An extraordinary week for the future of Scottish football

This week I successfully moved a package of amendments to the Community Empowerment Bill to bring in a fans’ right to buy their football clubs at any time.

Fans First

The amendments were backed by all members of the Local Government and Community Committee.

My Fans First campaign has also been backed by Scotland’s leading anti-sectarianism charity Nil By Mouth, by Supporters Direct, and by others in the supporter ownership movement.

In the Committee meeting the Minister pledged support for a legislative approach to the problems of Scottish football, and Stage 3 is now expected to see changes and refinements to these proposals before Parliament finally approves the Bill. This decision is overwhelmingly popular, according to the results of a Survation poll, where 72 per cent of those expressing a view supported a fans’ right to buy their local club for a market value at any point.

This has been an extraordinary week for the future of Scottish football. We know how badly the game has been struggling, from Gretna to Hearts and Rangers, and we know fan ownership works. It’s great that Parliament has united around the principle of a responsible fans’ right to buy their clubs. Once this bill passes at Stage 3, fans across the country will have nothing to fear from irresponsible owners like those who have undermined so many clubs. We know there are plenty of good private owners of clubs, and this will not require fans to buy them out, but when they move on, fans will be in the right place to take over if they wish.

I am grateful to the members of the committee for seizing this opportunity to put fans first, and in particular to Ken Macintosh MSP, who co-signed these amendments and spoke powerfully in favour of them at Committee. We asked fans what they wanted, and they asked us for the tools to do the job and run their clubs responsibly for the long term.

Alison

 

In-work poverty: my speech

I was pleased to open a rare Green/Independent MSP debate on in-work poverty yesterday.

Alison Johnstone chamber pic

The Scottish Green Party is campaigning for a £10 minimum wage for all by 2020, because no one should be expected to work for a wage that keeps them in poverty. That is the point of the debate; that is why we are campaigning.

During the referendum, we had plans for a more equal, jobs-rich and locally based economy, where work paid well. That principle is not divisive. I know that all MSPs agree that poverty is a bad thing, but do their parties’ plans add up to putting an end to in-work poverty?

The Greens’ £10 minimum wage will ensure that no one works for a wage that keeps them in poverty. We have for too long subsidised employers that pay poverty wages. Many of those employers are large multinationals that earn millions for shareholders, while their staff are paid poverty wages and kept off the breadline by public money. That corporate welfare must stop.

While the majority of children and working-age adults in relative poverty live in working households, at the other end of the pay scale, there are people earning millions of pounds. Chief executive officers in the FTSE 100 earn 400 times the average wage. Are those executives 400 times more entitled than the average worker? I do not think so. That inequality is profoundly damaging for society and wellbeing.

Ending poverty is inextricably linked to ending the vast gulf of inequality. Political scientist Susan George tells us to “Study the rich … not the poor”.

The Greens’ plans will link CEOs’ pay to the wellbeing of their lowest-paid employees. A maximum wage ratio for companies would mean that any rise in CEO pay required a rise for people on the lowest pay. That is only fair.

The Greens will introduce a wealth tax on the wealthiest 1 per cent—in other words, people who are worth more than £2.5 million.

Wage ratios and progressive taxation will tackle pay inequality, but vast differences in wealth need to be tackled, too. Recent Office for National Statistics data tells us that the richest 1 per cent of British households have the same amount of wealth as the poorest 55 per cent of the population. The amount of wealth that is held by the top 0.1 per cent has risen by 57 per cent over four years, whereas total UK household wealth has risen by only 12 per cent. Our wealth tax will tackle that drastic inequality and pay for public services.

The Green Party’s plan for social security is based on the idea that, as a society, we should treat those who are in need with compassion, rather than sanction and punish the poor. The post-world war two generation who built the welfare state suffered together, fought fascism together and mourned together. Those people’s collective will was that they should enjoy the benefits of peace together, but the welfare cuts have put people deeper into poverty.

It is a gendered austerity, too. Treasury data shows us that women have been hit hardest. Women are much more likely to be lone parents, they are the biggest users of public services and they are more likely to be affected by public sector job losses, pension changes and wage freezes. It is clear that any party that continues to talk about cuts has not been listening to Scotland’s women.

