Over the weekend the revelation was made that our dear friend and first ever MSP, Robin Harper, intends to vote No in the referendum on independence.
This hasn’t come as a surprise to many people who know Robin. It shouldn’t be a surprise either that Robin’s not alone; the Scottish Green Party contains all shades of opinion about the constitutional debate within its ranks – and this is certainly true of our voters as well.
For as long as I can remember, every time the question of independence has come up at our party conferences we’ve debated it properly, fully respected the differences of opinion which exist, voted in favour of some form of words which at the very least leans heavily toward independence, and then moved on to other matters without falling out over it.
Indeed even the very firm supporters of independence within the Greens tend to be more strongly motivated by other aspects of our political agenda, and recognise that we have a huge challenge ahead of us if we want to see Green ideas put into practice, quite regardless of the constitutional future of Scotland.
Having said all that, the last time our party conference debated this issue support for independence had grown significantly, and we voted by something like four-to-one in favour of joining Yes Scotland, and of setting up our own Green Yes campaign.
So am I annoyed that Robin has made his views public, as Tavish Scott seems to think? Not a bit of it. I think it’s really important that those who disagree with our policy have their views represented, and I wish that other parties could be as comfortable with that diversity.
Partly it’s because dissent is a healthy and creative thing, and I wouldn’t want to be a member of a political party which suppressed it.
Partly it’s because the question of independence does not, and never has, split down party lines. Parties can adopt policies, or can even (in the case of the SNP) be defined around a single policy to such an extent that those who agree on nothing else in politics can sit together on the same benches. But they cannot tell their voters what to think. There will be Labour, LibDem and Tory voters on the Yes side. There will be SNP voters on the No side. The Greens have never tried to kid ourselves on that everyone who accepts our ideas about economic growth, or climate change, or any of the other issues which define us as a party, all think the same about the constitution.
But most importantly, it’s good that the SGP’s range of views are expressed on this issue because so many people across Scotland remain undecided about independence, and I don’t believe that waving saltires or union jacks at them will help them decide. I think it’s important to understand that this isn’t an easy, obvious choice for many people, and if we’re honest about the range of views within our own ranks I think we’re more likely to find ways of connecting with voters who are still turning over the arguments.
I think Robin’s wrong about many aspects of this debate. His article on the Better Together website is wrong about the extent of devolved control we have in Scotland; it’s wrong in comparing Scotland to Greece or Portugal; it’s wrong to imply that we won’t be a member of the EU. Most fundamentally it’s wrong that Scotland can be “Safe in a world political and economic system that is volatile, unpredictable, and often teeters on the edge of economic catastrophe”. If Green politics is about anything it’s about challenging the political and economic system which is dominant in the world, and which has left us with a degraded and vulnerable ecosystem, chronic poverty and inequality, and relentless exploitation of people and the planet. Robin’s call to steer clear of “political adventurism” sounds to me like a desire to pull the duvet over our heads and ignore the challenges of the real world or the responsibility of making the big choices about our future.
So Robin and I disagree about the debate Scotland’s engaged in, but we’ll disagree respectfully and in good spirit as is the Green Party’s way. Robin’s well aware that he’s in a minority within the party, but he does express views which deserve to be represented; indeed they need to be represented if we’re going to have the honest debate we need.
PS. Incidentally, I’ve just been told that the Green Yes fundraising page got quite a boost over the first few days after Robin’s announcement. It looks like the man in the scarf’s still got what it takes to make an impact… just maybe not the kind he intended!
AMID a media frenzy, the Scottish Government has published its detailed proposal for independence, almost 10 months before the referendum.
This sets out the SNP’s case for a Yes vote, its view of the process leading up to ‘Independence Day’, and some of their plans for the country’s future policy choices.
While we all accept that the SNP will remain in Government until 2016, it’s also important to remember that voting Yes or No is only the first choice we have to make.
Even a resounding majority for independence wouldn’t set the SNP’s policies in stone; rather it would open up the opportunities for Scots to choose the government we want.
The debate over the direction Scotland could follow must be – and can be – creative and inspiring.
Of course we will continue to hear some on the No side complain that “Scotland’s on pause”; that the referendum campaign is stifling wider debate.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Both sides of this campaign need to offer compelling ideas about the future and I’d love to see that level of debate coming from the No camp.
If they feel as I do, that Scotland needs a real debate about our political direction, then I am happy to let them know that it has already started, and they are very welcome to join in!
The truth is that as well as debating independence, Scottish politics is getting on with other issues too.
