The Centre has Collapsed, for Greens our time has come

The Centre has Collapsed, for Greens our time has come

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.

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My speech to SGP Spring Conference 2018: Change often seems impossible, but once it comes, change is inevitable

Maggie Chapman speaking at SGP Spring Conference 2018Good morning friends.

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.

Social justice

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.

Non-violence

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.

Participatory democracy

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.

Thank you.

Green Party Conference Speech 2017

Green Party Conference Speech 2017

Good afternoon friends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abolish Alienation
Build belonging
Create Communities

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

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

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

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

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

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

At its heart, our politics remains unchanged.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are all wonderful!

Enjoy the last few hours of the campaign.

Then get (some) sleep.

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

Another Europe is Possible 

Here is my speech to the Another Europe is Possible conference (Another Europe is still possible: resisting hard Brexit & Trump) in  Manchester on 1st April 2017.
Good morning everyone and thank you very much for inviting me to speak today.

I’d like to start by remembering the great anti-apartheid fighter and struggle icon, Ahmed Kathrada – or Kathy – who died this week. So much has been said and written about him and his life in the past few days, so I will simply use some of his own words to remember him:

“In death, you once more challenge people from every strata, religion, and position to think about how their own actions do and can change the world for better or worse.”

And that’s what we are here to do today: to be challenged to think and act differently, to work out how exactly we can create another, better, Europe – one with social, economic, and environmental justice at its heart. And I am looking forward to today’s discussions, to hearing about your experiences and opinions on the current shambles in which we seem to find ourselves, and thinking about how we can do and be so much better.

I am Maggie Chapman, Co-convener – co-leader – of the Scottish Green Party. I am an immigrant from the global south, and not a citizen of either the UK or any other EU country. I think it is important that we acknowledge who we are, to make us better able to use every weapon at our disposal to work together for a better world. So, as a Green, as a Scot – a Scot by choice – an immigrant from beyond the EU but one who looks and sounds (to those who care about such things) as if I belong here, and as a woman in politics, I have a voice and privileged position. I therefore have a duty, a responsibility, to use my voice and position as best I can to bring about the change I want to see in the world.

But where are we all just now? Well, in the week in which Article 50 was triggered, a week after an attack on Westminster, things for us on the left seem very bleak. We know that the wealth gap is increasing. We know that austerity has punished many poor and vulnerable people. We know that many lives have been lost as a result. We know that immigrants are being targeted and blamed for failing public services. We know that racism and xenophobia are being nurtured by our media and political elite. And we know that those responsible for our economic and political uncertainty will be the last to pay the price for the destruction and havoc they have caused.

The right has carefully built a coalition around Europe, regulation, immigration, blaming them for the UK’s failings. They’ve taken 40 years to do this. In reality, these things are all either good – regulations to protect people at work, immigrants who contribute so much to our communities and cultures – or in no way the problem that the right makes them out to be. But they’ve told people a really strong, convincing story, a very powerful narrative, about what’s wrong with their lives, their country, their world. And, importantly, they’ve told us who is to blame: immigrants, benefits ‘scroungers’, welfare cheats.

The left has hoped that these fears would just go away, or would be rendered redundant by the fact that they were not true. In 2014, I ran for the European Parliament on a pro-immigration platform which almost everybody else thought was foolhardy. For too long they’d sat with their buttocks clenched as political debate resembled that family meal where you hope your racist uncle will just stop talking, because you’re too afraid, or can’t be bothered, to tackle his prejudice. Across the UK, Scotland was one of only two regions where Greens put their vote up. But it had a bigger effect than that – it forced the SNP into taking a pro-immigration stance publicly. That has, over the past three years, had a huge impact on the debate in Scotland. It became part of the independence referendum debate and, in no small part, contributed to the 62% remain vote in Scotland last June, where all 32 council areas voted to remain.

The argument on immigration can be won – we just need to tackle it head on, instead of sitting with our buttocks clenched waiting for Nigel Farage, Paul Nuttall, Theresa May, or Donald Trump, to shut up.