We will make the case for rebuilding a universal system without a poverty trap for people in work. We want to have a welfare system that does not subsidise poverty wages, that removes the stigma of benefits and that promotes equality. Green plans for a citizens income are emblematic of that approach. The Scottish Government’s expert working group on welfare recognised that a citizens income is one of the two main options for the future of welfare; it is the one that takes a universal approach and abandons means testing and complexity.

The introduction of a citizens income is not a change to be made lightly. It will require a reform programme to replace almost all benefits apart from disability payments with a simple, regular payment to everyone—children, adults and pensioners. It will require consensus from a broad coalition of civic society, but it is a transformative idea, and the beginnings of such a system already exist with child benefit and state pensions.

This week, the Scottish Government published analysis of severe and extreme poverty that describes how people in the lowest income bands have been pushed deeper into poverty by coalition cuts. A little over an hour ago, George Osborne sat down after confirming the Tories’ ideological obsession with pursuing their programme of austerity. The UK budget has just been announced. I doubt that many of us will have digested the whole lot, but the austerity ideology is clear.

I am pleased that the issue of apprenticeship wages has been raised. Some young people up to the age of 25 are working 30 hours a week for a monthly wage packet of £327.60. The UK Government plans to raise that hourly wage by 57p, to £3.30. Any rise is welcome, but not all sectors feel that way—even that small rise has disappointed the Confederation of British Industry. I recall that, during the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee’s inquiry into Scotland’s financial future, the then boss of CBI Scotland said: “Inequality is an abstract term”.

It also suggests that we are on the right track if the free-market think tank the Institute of Economic Affairs says that the Low Pay Commission is being used “as a vehicle to reduce inequality”.

In October, the national minimum wage will be increased by 20p, to £6.70. That, too, is welcome, but is it enough? That increase has already been criticised for not tackling in-work poverty. The minimum income standard aims to define what households need in order to have a “minimum socially acceptable standard of living”.

The reference rate that it suggests for the lowest socially acceptable standard of living is £9.20. The Scottish Government analysis that I mentioned earlier is unequivocal. It says that, although employment remains a protection, it is “no longer a guarantee against poverty”.

Our plans for a £10 minimum wage by 2020 are designed to really make poverty wages history. Small businesses will need support, and all businesses deserve time to plan. The change will be introduced in steps, but the days of big business paying poverty wages with the taxpayer making up the difference must stop.

Another aspect to consider is the picture across Scotland. My city of Edinburgh is at the top for paying at least the living wage but, in rural areas such as Angus and Dumfries and Galloway and in post-industrial areas such as Ayrshire, between a quarter and a third of people earn less than the living wage. We need to spread the creation of jobs throughout Scotland as well as improve public transport and childcare to ensure that people can get to work, education and training.

Of course, low wages are not the whole story, but successive Governments’ actions have allowed—even promoted—the slide into a low-skill, low-wage economy. For example, the Scottish Government gave Amazon a £4.3 million grant, with a further offer of £6.3 million. Last year, Amazon paid just £4.2 million in United Kingdom taxes, despite selling goods worth £4.3 billion. The excuse that ministers have given is that Amazon creates jobs, but let us examine that claim carefully. How many jobs were promised, compared with what has been delivered? Are those jobs well paid, satisfying and secure? Moreover, what jobs have been lost as a result of such a big company being helped to dominate the marketplace, and how comfortable are we that its profits are not recirculating in the local economy? We need investment in sustainable industries that pay decent wages, such as great-quality food producers, clean chemical sciences, the digital and creative industries, medical and life sciences, construction, engineering and the low-carbon energy industry.

We have food banks in a country with no shortage of food and fuel poverty in one of the planet’s most energy-rich countries. Let us take the steps that we need to take to redress the balance, pay all a fair wage and become the kind of Scotland that we aspire to be.

Addressing inequality

This is a copy of a piece I wrote for the Poverty Alliance review. You can see the full document here.

