Holding Scottish Government And Big Business To Account

Friday, June 26th, 2015

Two numbers stood out for me this month – 9.7 million and 129 million. They demonstrate why our politics needs the bold, progressive voice that the Scottish Greens offer.

9.7 million tonnes is the total amount of greenhouse gases that Scotland has emitted in excess of the legally-binding climate change targets our parliament set in 2009. The Scottish Government has failed to meet these target for the fourth year in a row. Meanwhile the UK Government is cutting subsidies for onshore wind and privatising the Green Investment Bank.

Ernst & Young’s Renewable Attractiveness Index has the UK falling to 8th place for the first time in 12 years, with ‘mixed messages’ from UK policy-makers cited as making the UK an increasingly unattractive place to invest.

We desperately need ambitious and bold government policies – at both UK and Scottish levels – which allow us to do what the science requires: leave the vast majority of existing reserves of oil, coal and gas in the ground, while ensuring that our methods of energy production and use do not contribute to financial hardship.

We know that when it comes to fuel poverty, a serious programme to insulate homes can create well-paid, secure employment, bring down exorbitant fuel bills and reduce the amount of energy produced in the first place. Last November I secured agreement from Finance Secretary John Swinney that energy-efficient homes should be a national infrastructure priority, leading to an extra £20million in the budget and I will continue to push for more.

£129 million is the annual pre-tax profit made by the Grangemouth oil and gas refinery, owned by Swiss-based multinational Ineos. Involved in an industrial dispute in October 2013, in the end it reversed its plans to close the site which threatened the loss of 800 jobs. Workers either took redundancy or a three-year pay freeze. They paid the price yet Ineos now tops the table of the UK’s 100 private companies with the biggest sales.

At the height of the Grangemouth dispute, the Scottish Greens were calling for an end to Ineos’ bullying tactics, and highlighted the broad support that exists in the trade union movement for a just transition for workers from old industries to a new low-carbon economy in which the workplace helps decide the way forward. The STUC, who represent over six hundred thousand union members in Scotland, continue to advocate such a transition towards a new economic model that protects workers, communities and the environment.

Empowerment of workers is a core value for Scottish Greens. We want to see anti-trade union laws rolled back, employee participation on company boards, the right for employees to buy out their company, and for an end to zero hours contracts.

Ineos now owns the fracking licenses for a huge swathe of the central belt. It is very telling that they describe the current onshore drilling moratorium as a “breather”. We need to turn that moratorium into a permanent ban, and pursue clean power and energy efficiency.

We need to continue holding the Scottish Government and polluting companies such as Ineos to account for the sake of our climate and our communities.

Immigration is good for Scotland - so bring back the post-study visa

Monday, June 22nd, 2015

Scotland has some of the best universities in the world, and would benefit from international graduates of those universities staying in Scotland and contributing their new skills to our economy.

That seems an uncontroversial statement, and indeed has just been endorsed by 100 leaders from academia and business, but we face a battle to get the UK immigration system to acknowledge it.

Until 2012, we had a ‘Post-Study Work Visa’ that allowed students to live and work in Scotland for two years after graduation. It began in Scotland as ‘Fresh Talent’ in 2005, before becoming a UK-wide scheme as part of the new immigration system in 2008.

But the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition abolished post-study work visas altogether in 2012, as part of their UKIP-appeasing campaign against migrants.

The door to positive change was opened a crack by the Smith Commission, in which all five parties agreed that the Scottish and UK governments should begin discussions on a new post-study work visa for Scotland.

Now the Europe and International Development Minister, Humza Yousaf MSP, has convened a cross-party working group to examine how we can bring this about. I’ve been appointed by the Scottish Greens to represent our party on this new group.

I’m very proud that Greens on both sides of the border have refused to go along with the anti-immigrant rhetoric indulged by the old Westminster parties. When Labour released their infamous “Controls on Immigration” coffee mug, we countered with one that reads “Love immigration – vote Green”.