It is quite simple: we are not going to let our NHS be stripped of its workers, our schools be deprived of their staff, and our friends be wrenched out of our communities, just to satisfy bigots. It’s gone way beyond empty moaning to become a real threat to people’s lives. And we must recognise that immigrants are much more important to our communities than simply cogs in the labour market.

Similarly, the right has told us that European regulation and red tape has led to public sector inefficiencies and prevented our national and local governments delivering the services we need. Regulations that save lives, protect our environments, and promote equality all face being discarded in favour of a laissez faire approach that we know will lead to greater inequalities, increased environmental destruction, and poorer standards of living.

So we need to win this fight too – by highlighting the true benefits of regulation – but more importantly, by ensuring our citizens understand why these things matter. The only way we can do this is to change the way we do and think about politics: we need active, engaged citizens participating in democratic processes and discussions on a daily basis: it is too important to leave to 650 people in Westminster, or 129 in Holyrood, or to a Thursday in May every other year or so.

For too long, we have left the garden untended – we have not made the case for what we want politically, but have instead chosen to avoid conflict. We need, now more than ever, to make the case for the world we want to see. And that is about building movements for participatory democracy, for a better environment, for workers’ rights, rather than hoping that some distant body will impose them upon us.

Our societies have radical traditions running through them. In England you once beheaded your King. Now, I’m not suggesting regicide … but I am suggesting that we find those radical traditions and that we build a progressive politics on them. In Scotland, Tom Nairn and others made a start on this over 40 years ago, and the 2014 independence referendum allowed us to make clear progress on this. Maybe, just maybe, Brexit puts this need into sharp focus for the rest of the UK, and enables the kind of genuine engagement with politics that we so desperately need.

We all know that the cause of the problems we face is a rigged economy – rigged because it delivers only for the 1%. The discontent that has focussed on Europe and on immigration is not caused by Europe or immigration. It is caused by alienation and a capitalist class running amok. If there is an upside to Brexit, it may be that it calls their bluff. Just as they built the story about immigration, regulation and Europe, so we need to create a story about the economy and society we want and need: an economy for people not profit.

Local democracy: power in your hands!

The Scottish Green Party’s Spring Conference is in Glasgow today, and I opened proceedings with this speech. Thanks to @FalkirkGreens for the photo – just some of the Council candidates at conference, with Patrick and me.

Good Morning Conference! Welcome to Glasgow. And welcome to our Spring Conference 2017.

Since we last met in Perth in October, so much has happened. We have a right wing fascist in the White House, who governs by diktat and seems content to rely on lies and prejudice to determine policy. We have a UK Government determined to use immigrants as bargaining chips in Brexit negotiations, dividing communities and making more and more people feel vulnerable and marginalised. We have a PM who seems intent on turning her back on the people of Scotland by rejecting our right to be an ‘equal partner’ in discussions about our future relationship with the European Union.

That old adage that in some weeks decades happen has clearly been borne out in recent weeks!

But this last week has also seen the celebration of phenomenal and inspiring women as part of International Women’s Day on Wednesday. In various ways, women used their voices to highlight their often unseen and unvalued contributions to their communities, their worlds. And we used it to highlight just how far we still have to go to achieve equality. We’ve made huge progress as a society over the last century, but we still have to fight for equal pay, campaign for fair access to reproductive health care, and perhaps, more fundamentally, to feed our families, to house our neighbours.

And we don’t need to look very far at all to see the consequences of inequality more generally: increasingly precarious employment leading to drug misuse and mental health issues; children from poorer backgrounds not achieving their potential in our schools; communities becoming increasingly isolated because of inadequate public transport; people living shorter lives because of poor housing.

And that is what motivates me to do what I do day after day. And I am sure it is what motivates many, if not all of us, in this room. We Greens believe that the world can be different. That we can create the kind of societies that treat all members with dignity and respect, regardless of gender, background, age, or any other label or characteristic of identity. That we can harness the creativity and caring capacity in our communities, so that everyone can reach their potential, and lead fulfilling lives.