Throughout the independence campaign, Greens spoke to a wider audience than ever about how our policies seek to tackle poverty, build sustainable industry and end inequality. Now the focus is on agreeing the powers we need as a priority to achieve this.

Priorities
We have to reduce living costs through better quality, efficient and affordable housing, and we must also create high quality, highly skilled and well-paying jobs. Social security needs to be valued as the safety net that any of us could require at any time, not seen as a soft target for cuts with a campaign of division pitting people against the most vulnerable in society. Other priorities include levelling the playing field in terms of educational opportunities across social demographics and securing better funded childcare. By regarding all of these as vital components of a coherent policy framework we can make strides towards creating the society we spent the referendum campaign calling for powers to begin building.

Further devolution of powers to Scotland
All ruling parties in the UK have failed to confront poverty, while the rich have never had it so good. Scotland can reject the Westminster consensus of pursuing an austerity agenda and instead work urgently to tackle our crippling levels of inequality. Much of this means devolving more powers around tax and social security. Greens want economic powers including borrowing and taxation devolved, with the Scottish Parliament and Local Authorities empowered to design and raise the majority of their own taxes.

This makes politicians more accountable, lets us shift the balance of taxation, and provides for taxes better fitting local circumstances.Greens do not support SNP proposals to cut corporation tax in competition with the rest of the UK, however it must be acknowledged that the UK has also made regular cuts here, with corporations paying little or nothing to the common good. This would be best addressed through EU-wide moves towards tax cooperation.

Scotland should have the ability to fund and design social security based on fairness, compassion and universal concern for the dignity of people. As with economic powers, we don’t accept a position whereby the Scottish Government delivers a system of social security designed elsewhere. It is vital that new powers don’t simply bring a responsibility to enforce UK Government policy, but that we have genuine control over matters empowering us to improve lives.

The Scottish Greens advocate devolution of responsibility for employment law and employment rights, including industrial relations, plus health and safety. We face a situation where the majority of those in poverty are in work, so we must stop subsidising employers who pay poverty wages, make the Living Wage a minimum wage without delay, strengthen the position of trades unions, and use new powers for sustainable job creation. We can pursue more radical equal pay legislation with control of equalities law, while full responsibility over human rights will also allow us to protect Scotland from the threatened scrapping of the Human Rights Act.

New powers can allow us to make progress in areas where control already exists. Housing policy, for example, is devolved but housing benefit is not. This led to the situation where the disgraceful bedroom tax, a policy designed (badly) for more crowded parts of England, was implemented here also. Education and health systems can be improved with new powers concerning immigration allowing us to break with the UK’s hostility to migrants, while asylum seekers facing destitution in Scotland also need the Scottish Government to have the requisite new powers to remedy this.

Now is the time that Scotland must achieve the radical devolution settlement we were assured of having. Restricted tax powers that force Holyrood to follow an austerity agenda would be unacceptable to all who voted Yes, and the majority of those who voted No, but we do have the opportunity to gain the powers we need to affect genuine and meaningful change for the people of Scotland.

What drives us forwards is a determination to see that we all can work together to seize that opportunity – for this generation, but even more so for the generations to follow, who may never have such a chance themselves to design a more modern and equal society.

Women 5050 campaign gains ground

It’s excellent news that Nicola Sturgeon has added her support for the Women 50:50 campaign, which I launched back in September with Kezia Dugdale and others from across the political spectrum. Since then, many hundreds of people have signed up to the campaign as well as Councillors, MSPs, charities and trade unions.

Alison Johnstone backs the 50:50 campaignI think the campaign has already helped to focus minds on the representation of women as parties have been selecting their candidates for the Westminster election, as they know that a seriously skewed list of potential MPs will no longer go unchallenged by the public or the media. My own party is putting forward over 40% women candidates, but we’re certainly not complacent and there’s a lot we still need to do to truly represent the makeup of Scottish society.

It won’t be long before attention turns to next year’s Holyrood election, and if we’re going to meet the Women 50:50 target by 2020, this will be an absolutely critical election. All parties will need to take a fresh look at how they can maximise the number of women they put forward. If the usual flawed arguments about merit can be confronted and the right mechanisms put in place, this could be a really transformative election.

