoming and just for all.
And it is especially good to be here in the week of International Women’s Day. I have really struggled to articulate just how angry I am at the inequalities, injustices, prejudice and discrimination women (and non-binary people) continue to face … in the 21st century. At this point, if I may, I’d like to get a little bit of audience participation going. Can I channel Frances McDormand and ask all the women and non-binary people, if you are able, to stand up with me. I just want to say a heartfelt thank you to you all for being part of this movement with me, for giving me the inspiration and energy to keep doing what I do, and for doing what you do every day. I really cannot be arsed waiting another 200 years for real gender equality … let’s smash the patriarchy together, sooner rather than later.
And it’s great to share a platform with Neil. The last time we did was in Aberdeen, I think, a couple of years ago, and we were talking about the EU referendu. As a Remain campaigner, I set out the case that a leave vote would produce an increase – a rapid increase – in xenophobia and a move to the right in British politics. True enough, after the leave vote, we saw and upsurge in racism which probably would have been worse had it not been for the murder of Jo Cox just before the referendum – an absolutely horrific act. And, under Theresa May’s leadership, we saw the UK government lurch to the right in policy terms.
Neil made the argument then that he may well reprise today: expertly highlighting all the flaws of the EU including at that time the destruction of Greece. And as we have seen more recently, the disgraceful treatment of Catalunya. He said we should vote leave because it would send a signal that the actions of the EU were immoral, and that it would cause a crisis in the British ruling class.
Maybe this is me being a bit cheeky, but I think this event was a masterclass in how two opposed positions on the left can both be correct. What we have ended up with is, if you will, a thesis and antithesis forming at this conjecture, a synthesis.
But, now on to the issue at hand, which is Brexit and Scottish Independence.
I think part of the reasons at, whilst we disagreed with each other, we were both right, is that our analysis is based on many of the same principles – most importantly a materialist analysis of history and a commitment to internationalism. But where we of course differ is in our particular reading of the situation in which we find ourselves, and the approach which is therefore most appropriate to take.
I want to be clear: I think the case for Scottish Independence is stronger than ever, not because of Brexit, but because of the things that caused Brexit. Brexit is, I believe, the culmination of three important, and completely intertwined, crises: a crisis of the British state, a crisis around the collapse of a political consensus, and a deep industrial crisis. So, to take each of these in turn.
First and most important, a deep crisis of the British state. To understand how we got into a situation where Brexit was possible, we have to understand how intertwined the British state and the British establishment had become in a financialised global system in which the very specific role of the British state was to facilitate tax evasion and avoidance through the parallel structures of the City of London and the British Crown Dependencies and Offshore Territories which have become by-words for off-shored capital.
These territories, Bermuda, the Isle of Mann, the Channel Islands, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands – is that them all? – have a vital role in the global capitalist system: it is where global elites can channel their money and secrete it off-shore beyond the reach of their governments. One estimate of the amount of money hoarded off shore is US$21-32trillion, and I’m not talking about Zimbabwe Dollars!
After the global crash in 2008 the greed of the wealthy blocked important reforms. There was a failure to refloat the pre-2008 economic model. This left UK government with substantially lower tax revenues available from the City of London. With this decline in tax revenues the political consensus that had seemed impenetrable from 1989 to 2008 collapsed. You couldn’t argue that the economic model was “let the banks do what they like and spend the taxes on schools and hospitals” if there were no longer the tax revenues to enable this.
So we have the collapse of big banks, the collapse of tax revenues from those big banks, and a consequent collapse of political consensus.
So this brings me to the second point: the political consequences of an economic collapse – the political crisis. This political crisis manifested itself in several ways:
Firstly the death of the New Labour dogma that finally resulted in Corbyn as the new leader of the Labour party, polarising British politics.
Secondly, the rise of UKIP as the fascists in blazers that George Orwell warned us about.
Thirdly, the concession by David Cameron to the right of his own party that there should be a referendum on Europe.
This crisis entered a new phase during the Scottish referendum in 2014 when, for the first time, elites realised that the old politics was dying. It is very clear that the elites thought they had got away it in Scotland – that they would be able to continue with the status quo – and that fed their lackadaisical campaign in the Brexit referendum.
The official remain campaign which was based on threats that no one believed (like an emergency budget with more austerity) and an economic case which failed to resonate with many again highlighted how out of touch elites had become.The leave vote itself further deepened the political crisis: David Cameron choosing to resign, Theresa May being elected in a farcical leadership campaign most remarkable for the withdrawals of Boris Johnson and Andrea Leadsome.
May is, or perhaps was, the most overrated politician in recent history – a Daily Mail fantasy in red, white and blue. Her immediate turn was part of a broader turn against neoliberalism and towards an authoritarian form of patrician capitalism based on the notion that working class people were stupid enough to be distracted by calls to patriotism (being a bloody difficult woman, strong Brexit in the national interest) and gesture politics like having workers on boards of companies. Having promised seven times that she would not call an early General Election, she torpedoed her own reputation, she called an early General Election. And, much to my delight, it turned out that the electorate felt pretty much the same way about the politics of the Daily Mail as I’m sure all of us here today do.