And, as a political party, a crucial way in which we strive to create this different, better, equal world, is to engage with the structures of power and the communities in which we live, and stand in elections.

In just 54 days, communities all over Scotland will go to the polls to elect the people who will run their Councils, making decisions about their health and social care, education, their cultural facilities, their housing and green spaces, and so much more. And it seems that we Greens are unique in taking these elections seriously for what they are: a chance to focus on our local democratic structures, that are in desperate need of renewal. Whilst the Tories and others are desperate to turn these elections into a referendum on independence, we want to talk about local democracy, local services, local powers. If the Tories want a referendum on constitutional matters, then let’s have a referendum on constitutional matters. But to turn the vote in May into an independence referendum is, quite frankly, insulting to to all those who believe in the importance of local democracy.

And we do believe in the importance of local democracy. However, we also know that our Local councils in Scotland are not really local. The work our very own Andy Wightman and others like Lesley Riddoch have shown that we have the least local local democracy in Europe. Our citizens do not have the powers over their lives that would enable better decisions to be made, better services to be delivered, or better communities to be created.

So we need to change that. And whilst we won’t be able to revolutionise the structures of our local councils on our own, we can be the champions for change and be the voices of renewal that our councils need.

That is why, today, we come together as a party for one last opportunity to make sure we are as well prepared as possible for the 4th of May, and for what we hope will come after the 4th of May. We want more green councillors elected across Scotland. Greens who will fight for local democracy. Greens who will listen to the people they represent. Greens who will put power back in people’s hands.

In our Holyrood campaign last year, in the approach we took in Green Yes and continue to take around questions of devolution and independence, we have always said that we don’t just need more power in Holyrood. We need more power in communities across Scotland. We know that Greens in local government, supporting and engaging people where they live and work, learn and play, are the best way of making that happen.

It is so important that more people across Scotland have Greens to stand up and fight for them in their local wards. To listen to them. To give them a voice. To fight for the green principles of inclusive, participative politics. And to fight for the intertwined green values of social, economic and environmental justice for all.

And we are working towards our biggest ever local authority election campaign, where we want to convert the success of becoming the fourth largest party in the Scottish Parliament last year to having more Greens elected across Scotland than have ever been elected in our party’s history. Just enjoy that thought for a moment … on 5th May, when all those votes and transfers have been counted, we hope to have more Greens elected than we have ever had in Scotland.

What an opportunity! And what a privilege.

Now, I know that it is not always easy to make the case for the kind of world we all want and need. As many of you know, I had the huge privilege of representing the people of Leith Walk in Edinburgh, and the Greens, as one of our first ever councillors, for 8 years.

When I was a councillor, I wanted to give communities the right to decide how community grant money was spent. Not everyone agreed. They said it would result in worse decisions – because, as we know, politicians always know best, and never make mistakes. They said there would be very little interest. In the first year well over 300 Leithers of all ages turned up – surpassing everyone’s expectations – and Leith Decides has gone from strength to strength every year since. Participatory budgeting, as an idea, has taken off – not only in Edinburgh, but across Scotland – the Scottish Government has decided to put £2million into PB projects like £eith Decides across the country.

Similarly, when I suggested a Living Wage for all Edinburgh Council employees, people got it confused with the minimum wage, argued it wasn’t practical, or just brushed it off as greens being utopian again. They thought it was not practical to pay workers a wage that enables them to live in dignity and comfort. Now, that once radical idea is seen as common sense across the political spectrum. And I am delighted that our candidates will be campaigning for a Living Wage Plus for those who care for our loved ones. Justice for our workers is most certainly a cornerstone of social justice overall.

And there are lots of other examples of changes that we Greens have delivered for our local communities. I am thrilled that our long-term policy of a Citizen’s Income is at last being taken seriously, and I wish the Fife pilot all the very best.

