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!

Scotland in Europe: comments from #EGP25

egp

This past weekend, Glasgow and the Scottish Greens welcomed the European Green Party Council to the Strathclyde Technology and Innovation Centre. It was a great opportunity to see old friends again, like Ska Keller MEP and Mar Garcia, and to meet lots of new green friends from many green parties across the continent. I had the honour to welcoming the EGP Council to Scotland at a press conference on the Friday morning, and this is what I said.

Good morning everyone, and thank you for coming along today. I am Maggie Chapman, Co-convener of the Scottish Greens, and it is a huge pleasure to welcome Monica [Frassoni, the Co-Chair of the EGP] and the European Green Party Council to Glasgow this weekend.

The timing of this event, as far as we are concerned, could not be better. With so much political turmoil and instability in the UK following the EU referendum, it is important that we show solidarity: solidarity within and across state borders, with all those who believe that we must stand up for equality and diversity, against racism and bigotry, and work together to protect the principles of respect and dignity for all people that are at the heart of the European Project.

So, we stand together today, at what I think is the largest pro-European event to take place in Scotland since June, perhaps ever.

Scotland’s position is very clear: we voted, by 62% to 38%, to remain part of the European Union. Every single local authority area returned a Remain vote. Respecting the will and the interests of the people of Scotland is clear: it means doing what we can to remain a part of the EU.

And we are only too well aware that there is no clear plan following the Leave vote in England and Wales. Many of the promises of the Leave campaign have been revealed as misinformed or outright misrepresentations of the economic impact leaving the EU will have on all parts of the UK. Recent evidence done by academics at Strathclyde university, just down the road, suggests leaving the Single Market would mean 80,000 lost jobs and a £2,000 drop in the average wage in Scotland. Given the years of austerity and cuts we have already faced from Westminster, it is clear that our communities cannot absorb further economic hits.

So, we’ve got a lot of work to do. We must work with other political parties, campaign groups and individuals within Scotland, as well as build stronger links with the extensive Green network of politicians and campaigners across Europe who share our goal of staying in Europe. We’ll hear more from Nicola Sturgeon later on today, but she has been pushing for Scotland to have a say in the UK’s Brexit talks with the EU. We are supportive of her efforts in this.

We remain in favour of independence for Scotland, both as a way to retain EU membership and to achieve a fairer Scotland for all who live here. Our commitment to a Scotland that is open and outward facing, that welcomes people regardless of their origin or ethnicity remains strong. We believe that Brexit has been and is continuing to be weaponised to attack these values. We in the Green movement are clear that we will not be bystanders in such attacks.

So, the Brexit process gives us as an added cause for urgency – we will support moves by the Scottish Government to prepare legislation for another independence referendum, if this proves necessary. However, we are still willing to consider, along with others, whether other options, short of independence, exist that respect the mandate for Scotland to remain in the EU.

Scottish Greens, today, reaffirm our commitment to build a better, more democratic and more participative Europe that has environmental, social and economic justice at its heart. We have asserted since the European referendum: Scotland is an ancient European nation. We voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. Yet we face being dragged out, against our will by an uncaring Tory government we didn’t elect.  

We are not simply going to stand by and let this happen. We have been fighting since the 24th of June to keep Scotland where we belong: at the heart of Europe. And we are grateful to our European Green comrades for their support.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you again! In solidarity.

Re-elect Maggie Chapman as Scottish Greens Co-convener

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you.

 

Candidate Statement – as submitted for the internal election process

RE-ELECT MAGGIE CHAPMAN AS CO-CONVENER

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

As Co-convener, I will:

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

My track record:

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

@Maggie4Scotland

We are citizens of the world!

 

This is the text of my speech to Scottish Greens Conference 2016, Saturday 22nd October. I had the honour of sharing the stage with two great green women: Ska Keller, and Anni Pues.

panel

Good morning friends.

Thank you very much for that introduction, Ska. It is so good to see you again. You are a true friend – of the Scottish Greens, and of Scotland. You are one of the few European politicians who has taken the time to get to know us, the Scottish political landscape, and make our case for us in Europe, perhaps especially around the Scottish Independence Referendum two years ago, and now following Scotland’s vote not to leave the EU. Thank you so much for that. I want you to know how much that is appreciated – how much you mean to us. It is important that we recognise the solidarity you have shown us, and reaffirm our membership of the movement to which we both belong.