In failing to get a majority in an election she was expected to win with a majority of well over 100 seats, she proved both that the working class are not as stupid as she thought they were, and, very importantly, that people do not care that much about Brexit.
The third crisis leading to Brexit was the industrial crisis: the utter failure – or, more correctly, the complete destruction – of British heavy industry from the 1970s onwards, and accelerated by the 1986 big bang reforms to the City of London that drove the financialised economy and pushed out extractive and manufacturing industry. This was compounded by the failure to replace jobs in these industries with jobs of equivalent pay or esteem. This left a significant element of the electorate disaffected with the status quo and willing to take a chance on anything else.
When set alongside the deep affinity from many in the English shires for the Imperial Britain of the past (and it is worthwhile noting that most Brexit voters were wealthy) this produced a majority for Brexit.
Having set out an analysis of the situation that led to Brexit, I want to move on and talk about how Brexit and Independence interact. A small caveat here: the temptation to make an argument for elite Independence based on the continuity of European institutions is one we must avoid: our argument for Independence must not rely on arguments around Brexit. Independence is the right thing to do because independence is the right thing to do, not because of Brexit. But it is very important that we defend, with all our strength, devolution, from any Brexit power grab.
Let me be clear, though. I think Brexit is a terrifying prospect. Let’s think about what a hard Brexit, which the Tories seem hell bent on achieving, means. It is very clear that the aim of the Brexiteers in the Tory Party and their allies in the hard right media is to use this opportunity for a dose of the shock doctrine.
There is a scenario where the Brexit deal negotiated by the UK with the EU is voted down in Parliament but the UK still leaves the EU. Britain moves to WTO rules, tariffs are immediately applied, and we are talking about this happening in 54 weeks time. Immediately food becomes more expensive, manufacturing becomes much more difficult as the just-in-time supply chains are disrupted by customs checks, and British services, which of course make up the bulk of exports struggle for access to foreign markets.
There is an immediate economic crisis, and in this economic crisis the right of the Tory Party are able to do what they have wanted to do for 40 years: unwind every gain by workers since the industrial revolution. Health and safety protection for workers – gone. What remains of the welfare state – gone. Education privatised and charged for. Health privatised and charged for. Dissent managed through increasing surveillance and an authoritarian turn in the justice system to curtail all protest. Remember we will lose our human rights after Brexit, the Conservatives would like to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights. All in order to protect Britain’s role as the global capital for tax evasion and avoidance. We’ve seen the shock doctrine before – in Chile after the overthrow of the Allende government, and later in countries across the world, including Russia. For the right wing Brexiteers, this is what it has all been about. And this is the Brexit we MUST avoid.
And independence offers us a way out of this, and I believe we have a duty to the people whose lives would be ruined by a hard Brexit. And by creating a crisis in the British state, we offer a way forward for those in the rest of the UK.
Because this is a crisis of the British state, and because the Green case for Independence has always rested on sound principles of decentralisation, subsidiarity and local decision making, we can still see Independence as the antidote to the crisis of the British state. We see the concessions that even a principled and committed socialist like Jeremy Corbyn has had to make (on issues like Trident and immigration), and we understand that these concessions are the beginning of the process of co-option.
Scottish Independence offers us two things:
First, an opportunity to build a state in Scotland that is not enthralled to an Imperial past, to outdated institutions like the monarchy, and that can deliver on our aspirations for a new economy based on social and environmental justice. It also creates a deeper crisis in the British state that may find its resolution in a democratisation and reorientation of that state.
Second, an opportunity to make the case for this approach in the international forums that are fundamental to decisions about these things. We can build the case internationally against austerity, for self determination and for human rights.
We need to have a very serious debate about what an independent Scotland does about membership of the European Union or other institutions. I don’t believe an independent scotland would take the disaster capitalism approach that Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg are pushing.
We know that 62% of Scots voted to Remain, but we need to have a real discussion about how it is we can best express our belief in an internationalist Scotland that acts for social justice across the world. I see the merit of Scotland having a seat at the EU table, making the case for Greece, for Catalunya, for a workers’ Europe, not a bosses Europe. But I can understand that there are others who may wish to be in the EEA, or out of the European institutions altogether. But that’s a debate for another day. For now, we know that our job has to be to deepen the crisis in the British state and protect people from the brutality of a hard Brexit.
For now, let us be clear that we need to work together to restate the case, to recreate a vision, of a new, better, Scotland.
The Scottish state that I want to see is based on internationalism, on welcoming those who come to make their lives here, and on meeting our commitments to the global commons. Those aspirations cannot be met in Brexit Britain, and they require an approach to international cooperation that works with others not against them. I look forward to joining you all in the struggle to come.
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.