News: ‘Comrades of the Glen’ seek £6m to buy castle for asylum seekers

Posted on October 30, 2014 by | 3 Comments


On Tuesday Aberdeen Shared Planet launched a crowfunding bid for £6 million on the website Image: Aberdeen Shared Planet.

  • Student group at the University of Aberdeen launches crowdfunding initiative to buy a 6 million pound castle in Perthshire.
  • Students intend to turn the castle into a safe space for destitute asylum seekers.
  • The self­proclaimed “Comrades of the Glen” want to use the funding appeal to highlight the poor support and lack of rights currently available to asylum seekers in the UK.

A group of students from the University of Aberdeen have launched a crowfunding bid to raise the funds to purchase a 6 million pound castle in Perthsire. In its funding appeal, the group proposes to turn the luxury estate into a co­operative that provides a safe space and quality housing for asylum seekers.

Rannoch School on the Dall Estate in Perthshire.

Rannoch School on the Dall Estate in Perthshire. Image: Wikipedia

The students, who are members of the University’s “Shared Planet Society”, want to use the funding appeal highlight the destitution and insecurity faced by asylum seekers and refugees in Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Current Westminster Government policy bans asylum seekers from working while they await decision on their application, forcing them to rely on state support of as little as £5 a day. With no additional support from local government or access to decent housing, many are driven to live in poverty. 52% of applicants to the Refugee Survival Trust were in destitution due to administrative errors and procedural delays, and almost a third of applicants were homeless (see below for more information).

To realise their plan, the students need to raise the required funds from single donations over the next 59 days. The group are calling on individuals and communities around the country to support their initiative.

Eva Nohe, Co­President of the Shared Planet Society, says:

“We’re appalled that asylum seekers have to face destitution and poverty in one of the richest countries in the world. It’s shocking that in the UK some people can afford to live in a castles, while others end up sleeping in the streets.”

“Our proposal would turn the castle into quality, humane housing and community space for asylum seekers. A big estate like this should be used for the common good, not for some rich old man’s summer holidays.”

“With this appeal, we want to spark discussion about the lack of human rights and decent support for asylum seekers in the UK. We hope that our unconventional bid will inspire others to act in solidarity with asylum seekers and to dream big.”

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­For more information on asylum in the UK visit:

For information about the project contact Eva Nohe, Co­President of Shared Planet Society,, 07856160467.


Time for Plaid and the Greens to collaborate

Posted on October 29, 2014 by | 2 Comments

220px-Leanne_Wood_SeneddI watched Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood’s speech to her party conference this weekend on my laptop. My housemate – an economist and environmental activist – was next door, and heard the whole thing. He came in as she got her standing ovation, and asked the obvious question: “was that the leader of the Welsh Green Party?”

He’s Swiss, but studied in the UK, so his knowledge of British politics is good, but not perfect. “No, Plaid Cymru”. I explained. “Sort of like the SNP, but Welsh”.

It’s no wonder he was confused. Wood talked passionately about fighting inequality and defending a publicly owned NHS. She made the case for a democratic economy and standing up to immigrant bashers. She outlined in clear terms that austerity has failed, and the need to invest, not cut. She made the case against money being squandered on a motorway. She spoke out against war in the Middle East, and she talked about how the biggest challenge facing humanity is climate change. If the speech had been given to the Welsh Greens, it would have got thunderous applause from them too. In her post-speech press release, she even name-checked the Greens as likely to – along with Plaid and the SNP – hold the balance of power after the election.

Perhaps the only difference of emphasis from what you’d find in at a Welsh Greens conference was the quantity of chat about “standing up for Wales”. But Wales is the poorest country in Northern Europe. I don’t see how anyone could complain about them asserting their rights within the UK.

None of this should be surprising. Plaid Cymru’s MEP has sat with the Greens in the European Parliament for years. Since 2010, Caroline Lucas has sat with their MPs, and you’ll struggle to find an issue where they have voted in different ways. Sure, the emphasis isn’t always the same, but the analysis is remarkably similar: both are parties of the left (a rare beast in Westminster these days), but both instinctively believe in decentralising power rather than pulling it all into the middle.

There is some history of collaboration between Plaid and the Greens, with a pact in 1992 contributing to the election of one joint Plaid/Green MP. But since then, the two parties have gone their separate ways, and the Welsh Greens have on the whole been small enough that they haven’t really got in Plaid’s way much.

