The system that plays those that it is supposed to help

Posted on October 17, 2014 by | 2 Comments

Unity marching in Glasgow in 2010. Image: End of City

Sophie is a writer and educator based in Glasgow and a volunteer with Unity Centre Glasgow.

Amidst a media war on immigrants and the politics that plays to it, claims of bogus asylum seekers ‘playing the system’ are rife. For the past year and a half, I have volunteered with the Unity Centre, a support centre working in solidarity with asylum seekers and other immigrants, based in Glasgow. In my observation, in fact, ‘the system’ is much more likely to play those seeking asylum.

Recently, it was ruled that the ‘Detention Fast Track’ system was conducted in an unlawful way that carried too high a risk of unfairness. In Detention Fast-Track, Asylum cases are given an initial, cursory examination, after which some are ‘fast-tracked’ – it’s decided they can be determined quickly. This really means that they can be rejected quickly – asylum claims that are accepted, even the first time round, have virtually always had to go the long way. If a case is fast-tracked, the asylum seeker is detained – imprisoned – whilst their entire case is considered, and it is rushed through the system. This doesn’t allow time for measured consideration of a case on its merits. It also doesn’t allow the person putting in the claim time to gather evidence and often means that their case is well underway before the claimant has had an opportunity to find a solicitor.

In fact, this is only one of myriad ways in which the UK’s asylum system is (a) cruel and (b) designed to refuse as many cases as possible – rather than to genuinely determine whether a case is ‘legitimate’ (within the already far too-narrow limits of British and international laws).

Another example of the latter is found in the way that interviews about asylum cases are conducted; after a brief initial interview, someone seeking asylum undergoes a ‘substantive interview’ in which the facts of their case are to be established – and which is highly significant to their claim. I have read numerous transcripts of substantive interviews, as well as Home Office decisions on the basis of these interviews – and had discussions with people who have been interviewed. Interviewees are held to an absurd standard of consistency in being asked to relay, in detail, events that often go a number of years back. For example if, in response to a question about what they did on a day, 3 and a half years ago, where something relevant to their asylum claim occurred – suppose, for example, that this was a day on which they had encountered someone who was later to attack them. An interviewee’s response might include the claim that they had left someone’s house in the late afternoon. ‘Could you be more exact about the time?’ an interviewer might ask. The interviewee considers. ‘5pm.’ ‘What day was that?’ ‘I think October 1st.’ This might be at the beginning of the interview. Five hours, a lunch break, and a gruelling conversation about the worst experiences of their life with hostile strangers later, they might be asked again what happened on that day. They might respond, with similar uncertainty, that they had left about 3, and it was October 8th. This inconsistency will be dredged up, in the perhaps years to follow, before their case is finally decided, as evidence that their asylum claim is not credible. I am certain that, if I were obliged to have a similar conversation, I would make numerous such slips. And if someone initially finds it difficult to talk about traumatic experiences? Their account is considered less credible – the basis of their asylum claim false.

Whilst awaiting the outcome of their applications, those seeking refuge are treated as an underclass (not the only one in modern Britain). They are not allowed to work, so they cannot support themselves; they are provided with very basic housing and £35 a week. This is, of course, less than they would receive on benefits, and much, much less than minimum wage. Let’s not even touch on living wage. If someone claiming this support gets any extra money – for example, if a friend gives them £10 for a birthday present – they must declare it and have this deducted from their allowance. They are, in short, not permitted any means of raising their standard of living above the poverty line. Often, people are left in this situation for years. Leave aside for now the fact that Britain has a massively ageing population, and that an influx of labour would be beneficial; also that many asylum seekers bring highly-valued skills that could enrich the British economy and populace: asylum seekers make up a statistically negligible portion of the UK’s population – there are approximately 23,000 asylum seekers in the UK – that’s roughly 0.0359% of the total population. There is no economic rationale for constraining asylum seekers to abject poverty whilst their cases are considered; it is simply a move designed to make their lives here as unpleasant as possible. It is an act of grotesque cruelty inflicted on one of society’s most vulnerable groups.

Typically, in the course of an asylum claim, those seeking asylum might be detained, on and off, for substantial periods of time – imprisoned, without being even suspected, let alone convicted, of a crime. This is supposed only to happen if their removal is imminent, but very often, their removal is postponed or cancelled and they are not immediately released. Some individuals are held in immigration detention for over a year. Typically, if someone’s deportation is cancelled on legal grounds – for example because they have gathered new evidence for a fresh asylum claim, or because a judge rules that their case was not fairly considered the first time round – they are generally released, provided they have a lawyer to apply for their release. However, following release, an asylum seeker claiming support is no longer entitled to £35/ week in cash, but on a card or vouchers, which can only be used at certain supermarkets and with which they are not allowed to buy cigarettes, alcohol – or phone credit. This last one makes it very difficult for people to keep fighting asylum cases – they need phone credit to call their lawyers. This is also, obviously, massively stigmatising.

There is much talk of ‘bogus’ asylum cases; there is a twisted kind of truth in this talk, but it is not the claims on which they are based, but the system through which they are processed that is bogus. A tiny portion of the world’s asylum seekers come to Britain. They have often fled violent persecution – frequently having been subjected to torture and gang rape, and seen family members murdered – and are afraid for their lives should they be forced onto a plane to their country of origin. We treat them like criminals.

Mark Ruskell at SGP 2014: An economy as if people mattered

Posted on October 16, 2014 by | 1 Comment

Cllr. Mark Ruskell speaking at Scottish Greens Conference in Edinburgh on Sunday. Image: SGP/Callum MacLellan

Mark Ruskell, Green Councillor in Stirling, gave this address to Scottish Greens Conference on Sunday.  It is a call for action to rebuild our economies – and our economics – to make a better society for all.

An economy as if people mattered.

I like this idea, it was one reason why I joined the Green Party rather than a single issue pressure group almost 20 years ago and speaking to many new members it seems like a top reason for joining today too.

It dares us to believe.

It dares us to believe that the economy and markets should serve people rather than the other way round.

