I was asked, as co-convener of the Scottish Greens, to say a few words at the launch event of Edinburgh Greens’ local authority election campaign. These are they.
Good evening everyone. It’s great to be here, at the launch of what will be Edinburgh’s best ever local authority election campaign. Thank you so much to Alys for inviting me to speak, and to everyone else behind the scenes for making tonight happen.
As many of you know, I had the huge privilege of representing the people of Leith Walk, and the greens, for 8 years as a councillor, and I am looking forward, very much to seeing the Green Group of Councillors in Edinburgh increase in number, and in voice, activity and fight, come the May Local Authority elections.
I know it feels like we say this every year at about this time – a few weeks – just 10 weeks now – out from an election – that this election is our most important yet. And tonight, I really do mean this!
In our Holyrood campaign last year, in the approach we took in Green Yes and continue to take around questions of devolution and independence, we have always said that we don’t just need more power in Holyrood. We need more power in communities across Scotland. I am delighted that the national slogan for May’s elections is “Power in your hands”. We know that Greens in local government, supporting and engaging people where they live and work, are the best way of making that happen.
It is so important that more wards in Edinburgh, indeed, more areas across Scotland, have a Green to stand up and fight for them. To fight for the green values of inclusive politics, and of social, economic and environmental justice for all.
Now, I know that it is not always easy to make the case for the kind of world we all want and need. When I was a councillor, I wanted to give communities the right to decide how community grant money was spent. Not everyone agreed. They said it would result in worse decisions – because, as we know, politicians always know best, and never make mistakes. They said there would be very little interest. In the first year well over 300 Leithers of all ages turned up – surpassing everyone’s expectations – and it has gone from strength to strength every year since. Participatory budgeting, as an idea, has taken off – not only in Edinburgh, but across Scotland – the Scottish Government has decided to put £2million into PB projects like £eith Decides across the country.
Similarly, when I suggested a Living Wage for all Edinburgh Council employees, people got it confused with the minimum wage, argued it wasn’t practical, or just brushed it off as greens being utopian again. They thought it was not practical to pay workers a wage that enables them to live in dignity and comfort. Now, that once radical idea is seen as common sense across the political spectrum. And I am delighted that one of Edinburgh’s key pledges this year is to really value the worker who care for our loved ones, and pay them a Living Wage plus of £9.20 per hour. Justice for our workers is most certainly a cornerstone of social justice overall.
Green ideas are the future. We know that where we get greens elected, we bring these ideas into the open. We push them onto a wider stage. We find ways to show that our ideas work. And often, we find other parties quickly shift from mocking our proposals to pretending they always agreed with us. Every community across Scotland needs a local Green presence. The people of every Local Authority in Scotland deserve Green councillors.
And as we know, the job of the radical is to make hope possible. By electing greens across Edinburgh, and across Scotland, this is a very real way in which we can make hope not only possible, but make change real.
So the elections in 10 weeks time give us the opportunity to ensure our green principles of participatory democracy and equality form the bedrock of our local government.
Now there is much more that Greens in the Council can achieve … you’ll hear from the current group about their achievements over the last 5 years in a moment, so I won’t steal anymore of their thunder.
Looking ahead, I know that the current councillors and councillors-in-waiting have put together a strong case for a “Green Future for our Great City”. In addition to valuing those who care for us properly, I know the Group’s commitment to delivering warm, safe homes and taking real action on empty homes is genuine, and one the oldies have been working on already.
We all know that connected communities are happier and healthier communities, and the pledge to deliver a more accessible and better integrated public transport system for our capital city is at the heart of this. And there are so many other fantastic pledges and commitments in the Green Future for a Great City manifesto … I’m not going to mention them all now. But please, make sure you know what they are, so you can be ambassadors on behalf of the candidates over the coming 10 weeks.
It is important that we remember, though, that having greens in the Council will do more than just deliver specific policy changes and improvements for the city. Our approach to politics is just as important as the policies we hold dear. We offer an alternative to the centralising tendencies of the SNP. We know that our plans for local government are truly inclusive and participatory, and don’t just pay lip service to listening by consultations that go nowhere, or asking people to cut their own services.
Green Councillors make a huge difference to the communities they serve because they remain rooted in the communities they serve. They don’t get stuck on the hamster wheel created by officials to keep councillors busy with rounds and rounds of meetings, chasing paperwork and processes all over the place. And it is important that all of you help them in that – get involved in your local teams to support your candidates and councillors to be.
It is so important that green councillors have a local support network, not only to provide the muscles needed campaigning activism and give moral support, but also to be additional eyes and ears in your local areas and beyond. We have and will continue to lead the charge against austerity and cuts to local jobs and services, but our councillors need real life stories to help them in this fight.
We know that austerity is an ideological tool used to hammer the poor. It was sold to us as a way to pay down the national debt. Yet Britain’s government debt has doubled since 2010. Someone, I can’t remember who, was fond of saying “We are all in this together”. Yet, in the midst of austerity, the wealth of the richest in society has doubled. Some of us are clearly more ‘in this’ than others.
Austerity is about disciplining the poor and the workers, making people unable to rock the boat for fear of losing work or benefits. We must continue our fight against this. And the local elections in May give us another opportunity to shout loud and clear that we say no to austerity, we say no to privatisation, and we say no to isolating and demonising our communities.
And importantly, green councillors need your support to get them through difficult times. Being a councillor has its challenges, and it is always better to face such challenges as a group, as part of a team.
I‘ll share just one more story from my time as a Councillor. Back in 2007 – I think we were less than a fortnight into the job – we had a training day for new councillors at Murray field – very plush. After the training, Steve and I were on the bus heading back into town along with a Tory councillor, who will renmain nameless. We were talking about how and why we got into politics, and why we wanted to be councillors. He looked at me and said, deadly seriously, that he didn’t believe women should be in politics. In 2007. I think Steve initially thought he was joking, but it was clear he was absolutely serious. Incidentally, a year or so later, the same councillor accused me of being ideological in my commitment to public services… Like that’s a bad thing.
So all of us, but perhaps specially women in politics, will face challenges way beyond the political positions we hold. And it is important that we are all ready to stand, shoulder to shoulder, with each other in solidarity when this happens.
If we show how solidarity works for us, we can help and encourage all those seeking support against the barrage of sexist, racist, xenophobic abuses that we see being normalised by Trump and his administration, and by Theresa May and her approach to immigrants, vulnerable people and those on benefits.
Solidarity is fundamental to our politics, and it is fundamental to the movement of which we are a part. I know that all of us want to be part of delivering a new, better world, and we will only do so by standing together.
In the same way that we want to rescue our country from those who spread racist, xenophobic and sexist hate, we want to give our communities the opportunity to flourish. And that’s why we are here this evening, to celebrate those who are standing as candidates, to give them our support in whatever ways we are able, and to wish them all the very best.
So, in closing, can I just say a huge well done to all those who have worked hard to get you, the Edinburgh branch, to where it is, and to wish all of you, but especially the wonderful candidates, all the very best.
Thank you all, and good luck!