Green ideas are the future. We know that where we get greens elected, we bring these ideas into the open. We push them onto a wider stage. We find ways to show that our ideas work. And often, we find other parties quickly shift from mocking our proposals to pretending they always agreed with us. Every community across Scotland needs a local Green presence. The people of every Council in Scotland deserve Green councillors.

And as we know, the job of the radical is to make hope possible. By electing greens across Scotland, this is a very real way in which we can make hope not only possible, but make change real. And come the 5th of May this year, with more Greens than ever before elected, we will have the opportunity – the responsibility – to ensure the green principles of participatory democracy and equality form the bedrock of our local government.

We want to support and enable our communities to harness their creativity and use it for the good of everyone. Despite the problems and restrictions of current local government structures, we need to be doing so much more to enable the inclusive transformation of people’s lives. Our ideas can help us do this, but we can also learn from elsewhere. We can learn from people in Rojava, where, in the midst of war and desolation, they are coming together and building strong communities that reject hatred and oppression. From those in North Dakota who, seeking to protect their environmental and cultural inheritance for future generations, stood firm against state-sanctioned brutality. From those women in Dublin who were out on strike on Wednesday to secure rights over their own bodies and health.

We can learn from these and many other examples of community. And we can stand with them in solidarity. Just as they stand up for justice, so we must continue to stand shoulder to shoulder with those facing the brunt of austerity: the economic violence that Westminster is using to discipline us. We know that austerity is an ideological tool used to hammer the poor. It was sold to us as a way to pay down the national debt. Yet Britain’s government debt has doubled since 2010. Someone, I can’t remember who, was fond of saying “We are all in this together”. That individual has just taken up two jobs paying over £1million per year. Yet, in the midst of austerity, the wealth of the richest in society has doubled. Some of us are clearly more ‘in this’ than others.

Austerity is about disciplining the poor and the workers, making people unable to rock the boat for fear of losing work or benefits. We must be loud and vocal in our opposition to austerity: council elections give us the opportunity to shout clearly that we say no to austerity, we say no to privatisation, and we say no to isolating and demonising our communities.

Solidarity is central to Green politics. Solidarity with women facing discrimination and abuse. Solidarity with those suffering in-work poverty. Solidarity with those facing benefits sanctions because the inhuman welfare system fails to understand their individual situations. Solidarity with those whose housing security is threatened because years of inflexible funding and poor vision have meant a lack of decent homes.

But it is more than this. It also means standing with those who are targeted and isolated by the UK government because of where they come from. It means standing with those facing the barrage of sexist, racist, xenophobic abuses that we see being normalised by Trump and his administration, and by Theresa May and her approach to immigrants and refugees.

We want our councils to be places of refuge, hospitality and safety for those whose lives are threatened elsewhere. We want our councils to work with local communities and organisations to provide safety and security – sanctuary – to people who have had hope stolen from them. We want our councils to build on the work many have already done supporting Syrian refugees and others, and to become places of sanctuary. And not just at a rhetorical level, but taking practical actions to welcome people.

We want the world to hear us when we say: Scotland welcomes immigrants and refugees. Scotland will stand up for the rights of the vulnerable. Scotland welcomes those who choose to call this country home.

We know that Greens can help create strong, resilient communities. Inclusive communities that look out for each other. Healthy and happy communities where social and environmental justice thrive. And engaged and motivated communities were participation in the structures of power and day-to-day decisions is not only possible, it is supported and expected.

In the last few extraordinary years in Scottish politics, so many people have been motivated to get involved, often for the first time in their lives, in the political debates that affect them. We have a responsibility – and an opportunity – to keep alive the belief in the power of democracy – local democracy – to bring people together and affirm the feeling of solidarity between us all.

Everyone deserves the chance to be a part of designing and determining the future of our communities. On 4th May, all of those aged 16 and over – yes, remember our young people are better enfranchised that they have ever been – will have the chance to play their part in shaping their futures. It is only one way of doing this, but it matters. It is up to each and every one of us here today, and our friends across Scotland, to ensure that as many people as possible vote Green. With Greens in councils across the country we can make a real, positive difference to people’s lives: fighting for social and environmental justice; safeguarding and investing in public services by securing decent pay and conditions for workers, and creating meaningful jobs; standing up for the most vulnerable members of our communities; harnessing the creativity and imagination of our citizens; and giving people power over the decisions that affect their lives.