Friends, it is a great pleasure, and a great honour to speak to you this morning. It has been an extraordinary year since our time together in Glasgow, 12 months ago. A year in which we have seen our membership become more active. A year in which we have trebled our parliamentary representation. A year in which we have won many new people to our argument that democracy, and participation in democracy, matters. And a year in which we came out of both an election and a referendum with our reputation strengthened and our politics better understood.

But it has also been a year of great upset, great turmoil, and great loss.

At the end of last year’s conference, I started what I think might have become a tradition – we’ll have to see what happens tomorrow afternoon – by leading conference in singing Hamish Henderson’s Freedom Come All Ye. This anti-imperialist, anti-war, anti-exploitation song rejects the idea that Scottish soldiers should be imperial cannon-fodder and colonial oppressor. Rather, Henderson, in this internationalist anthem looks to a future society: one where multiracialism is welcomed, where social justice is at the heart of our world, where war is a thing of the past.

It presents a vision of the future very much like the one all of us here are working together to create.

We have done much to make that vision real. But, I am reminded, daily, that our work is far from over. The current political climate, in Scotland, in the UK, in Europe, and indeed, globally, is as uncertain as our actual climate future.

Globally we are threatened by the Republican presidential candidate.

We must be proud that we were among the first to trip up Trump. But while he seems doomed to failure we must acknowledge that he is still attracting around 40% of the American vote. Tens of millions of people are willing to sign up to his bigotry, his misogyny, his racism.

Lots of us have expressed shock and horror at how many people think that sexual harassment and sexist comments are acceptable. Of course we should be horrified. But sadly, a vast portion of the population does think these things are fine. The fact that millions think Trump’s misogyny is OK is no surprise to women in a world stained by everyday sexism.

everydaysexism

I know, as a woman, and as a woman in politics, just how much the attitude of those like Trump can damage not just our politics, but the lives of women. While we abhor his misogyny, we must create a different politics.

Greens have always led on gender equality. Our co-convener structure is now echoed by Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley in England and Wales. We must continue to lead – by working for equal representation for women, actively promoting the participation of women in our movement, and fighting for the rights of women in everything we do.

And we must lead in broadening this work out for those who identify as trans or non-binary.

And of course, politics is both shaped by, and in turn shapes the society around us. Our party must put our beliefs into action: by challenging misogyny in all its forms, from twitter trolls to boardroom bullies; by rejecting the rape culture promoted by men like Donald Trump; by standing up against Tory austerity, which we know hits women the hardest.

Let us ensure that the horror of Trump shows the world that the fight against bigotry must go on. And when he loses next month, let that loss be a clear signal to people across the world who are fighting back: we will win.

We, as Greens, have a crucial part to play in shaping Scotland’s role and place in the world. Two years ago, I led our European Parliament election campaign with the message: A just and welcoming Scotland. That message chimed with many people.

The result of the European referendum emphasises how effective the movement to create an inclusive internationalist politics in Scotland has been. The 62% remain vote stands as a testament to how differently Scots felt to those in most of the rest of the UK. We still have a great deal of work to do. But we have avoided the worst of the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the debate that we’ve seen south of the border.

In Scotland UKIP are a laughing stock. At Westminster they set the agenda for government.

As Greens we are proud to be citizens of the world: and we will work to be citizens of an internationalist, welcoming Scotland; a Scotland that works for Social Justice throughout the world; a Scotland committed to fighting climate change, working for peace and defending human rights.

In her speech to Tory Party conference, Theresa May said anyone who was a citizen of the world is a citizen of nowhere. I have a message for her: I am a citizen of the world and I would be delighted to be a citizen of an independent Scotland.

In the Scottish Green Party, we have a plan to make this happen.

We will create a society as caring as hers is hate filled. We will create a country committed to welcoming refugees – whatever age they are.

We will not blame the vulnerable or the poor for the failings of the economic system.

We will reach out our arms to shelter and protect those fleeing persecution and war.

When Theresa May talks of ‘divisive nationalists’ she talks about her own prejudices, her own hatred of others and her own bigotry.

When the Tories and others want to subject those escaping terror and torture to medical and dental checks to see whether or not they deserve to live in safety and security, they reveal not only their lack of compassion, but their inhumanity too.

