This is the text of my speech to Scottish Greens Conference 2016, Saturday 22nd October. I had the honour of sharing the stage with two great green women: Ska Keller, and Anni Pues.
Good morning friends.
Thank you very much for that introduction, Ska. It is so good to see you again. You are a true friend – of the Scottish Greens, and of Scotland. You are one of the few European politicians who has taken the time to get to know us, the Scottish political landscape, and make our case for us in Europe, perhaps especially around the Scottish Independence Referendum two years ago, and now following Scotland’s vote not to leave the EU. Thank you so much for that. I want you to know how much that is appreciated – how much you mean to us. It is important that we recognise the solidarity you have shown us, and reaffirm our membership of the movement to which we both belong.
Friends, it is a great pleasure, and a great honour to speak to you this morning. It has been an extraordinary year since our time together in Glasgow, 12 months ago. A year in which we have seen our membership become more active. A year in which we have trebled our parliamentary representation. A year in which we have won many new people to our argument that democracy, and participation in democracy, matters. And a year in which we came out of both an election and a referendum with our reputation strengthened and our politics better understood.
But it has also been a year of great upset, great turmoil, and great loss.
At the end of last year’s conference, I started what I think might have become a tradition – we’ll have to see what happens tomorrow afternoon – by leading conference in singing Hamish Henderson’s Freedom Come All Ye. This anti-imperialist, anti-war, anti-exploitation song rejects the idea that Scottish soldiers should be imperial cannon-fodder and colonial oppressor. Rather, Henderson, in this internationalist anthem looks to a future society: one where multiracialism is welcomed, where social justice is at the heart of our world, where war is a thing of the past.
It presents a vision of the future very much like the one all of us here are working together to create.
We have done much to make that vision real. But, I am reminded, daily, that our work is far from over. The current political climate, in Scotland, in the UK, in Europe, and indeed, globally, is as uncertain as our actual climate future.
Globally we are threatened by the Republican presidential candidate.
We must be proud that we were among the first to trip up Trump. But while he seems doomed to failure we must acknowledge that he is still attracting around 40% of the American vote. Tens of millions of people are willing to sign up to his bigotry, his misogyny, his racism.
Lots of us have expressed shock and horror at how many people think that sexual harassment and sexist comments are acceptable. Of course we should be horrified. But sadly, a vast portion of the population does think these things are fine. The fact that millions think Trump’s misogyny is OK is no surprise to women in a world stained by everyday sexism.
I know, as a woman, and as a woman in politics, just how much the attitude of those like Trump can damage not just our politics, but the lives of women. While we abhor his misogyny, we must create a different politics.
Greens have always led on gender equality. Our co-convener structure is now echoed by Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley in England and Wales. We must continue to lead – by working for equal representation for women, actively promoting the participation of women in our movement, and fighting for the rights of women in everything we do.
And we must lead in broadening this work out for those who identify as trans or non-binary.
And of course, politics is both shaped by, and in turn shapes the society around us. Our party must put our beliefs into action: by challenging misogyny in all its forms, from twitter trolls to boardroom bullies; by rejecting the rape culture promoted by men like Donald Trump; by standing up against Tory austerity, which we know hits women the hardest.
Let us ensure that the horror of Trump shows the world that the fight against bigotry must go on. And when he loses next month, let that loss be a clear signal to people across the world who are fighting back: we will win.
We, as Greens, have a crucial part to play in shaping Scotland’s role and place in the world. Two years ago, I led our European Parliament election campaign with the message: A just and welcoming Scotland. That message chimed with many people.
The result of the European referendum emphasises how effective the movement to create an inclusive internationalist politics in Scotland has been. The 62% remain vote stands as a testament to how differently Scots felt to those in most of the rest of the UK. We still have a great deal of work to do. But we have avoided the worst of the anti-immigrant rhetoric of the debate that we’ve seen south of the border.
In Scotland UKIP are a laughing stock. At Westminster they set the agenda for government.
As Greens we are proud to be citizens of the world: and we will work to be citizens of an internationalist, welcoming Scotland; a Scotland that works for Social Justice throughout the world; a Scotland committed to fighting climate change, working for peace and defending human rights.
In her speech to Tory Party conference, Theresa May said anyone who was a citizen of the world is a citizen of nowhere. I have a message for her: I am a citizen of the world and I would be delighted to be a citizen of an independent Scotland.
In the Scottish Green Party, we have a plan to make this happen.
We will create a society as caring as hers is hate filled. We will create a country committed to welcoming refugees – whatever age they are.
We will not blame the vulnerable or the poor for the failings of the economic system.
We will reach out our arms to shelter and protect those fleeing persecution and war.
When Theresa May talks of ‘divisive nationalists’ she talks about her own prejudices, her own hatred of others and her own bigotry.
When the Tories and others want to subject those escaping terror and torture to medical and dental checks to see whether or not they deserve to live in safety and security, they reveal not only their lack of compassion, but their inhumanity too.
Theresa May implied that I, as an immigrant, am not welcome in Britain anymore – that those born abroad are not welcome.
You know what, Theresa? I am happy to leave Britain.
But I’m not going on my own. I think many of us are happy to leave, and we are going to take Scotland with us.
More and more new-Scots like me are coming to the same conclusion. More and more of us are looking at the xenophobia of the British state, and agreeing that it is time to leave Britain behind, and build a just, welcoming country on the northern edge of Europe: an independent Scotland, that remains a part of the EU, for everyone who chooses to make this our home.
