So, a General Election in June …

I have said, often, that I want our politics to be about more than elections, more than putting an ‘x’ or a number in a box every May, and certainly more than political parties. I want our politics to be embedded, consciously, in the everyday, to have citizens across the country who have power over their own lives and the decisions that affect them, to have communities who thrive because they have the resources and support they need to do so.

Today’s events have made it more difficult to make this ideal a reality. A General Election in June, just 5 weeks after the local elections, will not only shift the focus away from local democracy (which already does not get the attention or focus it needs!), but it will also reduce the opportunities for doing politics differently … again.

The electoral system for Westminster belongs in the history books, not in the politics of a forward looking and open democracy. The context for GE17 – Brexit, Scotland’s future, and so much more – means that it will be very difficult to have a mature discussion about the future of the UK. And the timing means that there will be little time for genuine voter engagement.

So, what is Theresa May up to? It is clear that she has no interest in doing politics differently, that she is willing to wield power over people rather than sharing power with people, and that she really does not care for Scotland.

Her decision today is a sign of weakness and desperation. She is vulnerable because Brexit is a mess and she does not seem able to work constructively with others to find a better way through the chaos.

The one silver lining that I can see at the moment is that maybe, just maybe, we can use this as the opportunity to focus the political debate away from her unyielding, racist and hate-filled politics. Maybe we can use this as a way to get something better for Scotland, to do something to secure our desire to remain in the EU, to let Scotland’s voice be heard.

Maybe. If we’re not all too exhausted.

#repealthe8th: stop criminalising and killing women

#repealthe8th rally with Aberdeen Feminist Society and others, photo by Patrick Neville

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, a day of reflection on the achievements of inspiring women, a day to acknowledge the important yet often unnoticed and unvalued contributions women make to our communities, a day to highlight just how far we have yet to go to achieve gender equality.

As the female co-convener of the Scottish Greens, I wrote a short piece, partly inspired by Mary Beard, on why I think it is important for us to redefine what we mean by power, and the crucial role that women in politics need to play in this. Equality in politics must be more than just a numbers game.

I was also pleased to be able to stand, along with students from Aberdeen University, in solidarity with Irish women who used #IWD2017 to highlight the anti-choice legislation that limits safe access for women to abortion by striking to #repealthe8th Amendment of the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland. This amendment criminalises abortion in all cases except where to continue a pregnancy would result in the death of the woman.

Let me be clear. Criminalising abortion in this way kills women. Preventing access to safe and secure abortions kills women.

It drives women into dangerous and desperate situations, physically, psychologically and financially. It disempowers women. It limits healthcare for women. It discriminates against women.

As if all these reasons weren’t enough to repeal the 8th, it also creates a dangerous distinction between risk to health and risk to life. It makes it very difficult for health care professionals to provide the care they have been trained to provide, and have sworn and oath to deliver. It creates a black market economy in women’s reproductive health.

None of these consequences is good for women’s health, good for communities or good for equality.

But a society dominated by out of touch white men and religious institutions controlled by patriarchal systems still imposes this law on women and those who seek to help women.

It must stop.

Please support the Repeal the Eighth campaign and show solidarity with women who seek the right to have control over their own bodies and fair access to healthcare.

My #NoBanNoWall speech from the Edinburgh protest

Good evening everyone.

Thank you so much for coming this evening. For coming out to show solidarity with Muslims and others who are bearing the brunt of the racism, the xenophobia, the fascism of Trump.

I stand before you as a woman. A nasty woman.

I stand before you as an immigrant. An immigrant from the global south. But an immigrant whose skin colour and accent gives me status, privilege and advantage that many of the people Trump demonises and dehumanises do not have – and can never have.

And so, I stand before you, with you, and with all those at similar protests in Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen, and in so many other places across Scotland, the UK, the world.

Together, we stand in solidarity.

We stand together, for the rights of those who need freedom of movement most: refugees. We stand together against those who attacked a mosque in Quebec, and the Trump administration’s description of their policy as ‘very successful’. We stand with those who have spent hours in limbo in airports. And we stand with those lawyers who have given their time freely to help those stranded in airports.

We stand together here in solidarity. But more than that. We stand together in HOPE. And in love.

And together, we have strength. Together we are not afraid. Together, we will win.

We will not be silenced. We will use our voices, our bodies, our hearts, to resist the petulant bully that is Trump.

We will not be discouraged. We will take courage and strength from each other and use that courage and strength to tear down the walls of hate and division that Trump wants to build.

We will not be defeated. Because we have hope and love on our side.