It dares us to place values of respect, fairness, interdependence, and mutuality at the heart of our economy.

Where jobs are accessible and fulfilling, producing useful things rather than games of speculation.

Where wages support lives rather than an ever expanding chasm between the 1% and rest of us.

And it dares us to have an economy that is built on one planet’s worth of resources instead of two.

Radical? Daring to be grown up human beings rather than sociopaths.

Its fundamentally about building a more Human Scale economy built on strong local social foundations.

A lot of the discussions I had with people during the referendum campaign were about how great it would be live in a small nation state. A state which has global influence but where you can still have a chat with government ministers on the train.

But that’s also what we need our economy to be too, a globally competitive ‘Team Scotland’ which still has at its foundations a strong local economic base.

where the value of a pound spent locally multiplies as it gets continually re-invested in our communities, and where there is a real person at the end of a transaction.

One solid foundation block we have is the small business sector which encompasses 94% of our businesses in Scotland and supports over 40% of our employees.

Yet it is a sector that has been continually overlooked. My parents moved to Scotland in the mid 1980’s, my father brought with him the patent on a really innovative piece of construction equipment he invented. He actually wanted to manufacture the product here and create jobs at a time when manufacturing was being decimated and the middle classes had been sold this dream of a nation of entrepreneurs. But the reality was that the development agencies were dis-interested, far too busy chasing global corporate inward investment and what investment they did manage to secure left within a few short years.

We have to nurture these sparks of innovation rather let them fizzle out and finance is absolutely key.

The Sparkassen savings banks network for example in Germany is home grown financing, banks that are constitutionally required to turn all ‘local savings into local loans’ with a network that is larger than RBS. Imagine that Fred Goodwin..

The public sector is our social foundation block in the economy. It puts real wages in real pockets which gets spent locally and it delivers the infrastructure and services that actually keep us and the economy alive.

Which is why we need the power to protect public services from the multiple assaults it faces- the TTIP sale of a century,

Tory austerity cuts, and the cold comfort of the SNPs council tax freeze.

What was interesting to see this week though was Scottish Labour having an almost zombie Clause 4 moment over the Scotrail franchise. Warming up again to the idea of publicly owned services run to actually serve the public.

I guess my problem with Labour is I prefer their early work. Tom Johnston for example former Labour Secretary of State for Scotland after the War who brought electrification and the first renewables revolution to the glens. We still have state energy companies of course but they’re the state utilities of China, France, Sweden and Norway running the show.

Now let me turn to tax. Bob Crow – ‘you pay tax and you buy civilisation’  he was right, but tax is also a tool to mould kind of civilisation we want, whether that’s about creating favourable business rates to support town centres, creating subsidies and incentives for industries we need to support and removing them from ones we don’t.

We currently don’t even bother to collect over £1bn of tax revenue from the Scottish oil and gas sector. Enough to pay for 25 hours a week of free childcare for every 3 and 4 year old in Scotland or a massive investment in publicly owned renewables or 28,000 nurses.

Tax relief could be used to support the jobs and the economy we want to create. So instead of supplying tax rebates to companies like INEOS at Grangemouth for exploratory fracking we could be incentivising INEOS for R&D into new chemical products from oil instead of burning the stuff.

But we continue to see muddled ideological thinking from the ConDem government. They cut consumers energy bills by a few pence a week scaling back obligations on energy companies to invest in green energy and efficiency programmes, seemingly oblivious that this will mean more reliance on fossil fuels that will become cripplingly expensive over time resulting in.. you guessed it… higher bills.

In fact the more I think about it, we don’t just need an economy as if people mattered we need an economy as if the economy mattered.

Because where is the investment in the future economy coming from?  The FTSE 100 companies are currently sitting pretty on top of a £54bn mountain of cash, they’re not investing in real economy. Their influencing a political elite which is making the economy weak, failing to invest in research, failing to facilitate immigration into this country, and opposing green energy simply because……

That’s why we need to grab as many tools as we can in the few short months we have, full devolution on income tax, environmental and resources taxation and borrowing powers for our Parliament.

Let me turn to people again.

In my own community, I see neighbours daily who are struggling to afford a bus fare to Stirling which costs more than their first hour of paid work. Families weighing up childcare costs against poverty wages and zero hours contracts and realising work does not pay.

This is the reality which is stifling people and stifling our economy. An increasingly ageing population needs people who are willing and able to step up, work, broaden the base of taxation and create the wealth that allows us to re-invest back into the common good.

We need to make work pay and link pay to prosperity once again. A genuine Living Wage so people can thrive rather than barely survive with equality pay between men and women across all sectors, public, private and voluntary.

That’s why powers on employment legislation must come to Holyrood.

Conference, in the words of the new Glasgow member the Referendum had given us ‘permission to imagine a better country’ it’s also given us permission to finally deliver the economy where people do matter. Fair, social, innovative, resourceful, sustainable – a global outlook matched to a strong local foundation. Now let’s make it happen.

Ending our reliance on oil will bring democracy to the Middle East and North Africa

Posted on October 15, 2014 by | No Comments

US and Saudi military chiefs meeting in 2012. American support for undemocratic Middle Eastern regimes flows from their dependence on oil imports. Image: US Navy.

There’s a simple idea that economic growth is good for democracy. A widely accepted truth, that when a citizen doesn’t have to worry about simple survival they can do more to get engaged with their governance. Educated, comfortable and free they can hold leaders to account. It’s an idea that goes back to Lipset in 1952 who posited that income per capita was positively correlated with democracy in that country.

Since 1952 Lipset’s law has come under more scrutiny. Indeed our modern history has become littered with examples of countries who have become income rich and democracy poor. Nowhere is this clearer than in countries who are resource rich, chock full of oil and other material wealth. Coined the resource curse, this phenomenon suggests that oil and mineral wealth is not a catalyst for democracy but an engineer of autocracy.