Perhaps now, though, it’s time to think a little more about the relationship between the two parties. Both have seen their membership grow in recent months – the Welsh Greens by a staggering 76% this year alone. Plaid already have three MPs, and look like they might well take another two in May. And as both parties expand, they’ll likely find themselves bumping against each other much more often. And as they do, they’re going to have to decide whether they want to spend their time squabbling with each other over the same pool of voters, or taking the fight to the neoliberal Westminster establishment.

In the short term there are some clear advantages to both parties of such a relationship. I think there are five seats that Plaid have a good chance of winning in May: the three they currently hold, plus Ceredigion and Ynys Môn. In both of the latter, they came first in the Euro elections, have most councillors in the seats, and have had MPs in them in the relatively recent past.

It’s up to the local parties in those areas to decide what they want to do, but if Plaid and Greens there could come to some sort of arrangement where Greens would support the Plaid candidate, then I think that would be a good thing. Likewise, in places where Greens aren’t standing – and there will inevitably be some, then we may as well back the Plaid candidate. In exchange, I think Greens should expect something: perhaps a free run at Cardiff West? And maybe then in council elections in a couple of target wards in that area of the city?

But the real point here isn’t short term electoral gain. The point is about the radical transformation we must have if we are going to come close to solving the problems we face. The need to rip power from the hands of those who are using it to enrich their friends and fry the planet is more urgent than ever.

And in that changing context, politics is becoming more pluralist than ever before. For a range of reasons – from the nature of modern work-places and communities to changes in communications technology, mass parties have broken up on both the right and the left. Progressives and radicals can either fight against this trend, and forever assert that their party alone has a monopoly on wisdom. Or we can follow the flow, collaborate, and open up opportunities to win real changes.

Getting back to specifics, there are questions about the long game in Wales, so let me lay my cards on the table – if nothing else so people can tell me why I’m wrong: I’d like to end up in a position where, rather like a progressive version of the Australian Liberal/National Alliance, Welsh Greens and Plaid Cymru remain formally separate parties, but never run against each other, and allow dual membership and, where a dual member was selected as a candidate by both parties, joint ballot descriptions.

In the case of the Greens, collaboration is nothing new: repeated London Mayoral candidates have called on voters to give their second preference vote to Ken Livingstone. Caroline Lucas backed Salma Yaqoob in 2010 and, in return, Respect didn’t run in Brighton Pavilion. Greens in Germany formed an electoral alliance with the East German pro-democracy movement Bundis 90. Most of us are accustomed to organising in social movements with people from other parties and none.

And in the case of Plaid, there is certainly a willingness to talk about such things – when I interviewed Leanne Wood earlier this year, she said “I see a lot of sense in collaborating closely with the Green Party”. Monday’s Morning Star has a story about them discussing just such a deal. As mentioned above, when Leanne Wood talked about potentially holding the balance of power in 2015, she explicitly made clear that she imagined doing so with the SNP and Greens.

Of course, in any given potential collaboration, context is king. Local Greens and Plaid members will know their local situations better than I do. But, from where I’m sitting, I see an almighty task ahead of us if we are to displace the neoliberal parties which dominate British politics. If modern pluralistic, progressive movements are to succeed in that task, a little co-operation wouldn’t go amiss.

Young Greens elect new team via groundbreaking national online ballot

Posted on October 28, 2014 by | No Comments


Young Greens Co-chairs Siobhan MacMahon and Clifford Fleming will be joined by a new committee 2013-14. Image: YGEW

The Young Greens, the youth branch of the Green Party of England and Wales, have elected a new National Executive Committee following their first ever national online ballot of all members.

In what is potentially a first for a major youth party branch, the Young Greens sent electronic ballots via email to over 4,000 members last month, with the results in over the weekend at their convention in Brighton – their largest annual gathering with over 150 registrations from activists across the country.

While turnout was just under 6% (239 voted), it far outstripped previous in-person turnouts, and sets a precedent for other youth parties to follow. It marked an exciting experiment in e-democracy and something to build on in the future. If the Young Greens can do it, why can’t other parties?

Incumbent co-chairs Siobhan MacMahon and Clifford Fleming were re-elected uncontested after a successful year for the youth section, with membership doubling since March alone.