We will show Trump that his bigotry and hatred has no place in our politics. No place on our streets. No place in our communities.

And we will show Trump that he is not welcome here. We will not welcome him to our parliament. We will not welcome him to our country. We will not accept his racism, his prejudice, his fascism,

Over the last few days, weeks and months, I’ve often felt like crying in despair because of all the truly awful things that are happening. But you all, gathered here in hope and love tell me that coming together in solidarity really is the way forward.

So thank you. A million times, thank you.

Let us continue to stand together. In love. In hope. And in resistance.

Together, we shall overcome.

 

Scottish Independence Convention speech 

Scottish Independence Convention speech 

Good morning friends. Thank you very much for coming along: I am really looking forward to today’s discussions and debates and I know that we are all keen that today kickstarts the kind of campaign we need to deliver the change we want to see in our country.

We do, indeed, need to build for independence. Everyday, all around us, we see the consequences of the broken British state, crushing people’s spirits, destroying their lives. We see the stirring up of racism and anti-immigrant feeling by people determined to blame those not born in the UK for the failings of the NHS or the lack of jobs, when we know the real reasons are much more sinister: the British state has been captured by a neoliberal elite determined to run down public services in the interests of private profit.

And, as an immigrant myself, I’d like to thank Nicola Sturgeon for stating so clearly that I, and others from around the word who have chosen to make Scotland home, us Scots by choice, are welcome.

A couple of years before the Independence Referendum in 2014, social attitudes here in Scotland were very much like those in the rest of the UK. However, that has changed. And we changed it. We were able to use the Independence Movement to start to create the kind of Scotland we want and deserve. And we see the evidence for this shift in the rapidly diverging attitudes between us and England in our approaches to immigration, to welfare, and perhaps most clearly in the Brexit vote.

Scotland didn’t need to vote for the Leave campaign’s lies. The hope for a better country and a better politics lies in a genuine movement for change. Not in the duplicitous claims of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage.

It is a good thing that we have secured this shift.

But it is only a start. It is only the beginning of our new future.

The Scotland we deserve has a vibrant political culture, where people feel that political decisions are made through a profoundly democratic process. It means we need not just the incredibly effective national campaigns run by Women for Independence against the proposed new women’s gaol, not just the brilliant campaigners from across Scotland who have helped to stop fracking, not just the achievements of the Living Rent campaign.

But it means giving people power to make as many decisions over their lives as they can, and to support them in doing so.

It means living in the early days of a better nation.

We have a democratically literate society, and it is our job to create the democracy that society deserves. That is why independence matters. It is about democracy. It really is about taking back control.

We need the power to make the decisions about our economy: we say no to austerity, no to passing on cuts to the most vulnerable in our society, no to an economic system that destroys our climate. We want our economy to be based on meeting human needs that harnesses technology and automation to increase human happiness. We must equip ourselves to make best use of our renewable resources, not destroy decent work, plunder our natural environment or destroy our climate. We want a social security system for all and an economy that puts people and planet first.
We need the power to make decisions over our foreign policy: we say no more illegal wars, no more nuclear weapons. Rather, we want a Scotland that leads the world on human rights. We already recognise and stand with people struggling against injustices elsewhere, but I’d like to see Scotland use its soft power to support just causes: I would love to see Scotland officially recognise the Palestinian state, and support the development of a Kurdish state.

In the same way that Oslo is the place people go to negotiate peace, Scotland could be where people come to negotiate on climate change and human rights. When the Scottish Parliament passed world-leading climate change legislation, it gave others the impetus to do something similar.

We already know some of how we can achieve these changes. Many of us have been working on these ideas and today will develop them further.

One of the most exciting developments is the work being done around the Citizen’s Income. But even with the new powers over welfare we will have, it will be difficult to deliver the full benefits of a CI because we don’t have the full powers of an independent state. We must use the powers we have to demonstrate what powers we need.

Every year, we have a fight about Government expenditure and revenues in Scotland: does the money spent in Scotland by government exceed the money received by government in Scotland? Yet this debate takes place in the context of a UK Government which facilitates avoidance of tax for people around the world. From the British Virgin Islands and Bermuda to Jersey and Guernsey, the country that leads the world in helping rich people to avoid paying tax is the country that Scotland is shackled to. In an independent Scotland, we know that we can have a tax system that helps the rich pay their fair share, and a social security system for all.