Some of the richest oil states, the members of OPEC, are prime examples of the resource curse. Of the 12 member states none of the OPEC members are ranked as democracies in the international Democratic Index. Indeed Fayad, Bates and Hofflers 2012 research paper found a negative correlation between resource wealth and democracy in a state. The greater the mineral and resource wealth the less likely a nation would be governed democratically.

Resource wealth is so disruptive quite simply because it undermines one of the cornerstones of liberal democracy, taxation. No taxation without representation famously became the motto that birthed a state, but fundamentally it underlines that with taxation brings a desire to hold one’s leaders to account. When a country is resource rich that link between citizen and government is broken.

Fed by oil wealth these oil rich countries no longer need the tax of their citizens to survive. Instead they can skim from these vast profits, embezzle millions and millions, and use the scraps to mollify the wider populace. Citizens instead of getting democracy pay little tax. If they become unsettled and angry oil wealth can be used to grant sops to arrest any democratic flourish. For those that don’t buy the bribe imprisonment and violence is the remedy.

This was clearly at play during the Arab Spring. The most tumultuous revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa were in resource poor states, like Egypt and Tunisia. Libya was only toppled because of foreign intervention. In countries like Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait autocrats poured billions into subsidies and development to arrest the demands of protest movements. Oil wealth brought a new compact, one that compliance with the ruling elite would bring about a certain level of comfort, or else violence.

Fundamentally oil and other fossil fuels lend themselves to concentration of power and wealth in the hands of the few. Fossil fuels are hard to extract and requires massive amounts of capital before any venture becomes profitable. Oil and Natural Gas are a way for the already rich to become richer. The only countries to have survived the curse are countries like Norway, where democracy was in place before hydrocarbons were discovered.

The solution is simple. It is primarily the West’s thirst for oil that has fuelled these autocratic states. It is our never ending need for more hydrocarbons that kept the royals and dictators from across the Middle East and North Africa insulated and secure. Without the profits of oil no longer would these regimes be so well placed to subjugate their populace. Without oil wealth no longer could they either buy off their citizens, or buy the means to brutalise them.

Yet the UK’s fossil fuel consumption remains stubbornly high. In 2013 27% of our gas supply came from the oppressive Qatari regime. Putin provided 40% of our coal. 30% of our oil came from the flawed democracies of Algeria, Nigeria and Russia. Our energy consumption bears a heavy footprint in fuelling worldwide oppression.

Divesting from fossil fuels, as well as being fundamental for avoiding catastrophic climate change, are key to addressing global injustice. Ending our dependence on fossil fuels would do much to reign in the tyrannical rule of many a dictator and address runaway levels of corruption. We need a mass movement that rejects dirty (both ethically and environmentally) fuels and pushes for a renewable energy revolution. The time is now.

Conference shows Scottish Greens are a force to be reckoned with

Posted on October 14, 2014 by | No Comments

Last Thursday, the people of Clacton dealt a massive blow to the establishment by voting UKIP and… re-electing their former Tory MP. After having the media spotlight on them for such a long time, receiving massive quantities of money from various wealthy donors, and having a number of public school-educated Tories defect and join their numbers, UKIP is now ready to enter Westminster with their first MP. (Four and a half years behind the Greens, I might add.) If UKIP isn’t part of the establishment, I don’t know what is.

If you wish to see a party that truly represents an alternative to politics as usual, one that is increasingly becoming a force to be reckoned with, you could do worse than to leave Clacton behind, and with it ‘the purple menace down south’ (as Patrick Harvie has called it) and head about 400 miles north to Edinburgh, where the Scottish Green Party held their conference over the weekend.

I attended this conference—the party’s largest ever by far—as one of the delegates from the Green Party of England and Wales, and it was fantastic to see the future for the Scottish Greens looking so bright. Though the Greens in England and Wales are enjoying a green surge of our own, it is nothing in comparison to the Scottish Greens, whose membership has skyrocketed from 1700 to over 7000 in the space of a few weeks since the Scottish referendum. And while increasing four-fold in such a short time could easily have thrown the party into turmoil, the Scottish Greens look well positioned to make the most of this golden opportunity, with the possibility of gaining a seat in Westminster next year, and in all likelihood multiplying manifold its representation in the Scottish Parliament in 2016.

This sense of a party on the rise was apparent from the very beginning of the conference. Following two inspirational speeches from the co-convenors of the party, Maggie Chapman (you can read her speech in full here) and Patrick Harvie MSP, Patrick broke the news of the newest member of the Scottish Green Party, none other than the independent MSP John Finney! Though he will continue to occupy his seat as an independent, this is equivalent to the Scottish Greens increasing representation in the Scottish Parliament by 50%, and thus a landmark moment for a growing party. It hardly needs saying that this news was greeted by a standing ovation from conference.

Throughout this conference, the spirit of the referendum was clearly visible. The Scottish referendum has done wonders engaging the people of Scotland in politics, many for the first time, and that was something that definitely showed. There were various fringes discussing different aspects of the referendum, with a fringe organised by Common Weal focusing on how to continue to engage people in the discussion of how to work towards a better country, and another examining the future of the Greens—and collaboration with other political parties—in the wake of the referendum. The Scottish Greens have greatly benefitted from the opportunity to lay their vision for a better Scotland that the referendum has provided. But at the same time, there was a definite understanding that the referendum now lies in the past. Patrick Harvie spoke about the need to reach beyond the dividing line between the 45% who voted for independence and the 55% who voted to remain in the union, while continuing the fight for a greener and fairer Scotland, and a motion was passed unanimously to accept the result of the referendum.

This wasn’t the only motion up for a vote, of course. Conference voted in favour for workers to have the right to buy out their companies to form cooperatives, for a pay ratio for workers in a company, to unambiguously support trade unions, to expand Scotland’s railways, to oppose the third Iraq War and to support the people of Rojava in their struggle against ISIS. My main disappointment was that the motion in favour of free public transport was voted down. This would have heralded a transformation in transport akin to that the NHS brought to health care, while massively reducing the carbon foodprint of society by decreasing reliance on the motorways, so it was a great shame to see it fall. However, it was voted down by such a small majority I would be surprised if it isn’t on the agenda again before too long.