They might get less media attention, but they impact on many people’s daily lives.
THE Housing Bill, introduced to Parliament this week, aims to improve the lot of tenants in the private rented sector which has grown dramatically in recent years.
With more people finding that social housing is unavailable, and the option of buying is unaffordable, we simply can’t treat the private rented sector as just a choice people make freely.
For many, it’s the only housing available.
New measures such as regulation of letting agents would do a lot to protect private sector tenants, but the Bill could go further on issues such as affordable rents, more secure tenancies and so on.
And, of course, last week Holyrood saw its first debate on the Bill allowing same-sex couples to marry.
Some people are still demanding “protections” – loopholes allowing prejudice and discrimination to continue.
Others have vague worries about what “consequences” there will be.
Let me answer that: some people who love each other will get married.
Confetti will be thrown. Cake will be eaten. Occasionally an auntie wearing a new hat will wipe away a tear.
Life will go on, and with a little bit of luck some of these people might even live happily ever after.
Today’s stage 1 vote on the Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill will be welcomed by many across Scotland, and greeted with dismay by those who have campaigned against every step toward equality for lesbians, gay men, bisexual and transgender people over the years. Happily, we know that the latter group represent a declining minority.
For many, the continued existence of anti-LGBT prejudice (regardless of whether it wraps itself in religion) is a source more of puzzlement than anger. But it’s pretty clear to me that we’d never have achieved the extraordinary progress toward equality across much of the West if people hadn’t been willing to get angry, and to take risks by fighting for their human rights when it frankly wasn’t safe to do so.
We should recognise today that in much of the world it still isn’t safe, and the progress we’ve enjoyed remains a distant hope. Indeed in many countries we’re seeing significant political wins for the enemies of LGBT equality, led sometimes by reactionary and opportunistic politicians, and sometimes by religious hierarchies.
That’s why my press release today stressed the need for LGBT equality to go global. As we count the positive votes in the chamber tonight (it might get close to 4:1 in favour) we should keep in mind that for many countries the fight for equality isn’t about pensions or family law… it’s about life and death.
PRESS RELEASE – EQUAL MARRIAGE – CAMPAIGN FOR LGBT EQUALITY MUST BE GLOBAL
Patrick Harvie, Green MSP for Glasgow, is calling for Scotland to use its opportunities on the world stage to tackle the continued persecution of LGBT people around the globe.
Mr Harvie says tonight’s historic stage 1 debate at Holyrood on the Marriage and Civil Partnership Bill shows that Scotland is joining the community of nations which has fully embraced LGBT human rights, but that in much of the world this progress is not being made.
“Enabling couples to celebrate their love and be recognised on the basis of equality will be a proud achievement for Scotland. But we should use this step forward in Scotland to highlight the backward steps being taken in many other countries.
“We’re seeing Russia bringing in oppressive new laws, and we know the vast majority of Commonwealth nations have criminal sanctions which even include the death penalty against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens. As the Commonwealth comes to Glasgow next year, we have a golden opportunity to challenge prejudice, support LGBT communities, and demonstrate the progress which can be made.”
As most people will have seen by now, the stage 1 vote resulted in a thumping majority of 98 to 15, with 5 abstentions.
THERE are two kinds of argument I’ve heard far too often in the debate about Scottish independence, and I’d love to think that we could elevate the whole issue by dropping these altogether.
The first is that the campaign for a Yes vote is either an SNP front (this is usually the line of attack when only the SNP’s leadership or policies are being heard) or hopelessly split (this happens whenever anyone other than the SNP is being heard).
It seems that some people simply can’t cope with the idea that there is political diversity amongst supporters of independence, and that it’s possible to agree on voting Yes while having your own mind on other issues.
The second argument is very similar, but directed at supporters of a No vote. It says that because Labour, LibDem and Tory supporters are all out there campaigning under the ‘Better Together’ banner they must all be backing the current UK Government’s policies.
So because Labour folk may be voting No, they are accused of wanting the Tories to keep on destroying the welfare state.
It seems that some people simply can’t cope with the idea that there is political diversity amongst opponents of independence, and that it’s possible to agree on voting No while having your own mind on other issues.
I think diversity is a good thing in our politics. In fact I think it’s vital. What’s the point of even having elections at all, if it’s not to make a meaningful choice between different visions of the future?
There have been many times when I’ve criticised the dominant UK political parties for offering slight variations on basically the same political and economic system. There have been times when I’ve criticised the SNP for doing just the same.