I will finish by wishing all of our fantastic candidates and their campaign teams all the very best of luck over the coming 8 weeks. Let us use these next 8 weeks to get our message out to as many people as possible. Let us use the next 8 weeks to act as though we are living the early days of a better nation. Let us use the next 8 weeks to tell the story of a future where we live, work, learn and play in communities that are supported by vibrant, caring and creating economies. A future where everyone is treated with dignity and respect, and where equality is a given. A future where everyone has power in their hands.

A future that is coming. For a’ that, an’ a’ that, it’s coming yet, for a’ that!

Thank you!

“A green future for our great city” – Edinburgh Greens launch their local authority election campaign

I was asked, as co-convener of the Scottish Greens, to say a few words at the launch event of Edinburgh Greens’ local authority election campaign. These are they. 

Good evening everyone. It’s great to be here, at the launch of what will be Edinburgh’s best ever local authority election campaign. Thank you so much to Alys for inviting me to speak, and to everyone else behind the scenes for making tonight happen.

As many of you know, I had the huge privilege of representing the people of Leith Walk, and the greens, for 8 years as a councillor, and I am looking forward, very much to seeing the Green Group of Councillors in Edinburgh increase in number, and in voice, activity and fight, come the May Local Authority elections.

I know it feels like we say this every year at about this time – a few weeks – just 10 weeks now – out from an election – that this election is our most important yet. And tonight, I really do mean this!

In our Holyrood campaign last year, in the approach we took in Green Yes and continue to take around questions of devolution and independence, we have always said that we don’t just need more power in Holyrood. We need more power in communities across Scotland. I am delighted that the national slogan for May’s elections is “Power in your hands”. We know that Greens in local government, supporting and engaging people where they live and work, are the best way of making that happen.

It is so important that more wards in Edinburgh, indeed, more areas across Scotland, have a Green to stand up and fight for them. To fight for the green values of inclusive politics, and of social, economic and environmental justice for all.

Now, I know that it is not always easy to make the case for the kind of world we all want and need. When I was a councillor, I wanted to give communities the right to decide how community grant money was spent. Not everyone agreed. They said it would result in worse decisions – because, as we know, politicians always know best, and never make mistakes. They said there would be very little interest. In the first year well over 300 Leithers of all ages turned up – surpassing everyone’s expectations – and it has gone from strength to strength every year since. Participatory budgeting, as an idea, has taken off – not only in Edinburgh, but across Scotland – the Scottish Government has decided to put £2million into PB projects like £eith Decides across the country.

Similarly, when I suggested a Living Wage for all Edinburgh Council employees, people got it confused with the minimum wage, argued it wasn’t practical, or just brushed it off as greens being utopian again. They thought it was not practical to pay workers a wage that enables them to live in dignity and comfort. Now, that once radical idea is seen as common sense across the political spectrum. And I am delighted that one of Edinburgh’s key pledges this year is to really value the worker who care for our loved ones, and pay them a Living Wage plus of £9.20 per hour. Justice for our workers is most certainly a cornerstone of social justice overall.

Green ideas are the future. We know that where we get greens elected, we bring these ideas into the open. We push them onto a wider stage. We find ways to show that our ideas work. And often, we find other parties quickly shift from mocking our proposals to pretending they always agreed with us. Every community across Scotland needs a local Green presence. The people of every Local Authority in Scotland deserve Green councillors.

And as we know, the job of the radical is to make hope possible. By electing greens across Edinburgh, and across Scotland, this is a very real way in which we can make hope not only possible, but make change real.

So the elections in 10 weeks time give us the opportunity to ensure our green principles of participatory democracy and equality form the bedrock of our local government.

Now there is much more that Greens in the Council can achieve … you’ll hear from the current group about their achievements over the last 5 years in a moment, so I won’t steal anymore of their thunder.