Greens recognise that people are an asset. We know that migrants make huge contributions to Scotland’s economic, social and cultural life. We’re not fooled by the right-wing parties that seek to blame immigration for the damaging effects of their own policies on everything from housing to low pay.

Nowhere is that more clear than in Scotland’s higher education sector. Our wee country boasts five of the world’s top 200 universities, attracting students from all over the world – our own Co-Convenor, Maggie Chapman, was one of them when she came to Scotland from Zimbabwe to study.

International students make Scotland’s universities the world centres of education that they are, but as soon as they graduate they are forced out of the country. They take their years of top-class education, their skills, and their international experience with them when they go.

The University of California system has invested almost incalculable sums of public money in educating students from across the US. With no California version of the Home Office to throw them out, many of those students stayed in California upon graduation. The results include Silicon Valley.

If we want our brilliant international graduates to help us build our own Silicon Glen, or solve the engineering challenges of clean energy, or create the best health service in the world, then we have to stop letting a paranoid immigration system throw that talent away.

This is just one of many, many ways in which the anti-immigrant obsession of Westminster politics harms both Scotland and the people who would like to make their homes here. But with cross-party effort, it might very well be one we can change.

Strong employee rights are vital

Friday, June 12th, 2015

Workers’ rights are human rights. Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says:

“Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”

That article goes on to cover equal pay for equal work, the right to just remuneration and social protection “worthy of human dignity” and the right to join trade unions. Those rights are also embedded in the European charter of fundamental rights and, in part, in the UK Human Rights Act 1998.

Strong employee rights are vital, but they face a barrage of attacks from the UK Government. We have heard about the Conservative plan for a 40 per cent threshold for strike ballots in health, transport, fire services and schools. The UK Tory Government, with 37 per cent of the vote, did not quite make the grade, but it still proposes abolition of the Human Rights Act 1998.

Employee rights are also under attack from the UK Government’s support of the transatlantic trade and investment partnership—the so-called free trade agreement that is really a corporate power grab that endangers workers’ rights. TTIP proposals will give corporations influence over laws and regulatory convergence risks lowering health and safety protections. That is an affront to democracy, and TTIP should be scrapped.

Governments have to be free to make changes that will improve the lives of their citizens. Raising the minimum wage to the living wage is exactly the sort of policy that the Greens will continue to fight for. In the general election campaign, we argued that, by 2020, the minimum wage should be £10 to ensure that nobody in work is faced with poverty. We also support the introduction of wage ratios.

The rise of zero-hours contracts is another example of where workers’ rights are being eroded. They will work for a few people, but most exploit people who desperately need work. I support calls from the STUC for full employment protections for all workers, regardless of their employment status.

The Scottish Green Party supported the devolution of employment law during the Smith process and was disappointed that progress was not made. That support was not motivated just by the desire to see workers protected; it also makes sense. In its submission to the Smith commission, the STUC said:

“it is easier to imagine coherent policies on economic development, tackling inequality through public service provision, welfare and active labour market intervention if the Scottish Parliament is empowered to tackle discrimination, poor employment practice, insecure employment, low minimum wages and to create healthier workplaces and promote collective bargaining.”

Employment protections are fully devolved to Northern Ireland, so it can be done while maintaining a single labour market. Employment services and fair access to employment tribunals are referred to in the Government motion. Devolution there is warmly welcome.

Since the introduction of tribunal fees, there has been an 81 per cent drop in applications to the employment tribunal. That is a serious access-to-justice issue for workers. Citizens Advice Scotland found that “fees negatively alter the power balance between workers and employers” and that the decision whether to take a claim to the tribunal is no longer based on merit but is based on personal finances—can the person afford justice or not? Often, those who most need to challenge employment practices are being priced out of doing so.

I support the Law Society’s view that any limitations to tribunal devolution should be restricted to those that are objectively necessary.

The Scottish Parliament information centre has produced a comparison of the Smith agreement and the Scotland Bill. It has marked the devolution proposals on employment programmes in red because they did not address any of the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee’s concerns. That has to change and I hope that it will.