Clifford Fleming, newly-elected co-chair said: “The Young Greens are leading the way as the most democratic youth branch, pioneering this exciting experiment in online democracy in what is potentially the first of its kind among youth branches. We hope we can set an example for other parties in showing that not only is this the right thing to do but it is also easy, efficient and effective.

“Though there are improvements which could be made, this is an encouraging first attempt which we will build on in future, expanding the engagement of our over-4000 members and building our party from the bottom-up.

“Grassroots democracy isn’t just a slogan – it’s a reality in the Green Party, and we hope to go from strength to strength with our new committee this year, after doubling in size since March alone. The future’s bright for the Young Greens – and we encourage all those who value social justice and the environment to get involved with a truly participatory party.”

The results

There were nine candidates for six non-portfolio positions. The full first preference results for the NEC are as follows (first preference votes in brackets):

Thom French (45 votes, incumbent), Georgia Elander (45), Thomas Pashby (30), Shihab Basit (29), Fiona Costello (26, incumbent), Sofiya Ahmed (18), Sophie van der Ham (18, incumbent following co-option), Farhan Chatta (13), Elaha Walizadeh (5).

After eight rounds of the STV election system doing its stuff, those elected were Shihab Basit, Thomas Pashby, Fiona Costello, Sophie van der Ham, Thom French, and Georgia Elander. Thomas Bolitho was elected as Treasurer uncontested, while Charlene Concepcion, Matthew Clark, and Joseph Clough were elected to the Structures and Procedures Committee.

Congratulations to those who won and commiserations to the unsuccessful candidates. Best of luck to the new committee from the team at Bright Green.

Crisis in the Scottish media: finding the phoenix

Posted on October 27, 2014 by | 3 Comments


The exception that proves the rule: following its lone support for independence the Sunday Herald is the only Scottish paper not in terminal decline. Image: Ric Lander.

The Scottish media is in crisis.

Except for the Sunday Herald (exceptional for other reasons too) every national newspaper has seen dramatic falls in circulation in recent years. They have become machines for reprinting corporate and political press releases, stripped of journalistic resource and critical analysis.

BBC Scotland has been under relentless attack, quietly from unionists, and very publicly from Yes campaigners this year, and it’s not going away. Hundreds on Twitter have pledged to cancel their licences over perceived bias and misreporting.

This is to say nothing of the scandals that have rocked the media UK-wide and the embarrassment of the Levenson enquiry.

The credibility of the mainstream of Scottish media has rarely been so low. They are trusted by perhaps fewer people than every before.

The last year has of course been one of success for alternative media sources, including pro-Yes blogs such as Bella Caledonia and National Collective.

Much is also said of the role of social media. A new world of citizen journalism where Twitter lets everyone report what they’ve just seen or just thought, which everyone can read, anytime anywhere. In this world the morning news in print is already long out of date. If a a week used to be a long time in politics, a day often now seems like an age.

What does this new world pay to meaning, investigation, professionalism or verification? Not much. Barely anything is kept and recorded. The ephemeral is all, substance and reputation are cast aside. And the money and resource to fund our media keeps falling.

Must we choose between a dying bloated dinosaur and a swarm of flies?

Of course we mustn’t. In fact it is an imperative that in this hour, right now, we get to work on building a media that is fitting of a democratic country.

Robin McAlpin (Common Weal), Dom Hinde (Post Mag), and Sarah Beattie-Smith (Bright Green) discussed these problems and offered their ideas for the future at the 18th Independence and Radical Bookfare in Edinburgh on Saturday.


The Edinburgh Radical Bookfare on Saturday with Sarah Beattie-Smith, Robin McAlpine, Dom Hinde. Image: Alys Mumford.

They charted the dire state of our print media, with rumours of 50% job cuts coming at the Scotsman following years and years of decline for the paper, mirrored by the Herald’s similar decline.

We heard of the sad loss of organised radical media such as IndyMedia and Schnews.

We heard of the frustration of the public in the referendum debate, unable to find a source of information that gave them the honest news they needed (Sarah told us about a taxi driver who said he watched three news programmes every day but still didn’t feel he had enough information to vote for independence).

We heard of the rise of new blogs in distributing comment and opinion, and equally their inability to provide news and investigation, something only professionals can do sustainably, and is sorely needed – Robin McAlpine said there were now around 1.5 full-time investigative journalists in Scotland.

We also heard that there is no media business model out there which is working in the 21st century.

Where do we go from here?

These are exciting, fractious and tectonic times.  Something must rise from the ashes.  But what?

