The opportunity to become a clean technology leader, end fuel poverty and create thousands of jobs must be seized
Friday, November 13th, 2015
Blackout Britain! The energy crunch is coming!
The apocalyptic headlines we see in some sections of the UK’s press give the impression that we should be stocking up on canned goods and candles and preparing for a dark winter of discontent. The reality is quite different, but there are challenges we must confront.
I sit on Holyrood’s economy, energy and tourism committee and we recently published a detailed report following an inquiry into security of energy supply. The report, agreed by all MSPs including even the committee’s Tory convener, made clear the reality; we’re moving into a more flexible energy system where demand reduction, storage, interconnection and transmission will be more important than whether each area is meeting its immediate needs every minute of every day. This change does pose some challenges, but also huge opportunities. By reducing demand we can cut our climate emissions, tackle fuel poverty and create jobs.
But sometimes a simplistic idea becomes lodged in the public consciousness, and gets in the way of a more informed debate. “There’s no money left” was one recent example. “Britain is full up” is another. They prevent serious debate about the economy, or about the role immigration plays. “We must keep the lights on” is doing the same to our energy debate. It’s a question which ignores all the complex realities, and implies that we just need to keep generating ever more power.
This is such an absence of subtlety and nuance that it would embarrass even Donald Trump.
We need to consider not just how we generate electricity, but how we use it, and when. We need to think about the wider energy picture, including heat and transport. We need to ask whose interests are served by the domination of a handful of giant energy companies, and how more public and community ownership can be achieved. And we’ll need to get used to the idea that even if we’re still net exporters, especially of renewable electricity, there will be times when we need to import as well, and that there’s really nothing wrong with that. Connections not just within these islands but across the North Sea to mainland Europe will be increasingly important.
The committee inquiry dismissed the predictions of disaster, and it speaks volumes that those who make them tend to be proponents of fracking or nuclear power, which of course would be disastrous for Scottish communities.
But there are two issues which could be huge barriers to the development of this flexible, sustainable and modern energy system.
The Tory/LibDem coalition was gung-ho on fracking and nuclear, but the new UK Government is even more determined to “cut the green crap”, and is tearing up what credibility the country had on climate change.
Conservative ministers have scrapped subsidies for new onshore wind developments, cut back on payments for solar and ended both the Green Deal and the Zero Carbon Homes plan. They’re switching Vehicle Excise Duty to a flat rate, instead of rates based on vehicle pollution levels, and they’re privatising the Edinburgh-headquartered Green Investment Bank.
This week a study by industry body Scottish Renewables showed Scotland risks falling short of its target to generate renewable electricity equal to 100% of our consumption by 2020. The new estimate is that we might hit 87%. The UK Government’s anti-green moves are directly undermining progress in Scotland and the UK.
The second problem is on demand reduction, and here the onus is on Scottish ministers to produce an ambitious strategy. We know that at the current rate of investment it will take 28 years to end fuel poverty in Scotland, so we need to go further and faster than ever before.
Over a year ago, John Swinney agreed with Green calls for energy efficiency to become a National Infrastructure Priority but to date ministers have not said how they will deliver this or how much funding they’ll allocate to it. It’s vital that we see the detail soon, and a step-change in the financial allocation to this work.
District heating and community renewables can play a much bigger role. All too often we see housing developments given the go-ahead without thought given to the efficiencies and savings for householders of having solar power, shared central heating systems, renewable heat from ground sources or small-scale biomass, or the range of other technologies which are out there. Instead we end up with hundreds of individual boilers in hundreds of homes. This isn’t what the future looks like, and it isn’t what we should be building today.
The opportunity Scotland has to become a clean technology leader, end fuel poverty and create thousands of construction jobs must be seized. Let’s show what Scotland can do. Let’s see bold funding commitments in the draft Scottish budget that’s due to be published next month.
Thursday, November 5th, 2015
The state of our NHS and the health of our nation are deeply intertwined. Recent check-ups on how the health service functions and how we as a population are living reveal we’ve a lot of work to do, and remind me of the Waterfall Story.