The Scottish Parliament itself must also consider what action it might take to make the next session a more equal parliament, and we shall see what new powers that result from the Smith Commission process might be available.

What’s clear to me is that this campaign is part of a much wider change that has been taking place over the last year. On Saturday I had the pleasure of speaking at a truly brilliant Women for Indy event in Leith. The venue was packed to the rafters and it was amazing to see and hear from so many women who, having got a real taste for political campaigning during the referendum, now want to stay engaged and active on a variety of topics which aren’t directly about the question of independence. It was one of the best events I have ever been to.

The sands are shifting and politics better keep up!

Community companies democratising the energy market

Last week I was invited to speak at the Community Energy Scotland conference, and I highlighted the opportunity for Scotland to lead the way on international Energy Justice.

Read on to see what I had to say.

Alison

community energy project
The top line in Green energy policy is that “All people should have fair access to the energy they need”. This could be summarised as Energy Justice.

The World Development Movement highlights Nigeria as a great illustration of so much that is wrong with the energy system. In this oil-rich country, over half the population (and up to 90 per cent of the rural population) lacks basic access to electricity. At the same time fossil fuel giants like Shell and Exxon-Mobil pump out enough oil and gas to power the country many times over. These fossil fuels are destined largely for the rich North.

The problem is not that there is not enough energy, but that there are immense energy injustices. Without fair access to energy schools, hospitals and basic improvement to living standards are jeopardised.

Energy justice is about power. Who controls the energy. That is why the work of Community Energy Scotland and the other community energy bodies is so important.

We know people in Scotland support renewable energy, despite media hyperbole the vast majority of people are content to see renewable energy developments happen in their local areas – that is an important social consensus we have to maintain. The greatest threat is not too many developments, but the perception that large corporations are in control and making money for themselves with limited benefits and control in the hands of local people.

I want to live in a world where community control is at the centre of a secure and sustainable energy system. People in countries like Malawi deserve to be in control of their own development, and this is exactly the model Community Energy Malawi appears to be using.

From Holyrood I’m pleased to report that I managed to gather support for a Parliamentary motion I lodged in June from MSPs of every hue. Greens, Lib Dem, Labour, SNP, and even, with a special ask, from the Conservative energy spokesperson. It’s important we are consensual and cross party where we can be.

The motion welcomed the formation of Community Energy Malawi and its first Community Energy Conference in June which brought together representatives from Scotland and 12 Malawian community organisations. It also welcomed the continued funding of the project by the Scottish Government as part of the Malawian Renewable Energy Acceleration Programme.

This support from the Scottish Government is extremely important. The Scottish Government does not have power over foreign affairs, “international development assistance and co-operation” are specifically reserved to Westminster but even still the Scottish Government has made the right choice to commit to helping internationally through the international development fund and also the climate justice fund.

I know CES are keen to expand on their international work. CES have stressed to me that their work with groups in Malawi has been a true skills share. They have gained expertise, enthusiasm and experience and hope to have provided some too.

The projects in Malawi and elsewhere are hopefully demonstrating how community control works in the Global South. One example from Europe I have used in Parliament is Germany.

In the small town of Schönau in the Black Forest, a feisty primary school teacher called Ursula Sladek and others decided that they wanted to buy non-nuclear energy, and consume less at that. An approach to the local energy company failed but, after a five-year battle, the community took ownership of the local grid and could supply their own energy.

That idea took hold and there are now 600 community energy companies democratising Germany’s energy market. Several years ago, Germany too was dominated by its own big four energy companies but now, more than half of the 60GW of renewable energy that has been installed in less than a decade is citizen or community-owned. That is delivering cheaper, cleaner energy, but importantly, it is an energy market that is not dominated by a few players but is owned and controlled by citizens.

That is a vision that we should aspire to, and I hope Community Energy International can play its part in that for every country.

We need to create a fair and sustainable society for all our children.

Last week I made it a priority to take part in a debate in parliament brought by John Wilson, a colleague in the Green-Independent group of MSPs.