It is clear to me that, without the full powers of an independent state, we cannot achieve the kind of societal change we want. We must have that democratic power over all aspects of our lives. But more than this. We then need the courage to hand that power away: to people and communities across Scotland. It is clear to me that independence must not be about replacing the broken machinery of Westminster with similar structures in Holyrood. The Scotland I want to live in gives power to people, to communities, and supports and facilitates them to wield it effectively.

So, in our discussions today, we must remember that the policies and strategies we develop must provide the building blocks for a radically different Scotland: a Scotland where power is distributed across different levels of government, and where people always come first.

With the independence campaign in the run up to September 2014, we gave people hope that this was possible. We showed that politics could be different. Importantly, we created a movement, this movement, that was able to shift the opinions of many Scots: a movement that saw record numbers of people turning out to meetings to discuss the political issues that affected their lives. This is a strong foundation for our work today.

And it is something of which we should be proud.

When I go to England, I see people envious of this, shaken that people’s concern for the NHS and its funding crisis can be so easily subverted to deliver blow upon blow to immigrants. At a political economy workshop in Sheffield a few months ago, I was struck by the despondent and depressed mood that was being described in local communities. I think that, if we succeed in our quest for a different Scotland, we can pave the way for communities in the rest of the UK and the rest of the world to develop their own, better, radical future.

So today is really important: not just for us, but for others with whom we share these islands, and for those beyond these islands’ shores.

We have the opportunity over the next months and years to bring people back together, without our only focus being on electoral politics. We must remember this: it is politics in the everyday, not just Thursdays in May, that really matter.

We need to repeat what we did, against all the odds, 2 and a half years ago: bring discussion of political issues into our daily lives.

We need to build an understanding that a radical, popular democracy, can deliver the change that is so badly needed through staples of debate, discussion, and listening to others. This might seem somewhat old fashioned or traditional, but we must escape the empty and vacuous marketing politics that has stripped our society of its ambition and its creativity.

For too long, politics has been reduced to marketing campaigns and slogans that assumed you could not change people’s minds.

We know that our ideas, our values and our principles can change people’s minds. And we know that, in a relatively short space of time, we did change people’s minds.

We now need to do it again. With better ideas, more well-formed policies, coherent approaches, and above all an enthusiasm for and belief in a better world.

I look forward to joining you in this journey, to working hard with you today, tomorrow, and in the days, weeks, months, and years to come.

Together, we can create the Scotland that we all know is not only possible, but so desperately needed.

Thank you!

Love trumps hate: solidarity rally and march

Today, in Edinburgh, a couple of hundred folk came together in solidarity across continents with those who have been and who will be victims of the misogyny, racism and bigotry that Trump’s election success is normalising. I was invited to speak. Here is what I said.

Good afternoon  friends.

Thank you so much for being here. For being here in solidarity, in hope, and in love. And thank you for inviting me to say a few words to you all.

I am Maggie Chapman, Co-convener of the Scottish Greens. But, for today, I am just a woman, an immigrant woman, standing with you all to gain the strength, share the determination and show the resolve I know we are going to need over the coming days, weeks, months, years.

The US election result devastated me. Trump’s win is, I think, the culmination of years of a political system and a political elite working to support an economic system that marginalises, that alienates, that excludes.

These two systems have worked together, have collaborated

  • To cause people to act against their own interests,
  • To give the majority of people little hope that their lives can be better,
  • To treat people like they don’t matter, like they are expendable.

This is devastating and I am mourning. Mourning for what might have been, mourning for the destruction that is to come. Destruction of people’s lives, of communities, of democracy, of our climate.

But grief is a funny thing. You learn to live with it in so many different ways.

I think we are all gathered here today to work out how to live with our collective grief. What to do with it. What to do with ourselves.

For me, I have to remember what has happened over the last couple of years, to remind myself of the horror that has been, so I can better equip myself to fight it.

I have to remember just how abhorrent Trump really is. During his campaign over the last couple of years, Trump did lots of horrific things: 

  • He promised to create a system of surveillance targeted specifically at Muslims
  • He promised to deport US citizens with whom he disagrees
  • He promised to build a wall between the US and Mexico
  • He advocated war crimes and endorsed torture
  • He threatened women generally, and his opponent specifically
  • He showed himself to be a chronic liar, a sexual predator, a tax avoider, a climate denier.

This is a man who is not worthy of our cooperation, our diplomacy, our understanding, our silence.

We must not allow ourselves to be lulled into a false sense of security by the seeming normality of politics as usual, or his failure to act, immediately, on the promises he made during his campaign, of the accommodating noises being made by the establishment.

It is not going to be alright!

We must be extra vigilant, extra aware, extra willing to condemn fear, hate and bigotry.