Imagine a waterfall. At the bottom, doctors and nurses are fishing injured people of the water, trying to save lives. One medic instead heads for the top. Where are you going? “Upstream, to find out why so many people are falling in.”
If we examine who is pushing people down that waterfall in Scotland – that is, who is causing ill health in the first place – we find a lot of wealthy industries such as tobacco and alcohol, and austerity policies that leave people with little hope, reliant on foodbanks and zero hours contracts.
These points were brought home to me at the recent Scottish Greens conference in a talk by the government’s former chief medical officer, Sir Harry Burns. Harry pointed out that Scotland’s poor health record is the health of the poor. People in the most deprived areas are more likely to die than those in the richest, and our biggest causes of death are suicide, drugs, violence, chronic liver disease and other disorders due to alcohol.
Scotland had one of the lowest death rates from alcoholic liver disease in Western Europe from the 1950s to the 1970s. As Harry pointed out, back then drinking was largely done by men, drinking beer, in the pub, at the end of a working week. These days it seems everybody drinks everywhere all of the time. And what do they drink? Anything they can get their hands on! This is why policies such as minimum pricing are so important, as is the need for local licensing boards to act on over-provision.
It’s clear that if we want to improve public health, we need to head for the top of the waterfall, not just fish people out of the water and attempt to patch them up. In preventing ill-health we can ease the pressure on our NHS. It’s an area the Scottish Greens have consistently prioritised. If we invest in good health now through everything from warm homes and safe walking and cycling routes to good food and a living wage, we can lighten the burden on the service. “Preventative spending” is a phrase ministers like to trot out in speeches and soundbites but look for it in the Scottish budget and you won’t find it.
And recently Audit Scotland highlighted that the Scottish Government has not made sufficient progress towards more home and community-based healthcare. As our population ages and as our health needs become more complicated, it makes sense to be treated and looked after in or near our homes and our families.
The auditors found limited evidence of health boards or Government evaluating whether health and care services can adapt to changes in demand. Ministers must prioritise planning ahead.
After all, prevention is better than cure.
Alison Johnstone MSP is health and wellbeing spokesperson for the Scottish Greens
A version of this blog appeared earlier this week in the Edinburgh Evening News
Thursday, October 15th, 2015
The Scottish Green Party expresses its heartfelt solidarity with all the victims of Saturday’s bomb attack at the Peace Rally in Ankara.
I woke this morning and all seemed peaceful, but oppression still exists.
Bury me high in the mountain under the shade of a beautiful flower.
Merhaba ey güzel çiçek.
This attack is the bloodiest yet in a series of attacks against peace protesters. Turkey has seen an increased situation of violence and terror, it has seen journalists and lawyers imprisoned. We condemn the attack and call for a full and credible investigation of the attack. Any censorship of media coverage on the issue has to stop. Our support is with all those progressive forces in the country working for democracy and peace.
In this context, it seems increasingly unlikely that a fair and free general election can take place in Turkey on 1st November. The HDP, a party formed by Turks and Kurds to which the Turkish Green Party is affiliated, reported: “The safety of the general elections is a vexing question to be considered in a serious manner. Our electorates feel under constant threat in every social space and political activity they attend.” We call on the Turkish Government to immediately respond to the PKK truce and stop air raids against the Kurds. It must stop arresting human rights activists and attacking Kurdish communities in order to allow a fair election process.
Ahmet Atil Asici, international coordinator of the Turkish Greens, comments:
“The reckless Turkish foreign policy in the Middle East aggravated not only the humanitarian crisis in Syria, but also turned Turkey into an open target for ISIS. The series of bomb explosions starting from Diyarbakır during a HDP demonstration just before June elections, in Suruc in mid-July, and in Ankara two days ago, show clearly the ineffectiveness of the security forces in intercepting the ISIS militants operating in Turkey. The Turkish government should dramatically revise its Middle-East policy to end humanitarian crisis in Syria by restarting negotiations with Kurds in Turkey and in Syria”.