The important subject for debate was the Child Poverty Map of the UK.

I share John’s view that tackling child poverty should include finding effective ways of offsetting the recent changes to the welfare system as well as rising energy and food prices that have pushed families further into financial decline.

Read on for my full speech.

Alison

Too much of a child’s life is set by the happenstance of where they are born, yet we know that children who are born into low-income families do not start without high aspirations. Some 97 per cent of mothers in low-income families want their children to attend university, but there is a continuing and persistent attainment gap and immense barriers to what we call social mobility.

Of course, the vast majority of people who are born into poverty make a brilliant success of their lives. They become dedicated partners, loving parents or great friends and they have successful careers. No one should be stigmatised because of the economic situation into which they are born, but it is important to look at the barriers that children face.

Looked-after children provide a stark example. Care leavers have poorer educational qualifications than their peers and poorer health outcomes and are notably more likely to have contact with the criminal justice system. That is not the case in Finland, where the attainment gap for looked-after children is far less stark. That achievement is likely down to a complex mix of reasons, but one that is highlighted is the education system’s focus on support for teacher attainment and qualifications. We have to learn from good practice in other countries.

The child poverty map of the United Kingdom is a useful way to see how child poverty plays out across the country. For a decade we saw a notable drop in child poverty, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and others, but as we know, that improvement is being reversed rapidly: we are going backwards. Child poverty is predicted to rise and an estimated 600,000 more children will live in poverty by 2015-16.

The motion refers to

“finding effective ways of offsetting the recent changes to the welfare system”.

I agree that we need to do that. The economics of austerity and welfare cuts are having a particular impact on women and on children as a result. The Fawcett Society tells us that a fifth of British women’s income comes from benefits, whereas for men the figure is a tenth, so the loss of benefits and services hits women hardest. Women are more likely to be employed in public sector jobs that are at risk of austerity cuts. As state services are withdrawn, women tend to fill the gap as, for example, unpaid carers.

A fair social security system is vital and social security should be devolved, but welfare is not the core solution to poverty. We have to think about poverty in terms of equality and the redistribution of power and money to close the gap between rich and poor. We need political will to tackle zero-hours contracts and we must address fuel poverty. Affordable heating and affordable rents are essential.

We know that for the first time more than half of people in poverty live in a working family. People are working, often in demanding jobs, but are being paid wages that keep them in poverty. Governments subsidise that situation and the companies that pay poverty wages with corporate welfare.

The fair solution is a living wage. The national minimum wage needs to be raised to living wage levels immediately. The living wage commission estimated that that would benefit 5.2 million people across the UK, or 17 per cent of the working population. Our election manifesto will include a new minimum wage of £10 an hour for everyone by 2020, a wealth tax on the top 1 per cent and company-wide pay ratios. That is a package of measures to truly tackle the UK’s persistent inequality and poverty. We need to create a fair and sustainable society for all our children.

Time to stop dodging the debate on Council Tax

Yesterday I asked the Scottish Government whether they would meet with other parties to come up with a way forward on local government taxation. You can view the exchange below.

When household bills are spiralling upwards, it’s easy to see why the council tax freeze must seem like good politics for the Scottish Government. The truth is it’s letting us dodge the need to replace this deeply unfair tax.

John Swinney confirmed last month that rates will be frozen for the eighth year in a row, meaning that poor and rich households alike will pay at the same rate they did back in 2007.

In theory councils can still put up their rates if they want to, but Mr Swinney has them in such a financial armlock that this is not a realistic choice for them to make. They certainly can’t make the tax fairer by charging wealthy people more.

The SNP talks a great deal about empowering communities, but they have done the opposite with this tax that pays toward our local services. By freezing the rates they’ve avoided the question of how we find a better solution for local democracy and for funding those services.

There is much talk of Scotland getting new tax powers, which I support, but ironically this is the one well-known tax that has been in our control since the start of devolution in 1999, and it’s gone unreformed in all that time.

Recently the Scotland Government replaced stamp duty on house sales with a fairer tax, and a much higher rate for those buying homes worth over £1million.