But to pretend that there’s something wrong with any two parties disagreeing about the bedroom tax, nuclear weapons or drug laws while agreeing about the constitution is just silly.
There may only be two options on the ballot paper next September. But behind each there is a multitude of choices still to be made, and a multitude of reasons for ticking one box or the other.
On Saturday, some of the non-SNP visions of independence will be heard at the Radical Independence Campaign’s conference in Glasgow.
If it’s anything like last year’s conference, it’ll be a refreshing change from the sterile debate we often have in Parliament. Campaigners in the referendum, and the national media too, would do well to explore the real diversity of both sides of this debate if we want to take the next ten months seriously.
Learn more about the RIC conference at radicalindependence.org
I will shortly be launching Rent Rights, a new campaign to improve the experience of private renting in Scotland.
I think, with a little bit of legislation, renting in Scotland would be much better.
Warm, safe and secure housing – it doesn’t seem a lot to ask. But many private tenants don’t even have these basic needs met. With more and more people living in privately rented accommodation, this urgently needs to change.
WE NEED YOUR STORIES!
I’m looking for people that have had bad experiences with private renting (see below if you’re not sure if you’re in the private rented sector). I want to use these stories to illustrate what needs to change to make renting work.
- Have you been charged illegal fees?
- Has your landlord or letting agent refused to return your deposit without a good reason?
- Or have they refused to deal with repairs, either inside the flat or in the rest of the building?
- Do you struggle to keep up with the cost of renting a flat?
- Or are you struggling to heat your home?
- Have you been subject to harassment or threatening behaviour?
If you’ve experienced anything like the above, please leave a comment below, or get in touch via the contact section of my site. We’ll use use your story, anonymously if you prefer, to help make the case for what needs to change in the private rented sector.
ARE YOU A PRIVATE TENANT?
Private tenants are people who rent from a private landlord, rather than from a housing association or a council. They might rent directly from their landlord or via a letting agency.
Each week MSPs receive a scattering of invitations to the various receptions, briefings and open meetings which take place at Holyrood. The level of interest varies of course, but this one caught my eye recently:
Murdo Fraser MSP would like to invite you to the following event.
Professor Murry Salby Climate Change: What We Know and What We Don’t
Thursday the 7th of November 3:30-4:30 pm
Committee Room 4, Scottish Parliament
Professor Murry Salby is currently a Professor in the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Colorado and formerly held positions at Princeton University and the University of Paris.
Professor Murry Salby will give a short talk on the role of human activity and climate change, followed by an account of his personal story and his treatment after challenging the current consensus. This will be followed by a question and answer session.
Funnily enough, the only other time I can remember attending a meeting at Holyrood solely to find out what the ‘other side’ are up to, Murdo Fraser was the host. On that occasion the nasty and homophobic group The Christian Institute were being given a platform on the subject of family law (!) and this time, it’s a climate denier with a chequered history trying to persuade us that Scotland should dump our whole climate change policy.
Why is it that the same people are so often wrong about the environment and about queer equality? Maybe UKIP have the answer…
The presentation from Prof Salby contained nothing to surprise me. He seems very pleased with his apparently unique and unprecedented observation that short term changes and long term trends aren’t the same, and manages to ignore about 150 years worth of basic physics in order to conclude that global warming causes CO2 increase, rather than the other way round.
I stayed for the Q&A just long enough to correct his false claim that his talk was being hosted by “the Climate Committee” (in fact it was hosted by Murdo as an individual MSP, and attended by a handful of people from an odd little climate denial pressure group called the Scottish Climate and Energy Forum; no committee of parliament was involved) and then to solicit a slightly weary from frown from the Professor when I asked for references to his published work in peer-reviewed journals. No prizes for guessing how that inquiry turned out!
It would be easy to brush this off as a meaningless event. Certainly I have neither the time nor the inclination to engage in endless exchanges with people who simply repeat the same debunked rubbish, while indignantly claiming that anyone who challenges their integrity is stifling important debate. Though of course I am grateful to those who have done the work so that we don’t have to.
But the serious aspect is the continual flirting with climate denial that we see from the Tories at present. Murdo Fraser, Jackson Carlaw, and their colleagues all voted – repeatedly – for Scotland’s climate change legislation and the targets it contains. I don’t expect them to suddenly fall in love with wind turbines, or out of it with nukes, or to trade in their Chelsea tractors for bikes. But the least we have a right to expect is a little consistency. If they have decided to ditch their respect for climate science, let them come out and say so publicly. If not, if they continue to acknowledge the need for urgent and radical emission cuts to preserve the environmental conditions conducive to human civilisation, then they like all other political parties should challenge the junk-science obsessives and the vested interests of the denial industry, instead of indulging them.