Theresa May implied that I, as an immigrant, am not welcome in Britain anymore – that those born abroad are not welcome.

You know what, Theresa? I am happy to leave Britain.

But I’m not going on my own. I think many of us are happy to leave, and we are going to take Scotland with us.

More and more new-Scots like me are coming to the same conclusion. More and more of us are looking at the xenophobia of the British state, and agreeing that it is time to leave Britain behind, and build a just, welcoming country on the northern edge of Europe: an independent Scotland, that remains a part of the EU, for everyone who chooses to make this our home.

What’s more: while we’re still part of the UK we won’t stand for our neighbours, friends, colleagues who happen to from other countries being used as ‘bargaining chips’. We won’t stand for the the continued stigmatisation of our neighbours, friends, colleagues, as they build a home here, as they learn here, as they care and are cared for. It must stop. And it must stop now.

As an immigrant I have always felt welcome in Scotland. I am heartbroken that the British Government and their dog whistling UKIP sidekicks have stoked racism and xenophobia, making people, including many in this room, feel like they don’t belong. I want to extend the welcome I have felt to all immigrants.

Please know that together, we can all be neighbours, colleagues, friends. Family. I want you to know that you are valued, not just because of your economic worth and the skills you have, but as a human.

And, I know it is not convention to applaud the leader of another party, but we should when they have done the right thing in the face of opposition. I want to thank Nicola Sturgeon for saying, so clearly, that Scotland is home for all those who choose to live here.

As a migrant myself, I can’t tell you how much that means to me.

As if Theresa May’s hate-mongering wasn’t enough, she has imposed Boris Johnson as foreign secretary.

This is a man who complained that Barack Obama hates Britain because of his Kenyan roots. This is a man who thinks it appropriate to use racial slurs that were even seen as offensive when first used over a century ago. And this is a man who spouts disgusting views about people across the world, from Turkey to Papua New Guinea.

Let’s be clear, and I don’t use this word lightly – this man is a racist. Maybe a public school educated racist, maybe a racist who speaks Latin, but a racist nonetheless.

Being represented by this man on the world stage is an embarrassment. And we deserve better.

That is one reason why I am glad that we will have the opportunity to again make the case for an independent Scotland. As in the last independence referendum, our pitch will be based on what we can do with the powers that independence will bring, not on independence for its own sake, or on claims to nationhood. We hope that independence will give us the chance to build a society based on social and environmental justice. We believe that independence will give us the chance to play a much more positive role in the world. We know that independence is the only way to remove the weapons of mass destruction on the Clyde.

We know now just how unstable the British state is. It is clear it is an old imperial state writhing its death throes. A state which blames the weak and the vulnerable, which blames immigrants for the failures of its elites is a state that is in terminal decline.

We can do so, so much better.

But as always, doing better means going back to our core green principles.  We don’t just need more power in Holyrood – we need more power in communities across Scotland. Local authority elections offer us the chance to make that case this coming year.

Now, I know it’s not always an easy case to make.  

When I was a councillor I made the case for giving communities the right to decide how community grant money was spent. Not everyone agreed. They said it would result in worse decisions – because apparently politicians always know best. They said there would be very little interest. In the first year 400 people turned up – surpassing everyone’s expectations. And as we heard from Mel yesterday, Leith Decides has gone from strength to strength year on year.

It’s such a success that the Scottish government has decided to put £2 million pounds into participatory budgeting projects like Leith Decides all across Scotland.

When I suggested a Living Wage for all Edinburgh Council employees, people got it confused with the minimum wage, or argued it wasn’t practical. 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.

I am proud to have been a part of the Edinburgh Green Councillors’ Group, and I’m proud that we have Green councillors across Scotland pushing for the changes we so desperately need. If the job of the radical is to make hope possible, this is a very real way we can make hope not only possible, but make change real.

Green ideas are the future. Where Greens get 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.

And that means that even a small group of Green councillors can make a huge difference to their area. Every community across Scotland needs a local Green presence. The people of every Local Authority in Scotland deserve Green councillors.

In May next year, people across Scotland will have the opportunity to choose who will lead, transform and develop their local authorities. This presents perhaps our best opportunity to ensure our green principles of participatory democracy form the bedrock of our local government.

We Greens will offer an alternative to the centralising tendencies of the SNP.