But under the council tax system, which is based on what homes were worth way back in 1991, the poorest in our society are hit much harder than the richest, and this is a substantial bill that most of us pay each and every month.

To be fair, the SNP did recognise this when they first got into Government, and proposed a local version of income tax instead, but they hit technical and political problems with their plan.

With the independence referendum debate behind us, and with cuts being made to local services while wealth inequality grows, it’s clear that the situation can’t go on much longer.

It would have made a real difference if those who could afford it had paid a bit more over the last few years. Instead, councils have been forced to increase fees and charges for things like care homes and leisure services, which is the least fair system of all.

Green councillors tell me of community centres facing closure as staff numbers are slashed and of damaging reductions that threaten nurseries and school maintenance. Homeless hostels face cuts while home care rates increase. Libraries are undermined by shorter opening hours and healthy lives affected by increased rates at sports centres.  It’s a desperate situation, which is why we need a new deal to replace or radically change council tax.

One of the best things about the referendum campaign was that masses of people took an interest in discussing political ideas for the first time in ages. I think the time is right for the political parties to offer some fairer and more honest tax policies before the next Holyrood election.

All parties will have their own ideas to contribute, and the Greens certainly have ideas about taxing land rather than house prices, but we might get some of the best ideas from outside of party politics.

And this is just part of a bigger debate about how local democracy could work better in Scotland. It’s easy to feel like you have no power to influence decisions made about your local area.

What the referendum has shown is that if we give people a glimpse of real power, we find a Scotland full of passion and energy for making a better society, and that includes how to pay for that better society.

The council tax question can’t be dodged forever. I urge all parties to enter into an honest debate to find a better way forward for Scotland.

Fracking campaign gathers momentum

20141008_120300

Below is a copy of an opinion piece I wrote for the Evening News on 1st November:

The campaign against fracking is getting louder each day. People realise that it’s a distraction from the task of growing the number of secure jobs in new, clean industries in Scotland.

Just this week, the UK Government closed bidding on licences for companies to explore for unconventional or ‘hard to get’ fossil fuels across 20,000 square kilometres of central Scotland, including most of the land surrounding the Firth of Forth.

Unsurprisingly, the Greens have opposed the development of unconventional fossil fuels from day one. Let’s not jeopardise Scotland’s exciting renewable energy boom, which is creating thousands of jobs. More and more communities are starting to develop their own renewables projects, securing themselves a financial income as well as energy from a clean source. We need to keep political and financial minds focused on supporting this greener future, rather than firing up another round of polluting fossil fuels.

There are many myths about the potential of fracking to cut energy prices or help the climate but they just don’t stand up to scrutiny. We’re in a very different situation from the USA and all the evidence shows that Scotland’s future is best served by clean energy and better insulated homes.

I held the first Scottish Parliament debate on fracking earlier this year and called for a straightforward ban on new projects, but was voted down by every other party. The Scottish Government has the powers to stop projects going forward, but it continues to see fracking as an opportunity rather than a risk. I also proposed a 2km buffer zone to create a barrier between any drilling and communities, but I was narrowly defeated in the Parliament’s Energy Committee.

The experiences of families in America and Australia where fracking is established show me that our communities have every right to be concerned about the prospect of local pollution and the associated health impacts. I’ve been out meeting people from West to East Lothian and they’re particularly alarmed at the UK Government clearing the way for fracking by removing your right to object if pipelines go under your property, and they want the Scottish Government to clear up its position too.

It’s time for the SNP to come down clearly on one side of this debate. We do need a new industrial policy to increase employment and opportunities across central Scotland, but it doesn’t need to start with fracking.

Gender equality – a long overdue first step

SCOTLAND has a proud record of women in power. From Mary Barbour – Glasgow’s first woman councillor and campaigner for fair rents – to the hundreds of women who campaigned for fair representation in the new Scottish Parliament, women appear to have been at the forefront of our country’s political life.
Women 50 50

We now have women leading Scottish Labour and the Scottish Conservatives. The Scottish Greens have a gender balanced leadership with Councillor Maggie Chapman and MSP Patrick Harvie as co-conveners. And it looks likely that Nicola Sturgeon will be our first woman First Minister.