We are going to have to work very hard, with friends across the world, to prevent the institutions of democracy and justice being dragged into Trumpian dystopia. We are going to have to resist the normalisation of his hate, his bigotry, his fear, in the media, in our places of work, in our schools, colleges and universities.

And let us remember that we do not fight alone, even in the United States: Trump did not win the popular vote. The majority of Americans did not vote for his hate, his bigotry, his fear.

So, we will not be silent. We will not maintain diplomatic politeness in the face of racism, sexism, misogyny, intolerance.

We will not lose our ability to notice, be shocked at, and show our outrage when Muslims, immigrants, women, people of colour, disabled people, poor people or anyone is targeted.

We will not compromise our values of tolerance, respect for diversity, love of difference, compassion, justice and equality.

Instead, we will come together, as women, Muslims, people of colour, disabled people, poor people … as human beings.

And we’ve got our work cut out for us.

We know that demagogues like Trump, those that will allow fascism to take a hold of our societies, exist closer to home too. We see it in France, with the Front National. We see it in Austria with the Freedom Party, and we see it in this country with UKIP and May’s Tory government.

We must organise. We must stand firm. We must be clear that we will not be silent bystanders and let fear and hate take hold in our lives.

We must win the argument for an enlightened society. We need to develop an exciting vision of the future that defeats the racist, sexist, bigoted future that Trump and others herald.

And the way we do that needs to be through actions that reject the politics of division by gender, race, religion and nationality. We must act to unify just as Trump acts to divide.

The antidote to Trump and his ilk, to their vile-ness, to the strategy of dividing us by race, by gender, by religion, by ability, is to come together. To fight inequality and injustice in all of its forms, every day.

Let us remember that our feminism, our intersectional activism, is powerful.

And together, we will show that love really does trump hate! 

Scotland, the North and economic development: compatriots or competitors?

screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-15-48-46

I was honoured to be asked to contribute to a workshop facilitated by SPERI, the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute, yesterday. The subject of the roundtable discussion was “Scotland, the North and economic development: compatriots or competitors?” And, as co-convener of the Scottish Greens, I was asked to speak for a few minutes about my take on on the politics of this issue. These are my introductory comments (I will write more about the full workshop at a later date).

Good afternoon everyone and thank you very much for inviting me to join you today. It is a great pleasure to be here, and I am very interested to hear what you have to say in the discussions a bit later on.

I am Maggie Chapman, co-convener of the Scottish Green Party, and I guess, given who else is on the panel, my role today is to focus on the politics, and perhaps the political possibilities, of devolution, and how democratic power interacts with the economy.

I campaigned for a Yes vote in the Independence referendum, and a Remain vote in the EU Referendum. I want Scotland to be independent, not as an end in itself, but as a means to something much better: a socially just, truly democratic and welcoming, peace-making country that has a positive influence on the world. I want Scotland to remain part of the EU, not because I think the EU is a beacon of democratic transparency and economic equality, but because I believe in the free movement of people and in the necessity of international agreement and action for things like tackling climate change and refugee crises.

So, how can we, in Scotland and the North of England, use devolution to improve the lives of our people in our communities?

The most important aspect of devolution, for me, is the relocation of democratic power: from Westminster to Holyrood, and then, hopefully, from Holyrood to Local Authorities and from Local Authorities to communities and neighbourhoods. Giving power back to people, letting them have more control over the decisions that affect their daily lives, is the only way to re-engage communities with politics, and therefore deal with the pressing issues of inequality and unemployment. And we’ve not cracked this in Scotland. Our local government is anything by local: we have the least local local government of anywhere in Europe, and the SNP government does not seem to be doing anything to change this. It has centralised public services and restricted local tax raising powers. Rather, we need communities to have real power of budgetary decisions. We need much more citizen involvement in decisions about local service provision. And we need to harness the skills, expertise and creativity of our people to address the big social and economic challenges we face.

But, at least in Scotland, we do actually have some of the building blocks for challenging centralisation and alienation.

My understanding of the Northern Powerhouse, of the attempts to rebalance England’s economy, is probably more limited than many of you here, but it strikes me as significant that the Northern Powerhouse agenda is an economic one, not a democratic one. Yes, there are some democratic tweaks, such as Manchester getting an elected mayor, but no real change in how power is controlled. And this is a key weakness. True devolution is about the relinquishing of real power, not just tokenism. I was struck, during the EU ref debate, by the comments of someone from the North East saying that they were voting Leave because the EU had done nothing for them. This, despite the fact that a key reason Nissan and the thousands of jobs it supports are in the North East of England is down to EU membership. This is a classic interaction of democratic alienation doing damage to economic reality. People feel so distant from the democratic process that they are willing to risk destruction of the roots of local prosperity. In Scotland, demographically similar communities voted to remain – even without export based manufacturing.