Friday, October 9th, 2015
This weekend Green activists will gather in Glasgow for our biggest conference ever. After the membership surge which took place throughout last year we find ourselves with a membership more than six times what it was just eighteen months ago. At last year’s annual conference we did our best to increase capacity, but had to turn away many members who wanted to be there. So I’m looking forward to meeting new members as well as catching up with longstanding activists as we meet at the Armadillo on Saturday.
Looking forward to next year’s Holyrood election we know it’s always hard to predict the result. Opinion polls find it hard to gauge support for smaller parties, as the margin of error can span the difference between wipeout and a record-breaking success. But over recent months most polls have suggested we’ve got the potential to make real progress next year. More importantly for those who’ll be meeting at the conference, we’ve always known that with a very small activist base it was impossible to reach the voters as we need to. That’s what has changed this year, and we have the chance to run a campaign like nothing we’ve ever managed before.
So we’ll be aiming to make sure that every voter in Scotland knows that Greens can get elected in every part of the country, and that the policies we can take into Parliament offer opportunities for a greener, healthier and more equal society.
As well as those policies we’ll be reminding people of our track record – we’ve maintained a presence at Holyrood in every election since 1999, and whether we’ve had a single voice or many in Parliament we’ve always aimed to challenge ministers when needed while being constructive wherever we can be. Radical, transformational ideas in politics can divide people. But it is possible to represent a radical agenda while still seeking out common ground and working together.
So anyone who’s saved money from their energy bills thanks to the energy efficiency programmes we persuaded ministers to adopt has seen the benefit of this constructive, radical politics. So has every community which has seen a local project supported by the Climate Challenge Fund, which was the first budget concession we ever gained from the minority SNP government.
Likewise every football supporters’ group which wants the chance to take ownership of their club, to manage it carefully for the long term, could see that chance made real as a result of my colleague Alison Johnstone’s work persuading MSPs to back her amendments to the Community Empowerment Bill earlier this year. Just last week the Government published its consultation about how to put that Green achievement into practice.
Every tenant in the private rented sector could have something to gain if new proposals on rent controls become a reality – this is something which we’ve been campaigning on along with organisations like Shelter Scotland and NUS Scotland. While the Government was initially closed to the idea of rent controls, we’ve helped to successfully make the case that spiralling rents at a time of low interest rates are inexcusable, and that the many thousands who’ve been left with no option but private renting deserve a better deal.
And of course every community threatened by unconventional gas extraction, such as fracking and underground coal gasification, will know that it is relentless pressure on Ministers which has given them the temporary protection they have today. Community groups, environment organisations, and the new anti-fracking group within the SNP’s own membership have all been part of that, and I’m proud of the persistent role the Scottish Greens have played. We know that to turn the temporary moratorium into a permanent ban will take even more relentless campaigning, and we’re determined that at least one party in Parliament must give voters in May a clear and unequivocal policy in opposing these extreme energy industries.
But as well as that constructive pressure, Holyrood also needs a proactive and radical voice which will challenge Ministers when needed.
If we want to close the wealth gap in Scotland, and build strong local economies, we’ll need to commit to restore truly progressive tax at both national and local levels, and rebuild a welfare state that’s worthy of the name.
If we want to speed the transition to a sustainable economy we’ll need to stop indulging the fossil fuel industry’s every demand, and begin divesting before the carbon bubble bursts.
If we want to do more than merely set climate change targets, and finally begin meeting them, we’ll need a clear change of direction in areas like transport policy, instead of ever more roadbuilding and aviation growth.
Greens have our work cut out for us, but we also face an opportunity like nothing we’ve ever seen. As someone once said, “bring it on!”
Monday, August 31st, 2015
Whatever you think of the prospect of Lady Mone, one thing should be clear by now.
Every country deserves a system of government that is accountable to the people, and as long as an unelected House of Lords exists, the UK will not be truly democratic. We simply cannot trust legislative scrutiny in the hands of a body dominated by the rich and privileged, far removed from the daily reality of life faced by the people over whom they exercise power.
