#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.

Spring Conference Speech

Spring Conference

Welcome to conference. It’s exciting to see so many of you here, ahead of such a key election for our party: elections which will be the culmination of four extraordinary years in Scottish politics.

 

My original speaking instructions were to speak from the podium on the right of the stage. That didn’t feel particularly politically appropriate. So we moved the podium. But I assure you this is the last time I’ll be moved into the centre in this campaign!

 

Four years ago, when the independence referendum was announced, a group of white, middle aged men gathered to launch a Yes campaign which, for those who remember it, promised that independence would mean no change, that a yes vote would mean more of the same, and that Scotland leaving the UK wasn’t something the establishment should be afraid of.

 

We weren’t having any of it. We Greens launched our Green Yes campaign, arguing that bringing power closer to the people meant that they could use it to transform our country.

 

We worked with friends across the left to build the radical independence movement, and made the case that another Scotland is possible.

 

The job of the radical is to make hope possible, and that is what we did. And we did it in the face of those convinced by their own despair.

 

Thousands of people got involved, bringing life and energy to the referendum… and bringing Britain’s elite to its knees.

 

And we came closer than most had ever imagined. And as the Holyrood election fast approaches, friends, we’re going to have to do it all again.

 

As the Holyrood election approaches fast, friends, we’re going to have to do it again.

 

Don’t get me wrong. The SNP are popular because people compare them to the horrors of the Tory government at Westminster. And if that’s the choice, I’d choose Nicola Sturgeon every time.

 

But everywhere I go in Scotland, people say the same thing to me. We, as a country, are restless for change, but the government is only willing to tinker at the margins.

 

The SNP are sitting on a record breaking lead in the polls, but they are afraid of confronting Scotland’s biggest challenges, and they are refusing to take on the vested interests in our society.

 

What I hear is the echo of our message from the referendum. We came out of the referendum with the foundations of a society that expects better from its politics and its institutions. We have communities determined to stand up against injustice. We have a movement, our movement, that gives me and so many others hope – the really inspiring message that another Scotland is possible.

 

All across the country, we hear that people want Holyrood to be better, to be bolder.

 

And it’s no wonder. This week, after nine years of promising real reform to local taxation, the SNP announced their proposal: they do want to keep the council tax after all. They just want to make it very slightly more progressive than the current system: a system introduced by John Major in 1993!

 

Greens demand that Holyrood be bolder. Greens demand a new, fair system of local taxation, capable of raising the money our public services and communities desperately need.

 

It’s all too easy for this to become an abstract debate about variable rates and cut-off points and gearing.

 

But let’s remember what this is really about: the failure to confront this problem is what makes it so much harder for Holyrood to block Westminster’s austerity.

 

The SNP refusal to grasp the thistle of local taxation makes it impossible to cushion the blow of Tory cuts. And that has a real, human cost. We see suicide rates increasing. We see the need for food banks escalating. We see lives being ruined, and in some cases ended, because the Scottish Government has not been bold enough to stand up to Tory cuts.

 

In Dundee, Scotland’s benefit sanctions capital, I have had the privilege of working with some incredible people struggling to stay alive in the face of austerity. One intelligent young woman, let’s call her Amber, lost her job. She was told she was not entitled to benefits – her family members could support her. The same family members that had been abusing her.

 

She lost her home. She was told that, because she wasn’t in any immediate danger, she would have to wait for a suitable flat to become available. She lost her health. Her physical and mental wellbeing deteriorated to such an extent that she seriously contemplated suicide. She eventually managed to get a place to live and started receiving some benefits. But she missed an appointment with the Job Centre and was sanctioned. She missed the appointment because she was in bed, in the depths of depression. No one was there for her. There was no social security safety net.

 

Amber did, eventually, get some support, and is still fighting to stay alive. And she is one of the lucky ones – she is still alive. Just.

 

What I realised was that people like Amber need the Scottish Parliament to be bolder. And that’s why we need the biggest ever Green group in Holyrood. This week’s council tax disappointment isn’t the only example of the SNP being too cautious.

 

Last weekend in Arbroath I got speaking to a man out for a walk. Unprompted he raised with me a long list of businesses locally that used to provide good quality jobs. Companies like Keith & Blackman have gone – closed in 1985 and Giddings and Lewis-Fraser also passed into history in the mid 1980s: an industry in the town which once made sails for the Cutty Sark has gone with the wind.