And perhaps it’s worth mentioning here, that all the talk about the problem being immigration is a complete red herring. Immigration contributes jobs, taxes and workers willing to do undesirable jobs. The problem is austerity: in 2013 NEF calculated that 80% of new jobs since the 2008 crash had been created in Greater London. This is a problem, but attributing it to immigration is not the answer!

So, democracy is not just some nicety you get as a reward for being wealthy: it underpins the economy. An engaged citizenry and more lively democracy means it is much easier to influence important economic issues, such as supporting job creation, diversifying the economy and so on. And this is perhaps what English political culture has failed to understand.

So, where does that leave us?

The UK’s (and Scotland’s) focus on financial services as the economic driver has meant a collapse of historic industries in the North and in Scotland. Whilst oil has propped up the Scottish economy for the last few decades by increasing the value of the pound, the North of England has had no succession industry. So, when the oil economy begins to falter, Scotland looks to be in very much the same position as the North of England: there is no long-term, sustainable industrial strategy (despite efforts of the Scottish Parliament: Scotland lacks some of the most significant macroeconomic levers). So the questions we need to answer is what succession industries can replace the old industries of the North and Scotland, and how do we make them work in the context of a financialised system.

Now, the EU Referendum vote might mean that financial services take fright and leave, but perhaps that’s just wishful thinking. And, we’ll still have a huge budgetary black hole to fill. In Scotland, some of the answer will lie in investing in reindustrialisation of the renewables energy sector. In the North of England, perhaps the first step must be refocussing to truly devolving power to regions and supporting things like regional development agencies abolished by the Coalition government.

So, perhaps as we negotiate our ways through the mire that is the post-EU Referendum world, we need to prioritise movement building. Collective endeavour and solidarity across regional boundaries, to share experiences, learn from each other, build social capital, and develop strong communities with a clear plan for a positive future. Only then can we resist the xenophobia and bigotry, the victim blaming and finger pointing, the marginalisation of people who are different to us, that seems so prevalent in UK politics at the moment.

[A discussion brief written before the workshop will be published on the SPERI website soon, and you can read/watch the SPERI 2016 Annual Lecture, by Nicola Sturgeon, which followed the workshop here.]

In celebration of the real Living Wage

lwlogoscot

Eight years ago (I think!), I stood up in the Council Chamber of Edinburgh City Council and called on the Council to pay all of its staff a Living Wage: a wage that is enough to live on, based on the real cost of living. The then LibDem/SNP coalition administration seemed to find this idea not only unrealistic, but ridiculous: ridiculous to pay our workers a wage that would mean they could live with dignity and comfort.

I am proud to be the first Scottish politician to have called for the payment of a Living Wage for workers. And I am proud that the Scottish Greens have led the way on so many important issues relating to workers’ rights (calling for the implementation of a 20:1 pay ratio and to plan towards a 10:1 ratio, seeking to repeal anti-trade union legislation, refusing to grant tenders to companies that blacklist union-active employees, and so much more).

This week, as we celebrate those employers who pay the real Living Wage and promote the concept of fair pay, it is worth noting how far we have come in less than a decade. The Scottish Government and many Local Authorities pay the Living Wage. Scotland is home to nearly 20% of the UK’s accredited Living Wage employers.

The Living Wage, now £8.45 in Scotland, gives so much more than just extra pennies to employees: it is about more than just fair pay. It is about employee self-worth. It is about valuing employees as more than just cogs in the economic machine.

Last night I was privileged to attend the reception for Living Wage week at the Scottish Parliament. We heard from two young women whose lives have been transformed by the Living Wage: two young women who now feel more confident, more equal in their work and their personal lives, more valued as human beings.

Fair pay is a fundamental part of securing a fair economy, where no one experiences in-work poverty. And this is crucial to securing a more equal society that creates and sustains social justice. We still have a long way to go: many companies, businesses and organisations do not pay the Living Wage; many workers are still deprived of the National Minimum Wage; precarious jobs with poor conditions are still a feature of too many people’s lives.

But for a moment, let us celebrate all who have chosen to make work pay by signing up to the Living Wage. Let us applaud those, such as the Poverty Alliance and many others, who have made it their business to promote the Living Wage.

Thank you all, and please let us all continue to spread the word!