When Holyrood was first opened in 1999, it was seen as a new kind of decision-making body in the UK – one that was wholly accountable to the views and needs of the people it serves. And for a while, it really did blaze a trail with innovative new ways of working.
The first time I set foot inside, it felt like the Scottish Parliament really would live up to its ideal. This was three years before I was elected as a member, and I was there to give evidence to a committee of MSPs on behalf of the youth group I worked with. I was struck by the inclusive and open culture of the institution. Back then, Holyrood’s online presence and mechanisms like the Petitions Committee and the Civic Forum made it feel miles ahead of the elitist Westminster relic.
But the fact that we started off well doesn’t mean we’re still on the right track.
The purpose of a Parliament is to make sure the Government doesn’t just run around doing whatever it wants. It is meant to hold power to account. Unfortunately, the stale culture and old structures of legislative scrutiny we have are now so outdated, that the SNP majority now faces next to no resistance to its decisions.
This problem is clear as day if you look at the work of Holyrood’s committees.
The committees are a crucial check for all new Government legislation. Their job is to scrutinise proposed laws before they go to a vote, and to make some noise if the Government gets it wrong. This is an extremely important role, but at the moment, very few people think our committees are working as they should.
First, there’s the workload. MSPs often sit on committees with remits that span a huge range of subjects. Their workload is dictated by the timescale of government business, when it should be the other way around. Their ability to put new laws through a detailed inspection is limited at best, non-existent at worst.
And then there are the whips. Think of Westminster what you will, but at the moment, there is far more rebellion and independent thought in its debating chamber than there is on the back benches of Holyrood. This problem extends to committee work – many members seem to have forgotten that their job isn’t to push the party line, but to take a long, critical look at Government proposals.
For example, when a row blew up between college bosses and the education secretary in 2012, the convener of the Education Committee dismissed the need for an inquiry out of hand.
In 2013 an Audit Scotland report into the creation of Police Scotland concluded that although the Public Audit Committee had received an assurance from the Scottish Government that a full business case would support the need for the single service, this had not been carried out.
And just this month we learned that barely a quarter of requests for action were accepted by the public petitions committee. In fact it’s rare these days that committees undertake work on any issue that the governing party would rather was left alone. Even in setting the scope of inquiries, we often find that some members only want to focus on UK Government failings, rather than seeing the full picture.
The blurred lines between the SNP in Government and the party in Parliament mean that committees are simply echoing whatever the Ministers want. Many committee members, and even some Convenors and Deputy Convenors, actually work for the Ministers they are there to scrutinise. It’s almost as if the Government is marking its own homework.
Earlier this year, the Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament Tricia Marwick called for the committee system to be shaken up. She was absolutely right to do so.
The trouble is that her proposals are just tinkering around the edges of what’s really at stake here. Cutting back the number of committees will only increase the already broad remit of their work, while electing committee chairs won’t prevent the ruling party’s candidates from being whipped into shape by their leadership.
To really make Holyrood answer to the people, as it was always meant to, we need a proper overhaul of who gets a say in law-making. With Scotland soon getting control over new areas in taxation, welfare and energy among others, there’s also a need for additional capacity at Holyrood. For the Scottish Greens, this means opening legislation to public debate.
Both traditional and online techniques could let us “crowdsource” ideas to improve laws and put public questions directly to Ministers. With more ambition, we could develop new scrutiny forums involving community representatives, local councils, trades unions, and even jury-style random selection.
We’ve got to be honest with ourselves. There may not be unelected millionaires taking decision in our Parliament, but we’re still far from the ideal we started off with; the idea of a parliament that shares power with the people.
This week Scottish Parliament business resumes following the summer break. With those new devolved powers coming and an election just around the corner in May, we need to get our democracy working properly, and we need to do it now.
Patrick Harvie has been Scottish Green MSP for Glasgow since 2003 and is a member of Holyrood’s economy, energy and tourism committee
Sunday, August 23rd, 2015
A managed transition away from North Sea oil and gas is the only responsible course of action to secure Scottish jobs, writes Patrick Harvie.