A number of organisational structures were proposed. Dom Hinde was interested in creating a new media group in Scotland as a not-for-profit trust, similar to the Guardian in England.

Robin McAlpine appears to be thinking along the same lines, but his primary concern was to focus on news. He announced that the Common Weal is creating a new media platform called “Common Space”. The core of the project will be the employment of 4 full-time staff who will write and research “the news stories which are currently being ignored”: on radical, non-party, politics, economic and social policy, poverty, alienation, and new forms of organising.

Bella Caledonia (whose Director Mike Small was speaking later at the festival) have announced a new role in media training.   Common Weal and Bella Caledonia have also announced many other, sometimes overlapping, proposals and plans (click the links to read them).

The Scottish Green Party is currently gathering ideas for a new cultural policy which surely must consider the role of the media.

It could include big ideas like devolving the BBC, setting up a government voucher scheme for media, and finding public money to fund journalists, rather than newspapers, also discussed by the panel.

Sarah Beattie-Smith reminded us of the gains to be made by working within existing mainstream – in the last two weeks BBC Radio Scotland and TV’s Scotland 2014 have had seven Radical Independence and Green Party spokespeople on different days.

And what of the tradition of the objective journalist? Robin was unequivocal: “objectivity is dead. No honest journalist can pretend they’re neutral. Instead we need to be honest about where we’re coming from.”

Where does this leave Bright Green?

In the next few weeks we’ll be unveiling our bright new editorial team, a new design and designers, a new manifesto document, and much more and varied content – including news straight from the social movements we are a part of.

It’s just a small part of making a better media. What do you think?

It’s time for London to get votes that matter

Posted on October 26, 2014 by | No Comments


The 2010 Purple Protests demanded electoral reform. Image: Ric Lander.

In this year’s local elections, once again, voters got the councillors they didn’t elect. I’m being flippant, of course some of them were people that they’d voted for – but the UK’s creaking electoral system disenfranchised millions of voters.

If you’re reading this, you’re probably familiar with the UK electoral system – known as ‘First Past the Post’. The idea being that you have a choice of people and the one or ones who get the most votes wins. However, that breaks down when you stop thinking about the individual and start thinking of the political party that is being elected into office.

For example, in Hackney the Green Party won 20% of the vote (coming second) but 0% of seats. This was repeated in Manchester, Islington, Lambeth, Lewisham, and Southwark. Significant votes cast by people resulted in no Green candidate being elected. In rural areas, the situation is true for Labour where they will often get 5 – 10% of the vote but no seats on local councils.

It’s also healthy for political parties to face political competition. I was recently at a Radical Housing Network conference on London’s housing crisis and how some Labour councils had embarked on unpopular redevelopments of social housing, whilst others had followed a different path. One of the speakers said, aside from very local factors, the big factor was that councils which had ‘always been Labour’ were more likely to pursue unpopular housing policies. There was no competing political force to stop them.

The ability for Labour and Greens to provide effective opposition to perennial Conservative Councils could also provide a progressive alternative to UKIP. One of UKIP’s key messages is that power has been taken away from local people by elites in Europe – showing people that their local votes make a difference could help to undermine that narrative and breath life into local democracy.

But won’t this new electoral system be confusing? Well, Northern Ireland introduced proportional representation in local elections since the 1970 to tackle election-fixing. Scotland has had proportional representation since 2007 in local elections and since 1999 in the Scottish Parliament elections. As has London, where the Assembly elections are done through proportional representation.

Hackney, Islington, Haringey, Camden, Southwark, and Lambeth actually all voted in favour of changing the UK parliamentary electoral system to AV in 2011. So there’s a clear local desire for electoral reform, as well as a political case to reform our aged electoral system. Isn’t it time we got rid of this relic of a system and stepped into the 21st Century?

Support Hackney Green Party’s petition for fair local elections by signing the petition:

Equality, Diversity and the Green Party

Posted on October 23, 2014 by | No Comments

“Why do we often suggest our voices are loud enough to be heard without microphones?” Image: Leo Reynolds.

It was personal experience of the benefits system – during a four year period of ill-health – that got me involved in politics. The massive assaults on the welfare system from both Labour and the Coalition over the past decade made me realise how directly relevant the political system was to my life. The only party I could find with a decent disability policy was the Green Party (of England and Wales) – and so I signed myself up. Since becoming an active member, I have been fairly impressed with the Greens’ commitment to equality. They’re certainly not perfect, but they are generally moving in the right direction – and policies are often being added to or updated. Among many members there is a willingness to listen and often to actively try to improve. So that’s the good stuff.