As a Young Green myself, it was fantastic to see so much hope for the Scottish Young Greens. There are now more Scottish Young Greens then there were members of the Scottish Green Party just a month ago, and with a third of the party now being Young Greens, that brings incredibly exciting opportunities. The Scottish Young Greens are currently looking at a complete overhaul of their structure to fit these new members, introducing regional branches for the first time. I look forward to working across the border with the Scottish Young Greens as they become an increasingly significant force within the Scottish Greens.

What proved to be a fantastic conference ended in much the same way as it started: with the announcement of new members. But this time, it was all the new members who had joined over the weekend. Following a lovely speech from Alison Johnstone, she announced that 150 people had joined the party since the start of conference, making the membership figure 7057 in total. Not bad at all for a party that had less than 2000 members not too long ago. As Patrick Harvie said, the Scottish Greens ‘shouldn’t be satisfied with being a small party’—the time has come to seize the opportunity and become a political force to be reckoned with.

Scottish Green Party Conference 2014 – Live Blog

Posted on October 12, 2014 by | 2 Comments

Sun 17.17: Ric Lander

Alison Johnstone MSP closed conference showing off our latest membership count (just passed 7,000) and lauding Patrick Harvie MSP’s emergency motion on Green Yes (see below).

Sun 16.36: Ric Lander

Free Public Transport was hotly debated, the penultimate policy motion this year.  Patrick Harvie MSP spoke in opposition, concerned about people “flooding public transport” which would undo gradual improvements in the system.

Peter McColl spoke to how transformational free public transport has been for older people and Sarah Beattie-Smith said “public transport should be like the NHS: valued and used by everyone equally” with examples from Switzerland and Estonia.

The motion was narrowly voted down by conference.

The final motion on Space travel (yes), was given to policy committee for further work, and conference concluded by voting through emergency policy supporting Kurdish groups defending themselves against IS and a our submissions process for the Smith Commission on further devolution for Scotland.

Sun 16.18: Ric Lander

Lots of discussion about what we’re going to do to get public transport and railways out beyond the cities in Scotland, and we now have new policy on expanding Scotland’s railways.

Some specific policy on the health impacts of endocrine disruptors was also passed, as was a new policy on saying “shooting for sport is an activity that will not be eligible for support as an agricultural activity under the Common Agricultural Policy.”

Sun 16.05: Ric Lander

Some photos from lunch today.

Speakers from NUS Scotland talking about divestment at a lunchtime Fringe.

Sun 15.45: Ric Lander

The policy document has a hardy section on trade unions, but one errant paragraph was put up for debate.

A motion was proposed by Peter McColl to remove text from our policy document which asks trade unions to “balance” collective rights of workers against responsibilities to “colleagues”, “employers” and “tax payers”.

The motion was passed thus removing this text from our policy, reconciling our policy as clearly pro-union.

Sun 15.33: Ric Lander

Motion on pay ratios now being discussed (debated is maybe too strong a term).  The motion supports a “relative earnings limit applicable to all paid workers within companies and organisations.”  Some discussion about how this would be applied to international organisations and NGOs, and should include non-pay forms of income.

This motion for new policy was passed overwhelmingly.

Sun 10.22: Ric Lander

Underway with a cheery introduction from former MSP Robin Harper.  “This party that I joined 29 years ago is in very good hands, and very many hands!”

Changes to the constitution are currently being debated, centring on how we make our debates democratic with many more folk attending (and not).

Motions being debated later today include:

  • Relative earnings limit.  A motion which would add new policy to require “a relative earnings limit” for workers in Scotland.
  • Support for trade unions.  Clarifies green policy in supporting the “collective and individual rights” of workers.
  • Free public transport.  A motion to create new Green policy that seeks to drive massive cuts in carbon emissions by gradually introducing public transport that is free at the point of use.
Sat 20.10: Ric Lander

Photos of Scottish Green Party Conference Day 1


John Finnie MSP’s speech as our newest party member


Cllr. Maggie Chapman, Co-Convenor of the Scottish Greens, opens conference


A busy fringe session on Saturday lunchtime


Caroline Lucas MP speaking // Idem Lewis, Co-Convenor of Operations


Fabio Villani, Highlands and Islands Greens with Cllr. Maggie Chapman

Sat 19.32: Ric Lander

A motion passed at this evening’s AGM said campaigns committee will reconsider what is achievable for the Westminster 2015 elections in light of our thousands of new members and covering of local groups, such as Falkirk. Read: we can win!

If you didn’t catch it Adam Ramsay write about our current lead candidate for Westminster, Peter McColl, on Bright Green yesterday.

Sat 18.12: Ric Lander

Reports at the AGM show the detail of Greens huge membership surge this last month: networks including the Young Greens and Women’s Network are now bigger than the whole party was in August.

We’ve also heard that the LGBT group is to be refounded and called Rainbow Greens (awesome), as well as new trade union and disabled people’s networks.

As of 6pm the Scottish Greens total membership was now 6,934 – including of course our newest member, John Finnie MSP.

Sat 17.11: Mike Williamson

A brief note on amendments from the floor. Currently they’re not allowed if one person objects, but there is an amendment to the Standing Orders coming to conference tomorrow morning.

I’m a member of Standing Orders Committee (SOC) and I’m very much steeped in the bureaucracy and democratic processes of the party. In many ways the role of SOC is to avoid wasting conference’s time (whilst ensuring the party is run in as democratic a way as possible). We have to recognise that with 400 odd people in a room, and hopefully more in the future, we have to keep everything relevant and meaningful. For this reason we don’t bring motions to conference if they don’t make sense, or if they don’t actually change anything if they pass. High quality motions are a necessary part of democracy.

This is part of the justification for objecting to amendments from the floor – amendments made in the fly from conference floor are often not of very high quality. It’s also true that amendments from the floor can’t be scrutinised by members of the party who aren’t at conference. That’s all true, that’s why amendments from the floor should be as uncontroversial as possible.