If, as I suspect, they intend to continue to ride both horses then they must expect that the voters will be told what a shallow and cynical game they’re playing.
To paraphrase Caitlin Moran, breasts are not news. Or at least they shouldn’t be.
That is why the Scottish Parliament held a debate in support of the No More Page 3 campaign yesterday. Many of you will be familiar with the campaign, which is pushing The Sun to end its decades-old tradition of carrying images of topless women which amount to nothing more than soft-porn.
I’m pleased that MSPs had the opportunity to challenge the continued existence of this crass and out-dated institution. But I’m depressed that in 2013 we still have a page 3 to get rid of.
One might have been forgiven for hoping that, 40 years after the Sex Discrimination Act, topless photos in a newspaper would be an embarrassing antiquity, something we might look back on and cringe at, much in the same way we do the Tennents’ Lager Lovelies or the casual racism in sitcoms from the 60s and 70s.
Instead, the objectification of women has only intensified.
Of course, Page 3 isn’t the only or worst example of media sexism.
The Sun’s instantly infamous decision to use a picture of alleged murder victim, Reeva Steenkamp, in a bikini on their front page, or the creepily sexual nature of the Daily Mail’s reporting on the outfits of teenage girls, are both more offensive and damaging.
But what makes Page 3 such an important example is its ubiquity.
It is the fact that so many people scarcely bat an eye at a near-naked woman on the third page of one of the country’s most popular newspapers that makes it so significant. When the papers are full of images of powerful men in important and well-paid jobs as politicians, celebrities and footballers, but the largest images of women are these soft-porn pictures on page 3, what message does that send about the roles of men and women in our society?
Some will of course cry “censorship”. But the campaigners aren’t asking for anything to be banned; they’re simply trying to convince The Sun to make the right decision for themselves.
Some will say that it is simply “harmless fun”. But the real harm that women experience, from the incidence of rape in our society to a thousand small examples of everyday sexism, should at the centre of this debate.
There is mounting evidence in support of a causal relationship between imagery and attitudes towards women. Indeed, it is hard to imagine how the mass-media objectification of women could not have an impact on attitudes and behaviour.
This evidence needs to be taken seriously, and it played a central role in Wednesday’s debate.
It is true that getting rid of Page 3 may be just a drop in the ocean and another accusation towards the campaign is that it would be purely symbolic. I think it’s much more than that. But it’s worth reminding ourselves how important even symbolic victories can be.
You can read more about the campaign, or get involved, by visiting http://nomorepage3.org/
One of the most common sights on the walls of ministerial offices is a framed photo of the minister smiling and cutting a ribbon or unveiling a plaque.
These days, with so much real power outsourced from democratically accountable government to the self-interest of big business, it’s only natural that ministers need these little reminders of their achievements.
A new road, hospital or energy facility, and a minister proudly standing before the camera with an expression which says, “Look what I built.”
All too often politics focuses only on the provision of such infrastructure, instead of how it’s being used.
More transport ‘connectivity’ is always seen as a good thing, even if it locks people into dependence on ever longer journeys.
More energy supply always takes priority over cutting energy waste.
And we rarely see real emphasis on making society healthier so that we can all spend less time visiting that new hospital.
This week’s example might sound a bit obscure. Scotland, it has been announced, now has its own internet exchange point.
Even many people who spend their whole lives online won’t know what an IXP is, but it’s part of the infrastructure which makes the internet possible.
Your home internet service provider has until now relied on IXPs south of the border to get your emails and tweets out to the world, or to bring websites and iplayer programmes to your screen.
It’s great that Scotland now has one, and data will be able to get where it’s going more quickly instead of bouncing up and down the country.
In announcing this development, the Scottish Government also talked about its commitment to next generation broadband, and improving access in rural areas.
But we also need a debate about how we’re using the internet, how our children are using it, and the political principles that matter in the online world.
Too many of us access the internet as consumers; passive recipients of products pre-chosen for us.
We accept breathtaking levels of intrusion on our privacy, and we allow corporations and governments to control data about us on a scale and of a detail that would make cold war totalitarian states look like amateurs.
AND we are teaching young people that all this is normal.
I love the internet, and I’m delighted that Scotland’s internet infrastructure is improving.