But there is a long, long way to go. The lack of representation of people from Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) communities and of women are just two issues that urgently need to be addressed. The general feel of the party as a majority white, middle class, educationally privileged space (just like most of mainstream politics) is also a big problem. The main issue that I want to focus on for this post, though, is the amount of disablism (discrimination against disabled people) still evident in the party.

Why do we arrange public events in rooms only accessible by steps? Why do we still use conference venues where access is technical rather than fully inclusive? Why do we often suggest our voices are loud enough to be heard without microphones, forgetting about hearing loops? Why do we make cheap jokes about opposition parties by questioning their mental health or intellectual ability? Why do we not challenge hostile attitudes to people with mental health issues or neurodiverse conditions? Why do we still produce over-academic policies without plain English or easy read alternatives? Why do we produce our information primarily in written form? Why do we not work harder to make sure what we say and how we act is inclusive?

I’ve witnessed all these things since I got active in the Greens two years ago. It’s even more worrying given that there is a significant section on disability equality issues already in the Green Party policy documents. Current Green Party disability policy states that “disabled people should be guaranteed the full enjoyment of rights and freedoms without discrimination” and “disabled people have a right to services and supports that enable them to participate as full members of our democratic society” (DY401 and DY406 , if anyone wants to look it up). Leaving aside the awkward ‘them and us’ feel of the last quote, these are strong statements of inclusion. This highlights that we can’t assume good policy will automatically lead to good practice – the Greens need to look beyond policy to achieve our aims.

You might want to argue that money is a problem for some of the access issues we come across. It’s true that access isn’t always cheap, but I don’t think that’s a valid excuse. If we want people from more diverse backgrounds to engage with the party, we need to be holding the door open ready, not waiting for someone to knock before we go hunting for the keys. It shouldn’t be acceptable for a party that has such strong policy on inclusion to hold events that automatically exclude people. Access considerations can become very complex, it’s true – but even at local party level, a minimum level of accessibility (step-free access, amplified sound, a working accessible toilet) should be seen as standard, not an afterthought. And we should be publishing information about the accessibility of our events every time and be upfront about making sure people can ask if they have additional needs also. Conference in particular should be a beacon of accessibility and inclusion. Segregated entrances should be history – having to enter through a back door is not exactly welcoming! At minimum, accessible routes should be signposted as clearly as those which involve steps or other inaccessible features. Asking a person on the front desk about accessibility should be met with clear information, not confusion and dismissal. Staff and volunteers should be aware that not everyone’s access needs are immediately visible.

I’m very aware that these points only touch the edges of a huge range of accessibility issues, but I hope it gives at least a basic idea of the things we need to be thinking about in terms of physical access. Things like the language we use and our behaviour are perhaps even more important to focus on – and thankfully money is not an issue here! This is about our attitudes, our words and the way we treat each other. Sometimes this is hard because certain terms are almost inbuilt into our society and vocabulary, or we personally don’t find a word offensive and find it difficult to see why someone else might. But if we are to treat each other without discrimination and as full members of society, then we need to aim for the highest standards.

For me, the issue here is care – caring for and being careful of each other, and ourselves. Careful in respect to the way we say things, caring for others in that if they find something offensive, we respect that even if it doesn’t personally offend us. The same applies to how we behave. Personally I’d like to see conversations about how the Green Party can be more inclusive always consider disability alongside gender, class or race. For me a key starting point is raising awareness and providing information. A lot of the time the issue is that we just don’t know, or just haven’t thought about it. Again, this isn’t an excuse – but it should be an easy thing to fix. What are your ideas?

What to do with all these new members? On Brighton strategies and national strategies

Posted on October 22, 2014 by | No Comments

Brighton Greens on the sea-front at an anti-EDL protest this Spring. Image: Tim Buss.

Here’s a stat for you: membership of the Green parties in the UK has trebled since the last general election. The total number of signed up Greens has gone from around 10,000 to around 30,000. An astonishing proportion of that growth has come in the last few weeks. The surge in the number of Scottish Greens has been widely commented on. But it’s not just Scotland. In England and Wales, membership has soared in a remarkably short time, culminating in 10% growth in the last fortnight.