Since oil prices started to fluctuate in 2014, we’ve been hearing regular news about mass layoffs in the oil and gas industry. This insecurity in the sector has had devastating consequences for thousands of people and families who have made their living from working on oil rigs, refineries, research centres and power stations.
For many, it’s hard to see a future for our country without the oil and gas industry. The Scottish Greens have been consistently arguing for a controlled transition to sustainable energy alternatives. This is not just because we are concerned about the catastrophic environmental consequences our society faces if we keep burning fossil fuels. It is also because fossil fuels are a finite resource, and the industry and jobs that we’ve built on it will only last until the cost of squeezing out the last drops exceed the profit to be made. And that day is much closer than many think.
Just this week Wood Group announced that the slump in oil prices has prompted the loss of more than 5,000 North Sea jobs since December. The oil services company is still making hundreds of millions in profit but has cut its workforce of around 41,000 worldwide by 13 per cent.
Analysts say there’s little prospect of short term improvement. This ongoing uncertainty is unacceptable for workers, the communities of the North-East and the Scottish economy. Companies like Wood Group are famed for being “dynamic in downturns”, which sadly means people can lose their jobs overnight.
The companies operating in the North Sea are profit-heavy multinationals and they exploit the UK tax system to subsidise drilling elsewhere. They cannot be allowed to drive our agenda. We need to plan now for ways to replace the jobs that North Sea oil has generated over the past half-century.
Our best hope of a more secure economic future undeniably involves changing direction toward a diverse and truly sustainable economy. That means wind, wave and tidal energy, but it also means retrofitting housing, district heating and reforesting to capture carbon and produce new products. Equally important is the chance this new kind of economy gives us to enhance skills, encourage innovation and increase supply chain opportunities for entrepreneurs and Scotland’s economic backbone: Small and Medium-sized Enterprises.
Research carried out for the Scottish Greens, due to be published this week, shows how this post-fossil fuel alternative can create far more employment than will be lost over the next 20 years. Our projections are based on conservative models, so this will be a credible contribution to the debate about Scotland’s future.
At the moment, there are 156,000 workers employed in fossil fuel extraction in Scotland, of which one third are export-oriented jobs. Our research shows that by focusing on decommissioning and alternative industries, we could have over 200,000 jobs by 2035. We’d keep key assets such as Grangemouth and retool the site to focus on synthetic gas. We’d continue to extract some of the remaining oil, but at a much slower rate and with a focus on maximising revenue.
The Scottish Government could position Aberdeen as a centre of expertise to decommission not only the North Sea, but oil infrastructure globally. In the coming decades we are likely see closure and removal of rigs and pipelines around the world. Scotland has the ability to take a leadership position, by identifying the engineering, legal and financial services that will be in demand.
With offshore wind we have the option to bring much of the infrastructure into the public sector, positioning ourselves as a global hub, pushing the supply chain to open factories in Scotland at our underused ports.
Wave and tidal energy still need significant research, development and testing, and it’s an area the Scottish Government has failed to properly back. There are great costs involved in developing this sector, and the long term commitment that’s needed requires certainty that the market alone cannot provide.
Scotland has a very low percentage of woodland cover compared to other countries in Europe. By expanding forested areas we can aid carbon capture and provide wood products for buildings and infrastructure, but also add sustainable biomass to our energy mix and develop alternative chemical feedstocks.
And by retrofitting our housing stock, we can create thousands of jobs while cutting fuel poverty and carbon emissions. My colleague Alison Johnstone successfully pressed Finance Secretary John Swinney on this point in a Holyrood committee, getting him to commit to making it a national infrastructure priority.
The kind of upscaling and diversifying we’re talking about will benefit Scotland’s communities through training opportunities, skilled jobs and contracts for local companies. It will help spread job prospects to all areas of Scotland, so we rebalance our economy beyond our biggest cities.