 

As those jobs went, a new industry emerged offshore. But now, as the oil age winds down, more and more are seeing their livelihoods disappear. And those people need a bold Holyrood too, willing and able to move fast, and embrace the future.

 

We’ve been working hard to promote a plan for good jobs to replace those lost as the oil price has crashed. While some ask: “crisis, what crisis?” we recognise that action is important and that action must be urgent.

 

With a transition from fossil fuels to renewables, leading the world in decomissioning oil infrastructure, we can give not just Arbroath those jobs back, but the whole of the north east of Scotland. We can build new industry in the areas of central Scotland being hit by the move from oil. We can regenerate the communities still scarred by the closure of coal and steel in the 1980s and 90s.

 

We won’t stick our heads in the sand, we won’t ignore the problem and hope it goes away. We are bold enough to give people hope. Hope of a good job for the future. We are bold enough to imagine a future beyond oil. Our parliament needs that vision. That boldness.

 

When I was the Party’s candidate for Europe, I remember clearly going to Ullapool to campaign. I had a long conversation with the ferry workers about their day to day jobs. Having spent quite a lot of time in the Western Isles I was familiar with many of the issues. But in the 6 or 7 years since I’d been regularly in the Western Isles things have changed.

 

These ferry workers feared what had happened to their colleagues on the northern isles ferries – privatisation. Northlink has been handed over to Serco. The  result has been longer hours, lower wages, less focus on health and safety. I realised then the need for a bold voice. One that would stand up for those ferry workers.

 

I said then to the ferry workers that we would never support privatisation. And we won’t. We believe that public transport should be in public hands.

 

That goes for Scotrail too…

 

I, like many, was very disturbed by the story of Andrew Stoddart in East Lothian. As Sarah Beattie-Smith, our amazing candidate for the South of Scotland, can tell you much better than I can, the Stoddart family had been farming Coulston Mains for 22 years when the lease expired, with no hope of challenging it due to Scotland’s ‘Waygo’ laws. His family lost their home, the farm, their livelihoods. The two workers they had employed also lost their means to survive.

 

It is clear to me that our governments have failed to protect people like Andrew Stoddart and his family. We need laws that protect those who work the land, who make the land productive, who live off the land and provide for others. Greens wouldn’t cave in to the vested interests on support for tenant farmers.

 

There has been much discussion over the last few months about standardised testing: the SNP solution is straight from the Blairite playbook. Thinking for the past when we need solutions for the future. Similarly we discover that the Scottish Government is looking to the big corporations who make profit from unemployment to guide their review of social security. Not good enough. Simply not good enough.

 

These are just some of the challenges that we face in Scotland today. We know that we, as greens, have alternatives to these challenges. Nine years ago, as a councillor in Edinburgh, I proposed that the City Council should pay its workers a Living Wage.

 

The other parties laughed at the idea. Now, Living Wage is understood, across Scotland, and across the political spectrum, as what we should be doing. Greens were instrumental in bringing radical democratic ideas into the mainstream with our support for participatory budgeting.

 

In Parliament, Greens have secured significant wins since 1999, including the world-leading climate change targets, the Fans First campaign that gives football fans the right to buy their clubs, and the first Green bill – on aggravation by hate. We were the first party to commit to free higher education following the Tory’s £9,000 tuition fees in 2010. Labour and the SNP followed us.

 

We’re on a journey. For some of us that started with the first Scottish Parliament, for others with the referendum, and for some since. All the way we have prompted, cajoled and – stage by stage – given Scottish politics its radical edge.

 

This election is the latest staging post on that journey. It won’t see us reach our destination, but it will get us damn close. The stakes have never been higher. And we have never been stronger.

 

We must have a bolder Parliament, a braver Holyrood. We must have a Green Holyrood. We have made hope possible. Now we need to make change inevitable. It will be hard work. But it will be fun work. And we know it is the important work that can transform our country and our world.

 

So join me, join all of our candidates – all of our soon-to-be MSPs – in bringing us a big step closer to a Better Scotland. 

We are on the brink of revolutionary change: thoughts on #BernieSanders

 I shared a platform last night with Bernie Sanders’ brother, Oxford-based Larry, who is campaigning as part of #BritainforBernie and came to speak in Edinburgh. Here is my speech:

I’d like to begin by welcoming Larry to Scotland. February is maybe not everyone’s idea of the best time to visit, but I hope the sunshine and snowdrops are making the iciness bearable.