Thousands of women came together to campaign on both sides of the referendum debate, many of them involved in politics for the first time, and that energy shows no sign of dissipating. But look behind the high profile women and the lively social media campaigns, and the picture is much less positive.

Scotland’s women are nearly 52 per cent of the population. Yet as the recent report Sex And Power In Britain 2014 report showed, only 35.1 per cent of our MSPs are women (down from its historic high of nearly 40 per cent in 1999).

Scotland’s 32 councils are much worse, with less than a quarter of our councillors female. This means there are only 297 women councillors representing their communities across Scotland, compared with 1,223 men. And only three of the 32 councils are led by a woman. The report also highlights that, out of the 59 Scottish MPs that sit in Westminster, only 13 (22 per cent) are women.

Inequality matters. Evidence from across the world shows that if gender inequality persists in decision-making, it is to the detriment of policy-making and the well-being of society.

The people who govern us, in our parliament and our council chambers, should reflect the society they represent, not a closed shop. That is why women from across the political divide have decided to come together to campaign for legal quotas in the Scottish Parliament, our council chambers and in our public bodies.

The time is right. As gender experts, Meryl Kenny and Fiona Mackay, argue in their influential blog Genderpol, the “historical moment” of devolution in 1999 opened up opportunities for women’s political participation. But that moment passed quickly, and it became difficult for campaigners to press for further reforms.

The referendum campaign and its aftermath have created a new “historical moment” and this time we need to exploit it fully if we are to get lasting change.

Experience in Scotland and elsewhere has shown that voluntary party quotas to secure gender equality are not sufficient.

Eight countries in the EU now have legislated forms of quotas. In Ireland any party not reaching 30 per cent faces financial penalties and in France it is 50 per cent. In Belgium, nominations with less than 50-50 balance are simply not valid.

Scotland should join them and introduce legal quotas. And not just any quotas – they should be the best in Europe, with robust sanctions for those parties that do not comply and rules to ensure that women candidates are not consigned to unwinnable seats or the bottom of regional lists.

Women 50:50 has very clear objectives. At the moment, the power to bring in legal quotas in the Scottish Parliament is currently reserved to Westminster, under the provision on political parties in the Scotland Act 1998.

As politicians discuss “extensive new powers” for the Scottish Par­liament, we would like to see the power to legislate for gender quotas devolved.

We want every political party in Scotland to support gender quotas in their manifestos for the 2016 Holyrood elections. And we want to see change by 2020.

Evidence from the European Union suggests that it takes three election cycles to implement a new quota rule as parties are reluctant to get rid of incumbent members – who are usually men.

Since the Scottish Parliament was set up, we have had four election cycles. The implementation of quotas, and a parliament that looks like the society it represents, could already have been a reality. Change is long overdue.

But change must, and will, come. The women of Scotland came together to campaign for fair rents and equal pay in the referendum.

Now we are joining forces, working with all those who wish to see progress, so we can, together, build a better Scotland. Gender equality alone will not deliver a truly representative Parliament, but it’s a long overdue first step.

Sign up to support the Women 50:50 campaign here.

This piece was co-written with Kezia Dugdale MSP and originally appeared in Scotland on Sunday, 28 September.

Another, better Scotland is possible

This week Parliament debated the outcome of the independence referendum. I spoke of the need to be ambitious in our vision of what we can do and be willing to work together to make it happen. You can read my full contribution to the debate below.

Alison

Scotland has voted no and I respect the democratic outcome of the vote. In fact, Scotland did so much more than vote: Scotland became a participative democracy and the change was almost palpable. We must strive to maintain that level of participation.

The vote did not deliver the result that the majority of—but not all—Greens campaigned for. However, it has delivered change. We may not have an opportunity to develop a written constitution, but “constitution” is a word that we use to refer to our physical state as regards vitality, health and strength. In that regard, I am encouraged and optimistic.

Alex Salmond was right when he said yesterday that there is

“a new spirit abroad in this land”

and that

“we are a better nation today”.—[Official Report, 23 September 2014; c 8.]