What’s more: while we’re still part of the UK we won’t stand for our neighbours, friends, colleagues who happen to from other countries being used as ‘bargaining chips’. We won’t stand for the the continued stigmatisation of our neighbours, friends, colleagues, as they build a home here, as they learn here, as they care and are cared for. It must stop. And it must stop now.
As an immigrant I have always felt welcome in Scotland. I am heartbroken that the British Government and their dog whistling UKIP sidekicks have stoked racism and xenophobia, making people, including many in this room, feel like they don’t belong. I want to extend the welcome I have felt to all immigrants.
Please know that together, we can all be neighbours, colleagues, friends. Family. I want you to know that you are valued, not just because of your economic worth and the skills you have, but as a human.
And, I know it is not convention to applaud the leader of another party, but we should when they have done the right thing in the face of opposition. I want to thank Nicola Sturgeon for saying, so clearly, that Scotland is home for all those who choose to live here.
As a migrant myself, I can’t tell you how much that means to me.
As if Theresa May’s hate-mongering wasn’t enough, she has imposed Boris Johnson as foreign secretary.
This is a man who complained that Barack Obama hates Britain because of his Kenyan roots. This is a man who thinks it appropriate to use racial slurs that were even seen as offensive when first used over a century ago. And this is a man who spouts disgusting views about people across the world, from Turkey to Papua New Guinea.
Let’s be clear, and I don’t use this word lightly – this man is a racist. Maybe a public school educated racist, maybe a racist who speaks Latin, but a racist nonetheless.
Being represented by this man on the world stage is an embarrassment. And we deserve better.
That is one reason why I am glad that we will have the opportunity to again make the case for an independent Scotland. As in the last independence referendum, our pitch will be based on what we can do with the powers that independence will bring, not on independence for its own sake, or on claims to nationhood. We hope that independence will give us the chance to build a society based on social and environmental justice. We believe that independence will give us the chance to play a much more positive role in the world. We know that independence is the only way to remove the weapons of mass destruction on the Clyde.
We know now just how unstable the British state is. It is clear it is an old imperial state writhing its death throes. A state which blames the weak and the vulnerable, which blames immigrants for the failures of its elites is a state that is in terminal decline.
We can do so, so much better.
But as always, doing better means going back to our core green principles. We don’t just need more power in Holyrood – we need more power in communities across Scotland. Local authority elections offer us the chance to make that case this coming year.
Now, I know it’s not always an easy case to make.
When I was a councillor I made the case for giving communities the right to decide how community grant money was spent. Not everyone agreed. They said it would result in worse decisions – because apparently politicians always know best. They said there would be very little interest. In the first year 400 people turned up – surpassing everyone’s expectations. And as we heard from Mel yesterday, Leith Decides has gone from strength to strength year on year.
It’s such a success that the Scottish government has decided to put £2 million pounds into participatory budgeting projects like Leith Decides all across Scotland.
When I suggested a Living Wage for all Edinburgh Council employees, people got it confused with the minimum wage, or argued it wasn’t practical. 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.
I am proud to have been a part of the Edinburgh Green Councillors’ Group, and I’m proud that we have Green councillors across Scotland pushing for the changes we so desperately need. If the job of the radical is to make hope possible, this is a very real way we can make hope not only possible, but make change real.
Green ideas are the future. Where Greens get 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.
And that means that even a small group of Green councillors can make a huge difference to their area. Every community across Scotland needs a local Green presence. The people of every Local Authority in Scotland deserve Green councillors.
In May next year, people across Scotland will have the opportunity to choose who will lead, transform and develop their local authorities. This presents perhaps our best opportunity to ensure our green principles of participatory democracy form the bedrock of our local government.
We Greens will offer an alternative to the centralising tendencies of the SNP.
We Greens will present plans for local government that are inclusive and participative.
We Greens will be leading the charge against austerity and cuts to local jobs and services.
And whilst I’m talking about jobs, I am delighted that the RMT are attending conference this weekend, highlighting their campaigns for fair pay for for safety at work.
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. David Cameron (remember him?) 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 cuts, we say no to privatisation, and we say no to isolating and demonising our communities.
In just 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 we need Green Councillors across Scotland to do this.
We are all grateful to those who are standing as candidates. I look forward to our conference next year where we can welcome record numbers of new Green Councillors. New Green councillors protecting local communities from government centralisation and from the cuts and austerity that has done so much damage to our society.
So, if I may, can I ask all those who have already been selected to stand in the Local elections next year to stand up …
Conference: these are the people who will play a leading role in giving power back to people, in building greener, healthier, happier communities. Thank you all for standing, and can I wish each and every one of you the very best of luck.
Friends, I am reminded, often, of the words written by James Oppenheim, sung by the women who led the Lawrence Textile strike in Massachusetts in 1912. This strike, for better pay and conditions, united workers from over 40 nationalities, and together, they sang these words:
As we go marching, marching
We bring the greater days
For the rising of the women
Means the rising of the race
No more the drudge and idler
Ten that toil where one reposes
But the sharing of life’s glories
Bread and roses, bread and roses
There is so much in these words that encapsulates the work we have still to do today: we must work together, with citizens of the world, to create a fair, just society that treats all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation or any other category, as equal citizens of the world.
I am proud to be part of a party, of a wider movement that makes this our daily struggle. I am proud and grateful to be a citizen of the world.