However we also need to consider whether we’re wasting conference’s time. When one person objects to an amendment from the floor which everyone else thinks is perfectly reasonable, what typically happens is the motion is then referred back and appears again at the following year’s conference. So rather than just amending the motion and passing it, someone needs to work on the motion again, SOC needs to consider it again, and conference needs to spend time voting on it again, and in the meantime our representatives do without policy which in some cases is sorely needed. I’d urge you to vote for the amendment to standing orders on this issue which is appearing tomorrow morning.

Sat 16.09: Ric Lander

Further policy debates today and we have updated policy on Marine Protected Areas to restrict dredging; to apply the precautionary principal to neonicotinoids; and a proposal for health concerns to be included in planning procedures.

Policy on tenant farmers having the right to buy their land, and improving gender equality in maternity and paternity leave was given to policy committee to develop for 2015 conference.

Sat 15.22: Ric Lander

Right to Cooperative has been debated.  Andy Wightman proposes with a invigorating speech.  “Green politics is about communities taking more control over our economy. Worker coops businesses are some of the most successful organisations in the world. This policy would give workers a route to ownership fitting with our policies on land reform and community power.”

Patrick Harvie proposed an amendment to have a government process to decide which companies should be liable to be bought by workers, which was passed – and the motion was passed, overwhelmingly, as amended.

Sat 13.42: Alys Mumford

Second session fringes include UNISON talking about local government, discussions on assisted suicide, food issues, community power, and post indyref campaigning. I’m in the session by the Electoral Reform Society talking about the possibility of a constitutional convention for Scotland. A really interesting discussion about how participatory processes in different places – British Colombia, Ontario, Iceland and Ireland. It’s clear that there is potential for Scotland to follow suit, but some clear lessons to be learnt. Key issues included budget and resourcing of the convention, how to involve institutions, how to make it manageable but not fall into the same pitfalls of parliament (ie representatives too distant from the population). Also to be considered is the involvement of politicians. If there is no involvement, then the transition from public convention back to parliamentary matters is very tricky, but politician involvement can be seen to remove legitimacy of process. Do we need to accept politicians as a ‘necessary evil’ (direct quote from speaker, sitting next to Alison Johnstone MSP….) in the process?

Given the rapturous applause to Patrick’s speech this morning calling for a constitution, and engagement in the room, this is clearly an issue which could be key for the Greens.

Sat 12.47: Alys Mumford

After the exciting opening session ended with rapturous applause and a standing ovation, we’re now in the first fringe sessions – packed out rooms for most including Andy Wightman on land reform, Robin McAlpine on the future of the Commonweal and Scottish Environment Link and Oxfam talking about moving beyond GDP. I’m in a really interesting session run by GeoGeo on empowering community resilience with open source mapping. An issue I’d never thought about before but really interesting to see the power than open source mapping can have on community ownership and projects. From international development projects mapping HIV drug distribution or landmine removal, to projects in here Scotland there seems to be loads of potential for community action. And he’s just brought out a drone!

Sat 11.55: Alys Mumford

BREAKING NEWS: Patrick Harvie announces SGP’s newest member John Finnie MSP. More info here.

Sat 11.30: Ric Lander

Conference has begun with rapturous applause for speeches by Co-Convenors Maggie Chapman and Patrick Harvie.  Great buzz in this jam packed room.

Maggie told us the referendum was about much more than independence: it was about politics becoming something people do – not politicians.  You can read Maggie’s full speech here.

Patrick is speaking about the green vision for reform in the new Scotland including our input to the Smith Commission, which he and Maggie will sit on.  He outlined key issues including a just tax and welfare system.

Caroline Lucas MP also addressed conference via video, congratulating Scottish Greens for “showing us that people aren’t apathetic” and hope can be kindled!

Sat 11.00: Alys Mumford

Just had our new members session for the opening of conference – amazing energy with more people in the one room than we normally have at the whole conference! People overwhelmingly here because of their involvement in the referendum and excited to continue the momentum of Green Yes! As well as covering the boring stuff (what does Ops mean? Does SOC stand for special operations or standing orders committee?) it was a great chance to talk about what conference has in store – fringes to learn more about issues or feed into green strategy, challenging and inspirational speakers, a chance to meet new folk and have fun! Bring on #SGPconf !

Fri 22.52: Ric Lander

Policy Motion 4 is Tenant Farmer Right to Buy, and we think it’s a great idea.

What’s the motion about?  It supports the right of tenant farmers to buy the land they farm from estate landlords.

Farming on Fair Isle, Shetland.What does will the policy say?  In Section ‘8.1.6 Agriculture’ in the subsection on ‘Specific Areas of Support’ insert a new section after 8.1.6.31 “We will give tenant farmers with more than 10 years of tenancy the right to buy their holdings”.

Why is this important?  The motion pre-amble notes “Giving long term tenant farmers the right to buy the land they manage would promote stewardship of the land and counter the concentration of landed wealth and power in a tiny minority of citizens” and the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association says such a policy would unlock “…the benefits that ownership gives to tenants who freed from the constraints of a tenancy.”

We know that half of Scotland is owned by less than 500 individuals.  Community right to buy can help with this to some extent, but individual farmers need a path to land ownership too.  Supporting this motion shows Greens standing against big landowners who oppose further rights for tenants.

Crucially the intervention is timely with land reform a live political issue in the Scottish Parliament and SNP support growing.  Scottish Government minister Richard Lochhead said last year “…tenant farmers and stakeholders [should have] the opportunity to enter into full and frank dialogue about absolute right to buy.”

Fri 18.49: Ric Lander

We’re watching closely a bunch of motions this weekend and will be posting some detail about those we think are most interesting.

First up, and first on the conference agenda is Right to Cooperate.

What’s the motion about?  Based on Green Party of England and Wales policy, this motion would give workers a “Right to Co-operate”. The policy builds on the party’s approach to land reform and applies a similar principle to company ownership.