I agree. People who have never attended a political meeting in their lives came along and took part in the debate; people who would not have come along to a traditional hustings where politicians debate their manifestos came along with their questions and their own manifestos.

There are those who feel that other issues were sidelined as we discussed the constitution, but that is not a view that I share and it is not the experience of the thousands of people who debated Scotland’s future in the meetings that I attended in church and school halls and even on the stage of Dunfermline’s Alhambra theatre.

A narrow debate would never have energised Scotland in the way that the referendum campaign has. The debate was broadened, deepened, energised and given a life of its own by the many diverse groups, organisations and individuals who took part. A woman who attended a discussion with an all-woman panel at Edinburgh College of Art stood up and said, “I can’t believe I’m standing up to speak in public and take part in a meeting about how my country is governed.”

Many people found their feet and their voices in the campaign. Many groups, including women for independence, the radical independence campaign, common weal, the national collective and business for Scotland, made sure that people from all walks of life were involved and represented in the campaign. We can learn much from those groups about engagement. Social media was invaluable in the campaign. It helped to level what was a very unlevel playing field from the point of view of support from corporate print media. The nature of campaigning itself was transformed in the campaign.

I took part in debates with people from all the organisations that I have mentioned and with people from none of them, and I was unfailingly impressed. I took part in debates with our youngest voters and they demonstrated why they should be fully involved in the democratic process. I welcome the growing consensus for votes at 16.

A meeting that was organised by [Untitled] Falkirk will be long remembered by all who were there. Young actors, speakers and poets took part, as well as the prominent playwright Alan Bissett. I was staggered by their talent. It was a Friday night and, even when there was an interval, no one left. The meeting carried on way beyond its scheduled end. There were six traditional political speakers, who were interspersed with outstanding Scottish artists. It was a model for the new politics in the new Scotland. A woman with disabilities who relies on benefits for her income told the meeting that she felt that she was voiceless and that the referendum campaign was finally giving her the means to get her message across to those politicians whose policies were making her life ever more challenging.

That insistent, increasingly confident voice led to the announcement of the vow by David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband, in which they recognised that the status quo is simply unacceptable. As tight as the timescales that Lord Smith has been given to work to are, we must do all that we can to ensure that those who contributed so much to the debate are given every opportunity to contribute to that process, too.

Debate in Scotland has flourished not in spite of but because of the diversity of speakers on behalf of the yes and no campaigns. It is no secret that the Greens and the SNP have many policy differences, as do the better together parties, but we all have common ground and we must all now work together for the best outcome.

Yesterday, Ken Macintosh suggested that among those who had lost the vote there might be a temptation to “lash out in anger”; not at all. He said that people were “genuinely scared”, and Murdo Fraser said that, for some people,

“even the debate was a threat to their identity.”—[Official Report, 23 September 2014; c 56.]

My experience was a far more positive one. People questioned assertions while relishing involvement. I hope that the debate has demonstrated to all that we can disagree with one another and remain friends, and we in the Parliament have a duty to continue to demonstrate that.

I do not accept the narrative of a hostile and bitter campaign that some have put forward. I believe that we should focus on the outstanding level of engagement and the overwhelmingly positive level of participation in the vote. The campaign was carried on in a passionate yet respectful manner. It was intense but, by and large, it was tolerant and engaging, and at times it was even entertaining. The narrative is a positive one.

So what now? The vow must be made real and we must deliver for all of Scotland’s people—everyone who voted and everyone who did not. The Greens were not campaigning for a wee version of Westminster. Let us engage with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities paper on local democracy and my party’s review. The referendum debate has shown us that democracy begins at street level.

In this energy and resource-rich country, fuel poverty persists, food banks proliferate and equal pay feels far away. Regardless of who takes over the Westminster reins next May, the levels of austerity that have been promised go beyond anything that has yet been experienced but, as the Presiding Officer said yesterday, those who got off their settees are not going back to them. Politics in Scotland must be open to all who wish to have a fairer and more equal nation. We should be ambitious in our vision of what we can do and willing to work together to make it happen. If we do that, another, better Scotland is possible.