The fight for an end to tuition fees

Maggie speaking in front of a banner that reads 'Their jobs our eduction' written over a picture of a fist holding a pen
Maggie speaking at Aberdeen Student Left’s performance night. Photo by Jacob M Campbell

I was very pleased to be one of the speakers at an event last night, organised by the Aberdeen Student Left and English Literature Society. It was a fantastic evening, with poetry, comedy, music, and of course, politics, designed to raise awareness of and money for the National Demo for Free Education taking place in London on 15th November.

As Rector of Aberdeen University, I have been very pleased to support campaigns against tuition fees and also to stand in solidarity with staff against redundancies. As a long time member of NCAFC – the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts – and a trade unionist, I firmly believe that education is a right that should be accessible to everyone. I also know only too well the negative impact redundancies has on students and their education. With the disaster for Higher Education that is Brexit looming, I also believe we have to be vigilant and not lose the benefits that European students currently receive. I want to extend the no-fees policy to all students, but we really can’t afford to see it rescinded for EU students.

So, last night, I stood up to speak in support of free education.

Growing up in Zimbabwe, in a new country freshly liberated from white minority rule, I benefited from the government’s focus on education as the route to success. Now, the more recent reality in Zimbabwe is less positive, but the value placed on education has left an indelible mark on me. Education really is the way to a better society.

I recently returned from a few weeks in Zimbabwe: I was there visiting my Mum, and helping her celebrate her 80th birthday. Whilst there, I had the privilege of speaking at the annual Prize Giving at my old school. I had lots of interesting conversations with teachers who are doing their best in difficult circumstances to prepare the next generation for the world. I also met many students, many facing hardship way beyond my experiences. School fees are required; they are not exorbitant, but they are there, and for families with more than one child, the financial commitments (and difficulties) are multiplied.

One family’s story in particular has stayed with me. I met the parents of three daughters, three young women, who are all in school, all determined to learn, to engage with the world, to make the world a better place for themselves and those around them. But both parents had recently been made redundant, and did not face any prospects of finding decent jobs. To pay for their daughters’ education they had sold their car, sold their cows, sold their jewellery, and even considered selling their house (although who wants to be homeless in the middle of exams?!?).

If secondary education bleeds them dry like this, what future do these three young women have of realising their dreams to go to university?

And I don’t need to convince many of the students I interact with at Aberdeen University and elsewhere of just how important it is to educate people, and to educate women in particular. We know the social and economic benefits that communities gain from educating women. Education is the route to a better society. As such, it should be free, not just for the bourgeoisie!

So, just why is free education so important?

Firstly, the market has no place in education. Market forces do not value what really matter: the market cannot adequately value education or its transformative powers.

Second, tuition fees and inadequate financial support to live leads to debt. And the student debt repayment system is just a nonsense – it is very complex and very inefficient. But more than this. Debt is a way of disciplining workers, of forcing people to pursue market-valued careers, careers that might well be useless (finance comes to mind, given the financial mess of the last nearly 10 years), rather than creative and caring careers that provide solace for the soul or care for our communities. People are driven out of and away from careers that are socially helpful, like nursing, teaching, caring, creating, just to repay debt. And they are forced to be compliant workers: just cogs in the neoliberal economic machine, not complaining, not causing a fuss.

Third, and still on debt: debt is not only bad for the economy, it is bad for all of our mental health. Debt and financial pressures are a major source of anxiety, depression and other ill-health for students and young people. Why support a system that we know makes us ill?

So, for these, and many, many more reasons, I whole-heartedly support the work of NCAFC, of Aberdeen Student Left, and all those seeking to eradicate fees. I won’t be able to attend the National Demonstration in London next month, but I stand with you all: solidarity as you strive for justice!

 

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Our movement, our future

I was asked recently to contribute a piece on ‘where now for the left in Scotland and Britain’, for the 100th edition of Scottish Left Review. My contribution initially appeared in the magazine and online here, and is reproduced below.

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” Antonio Gramsci

As time goes on it becomes clear that the 2008 crash was the end of an old world, yet a new world is struggling to be born. To paraphrase Gramsci, now is most certainly the time of monsters.

The situation in the UK is an exemplar of a global situation where neoliberalism has died and cannot yet be replaced. Rather than the world being haunted by a spectre, we are lumbered by a corpse of a dead economic system. But this corpse cannot yet be buried because the alternatives have not yet emerged in a coherent way.