What does will the policy say?  We will legislate to grant private sector employees the right to buy the company for which they work, where that company has more than 16 employees, creating a workers’ co-operative. Exercise of this right will be contingent upon demonstrating broad support among the affected workforce. In the case of large companies this right will also be exercisable with respect to a single branch or franchise, or a group thereof. The co-operative will be subject to an asset-lock such that it cannot be disposed of by the owners, except where they derive no benefit from the disposal. We will make provision for accessible capital to fund such buyouts, including through the Scottish Community Development Bank.

Why is this important?  We urgently need to promote ways of working which promote equality and workers’ rights. Scotland has a gross imbalance in business ownership with a very small number of people controlling the majority of our businesses. Amelia Womack, deputy leader of the English and Welsh Greens, made this case well today.

Will it be passed?  The motion was proposed last year but instead of being passed it was given to the party policy committee to rework for 2014. Concern about the impact on small business have been met with changes made after member consultation, so it should be well supported.

Fri 14.36: Ric Lander

Bright Green’s editorial team will be live blogging from this weekend’s Scottish Green Party Conference at Craiglockhart in Edinburgh.

What do you think will be the top story to come out of the conference? And what questions do you want us to put to the MSPs, Councillors and other delegates this weekend?

Join the conversation here, on Twitter, and on our new Facebook page.

Independent MSP John Finnie joins the Greens

Posted on October 11, 2014 by | 1 Comment

John Finnie, the independent MSP for the Highlands and Islands, has joined the Scottish Green Party.

John was welcomed with a standing ovation as he was unveiled to the party’s conference in Edinburgh in the last few minutes as the denouement of Patrick Harvie’s keynote speech.

John has published an open letter to his constituents on his website, saying:

I have worked alongside Patrick Harvie and Alison Johnstone, as well as independent colleagues Jean Urquhart, the much-missed Margo MacDonald, and now John Wilson, as part of the Independent/Green group in the Scottish Parliament.

I have seen the Greens’ co-convenor Maggie Chapman in action when I was supporting her campaign for a seat in the European Parliament earlier this year.

And of course I have campaigned alongside brilliant and committed grassroots Green activists, as well as those of the SNP, SSP, and no party affiliation, in the referendum.

The more I have seen of the Greens, the more I realised I have been a Green all my life – I just didn’t know it yet.

I saw that my values are Green values: social and environmental justice, democracy and integrity, internationalism and peace.

His letter makes clear that he will continue to sit as an independent MSP, voting with the SNP manifesto that he stood on in 2011, but enjoying the freedom to vote with his conscience on issues not covered by that manifesto.

He has also confirmed that he will be putting his name forward to be the Green candidate for the Highlands and Islands, and if he successfully retains his seat, he will become a full Green MSP at the start of the next parliament.

Powers to the People: Maggie Chapman’s Green Party Speech

Posted on October 11, 2014 by | 1 Comment

Good morning conference and welcome.

My name is Maggie Chapman. I’m co-convenor of the party and also a Councillor here in Edinburgh. When we last met, a year ago, in Inverness I had the privilege of giving the speech which closed the conference. And it is a great pleasure to open this conference and welcome you all to Edinburgh.

This Conference marks a huge change in the political context for the Green party. Our numbers have increased. Our profile has increased. We must seize the opportunity for Green politics to make a huge difference to Scotland and the world.

Given the opportunity to talk about what Greens believe, people are excited, engaged and want more. We’ve always been the party that understood that people need a planet to live on. And we are the party that wants a humane social security system. No more benefits sanctions, no more child poverty.

At the Edinburgh Greens meeting 3 weeks ago we had to move venues because we’d outgrown our usual room. We filled the new venue, but we needed the original room too. Over 300 people. Talking about a Green reindustrialisation of Scotland. An end to privatisation. Jobs for all. High quality jobs for all. Citizen’s Income. More powers for communities.

On the same night Glasgow Greens also had an overflowing meeting. All round Scotland Greens are coming together in unprecedented numbers.

Several new members said they’d only just realised that the politics they’d always had was Green politics. During the referendum that they saw Greens were about creating a better future. Where other parties think putting a bike lane on their £2bn bridge is Green politics, we stand for transport for all. Where other parties think a recycling bin in a PFI hospital is Green, we realise that you need to build the right hospital in the right way owned by the public.

And I think that this is something our new members are agreed on – Green policies for all of the problems we face. Not an add-on about the environment, a totally different way of doing things.

I’m looking forward to meeting old friends, new members and the new members who’ve been our friends all along over the next couple of days. We have the opportunity to discuss new ways in which we can make our Green vision real for people. More power for communities, more power for workers, a £10 minimum wage to tackle the low pay crisis.

What we have experienced in the past year has been amazing. The best ever result by the Scottish Greens, in the European election. Sadly just not enough to elect our first MEP. And I must thank all of you who worked so hard to help us do so well in this election.

In the past year we have seen an unprecedented transformation in the quality and quantity of political debate. A real desire to transform Scotland. And I hope, an end to the cynical politics of corporate controlled, visionless neo-liberalism we have suffered from for the past 20 years. Now is the time for radicals. And we are the radical heart of Scottish politics.

So what is to be done?

We have the opportunity to transform the Scottish Parliament. More powers. Over taxation – so we can have a wealth tax. A land value tax. We can redistribute wealth.

We are seeking controls over the full range of powers so we can reindustrialise Scotland. A green reindustrialisation showing we can create an equal society based on renewable energy, good jobs and stronger communities. A Scotland that plays its role in making the world a better place.

But just giving more powers to the Scottish Parliament won’t be enough. We must share those powers with the Scottish people. Our proposals will give not just more powers to Holyrood. They are for more powers for the people.

We have our challenges. A Westminster election next year, where we need to make the case for a better Scotland. I know only too well how difficult it can be to be heard in an election like this. That’s why it’s great that we already have some of our best people lined up as candidates. Whatever happens we must make an impact in this election, and we’re well placed to do that. The reason many of us backed independence is that Westminster controls swathes of our lives. Having a voice in Westminster is more vital now than ever.