There are big challenges ahead and the need for a clear vision has never been greater. With bold ideas we can unlock Scotland’s potential.
Patrick Harvie MSP is Co-convener of the Scottish Greens and is a member of the Scottish Parliament’s Economy, Energy and Tourism committee
Monday, July 20th, 2015
THIS week we witnessed the people of Greece take a kicking from the Troika bullies. These representatives of a neoliberal status quo, which punishes citizens for the inevitable consequences of bankers’ irresponsibility and government complicity, have cast a dark cloud over Europe.
I, like many others, have begun scratching my head, searching for answers to the question facing us now – how do we achieve a fairer, sustainable future within this EU?
Thinking about the best route to take, ‘in’ or ‘out’, my compass is still firmly pointing toward membership of this social-political union. Not because I have no concerns or fears about the Troika forces of darkness and their capitalist brutality. I do.
But what remains greater than my fears are my hopes. I refuse to be forced into becoming the generation that lost Europe to the free-market consensus set by Cameron, Merkel, and the “pint in hand” ruse that is Farage.
Our exit would not be based on progressive criticism. It would be a victory for anti-immigrant, anti-worker, reactionary British nationalism, only serving to isolate us and poison our domestic politics.
As Mhairi Black MP pointed out in her maiden speech this week, referencing Tony Benn, “what we need right now are signposts, signposts which stand true and tall and principled”, setting the vision and direction for a better society.
I believe we can, and must be guided by the signpost of a better Europe. A Europe to foster hope, engagement and a future we can believe in.
The first time I remember hearing Europe described as a “peace project”, was by an Icelander, and fellow democracy activist Bjarni Jonsson. I had never heard the expression or thought about it like that before. He passionately advocated why many Icelanders continue to push to be part of such a project – you can do more to advance it when you’re part of it.
Like many others, he believes in the vision of the EU as a beacon of peace and reconciliation, democracy, and human rights – now under threat of being hijacked for good by free market fanatics.
Recognising that the EU (as it is) brings challenges, it’s important to also recognise membership has benefited us. Progressive policies bringing about environmental protections and workers rights often shield us from the UK Government’s more extreme intentions. The Working Time Directive is one example of advancement of our rights under the EU’s watch.
At this pivotal moment in history we must defend the values and principles at the heart of the European Union: free movement of people, security and justice. Now is the time to protect and expand these core functions of Europe and follow an alternative path to protect people and planet.
The vision of Europe Greece signed up to when joining the EU was one of democracy, enlightenment values, connection and human rights. The very same vision we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them on now, one we all must fight to defend.
The tension we are recognising more and more is between democracy and capitalism – described by Patrick Harvie MSP as “an economic system which takes relentlessly from the global commons and contributes little or nothing back”. We are not defending European democracy by abandoning our European cousins. We are not showing solidarity if we walk away from our only chance to fight their corner with them.
We can step back and let Europe be sold down the river to rampant free marketeers for good, or we can engage with an alternative, led by a connected movement of citizens and progressive politicians that believe another Europe is possible.
The new politics of Europe is already on its way. The rise of people-led movements in Spain and Greece are the signposts of a fight-back that we’re a crucial part of. People across Europe are hungry for a different kind of politics – one that speaks to our hopes, and shifts our systems and society towards a future beyond debt, unemployment and inequality.
Closer to home, we can already see from this week’s polling that the Greens could be on course for 12 MSPs at Holyrood next year. That’s 12 people with a genuine passion to speak out against a status quo failing the many, and speak up for a future that paves the way for a Scotland and Europe with economic, environmental, and social justice at its core.
In the spirit of Spain’s Podemos (‘We Can’), we across Europe can, and must stand up for an alternative European project, showing it is possible to co-operate across borders to defeat austerity and xenophobia, and to promote peace and sustainability, whilst pushing to make the Europe of our intentions become the Europe we’re a part of.
Zara Kitson is C0-convener of Glasgow Greens, and is a regional MSP candidate for Glasgow in 2016
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.
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.
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.