Looking ahead, I know that the current councillors and councillors-in-waiting have put together a strong case for a “Green Future for our Great City”. In addition to valuing those who care for us properly, I know the Group’s commitment to delivering warm, safe homes and taking real action on empty homes is genuine, and one the oldies have been working on already. 

We all know that connected communities are happier and healthier communities, and the pledge to deliver a more accessible and better integrated public transport system for our capital city is at the heart of this. And there are so many other fantastic pledges and commitments in the Green Future for a Great City manifesto … I’m not going to mention them all now. But please, make sure you know what they are, so you can be ambassadors on behalf of the candidates over the coming 10 weeks.

It is important that we remember, though, that having greens in the Council will do more than just deliver specific policy changes and improvements for the city. Our approach to politics is just as important as the policies we hold dear. We offer an alternative to the centralising tendencies of the SNP. We know that our plans for local government are truly inclusive and participatory, and don’t just pay lip service to listening by consultations that go nowhere, or asking people to cut their own services.

Green Councillors make a huge difference to the communities they serve because they remain rooted in the communities they serve. They don’t get stuck on the hamster wheel created by officials to keep councillors busy with rounds and rounds of meetings, chasing paperwork and processes all over the place. And it is important that all of you help them in that – get involved in your local teams to support your candidates and councillors to be.

It is so important that green councillors have a local support network, not only to provide the muscles needed campaigning activism and give moral support, but also to be additional eyes and ears in your local areas and beyond. We have and will continue to lead the charge against austerity and cuts to local jobs and services, but our councillors need real life stories to help them in this fight.

We know that austerity is an ideological tool used to hammer the poor. It was sold to us as a way to pay down the national debt. Yet Britain’s government debt has doubled since 2010. Someone, I can’t remember who, was fond of saying “We are all in this together”. Yet, in the midst of austerity, the wealth of the richest in society has doubled. Some of us are clearly more ‘in this’ than others.

Austerity is about disciplining the poor and the workers, making people unable to rock the boat for fear of losing work or benefits. We must continue our fight against this. And the local elections in May give us another opportunity to shout loud and clear that we say no to austerity, we say no to privatisation, and we say no to isolating and demonising our communities.

And importantly, green councillors need your support to get them through difficult times. Being a councillor has its challenges, and it is always better to face such challenges as a group, as part of a team. 

I‘ll share just one more story from my time as a Councillor. Back in 2007 – I think we were less than a fortnight into the job – we had a training day for new councillors at Murray field – very plush. After the training, Steve and I were on the bus heading back into town along with a Tory councillor, who will renmain nameless. We were talking about how and why we got into politics, and why we wanted to be councillors. He looked at me and said, deadly seriously, that he didn’t believe women should be in politics. In 2007. I think Steve initially thought he was joking, but it was clear he was absolutely serious. Incidentally, a year or so later, the same councillor accused me of being ideological in my commitment to public services… Like that’s a bad thing.

So all of us, but perhaps specially women in politics, will face challenges way beyond the political positions we hold. And it is important that we are all ready to stand, shoulder to shoulder, with each other in solidarity when this happens.

If we show how solidarity works for us, we can help and encourage all those seeking support against the barrage of sexist, racist, xenophobic abuses that we see being normalised by Trump and his administration, and by Theresa May and her approach to immigrants, vulnerable people and those on benefits.

Solidarity is fundamental to our politics, and it is fundamental to the movement of which we are a part. I know that all of us want to be part of delivering a new, better world, and we will only do so by standing together.

In the same way that we want to rescue our country from those who spread racist, xenophobic and sexist hate, we want to give our communities the opportunity to flourish. And that’s why we are here this evening, to celebrate those who are standing as candidates, to give them our support in whatever ways we are able, and to wish them all the very best.

So, in closing, can I just say a huge well done to all those who have worked hard to get you, the Edinburgh branch, to where it is, and to wish all of you, but especially the wonderful candidates, all the very best.

Thank you all, and good luck!