We stand a very good chance of winning a very substantial number of seats in Holyrood in 2016. But we don’t exist just to win seats in elections. We must communicate our message. That for too long big business has subverted our democracy. That people and planet must come before profit. That democracy is vital, not just in the form of a vote every 5 years, but in more local democracy, more workplace democracy and more control over every aspect of our lives.

We have a great weekend ahead of us, but what matters is not what happens in this hall, what matters is that we create a better Scotland from communities up. We fight for more powers, we must stand up to corporate bullies, we work to change government and we must build a fairer country, a better world.

And we are about to hear from one woman we has done more than most to build a better world. The difference Caroline Lucas has made to politics through her work in Parliament shows what a difference Green politics can make, given a voice in Westminster.

The next Green MP? Peter McColl

Posted on October 11, 2014 by | No Comments

In 2015, Greens are targeting a number of seats across the UK. With this in mind, I thought I’d do a quick series of profiles of the candidates in these seats. First up, on the eve of the Scottish Green Party Conference, Peter McColl Scottish Green Party candidate in their national target seat, Edinburgh East.

I first met Peter McColl at the Edinburgh University freshers’ fair in 2004. He was a postgrad at the time, running the Young Greens stall. I was a fresher, and a member of the party at home in Perthshire. I offered to help.

It turned out that Peter was a familiar face around the campus – in 2001, he’d been elected Vice President Representation of the Students’ Association, and he’d been involved in running the People & Planet society and the Student Christian Movement group – in pushing the university to divest from the arms trade and become one of Britain’s first Fairtrade institutions.

At the time, alongside his Masters, Peter was working for one of the Green MSPs – Mark Ballard, and I’d often pop into their office in the Parliament to help with something or other. When I did, I was always amazed by both of them – having detailed conversations, from their copious memories, about specific election results in New Zealand in the 1980s and 1990s; discussing the exact details and implications of a vast range of pieces of legislation.

The two men, Mark and Peter, developed a reputation at the time as the brains of the party, and it’s no surprise. On more than one occasion, I’ve met people who’ve told me that they had a conversation with Peter about the detail of their PhD research, and discovered he knew as much about their subject as they did – from medieval theology to Middle Eastern politics; macro-economics to sociology.

In some ways, this sort of knowledge makes him no more than a bog-standard super-wonk – able to digest, process and remember huge amounts of information at phenomenal speed. But this is to misunderstand him entirely. Because, in his younger years, Peter – who grew up in Belfast – was an enthusiastic rugby and cricket player. He saw Oasis before they were famous – in a rammed pub on a Saturday night in Belfast before he was old enough to drink, and has a long running fascination with pictures of oversized mammals.

In 2006, a group of us decided that we wanted to get Mark Ballard, Peter’s boss, elected to be the rector of the university (chair of the board of governors). Boris Johnson and Magnus Linklater threw their hats into the ring too. But Mark won with a descent majority, and appointed Peter his assessor – in effect, deputy.

After Mark lost his seat in 2007, Peter moved to work at the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, where he spent maybe too much time talking politics with the prominent SNP left-wing intellectual, and fellow SCVO employee Stephen Maxwell – who had significant influence on his thinking. Having left Parliament, he had more time to get involved in community politics in Portobello – Edinburgh’s seaside urban village where he lives with his partner.

Activists in the area – including Peter – had been involved in a local campaign to stop a Tesco moving onto a vacant lot, and instead pushed for the first urban community renewable scheme in Scotland. They successfully saw off the supermarket, and founded a community transition group – known as PEDAL (Portobello Energy Descent and Land group). A couple of years later, a waste transfer sight was proposed in the area, much to the anger of the local community. At the official inquiry, the developers employed an expensive legal team headed by a senior solicitor. The local community was represented by Peter in his best suit. The Solicitor went home with his tail between his legs.

Throughout this period, the Transition movement which Peter and his neighbours had been involved with in their area was booming across the UK, and the groups north of the border got together to form “Transition Scotland” – which elected Peter as its chair. He was, at the same time, co-convener of the Edinburgh Green Party. In 2010, we founded Bright Green, of which he is still a co-editor.

In 2012, students at Edinburgh were looking for a rector again, and I got a phone-call from the then president of the Students’ Association to talk about their options. The student union at the time was largely run by activists who had been involved in and radicalised by the tuition fee protests of 2010-11. I started listing some well known people who might be willing to take on the work load. But then he paused and said “well, I have an idea I want to run past you”. “yes?” I asked. “We think that the left at the university is powerful enough at the moment, we can get anyone we want elected.” “ok, so who do you really want? Who do you actually think would be best for the job?” I asked. “Well, we had a conversation, and the best person we can think of is Peter. What do you think”. I heartily concurred.

In the end, no one ran against him – I know of one other potential candidate who thought about it, but decided there was no way they’d win. He was returned unopposed and has been deeply involved in the university ever since – using the role to help set up the UK’s biggest student housing co-operative, and support students campaigning on everything from university funding to fossil fuel divestment. He was the opening speaker at the first Radical Independence Conference, and spoke in numerous debates through to referendum – both face to face, and on TV.

In 2010, Edinburgh East was one of the best seats for the Greens in the UK. But that’s not saying much: the party got just over 5% there in what was, apart from in Brighton, a bad year for Greens. Since then, though, the referendum has happened. Scottish politics has transformed utterly. 47% of people in the seat voted yes, which is a serious problem for Labour MP Sheila Gilmore. Perhaps more significantly, the Scottish Greens have trebled in size since the referendum, and are now around 2/3 of the size as the Greens in England and Wales were when Caroline Lucas was elected in 2010. With Edinburgh East as their national target seat, it would be surprising if the party didn’t make a significant dent.

Likewise, Peter is an excellent candidate for the constituency – he’s Rector of the University, which largely sits at one end of the seat, and a well known activist in Portobello, at the other end of it. These things bring some votes. But perhaps more importantly, they bring significant reach into the city’s now lively activist base. A few weeks ago, a prominent student campaigner at the university – not a Green member – asked me who the candidate was. When I told her, she said that she would ‘campaign every day for months’ for him.