This has produced reactions of the right: most notably Trump and Theresa May; of the left: Sanders, Corbyn and Melenchon; and even from the centre: Macron. All have one thing in common: their reference points are in a revival of Les Trente Glorieuses or “The Glorious Thirty”; the three decades of economic prosperity and improved social security following World War II. We cannot see British or Scottish politics outside of this context.

And we must also remember that this crisis is not just a crisis of finance or of politics: it is a crisis of resources and the environment. Climate change threatens our very existence, but technology is beginning to point the direction to a world of low carbon energy generated by locally owned installations rather by corporations. The first industrial revolution was driven by a shift from local power sources (water mills and wood burning) to energy from centralised sources and fossil fuels. The capitalist age is the fossil fuel age, and the fossil fuel age is the capitalist age.

The independence referendum in 2014 was one of the first cracks in the hegemony of carbon-fuelled neoliberalism. Through that crack, the light got in, inspiring the Corbyn movement and a new bravery in British politics. But this crack has been papered over with a continuity politics of managerialism.

The General Election result sits in a context of deep crisis for the British establishment and elites still unable to find a response to the financial crisis of 2008. They have tried continuity managerialism of Gordon Brown; they have tried austerity; they have tried Brexit. And having tried to crush the Labour Party with the opportunistic General Election, they have run out of options.

The depth of political crisis that followed the financial crash of 2008 is in part due to the failed invasion of Iraq in 2003. The War was always obviously morally wrong, but the inability of the British and American states to successfully stabilise the country after the invasion prefigures Brexit: a project of the British Imperial elite intended to restore the country’s greatness, but one that instead exposes the lack of strategic, diplomatic and planning capacity of that elite.

In Scotland, the SNP’s response to the Independence movement and the mandates given to them by subsequent elections has failed to capitalise on the political energy behind the social movement. In the days after the referendum, Women for Independence ran a successful campaign to prevent the Scottish Government placing a women’s prison at Greenock: the prison was the wrong thing to do. And the Independence movement was able to work with Scottish Government to deliver a better outcome.

This movement approach to politics showed the world we could have. Corbyn’s surprise performance in the election was powered by movement politics. These movements, like the Stop the War movement, have politicised people bringing together political analyses and democratising our politics. The surprise (relative) success of Labour is down to harnessing the power of movement politics.

Placed against this are Tory demands that we stop talking about politics and “get on with the day job”. This successfully mobilises the anti-political emotions of the privileged. The answer, of course, is to reinvigorate the movement politics of 2014. There are plenty of issues where this approach is more needed than ever: housing has been an issue of increased significance for some time, but the Grenfell disaster puts this into sharp focus. A movement must make the case for new collectively managed housing. The private rented sector has failed a whole generation.

We must find ways to bring democracy to more of our institutions. People have the ability to be much more engaged in decision making and a centralised state designed to control an empire has long outlived its usefulness. And in so many other areas of our lives, from social security and workers’ rights to harnessing for good the care and creativity of our people, movement politics show us the way.

The new world that must be born will be prefigured by the movements for social and environmental justice. We can, and must, learn from the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in in 1971, from those who refused to fix bomber-plane engines destined for Pinochet’s Chile, from those who developed the Lucas Plan in 1976. Very much like the Independence movement of 2014, these people-led social justice movements, show us the way forward: they show us how to democratise our power structures and our economy.

In Scotland we need to re-engage our people and recapture the energy to make the case for a better world. But this cannot and should not stop at our borders, nor indeed the borders of the UK. The new world that will be born must share the benefits of the economy with people everywhere.

Basic Income: a radical proposal for a free society and a sane economy. The 2nd Ailsa McKay Annual Memorial Lecture

This evening, I had the honour of introducing the Ailsa McKay Memorial Lecture 2017, the second such lecture, hosted by the Women in Scotland’s Economy Research Centre, in the Govan Mbeki Building at Glasgow Caledonian University. This is what I said.

Good evening everyone. I am Maggie Chapman, Co-convener of the Scottish Greens, and it is my great pleasure, and a great honour to welcome you all here today to the 2nd annual Ailsa McKay Memorial Lecture.

Our speaker this evening, Philippe Van Parijs, is Professor at the Faculty of Economic, Social and Political Sciences of the Université catholique de Louvain, where he has directed the Hoover Chair of economic and social ethics since 1991. Philippe’s work has taken him all over the world, and he is widely known and respected as a key proponent and defender of ideas such as the Basic Income. Welcome Philippe. Welcome to Scotland, to Glasgow, and to this university.

Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow Caley to many of us, saw fit, in 2001, to name this building after a hero of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. As a South African, albeit one who grew up in Zimbabwe, I am always pleased to have an excuse to talk about the struggle heroes who have influenced my thinking and my politics. Govan Mbeki was a leader of the ANC and of the South African Communist Party. Following the Rivonia Trial, he, along with Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada, Walter Sisulu, and several other eminent anti-apartheid leaders, was imprisoned on charges of terrorism and treason, and he spent 23 years in jail. Later, after his release and after the first democratic elections in South Africa, he served in the Senate and its successor (the National Council of Provinces) from 1994-1999.

Mbeki was a man who devoted his life to fighting the great social and economic inequalities produced by apartheid. He and his fellow revolutionaries, amongst them Joe Slovo, talked and wrote much about South Africa’s future freedom, what it would look like, and how social justice and equality could be delivered. Slovo suggested that South Africa required a two-stage revolution: first, a popular movement to overthrow apartheid, and second, an economic revolution to share the fruits of the economy for all.

In Scotland, like elsewhere, including South Africa to some degree – it was, of course, the first country to have equal marriage written into its constitution – we have made significant progress on social equality, on issues like promoting women’s rights, and combating homophobia and racism. There is plenty of work still to be done on these, undoubtedly, but much of the inequality that remains is economic. We have not been successful in taking the revolution into that second stage – economic equality.

Ideas like a Citizens Income, or Basic Income, will, I am sure, be part of the solution to the issues that remain. I remember being at a conference about another heterodox economic theory, Land Value Tax, where one of the speakers said he opposed Basic Income because it would be unearned. We have a strange differentiation in our economy between what is traditionally seen as unearned income (things like inherited wealth and dividends) and unpaid work, which, as we know, is mostly done by women.

It is this unpaid work – the things that make us most profoundly human – caring and creating – that Ailsa was so rightly concerned with in her work on developing proposals such as the Citizen’s Basic Income, on gender budgeting, and so much more. Ailsa, perhaps more than anyone else, made it very clear that our economic revolution has to be on gender terms as well as resource terms: we must value that very human work, caring and creating, properly if we are to achieve economic equality.

Ailsa was perhaps a surprising academic. She left school at the age of 17 and started working at the Department of Social Security. One of her jobs was to assess emergency payments for people on benefits, and she was well known amongst claimants for trusting their assessment of their own hardship and authorising their payments without question … something ATOS could learn from, perhaps.

It was during her time at the Department of Social Security that she became most interested in the idea of the Citizen’s Basic Income. She understood the profound error of viewing the economy as a flow of capital rather than a way to ensure the wellbeing of people. She went back to education in 1981, determined to put herself to work developing ideas that would promote such an economy. In her postgraduate studies that led to her PhD, she drew extensively on the Philippe’s work on Basic Income, and became known as the person to talk to about gender economics. She established the Women in Scotland’s Economy Research Centre here in 2010, and was a founding member of the Scottish Women’s Budget Group.

It is in no small way down to Ailsa that, in Scotland, our approach to the global financial crisis of 2008 has been much better that the UK Government’s “if it moves, cut it, if it doesn’t move, cut it” approach. But too often, still, we prioritise physical infrastructure over social infrastructure. The Christie Commission rightly pointed to prevention as the key to providing public services in the 21st century, but the logical follow through to this – that we create a society where work looking after people and creating is properly valued – is far from finished.

I am very much looking forward to hearing what Philippe has to say to us this evening. His work across the economic, social and political sciences has been influential to many of us in so many different ways. It has been central to a number of arguments around Basic Income, something very close to my heart: we greens are the only political party that has a Citizens Income in our policy documents.

In the social-democratic tradition, Philippe has argued that the right to an income does not interfere with the right to a job, but in fact strengthens it. Similarly, Basic Income does not replace the welfare state; rather it makes it more important, and it reduces the threats to social security. And, most importantly, it forms what he calls ‘the third model’, different to the old social assistance model – charity – and the social insurance model – solidarity. Philippe’s argument for a more egalitarian, more emancipatory perspective was heralded by Ailsa in her work and her desire to be part of a socially just and equal society.

I am sure everyone here today would wish to join me in creating that society – a society that truly commemorates the work of Ailsa McKay. And what we hear from Philippe this evening will, I’m sure, better enable us to create that society.

Welcome Philippe. And thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You are all wonderful!

Enjoy the last few hours of the campaign.

Then get (some) sleep.

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

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.

 

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.