I support calls for a weekend allowance for all staff in National Museums Scotland and I look forward to the establishment of a much-needed Scottish hazards centre that will actively campaign for safer and healthier workplaces and more effective enforcement by the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities.

As for concern about the varying practices by trade unions in different parts of these islands, if the one approach that we have is regressive and truly woeful, I support having two different approaches.

Tories speak of “socialist failure”. Yet, watching the news I saw a dinner of bankers who were described as “the elite”. Is it not the case that, if the losses that they incurred had not been socialised, failure might have been truly catastrophic?

We must do all we can to enhance, protect and promote employees’ rights.

Scotland Bill is not more power "delivered"

Monday, June 8th, 2015

THEY say if you like laws and sausages, you should never watch either one being made.

Well, hold on to your breakfast. This week, we’ll see attempts to burst open the Scotland Bill so it can be fattened with amendments.

Anyone who thinks the hastily cobbled-together Smith Commission statement from seven months ago remains a “durable settlement” is dreaming.

I took part in the Smith negotiations and we got agreement on some of my party’s key priorities, including devolution of fracking licences, fuel poverty measures and the power to bring ScotRail back into public ownership.

The commission were rushed, party-political and held behind closed doors.

We should be opening the debate up to get a deal that reflects the real needs of Scotland’s communities.

Take welfare. The Scotland Bill gives Holyrood the ability to top up certain benefits. But we’d still be at the mercy of a UK Tory Government determined to slash a further £12billion from welfare. This means Holyrood would still be mopping up someone else’s mess.

As well as arguing for a Scotland Bill that goes further on welfare, we must build broad opposition to the stigmatisation of benefits.

On jobs, the devolution of employment law, the minimum wage and workers’ rights was taken off the table during Smith at the insistence of the Labour Party. Let’s put it back at the heart of the debate.

On energy, Smith agreed there should be consultation with the Scottish Government about renewables incentives. Yet the Tories appear determined to pull the rug from under a form of energy generation with huge potential.

And the Scotland Bill is at sixes and sevens on the Crown Estate. Our land and renewable resources should be in the hands of our communities to be used for the common good.

Anyone who thinks this is more power “delivered” is hopelessly out of touch.

 

This piece was originally written for the Daily Record

 

Green Councillor Martin Ford On Aberdeenshire Council Changes

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

Democratic Independent and Green councillors Paul Johnston and Martin Ford have reached an agreement with Labour, Progressive Independent and SNP councillors on policies to be pursued by a new Aberdeenshire administration.

The agreed policies – on improved governance, support for communities and protecting the environment – will see the DIGG councillors remain a separate group on Aberdeenshire Council, but one that will support a new administration in key votes, giving the authority stability.

The agreement paves the way for an orderly transition to a new administration in Aberdeenshire, probably within a few weeks.

It follows a series of resignations from the present Conservative-led governing group on the Council that have left it without majority support.

The extent of co-operation between the DIGG and a new administration, if elected, is set out in a letter sent following negotiations (see below). The letter makes clear that the DIGG are not for joining the new administration, but are acting to prevent a potential stalemate on the Council.

Green councillor Martin Ford said:

“Our agreement commits a new administration to working with us on agreed policy priorities. For example, improvements to public engagement including proper consultation on the Council’s budget. Support for active travel – cycling and walking – and other measures to help reduce carbon emissions. Protection of the Council’s investment in community learning and development. Changing Council procurement rules to take account of wider benefits that might be secured through purchasing decisions.

“We believe these changes will deliver real benefits for Aberdeenshire residents.”