Larry has had a substantial career of his own. In politics, in academia and in social work. As a Green Councillor in Oxfordshire he was responsible for finding creative ways to oppose the austerity being imposed by the Westminster Government and the Tory-run County Council. He may be responsible for getting David Cameron’s own family to come out against the cuts. I like to think he is.

It is clear to all of us that we have a rigged economy, one that works for the few, not the many. One that blames public sector workers for the bankers’ crisis. One in which government allows the wealthy to make bets where the only risk is how much not if, they win.

Around the world people and popular movements have been resisting this rigged economy, be it Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, or indeed the radical indy movement in Scotland.

Bernie Sanders’ campaign takes this fight to the belly of the beast – to the heart of the American establishment – and its success shows that we are growing in strength. There is every chance that Bernie can become President.

The thing that the Sanders’ campaign has in common with those popular movements around the world is its critique of late capitalism. A critique many of us including those of us here on the panel have been making for a long time. We see now as we await the next global crisis that the elite no longer have answers. They are left with a system that you could almost say contains within it the seeds of its own destruction.

But we can’t let a sense of inevitability about the demise of the rigged economy lull us into inactivity. We must resist the rigged economy every step of the way. Every day in Greece, in Spain, in Scotland and in the US people face destitution because of a system not yet in its death throes.

We must shape what comes next. We must create the alternatives to the rigged economy. A society based on equality and justice. A society where it is the people that rule, not the banks, not the elite, not the capitalist class. A truly democratic society with a truly democratic economy.

A Sanders win would mean having an American president willing to stand up to the corporations. Corporations which are attacking us as much as they are attacking Americans. It would mean a White House whose foreign policy isn’t dictated by the military industrial complex. And it would mean a commander in chief who understands that the biggest threat to the world is climate change.

I remember being excited at the election of an independent Senator from Vermont. One with a long record as a progressive in the House of Representatives. One who had vehemently opposed the Iraq war, one who had a long record of advocating on behalf of civil rights, LGBTI equality and universal healthcare. I don’t agree with Bernie on everything, but I am excited by his run for President. I’ve been following Bernie’s rise for years now, and that it’s damned exciting. But what excites me most is the thought of a democratic socialist in the White House.

I encourage those of you with a vote to cast it for Bernie, in the primaries. If you haven’t got a vote, find someone who does, and get them to vote…

We are on the brink of revolutionary change. We have a duty to create the new world out of the wreckage of the old. We are all part of that change. The new world we create must be one with people at its heart. With peace, justice and equality at its heart. A world we all need, and we all deserve.

After the Co-Convener Election – what is to be done?

Well that was quite a campaign! I’m very grateful to the Scottish Green Party for re-electing me as co-convener. My quest to reclaim the name ‘Maggie’ for all-that-is-good in politics continues!

 

I’d like to thank everyone who voted for me, all those who supported me and all those who’ve been so kind on social media this afternoon. I’d also like to thank all the candidates who ran in what was a very positive campaign. Finally, I’d like to thank Zara for the good campaign she ran. It’s good to be able to practice what we preach on democracy.

 

Now the real task begins. With just over 5 months to the Holyrood election we must focus our activities outwards. There are many more sympathetic voters out there for our message. We need to find the ways to persuade them to vote for us. We must do that because –  now more than ever –  we need more Green voices in Parliament. We need to be in a position to make the case for a better Scotland. A Scotland that plays a positive role in the world. This afternoon Greens had a great discussion on social media about what we need to focus on.

 

The issues being raised are those that face us most pressingly as a society. We need to fight austerity. But we also need a new form of social security that won’t be eroded by lurid tabloid headlines.

 

We need to keep our ferries in public ownership, we need to bring our railways back into public ownership, and we need to get rents under control for tenants who are being fleeced more every year.

 

We need to renew Scotland’s industrial base, and to repurpose it for renewables. We need the jobs, we need the energy renewables generate and we need to be able to move away from oil and gas. We want to see a more creative economy, and an economy that better meets human needs, and the needs of the planet.

 

To do this we need more Greens in Parliament, we need to build at local and national level and we need to keep making the case for a much, much more equal society.

