Local democracy beyond the ballot box

In just 7 days, Scotland will go to the polls to elect the councillors that will be responsible for delivering local services over the next 5 years. Last night, I participated in a discussion about local democracy, its challenges and opportunities, organised by RIC Edinburgh. I opened the discussion with these words.

Good evening everyone, and thank you very much for inviting me to participate in this discussion this evening. It’s a joy and an honour to be with you all, and I very much look forward to listening to your thoughts and ideas after Brian and I have said a few words.

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 on a ballot paper on a Thursday in May (or June), and certainly more than political parties (I’m not going to talk much about political parties, but perhaps we can in discussion later on?). 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.

And this means a radically different approach to democracy.

It is clear that, with Westminster politics in its current shambolic state, with a megalomaniac but weak prime minister and a leader of the opposition who does not have the support of his party behind him, and therefore cannot challenge the government effectively, we are inhabiting a sham democracy. I do not believe that we have a functioning democracy in the UK. And what is my evidence for this? Well, where to begin?

Firstly, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain part of the EU, and yet the PM is determined to ignore our wishes, and has refused to engage either country in any meaningful discussion, despite the repercussions for the Good Friday Agreement or further devolution for Scotland.

Secondly, Scotland voted to remain part of the UK on the promise of continued EU membership and increased prosperity, and yet the poverty gap is increasing, and, well, the mess that is Brexit speaks for itself.

Thirdly, and this shows that the lack of democracy is not very recent, despite the fact that a million people marched against the Iraq war 14 years ago, and there was no evidence that WMDs were ready to launch, Blair took us into a war that made the destabilisation of the Middle East inevitable.

And in Scotland, and at local government level, there is also plenty of evidence that our democracy is broken.

As Lesley Riddoch and others have documented very clearly, Scotland has the least local local democracy in Europe. It is not local. It is overly centralised. And the Scottish Government over the last few years has done little to give local government anything like the new lease of life it needs. Freezing the Council Tax rather than reforming local taxation meant cuts to services and alienation of communities. There has been virtually no interest beyond communities and the Scottish Greens to give communities third party right of appeal in planning decisions. The plans to take power away from Education Authorities and hand it to Head Teachers instead indicate a worrying trend away from democratic oversight and control.

So, we have our work cut out for us. The only way to deal with the undemocratic, perhaps even anti-democratic forces operating at Westminster and to a lesser extent at Holyrood, is to rethink local democracy. And the left must play a fundamental part in this.

It won’t be easy, however. It is clear that, whilst all that I have described so far has been happening, the left, in Scotland and beyond, has not been able to intervene in ways that lead to the kinds of transformations required.

For a long time, I think, the left has mistaken centralisation for solidarity. One thing we need to understand is that governing ourselves collectively is perhaps the most fundamental principle of the left.

So we need to seek ways in which we can act collectively without centralising, we need to identify opportunities to educate our communities about the mechanisms of local democracy, and we need to resist the knee-jerk reaction that it is all too difficult, or that there is something more important going on. We know that the instinct in many politicians (both left and right) is to take power off people, and that this drives the population to the right.

When we’ve argued for a radically different type of democracy, the response often is that there is something more important happening nationally, or some other crisis too great to allow ourselves to be side-tracked.

In the Greens, we’ve faced this dilemma before. When talking about climate change, there have been those who have argued that the crisis posed by climate change is too great to allow ourselves to be distracted by talk of giving power to communities, or campaigning for decent jobs. But there is ample evidence that those people who have done best at tackling climate change are also those who have been able to take control over their own lives. If we look at the island of Eigg, some people argued against the community buy out because, obviously, the community would use their newfound power to strip the island of its assets. Instead, we know that the community has gone from strength to strength, tackling not only climate change issues, but also creating local job security, community solidarity, and so much more.

So, for those of us who want a local democracy that is truly local and democratic, but also supported and resourced properly?

The first thing I think is that we need to find whatever ways we can to include people. With the local elections next week, we can start by focussing on the things that our councils control. We must demand participatory democracy: things like participatory budgeting (like Leith Decides), participatory planning (not just the planning system, but wider planning about all aspects of education planning, health and social care planning, and so much more).

We must also embrace technology: we must make better use of online tools, not just to communicate, but for decision making too. There are lots of people for whom the old model of daytime or evening meetings is not inclusive. It a process or system excludes, then it does not serve democracy.

Including people in decision-making not only gives them a real stake in those decisions, it also benefits transparency and accountability. It involves people in delivering the social justice outcomes we want to see, but also shows them what resources are available, and that there really is money for genuine social security, for decent public services. It will also make false economies much harder to implement: the idea that cutting a meals on wheels service will save money will be seen for the lunacy it is: not only is it inhumane, it will also mean that people will end up in hospital, malnourished and unwell.

So, with 8 days to go before the local elections, what can we do.

We need to look for a genuine intention to devolve power from councils to communities – things like citizens’ assemblies to determine voting behaviour of councillors, for example. We need to call for more transparency so that participation in decisions is possible. We must work with others to build decision making into our everyday life, supporting housing cooperatives, consumer cooperatives, and so on. We can identify specific campaigns that magnify the benefits of local democratic engagement, such as calling for council and other public sector divestment from arms and fossil fuels, and demanding a better kind of settlement for local government from national government.

Using the very poor attempt at local democracy we have next week to these ends is only the beginning. We do need a radically different relationship between different levels of government, nevermind more genuine local government. We also need improved participation, engagement and transparency in all aspects of public sector governance and structures. And an element of this must be genuine inclusion of people so often marginalised by politics: women, people of colour, disabled people, people from the LGBTQI+ communities, and so on.

So, we’ve got a lot of work to do, especially given what will be happening on 8th June. If we allow Westminster politics to dominate our discussions, without using this as an opportunity to talk about a different kind of politics, about doing politics differently, we will not be doing our jobs as citizens of a better world. I firmly believe the politics of Westminster, not to mention its electoral system, belong in the history books, not in the politics of a forward looking and open democracy. The denial of a vote to 16 and 17 year olds is a disgrace. The calling of a snap election is about the wielding of power over people rather than the sharing of power with people.

But we cannot afford to be defeated in our quest for something better. I know a better Scotland is what motivates many of you here this evening. And I look forward to joining you all out on the streets, in our communities, at our bus stops, in our shops, talking, sharing, doing politics … the kind of politics that we want and deserve.

 

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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.

Another Europe is Possible 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local democracy: power in your hands!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What an opportunity! And what a privilege.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you!

#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.

“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!

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.