Letter from Martin Ford and Paul Johnston
The specific policy priorities Martin Ford and Paul Johnston agreed would be put into effect by the new administration include:

COMMUNITY

1. Ensuring that spending on community learning and development is maintained, ie. no cuts to the community, learning and development budget line in the agreed provisional revenue budgets for 2016/17 (£4.762 million), 2017/18 (£4.822 million), 2018/19 (£4.883 million) and 2019/20 (£4.945 million).
2. Encouraging suppliers of goods and services to the Council to pay at least the living wage to their employees.
3. Investing at least £100,000 p.a. into preventative local health and social care services, specifically to fund third-sector organisations in Aberdeenshire to support vulnerable residents achieve or maintain independent living, funded through efficiencies from within adult social care services.
4. Adopting a third-sector charter to improve third-sector engagement, with the inclusion of a calculation or assessment of the social value of third-sector projects that can be considered as value in procurement processes the authority undertakes.

CLIMATE CHANGE AND SUSTAINABILITY

1. Support the inclusion of re-opening the Dyce to Ellon railway line in the Aberdeen City Region Deal, subject to investigation establishing a projected favourable cost:benefit ratio.
2. Include transition to a low carbon economy as a specific priority for economic development.
3. Move at least £250,000 p.a. from roads maintenance to supporting active travel (cycling and walking).
4. Make a commitment to producing zero waste by moving towards a circular economy, as a first step demonstrating how Council offices can remove recyclable materials, unnecessary plastics and compostable waste from the waste stream.

IMPROVED GOVERNANCE
1. Remove barriers to the submission and debate of motions from individual councillors at Area Committees and full council. Any motions ruled inadmissible by the chair must appear on the agenda with the reasons for the chair’s decision. A facility for an oral supplementary question to written questions at full council will be reinstated.
2. Alter its standing orders so the terms of a councillor’s unseconded motion shall be recorded in the minutes of full council and committee meetings if requested by the mover to improve the public transparency of council decision making.
3. Change the process for setting the Council’s budget in accordance with the principles and process set out in the DIGG letter to group leaders of 10 March 2015, to allow for public consultation on budget proposals.
4. Review the Council’s community engagement strategy and ensure full compliance by services in meeting the national standards of community engagement. Measure effectiveness of all community engagement activity to support improvements on a continuous basis.

Vote for what you believe in.

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

This election is unlike any other. For the first time the Scottish Greens are standing the majority of Scotland’s 59 Westminster seats. We’re enjoying a membership surge with almost 9,000 activists campaigning across the country. Our excellent local candidates are getting a great response to our vision of more powers for Scotland and for local communities, keeping public services in public hands and tackling poverty by lifting wages and ending the unfair sanctions regime.Patrick Harvie

 

Scottish Greens want an economy where people matter, with more local employment. With a £10 minimum wage for all by 2020 we could ensure no-one is forced to work in a job that leaves them struggling to make ends meet. And with a wealth tax on the super-rich we could ensure decent funding for the public services we all rely on.

 

Our clear and principled opposition to the dangerous TTIP trade deal and the threat posed by fracking have won us respect. With Scottish Green MPs we can stay focused on cutting energy bills by insulating our homes, developing clean technologies and supporting small businesses to bring about more secure jobs.

 

On Thursday, vote for what you believe in. Vote for equality not poverty. Vote Green.

Bring The Railways Back Into Public Hands

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

We’ve launched a petition calling for all railway companies and rolling stock to be taken back into public hands as East Coast is handed over to private firms Virgin and Stagecoach.SGP-railway-A6_feb15-v2

Since rail privatisation in the 1990s fares have risen sharply, taking them well above the European averages.

East Coast, before George Osborne handed it to Virgin/Stagecoach, returned a surplus of over £200m to the public purse.

Scottish Greens are backing Green MP Caroline Lucas who has introduced a bill at Westminster to renationalise the railways.

Public polling shows a clear majority of people support renationalising the railways.

People using the railways deserve services that are run to get them where they need to go most cheaply and efficiently. They don’t deserve services that are run primarily for private profit. The East Coast service is crucial for Edinburgh and Scotland, and it’s important we get Green voices at Westminster to argue for its return to public hands.

While the current government is ideologically opposed to successfully run public services we will continue to see fares rising and services getting worse. East Coast ran substantially better as a public service than when it operated for profit. We must ensure that public services are run for public good, not private greed.