 

And we need to work with the movements that have put all these issues into the debate. The energy of the referendum and the Green Surge needs to flow through our politics, transforming it. The movements that built that energy deserve our support on the streets and our voice in Parliament. With one foot on the streets and one in the Parliament we will bring power to people. We will build a more equal society. We will end injustice.

 

I will do all I can to build that party, to give voice to those movements and to make sure we work effectively to deliver a better country and a better world.

Workers rights are human rights

I was privileged to be one of four panelists discussing Nicola Sturgeon’s Jimmy Reid Memorial lecture at the STUC this evening. The others were James Dornan (SNP MSP), Drew Smith (Labour MSP) and Myrto Tsakatika (in place of Cat Boyd, from RISE). This is what I said (more or less).

 

JimmyReidOne of my proudest moments was, having been elected Rector of the University of Aberdeen, having a student share my address to my Rectorial installation as “not Jimmy Reid, but worth a read”. Reid’s address, was of course one of the great speeches. Famously printed in full by the New York Times, as the greatest speech since the Gettysburg Address, it dealt with alienation.

And alienation is at the heart of the debate about human rights today. We live in a world where, more than ever before, workers are having their rights eroded. The horror stories such as those coming from the Amazon warehouse in Fife are only the tip of an iceberg of casualisation and informalisation.

In the referendum we began to seriously reconsider what it is to be a worker: what rights do we deserve in the workplace, how should we empower workers. We realised that the culture of low pay isn’t good for anyone. We demanded a Living Wage – and in case George Osborne is listening, that’s a wage you can live on – not a slightly elevated minimum wage.

Some things have changed considerably since the UCS work in. Now a much more feminised workforce is much more subject to the forces women have always been subject to: low pay, casual work, underemployment. Where it used to be women who were employed to do the typing, despite often being more capable than others in the office, now it is whole classes of worker that are having their skills underused. Where in Jimmy Reid’s day it was deindustrialisation that posed the great threat to Scotland’s economy, now it is the depredations of global capitalism.

We need proper legislation on corporate homicide, and we need it to be enforced vigorously. We need to assure workers that their health and safety will be paramount at work. We need to take their health and wellbeing seriously. We need to end bullying in the workplace. As someone who has seen first hand the deployment of bullying as a management technique, I can assure you that it is deeply damaging. And worryingly it appears to be the vanguard approach in undermining workers.

Workers with full time contracts are bullied until they leave, then replaced with workers on zero hour contracts, and no security of tenure, fewer paid holidays and every reason to kow-tow to management. But the constant in all of this is that alienation is at the core of our challenge. The fundamental workers right must be that of benefitting from the value of their labour. That means we need to restore public ownership of public services. We need to keep CalMac in public hands, we need to bring the railways back into public hands. We need more worker ownership – more cooperatives, and much less private equity, privatised and owned by billionaires.

I was proud to help develop a Right to Cooperate policy for the Greens. This would allow workers to ballot on an employee buy-out, backed by a national investment bank. They would then have a right to buy the business and run it as a workers cooperative. This is the sort of policy that could have transformed the Ineos dispute. It puts the right to benefit from work back where it belongs, with the workers. It makes the workers more important than Jim Ratcliffe. It addresses alienation.

The most fundamental workers right and a key human right is the right to the benefits of your labour. The memory of Jimmy Reid demands we take this seriously, and that is my message to you tonight.

Scottish Green leadership positions should not reduce gender to two boxes

This was first published on Kaleidoscot:

 

The Scottish Green Party has two co-conveners of different genders. I am currently one of these, and am running for re-election. This attempt to balance is based on an important principle. We don’t accept that the work of winning gender equality is won, and so we actively seek to rectify that in our structures.

 

There is, though, a problem. The party constitution specifies two genders: a man and a woman. And this simply doesn’t reflect reality. Because while most people are happy to be labelled men or women, there are significant numbers for whom neither of these words apply. And for many of these people, the fact that they would have to be squeezed into a box they’ve often been trying to escape from for years in order to run for one of the co-convener positions in the party is a huge problem.

 

Those who don’t fit neatly into the boxes of gender binary are often some of the most oppressed people in our society. A study for the Harvard Kennedy School in 2013 found that 43% of those they call “Gender Not Listed” have attempted suicide, compared to 1.6% of Americans in general. 32% said that they had experienced physical violence as a result of their gender status. While I can’t find equivalent figures for Scotland, I do know that non-binary people here often have to struggle against a society unready to accept them.