At the TUC demo on Saturday, I met up with various Greens from across the country, and all of them had only one thing to talk about. “Our local party’s got hundreds of new members” one man said “I’m the membership secretary – I’m not sure what to do with them all!”. The national party will be asking itself similar questions – because, the thing about an opportunity is that it brings with it expectation. And that’s terrifying – in the best possible way.

For some in the party, the answer is obvious: get everyone to go to Brighton. The most important thing in 2015 is that Caroline Lucas keeps her seat. And that’s certainly not a foregone conclusion. The more feet on the ground in Pavilion, the higher her chances. This is certainly true. But I think that, as a strategy on its own, even on its own terms – number of doors knocked on in Brighton – it will fail utterly to deliver.

Let me explain why. I used to work for student activist network People & Planet. The organisation has societies at universities and colleges across the UK, and for three years, it was my job to train the activists, set up new groups, and organise our events. Perhaps the most stressful part of it each year was trying to get hundreds of them to come to our annual conference.

In a sense, a student society experiences every year what the Green Party is experiencing now: about a third of its members are brand new. Of course, the Greens have the advantage that they haven’t also just lost a third of their members, but otherwise, the situation is remarkably similar. And the analogy perhaps continues – a local group of Green activists heading to Brighton together is in many ways like a People & Planet group going with its new members to an exciting national event in an often faraway city.

And here’s the important thing about this. Every autumn, we would spend a lot of time trying to get society chairs to bring a group of students to the conference. Sometimes, they would decide to try and just focus on getting all of their members to come. Other times, a group would focus on its own campaign at its own campus, but as a secondary thing – prominent, but not the main activity – would get everyone to buy tickets for the event. And, paradoxically, it was almost always the latter, rather than the former, who would end up bringing more people.

There’s a simple reason for this. If you’ve just joined an organisation, you don’t yet know the people in it, and you don’t know what is involved in being a member. If you are immediately given a chance to come to an event near you for an hour or two, and you make friends with the people there, if you then get involved with something really exciting in your area, then you will begin to feel comfortable with the group, and want to take on bigger things.

If, on the other hand, your local party doesn’t have very much exciting stuff going on, but then you get an email from a faceless figure at the national office encouraging you to travel for hours to some city faraway with people you don’t know, almost no one will do it.

Importantly, the analogy works the other way around too. When you have new members, it’s vital, once everyone has got to know each other a bit, to find an exciting thing you can all do together. At a local level, team building is a key part of movement building. This was why, at People & Planet, we organised Shared Planet in the first place – to give groups a huge boost. And, for a recently signed up Green, once they’ve made some new friends in their local party, as Lydia Bennett well knew, what could be more exciting than going to Brighton together? Campaigning for Caroline offers the chance to turn a local party from a slightly awkward group of people who have recently met to a well honed team of friends and experienced canvassers – what could be better?

Five years ago, Greens from all over the country went to the seaside to campaign for Caroline, and they got her elected. It’s vital that we do the same again. But it’s also crucial that we don’t miss the fact that the context has changed entirely. In 2009, most members of the party had been around for a while and most of the easily accessible activists knew people in their local parties and were happy hopping on a train together – or even on their own – for the weekend.

Now, if the party plays its cards right, it has a much bigger pool of activists. But it can’t just repeatedly send them emails encouraging them to jump in at the deep end at Brighton Peer. It needs to build a staircase for its activists, or they’ll largely disengage. And the obvious way to do that is to spend some time campaigning in other constituencies across the country.

There is another reason it’s vial that the party doesn’t fall into the trap of having a Brighton strategy rather than a national strategy: voters in Pavilion aren’t immune from the national media. Journalists simply aren’t going to write stories about a party which looks like its on the back foot, defending its single MP. They are, however, going to hit the keys if they feel there is a chance of Greens getting another breakthrough, and becoming one of the major stories of the election. It’s a cliché to say that the best form of offence is attack, but it’s also true.

Caroline Lucas could well lose her seat in May. The national Labour party, terrified of the good example she shows, are throwing everything at her. The local Labour council group have teamed up with the Tories to impose cuts on the minority Green administration, forcing them into impossible positions. Greens all across the country have to rally round and do everything we can to secure our one MP. But to do that means we need the biggest, most active national party we have ever had, and that requires a national party strategy – including exciting things to entice new members out of their armchairs and into activism in every corner of the country.

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.

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