We Greens will present plans for local government that are inclusive and participative.

We Greens will be leading the charge against austerity and cuts to local jobs and services.

And whilst I’m talking about jobs, I am delighted that the RMT are attending conference this weekend, highlighting their campaigns for fair pay for for safety at work.

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. David Cameron (remember him?) 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 cuts, we say no to privatisation, and we say no to isolating and demonising our communities.

In just 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 we need Green Councillors across Scotland to do this.

We are all grateful to those who are standing as candidates. I look forward to our conference next year where we can welcome record numbers of new Green Councillors. New Green councillors protecting local communities from government centralisation and from the cuts and austerity that has done so much damage to our society.

So, if I may, can I ask all those who have already been selected to stand in the Local elections next year to stand up …

Conference: these are the people who will play a leading role in giving power back to people, in building greener, healthier, happier communities. Thank you all for standing, and can I wish each and every one of you the very best of luck.

Friends, I am reminded, often, of the words written by James Oppenheim, sung by the women who led the Lawrence Textile strike in Massachusetts in 1912. This strike, for better pay and conditions, united workers from over 40 nationalities, and together, they sang these words:

As we go marching, marching

We bring the greater days

For the rising of the women

Means the rising of the race

No more the drudge and idler

Ten that toil where one reposes

But the sharing of life’s glories

Bread and roses, bread and roses

There is so much in these words that encapsulates the work we have still to do today: we must work together, with citizens of the world, to create a fair, just society that treats all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or any other category, as equal citizens of the world.

I am proud to be part of a party, of a wider movement that makes this our daily struggle. I am proud and grateful to be a citizen of the world.

Thank you.

citizensoftheworld

Why we must back Nursing Scotland’s Future

I spoke at two hustings organised by the Royal College of Nurses – one in Aberdeen and one in Dundee. In both, I pledged by support for their Nursing Scotland’s Future manifesto. Here’s why.

NSF-manifesto-cover-448-200

As a green, I believe that healthy individuals and communities are the basis of a socially just society.

 

The NHS and our network of social care services in every local authority, is an incredible national asset. But Scotland’s people face unacceptable differences in longevity and years lived in good physical or mental health. These inequalities in health are harmful to individuals and to society. Greens want to take every opportunity to strengthen the foundations for good health especially tackling income inequality and discrimination and prejudice. We believe Scotland can be a society where we fight poverty, build communities and support everyone in need throughout life.

 

To achieve this, we must put health and well-being at the centre of government, and focus on measures to make our society’s good health, equality and wellbeing the foundation of all Scottish Government policy. Most of the measures we currently use, GDP being the main one, do not deliver this for us. This will help us deliver the first pledge in the NSF manifesto.

 

Many of our health outcomes are determined by the conditions we face in our early years, sometimes even before birth. So we need policies that tackle child poverty, support healthy pregnancies, build children’s confidence and foster healthy lifestyle habits from a young age. In these ways, by giving our children the best possible start, we can focus on prevention, which is not only more cost effective, but also makes for happier, healthier communities throughout life.

 

If we look at the health inequalities in Scotland, and indeed across the world, it is very clear that economic inequality is a key driver of illness and poor health. We need economic policies, like a Living Wage, to help address these. We also need policies that will create healthier environments – air pollution kills over 2000 Scots annually and is one of the top avoidable causes according to cutting edge research from Professor David Newby at  the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh in conjunction with British Heart Foundation. And we need social policies that tackle poor housing, promote active travel, and secure jobs with decent conditions.

 

Scottish Greens are committed to developing a health service fit for the future. Workforce planning is key to this – meaning we can cope with demographic changes and increased population. Such planning has to include engagement with universities to ensure we have enough nurses in the future, as well as funding these places appropriately, so we don’t lose potential nurses with great life experience simply because they cannot afford to train as mature students. We also need to ensure voices of different service users are heard – we must properly include isolated older people in society and enable them to maintain their independence.  

 

Importantly, we must also ensure parity of of esteem for mental and physical health – in spending, planning, and staffing. We know that between ¼ and ⅓ of all Scots experience poor mental health, and we also know that there are just not enough resources at the moment to support them.

 

Finally, none of these aspirations for a healthy Scotland would be possible without you, the staff that support us throughout our lives. Greens are committed to treating workers fairly, paying them well and supporting them to develop your careers.