 

I know this for a few reasons. Firstly, when Scottish Greens have tried to use a more inclusive if perhaps clumsy language to describe the gender balancing process we use for MSP selection, we have been mocked online. Now, political parties are always fair game for a joke. But if we face mockery for attempting to navigate our way into a more inclusive language, then I can’t imagine what it’s like being a teenager trying to navigate your way into an adulthood in which you gradually realise that you don’t fit into either of the main neat boxes society has built for you.

 

Secondly, I know it because non-binary Scots have said so. For example, around 80% avoid situations most of us would consider normal, like using public toilets or gyms.

 

Thirdly, while most surveys include non-binary people within statistics for trans people (though not all trans people are non-binary; many simply are men or are women, and not all non-binary people are trans), these figures show astonishing numbers of these Scots suffer real problems of mental ill-health, and often self harm.

 

The struggle for equality for non-binary people is broad and deep, and demands of us all that we challenge some of the assumptions about the world which we were brought up with. And one the simplest of those assumptions is that there are two genders.

 

For the Scottish Greens, this means many things. We’re proud of our support for equalities and we are proud to stand with non-binary people here and across the world, just as we stand with all LGBT people and with other oppressed minorities – and majorities. But one of the things it means is very simple.

 

This year’s party conference passed a motion to set up a task force to look at diversity and minority engagement, including the question of how best to do gender balancing while recognising that there are more than two genders. If I’m re-elected as co-convenor of the party, I will work with that task force to find a way to abolish my position, and replace it with a system of co-convenors which is truly inclusive.

 

 

 

 

Speech to South of Scotland Greens conference

I was asked to speak at the South of Scotland Greens conference, here’s what I said:

I joined the Green Party in 2004, convinced by the last mass movement – that against the Iraq War – that we needed a party that stood for people, planet and peace. We need to continue that tradition, and I was delighted that we were so instrumental to the mass movement for independence.

And not just an independence that was about a Scotland that was just a tiny bit better than as part of the Union. We rejected the vision of Scotland that says it’s ok to privatise the ferries, to keep Scotrail in the private sector if you do it from Edinburgh rather than Westminster. We reject the vision of Scotland that kept us in a nuclear first strike alliance. We said no to NATO , we still say no to NATO. And perhaps most importantly we spoke up for a Scotland where we protect our social security system, where we want an economy that works for people not profit.
This event comes at a crucial time for us. As Trish Buchan from Scotland Against Fracking so forcefully told us this morning, Scotland needs a genuine anti-fracking voice in Parliament. We need to be there to make the case for a social security system that people aren’t relying on foodbanks to keep themselves and their families fed as Mark Frankland from First Base Agency.
And to do that we need to win seats across Scotland next year. The South of Scotland has already elected a Green once, in 2003. We need a Green MSP again. Not to replace the vital work that people like Trish and Mark are doing. We need to give voice to their work. We need to give a voice in Parliament to those who were standing up for immigrants in Monkton last week. We are a party of social and environmental justice and the movements that make the case for those deserve to have their case heard in Parliament.

And in 2017 we need to have Councillors in the council chambers across Scotland to make this case. We need to have more people like Midlothian Councillor Ian Baxter, who spoke so inspiringly this morning. The difference that he’s made to Midlothian is a difference we can make in East Lothian, Dumfries and Galloway, Borders, South Lanarkshire, and Ayrshire. As a Councillor in Edinburgh I was able to introduce the concept of a Living Wage to Scotland. I was able to introduce a petitions committee and our Councillors across Scotland have made similar differences. Martha Wardrop was rewarded by the RSPB with an award as politician of the year just this week!
But to get there we need to work hard. That should be fun. And we’ve had fun today, we need to keep making the case for the positive impact we can have. With newsletters and on the doorsteps. We are on the cusp of making a huge difference. We need to have MSPs to make that difference. We need to have Councillors, but much more important we need you! The party is nothing without its movement.
From Portpatrick to Prestonpans, from Langholm to Lanark and from Duns to Dumfries – across the south of Scotland we need to make the case for our politics. Scotland needs Greens to have a much bigger voice. And that starts with us, today. Thank you!