Sign our petition here.

Peter McColl is the Scottish Green candidate in Edinburgh East

Vow Plus? Voters Will See Through Such Shallow Posturing

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

First there was Devo Max, the brand of devolution everyone had heard of but whose secret ingredients were carefully guarded. Then there was The Vow, a commitment to new powers that was supposed to be bold and clear. Next came Home Rule, a nostalgic return to a reassuring old brand identity even if nobody could quite remember who still owned the copyright.

Now Gordon Brown has, apparently in all seriousness, launched The Vow Plus. Yes folks, it’s new and improved, with added goodness, because you’re worth it.

Honestly, this is really starting to get silly.

Given the promises which had been made by various people on the Better Together side in the final stages of the referendum, the issue of deeper devolution had to be dealt with. And even though the breakneck timescale which had been set out was absurd the Smith Commission did offer the political parties the chance to lay out their ideas and see what common ground might exist.

Given that Labour’s heels were dug in deeper than anyone else’s, it’s pretty astonishing to see them now try and take credit for devolution in areas like employment and welfare. These were exactly the areas where they had to be dragged kicking and screaming.

Indeed even Labour’s colleagues in the trade union movement seemed dismayed at their position, with the STUC setting out some very constructive ideas about “workplace devolution”, including employment law, the minimum wage, health and safety, equality and trade union law. If Labour had agreed, at least some of that lot would have made it into the Smith Report.

Even the newly rebranded position announced this week seems more than a little confused. The LibDems and Tories have a lot to answer for in their destructive and cruel welfare policies, but to blame the coalition policy of introducing Universal Credit for the limited progress on welfare devolution is absurd. It was Labour who were most rigidly opposed to new powers on welfare, and their own position at UK level is merely a three month pause on Universal Credit – the very policy Gordon Brown is now denouncing as a straitjacket.

I’m sure most voters are quite capable of seeing through the shallow posturing, on both sides of this debate, just as we all take commercial adverts with at least a pinch of salt. But it really does politics as a whole no credit to have the issues treated in this way. There can be little doubt that for Scotland to resist UK austerity policies and take our own economic path will take serious additional powers. But that can only happen on the basis of meaningful and detailed proposals, not cheap gimmicks and empty slogans.

A Very Different Election - Westminster 2015

Friday, November 14th, 2014

Patrick Harvie and Maggie Chapman set out some Green reflections on the 2015 Westminster election in Scotland.

The Scottish Greens believe that Scotland’s best interests – and those of the UK as a whole – are best served by Scotland becoming an independent country. We believed that on 17 September. We believed that on 19 September. And we still believe that.

This is because we want to see Scotland flourish. We are not alone in that of course, nor in some of the priorities which come from that aspiration. We share a rejection of Trident nuclear weapons, for example; we want to see public services adequately funded, not starved or flogged off to the private sector; we want to see an end to demonising welfare and immigration policy and instead a citizen’s income which brings dignity to social security and a welcoming Scotland which recognises the benefits brought by migrants.  Indeed, we recognise that these priorities are also held by many people who voted No in September.

So, an inevitable backdrop to this election is the question of more powers for Scotland – as we argue in our submission to the Smith Commission.  The scale of ambition for a deeper form of self-government is testament to the success of the Yes campaign in galvanising a positive, forward-looking vision of Scotland and the way it rocked the complacency of the Westminster establishment.

At the same time, there have been various suggestions that members of Yes-supporting political parties should seek to stand for the next Westminster elections in May 2015 on a single cross-party ticket, sometimes described as a Yes or Independence Alliance. While an election is of course very different to a referendum, we have always been a party that sees the value of cooperation in politics, and we have been open to exploring whether it would be possible.

However, the SNP have, in the meantime, become the first party to publicly rule out such inter-party cooperation, and are instead looking to select non-SNP members to stand, in some places, at next year’s Westminster election, under an SNP banner. This position was endorsed at the SNP’s November annual conference. Whatever we think about the pros and cons of a cross-party approach, without the SNP this is no longer an option. 