But one of the reasons I love it is its potential for shifting power from the few to the many, and for sharing the fruits of creativity more widely than ever.
It would be terrible to let it turn into just another medium for the same old economic transactions and familiar top-down power relationships.
THE last few weeks have seen the latest round of energy price-hikes from the ‘big six’ power companies.
With bills going relentlessly up, political parties are falling over each other to offer pledges designed to be popular, but which are pretty dubious under scrutiny.
First came Labour’s promise of a price freeze if they win the 2015 election. That might be achievable, but the prospect could easily prompt the power companies to push prices up even faster before the election.
In any case the freeze could only last for a fixed period, after which Labour’s new system of regulation would still be unable to prevent the long term upward trend in wholesale energy prices.
Then came the SNP pledge not just to freeze prices, but to cut them if Scotland votes for independence. They plan to do this by shifting the cost of some social and environmental schemes from energy bills to general taxation.
In principle this would indeed cut bills (though again, the long term upward trend would mean that price increases would continue) however the funds would still have to come from somewhere.
Unless they intend to stop insulating homes or end support for people in fuel poverty, the money would have to come from increased taxation, or cuts to other services. It would also leave these important programmes at risk of cutbacks when any Government decides to shift priorities.
And this week we’ve seen the UK Government announce its deal on new nuclear power. Far from the LibDem pledge to rule out subsidies for the nuclear industry, the French and Chinese state-owned power companies which build the new reactor at Hinkley Point are being given a guarantee of double the current market price for the electricity they generate, for thirty five years.
That’s a subsidy of close to a billion pounds a year, for just one power station, and it comes on top of the vast sums of taxpayers’ money the Government is shelling out for nuclear decommissioning.
The hard truth is that we’ve been living with the delusion that energy could be a cheap commodity forever. It was only a brief period of human history in which this dream could be sustained, and it was never going to last long. There’s no way to ignore reality any more, and pretty much any energy policy available to us will brings extra costs. What we can do, and what neither UK nor Scottish Government seems willing to do, is to transform the ownership of our energy system.
Renewables offer not only a lasting clean energy source, but the opportunity for every home, every business, every council and every government to generate at least some of their own energy needs, and to enjoy a share of the economic benefit.
It’s time to break our dependence on a handful of vast energy providers, and instead build a society where our energy use is sustainable, low-carbon, and in our own hands instead of those of a few giant multinationals.
ONE of the classic dividing lines in politics is about the role of the state, and whether people think it should hold things in public ownership, or let the private sector run everything.
At the most extreme, some people would want to abolish private sector businesses altogether, while others would let markets dominate everything. Most people are somewhere in between.
But wherever you sit on that public-private spectrum, we’ve seen some pretty odd paradoxes recently.
First we had the UK Government hyping up its Royal Mail sell-off.
Back in the 80s, right-wingers used to argue that privatisation was necessary to turn lifeless state businesses into dynamic and successful ones, but the Royal Mail is one that’s already delivering (if you’ll forgive the pun).
In fact its profits jumped from £201 million to £324 million this year.
Owned by the public sector, run in the public interest, and returning all that profit to the public purse.
Then came the Scottish Government’s announcement of a public buy-out of Prestwick Airport.
Yes, the public sector will step in and take ownership of this loss-making business, specifically because no private buyer was willing to.
Now it’s possible that Prestwick could eventually get back into the black, and its scale is of course vastly less than the bail-out of the failed banks back in 2008.
But there’s something odd going on when the only assets the state will buy are those which promise to lose taxpayers’ money, and the ones which are paying us a tidy sum are handed back to the spivs and speculators.
Royal Mail and Prestwick aren’t the only current examples.
The East Coast rail line, which has been run in public hands since a string of private sector failures, just announced £209 million profit for taxpayers last year, yet the UK Government remains stubbornly committed to privatising it again.
And while political parties and the public alike complain about high energy prices, we’re missing out on the huge potential for the public sector to make profitable investments in renewable energy.
One report last week, Repossessing the Future by the Jimmy Reid Foundation, makes the case for an energy business which serves the public interest.
AS I write, the Royal Mail’s new shareholders have raked in almost 40% profit on Day One alone.
The rest of us, who used to own it collectively, are left hoping the moneymen will think our universal postal service is worth providing.
It’s time we struck a new balance in the public/private debate, and recognised that there’s an important place for economic activity which serves the public interest.
The state’s not just there to act as a safety net when the market fails us.