Is it possible? Yes. 400 people showed up to the first Edinburgh Greens monthly meeting after the referendum. They are largely street-hardened activists. If they stay involved, and focus on the prize, that’s a much bigger team than is normally needed to win an MP. Is it likely? No. It’s a hell of a hill to climb.

But. And there is a big but. There has been serious speculation about the SNP standing down in the seat in exchange for the Greens giving them a free run at a few of their key targets. From their perspective, they are never going to win every MP in Scotland. If they can do something to make it more likely that one of the other seats is someone else who supported independence, if they can ensure Scotland sends to Westminster a delegation of MPs which represents the diversity of the Yes campaign, then this will be helpful to the thing they care about most – securing more powers for Holyrood.

If some kind of deal is done, then there will still be a hell of a lot of work to do, but I would say Peter will have, shortly before his 35th birthday a better chance than anyone else in the UK of becoming Britain’s second Green MP.

BREAKING: Radical Independence goes to the SECC

Posted on October 9, 2014 by | No Comments

The iconic Clyde Auditorium, Glasgow. Image: Paulo Araujo.

Yes, actually, for real: the Radical Independence Campaign today confirmed its 2014 conference will take place at the 3,000 seat Clyde Auditorium in the SECC, Glasgow.  The venue was announced announced at 2pm today.

The conference, the third of its kind, takes place on Sat 22nd November 2014.  Tickets have been told for some weeks and are still available, although we expect them to sell out fast.

Breakout sessions will be accommodated in the neighbouring Glasgow Science Centre.  Details of the agenda will be given in the coming weeks.

The event is likely to be by far the biggest post-referendum political conference, exceeding the Scottish Green’s sell-out conference this weekend and likely even the SNP’s conference in Perth next month.

RIC is asking for donations to support the event, tickets for which are £10, or £4 concessions.

Greens, socialists, trade unionists and others helped set up Radical Independence two years ago at a landmark conference in Glasgow city centre in which Bright Green hosted discussions.

RIC’s huge upsurge in support around this year’s vote shows that the “spirit of 2014″ is still burning strong.

An urbanite goes rewilding: my week with Trees for Life

Posted on October 9, 2014 by | 2 Comments

Mammals such as Pine Martens are thriving in reforested areas in the North East of Scotland. Image: Ellis Lawrence.

Last week, I took a break from from the never-ending whirr of modern life and replaced digital tweets with real ones: taking a trip up to Glen Moriston, west of Loch Ness, to participate in a Trees for Life conservation week. With a 250 year time-span, its aim is to restore the ancient Caledonian Forest, re-wilding 1000 square miles and restoring vast tracts of the Scottish Highland’s to its former ecological glory.

I came across this organization by reading George Monbiot on the subject of rewilding. It has fundamentally changed the way I see the Scottish and British countryside. Before, I had assumed that its cragged, rugged barreness was its natural state. Far from it. Left untouched, it would be as rich and ecologically vibrant as anything else around the world. And I say around the world deliberately: Monbiot argues that every continent on earth has had a mega-fauna. When Trafalgar Square was excavated, it was found to contain the bones of everything from lions to hippos.

But there is a fundamental problem in the Scottish Highlands. (And I should point out that I am new to the politics of the countryside: anything I say should be taken with a pinch of salt). Deer numbers are kept artificially high by human-feeding through the winter, for the purposes of deer-hunting throughout the rest of the year. The problem is, deer feed on the seedling trees, meaning that, over time, forests cannot regenerate and grow. To compound the problem, moors are burned – literally burned! – to keep the area clear for hunting. And nor does it help that 50% of Scotland’s land is owned by 432 people, many of whom will receive fat cheques from the EU, on the condition that the land is kept clear of ‘unwanted vegetation’.

Trees for Life do a variety of things to aid the re-generation of the forest – and not just planting trees. One of these is the ring-fencing of what they call ‘exclosures’ to prevent the access of deer, sometimes letting these areas re-generate naturally. A lot of non-native removal is necessary, too. Non-native trees cannot support the insects which have evolved over time to live in native trees, meaning that it cannot support the organisms higher up the eco-system. They also engage in deer-hunting, and (successfully) encourage neighbouring estates to control their numbers.

And already, Trees for Life have achieved a remarkable amount. Since it was set up in 1989, they have planted over 1.2 million trees, re-foresting around 4,000 hectares of land. The creation of exclosures has enabled the natural regeneration of over 150,000 Scots seedlings. Pine-marten numbers are increasing; and wild-boar have been successfully re-introduced: there are now believed to be around 50 boar running wild in Glen Moriston. Parts of of it looks almost exotic and tropical in its lushness.

It was a real eye-opener for me in terms of the wild-life we came across. I saw toads, frogs, buzzards, boar, pine martens, big ants’ nests, tiny ants’ nests, and even – really! – lizards and slow worms. I don’t think I had seen any of those things before. It is beginning to team with life: there are also foxes and badgers. There is a growing movement pushing for the re-introduction of the lynx to the area: a prospect which makes my spine tingle.

I went up for three main reasons. The first was that the forest restoration project is inherently exhilirating. As the project develops it will become a majestic, ecological jewel in this country. The second reason was to re-connect with nature. Humanity-wide, through urbanisation, we are losing our connection with the natural world: something which I think contributes to our collective global shrug in the face of climate crisis (something I am as personally guilty of as anyone else). More than that, I think it contributes to our contemporary feelings of angst and alienation. I flinch slightly to say this, but it almost felt… good for the soul.

The third was that – through rewilding – I see an opportunity for humanity to redeem itself after centuries of hideous persecution of the planet. And boy do we need redeeming. From the destruction of the Amazon rainforest to the destruction of the Arctic; from the smog-filled cities of China to the forest-fires of Australia; from the Tarsands of Canada to the Gulf of Mexico; from the Niger Delta to the acidification of the oceans.

The planet has taken a hammering, and Trees for Life is a chance to experience the joyous process of repairing it.

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