Of course, as a political party we have significant differences with the SNP – on sustainable energy, on a just economy, on radical democracy, on low carbon transport, and on a defence approach centred on peace-building rather than outdated military alliances: to name just some examples – that is, after all, why we are different parties! It is why we ran a distinctive Green Yes campaign, converging on the need for independence but diverging on what that independence should look like. People told us they liked that distinctive Green vision. We think they deserve to hear that distinctive vision still.

So – people have told us that they want Green candidates to do well in these elections. They want to see Green MPs elected in seats like Edinburgh East, where we’ve selected Peter McColl to be our candidate, to serve with the same distinction as Caroline Lucas, the first Green MP, elected in 2010. We’d be an odd sort of political party if we too did not want that.

And if, as we contend, voting Green in the 2015 election is part of wider momentum for further change, further reform, further powers for Scotland to be the greener, fairer, more democratic country it needs to be – then that is something in which we will enthusiastically play our part.

The authors are co-convenors of the Scottish Greens: Patrick Harvie is a Green MSP, Maggie Chapman is a Green councillor.

The Scottish Greens Want Your Voice

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

By James Thornbury, Lanarkshire Branch

How can you make a difference in politics? How can you contribute more than money and loyalty? How can you really matter, right from the start?

Join the Scottish Green Party. I’m proof.

I helped the Yes Campaign during the Scottish Independence Referendum because, like many people, I felt my contributions could make a real difference. Up until that point, I believed the door to political reform was closed to ordinary people. I believed that I needed a background in business, law, economics or political theory to meaningfully contribute. I had none (although I was interested in those subjects).

I wasn’t promising political party material. I had no relevant qualifications, no connections, and until the Referendum, no hope.

With the Referendum, I saw the chance to act. I wasn’t much of an activist, but I spoke passionately to the people in my area, and come the day I stood outside a polling station, wearing blue and smiling. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

After, I felt the need to keep contributing, even if my efforts would be overlooked. I considered joining the SNP out of popular pragmatism, but in the end I felt my efforts had to serve something higher: principle. Only one other credible political party had stood for the Yes vote and delivered on their principles in Hollyrood, and I found the Scottish Green Party to be braver and more visionary than the alternative.

I emailed my local Party Branch, and then joined on Wednesday the 24th of September. That date is important: please keep it in mind.

The Branch Convenor invited me to the scheduled Branch Meeting the next day. There I met many other new members, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Branch’s structure wasn’t hierarchical: the office-bearers had administrative roles, assuming responsibility for our collective decisions, but did not make decisions. All matters were freely discussed, and new members had equal say in the direction of the Branch compared to the established members.

At the end of the meeting, our Convenor suggested a new member come with her as an official delegate from the Branch to the National Council of the Scottish Green Party. Not knowing exactly what this was, but keen to learn, I volunteered.

On Saturday the 27th of September I sat in a room with Patrick Harvie MSP, Alison Johnstone MSP, multiple Councillors from various Local Authorities, several candidates for upcoming elections, Branch representatives and representatives from the committees that oversee party business. Several issues were discussed, particularly the direction the party would take after the Independence Referendum, and during these discussions I participated as an equal, with my contributions judged on their value alone.

And I wasn’t the only new member there.

Since then, I have attended the annual Green Party Conference, and I’m now being encouraged to stand for an internal position within the party. Depending on the will of our membership, I could soon be helping to compile the party manifesto for upcoming elections, reform the party’s operating structure for our increased membership, or establish a working group to formalise the editorial process for publications. Furthermore, I and all other attending Conference members were called upon to actively debate, amend and vote upon motions on our party policy for the year ahead. I spoke on multiple occasions, just by putting my hand up.

Most political parties explain how their members can participate; the Scottish Green Party asks, and listens.

 

If you want to join the Scottish Green Party, click here and do it today.