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.

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.


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.


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


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.


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.

A Green Yes – article for Bella Caledonia

Ever since the Scottish Greens voted to campaign for a Yes, our messages have focused on how independence offers the opportunity for transforming Scotland’s political culture, affording us the chance to fulfil our huge potential.

As well as supporting Yes Scotland, we established the Green Yes campaign to ensure our distinctive messages had a platform. In doing so we have spoken to a wider audience than ever before about how Green policies seek to tackle poverty, build sustainable industry and end inequality.

Greens have taken part in events all across Scotland – some well-used to public debate, others finding their voice for the first time, inspired to share their own vision as each of us contemplates what kind of society we aspire to create.

Green Yes has also published a series of ‘briefing notes’ at in which we set out ideas for some steps our society can take to transform lives for the better in practical terms, beyond vague promises of creating a more just and equal country.

Citizen’s Income

We recently outlined our proposals for a Citizen’s Income as a new way of providing social security in an independent Scotland. We advocate a universal payment, providing enough income to meet the basic needs of everyone, replacing almost all benefits and the state pension. This would be cheaper to run, remove the complexity of the current system and make the lowest-earning 70% of households better off.

The benefits retained would be all disability benefits and carer’s allowance for those needing additional support, and housing benefit and council tax reduction for people otherwise facing homelessness.

The UK Government labels people on benefits “scroungers” and “shirkers” – language designed to stoke tension and prejudice. People are pitted against one another by successive governments as they target social security for swingeing cuts. With a Citizen’s Income, everyone would have the opportunity to change jobs, raise children, care for loved ones, pursue education or start a new project – without ending up on the breadline.

The late feminist economist, Professor Ailsa McKay, made clear that a Citizen’s Income benefits women in particular by recognising the “diverse roles of women as wives, mothers, carers and workers”. Engender recently highlighted that “since 2010, 74% of cuts to benefits, tax credits, pay and pensions have been taken from women…This rises to 81% of the ‘savings’ realised by the Treasury in 2014-15”.

Employment Law

One reason that women are disproportionately affected by failings in our systems is the ‘traditional’ division of labour down unacceptable gender lines through inequality in employment. Men receiving higher pay than women for the same job reinforces the role of men as primary bread-winner, meaning much of the extra work within the domestic economy falls to women. Life as an unpaid carer for relatives, for example, leaves women in a particularly vulnerable position, even without the devastating effects of austerity and withdrawal of state services.

In the event that responsibility for employment law comes to Scotland, our polling shows over 75% support a requirement for private sector employers to ensure pay equality. On average, women earn 13% less than men in full-time jobs, almost 34% less in part-time, and a clear desire exists to close this shameful gap. With employment laws reserved to Westminster however, public opinion being reflected in political will in the Scottish Parliament cannot yet be enough to effect necessary changes.

The hostility in Westminster to the right of workers in general – to organise and have the means to secure improved terms and conditions – also exposes Scotland’s powerlessness to repeal anti-trade union laws. As well as promoting a legal requirement for employers to pay a living wage to all, Greens are committed to legislating for stronger trades unions and envisage a major role for them in promoting economic democracy.

Key to this must be the role of unions in helping to roll back privatisation of services and utilities. With independence, we would be in a position to oppose deals like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which would prevent Scotland from reversing privatisation, but is currently reserved to the UK to negotiate as EU member state.

The opportunity we have now is to take responsibility for decisions like these in Scotland. Immediately following a Yes vote, the work would begin to determine how we wish to use our responsibility.

Greater empowerment

Independence shouldn’t simply mean devolution of responsibility from Westminster to Holyrood either. This debate is an opportunity to promote ideas of decentralising power further within Scotland, and we are encouraged to see wider calls for more local decisions, greater accountability and public participation.

With a Yes, we would like to embed the status of local decision-making in a written constitution. For example, Germany forbids national Government from interfering with tax rates set by local authorities for raising revenue. Further Green proposals include creating a greater number of smaller municipalities, and a Land Value Tax to give a fairer way of funding vital services than Council Tax.

The referendum debate has captured the imagination, and capitalising on that can mean increased participation and turnout at elections. We have an opportunity to address the democratic deficit and spark a revival in local democracy, bringing politics closer to people, instead of councils like Highland governing an area the size of Belgium.

Other opportunities we’ve highlighted include Green ideas for creating a jobs-rich economy, painfully-overdue banking reform, and ensuring digital rights are seen as civil rights.

Scotland has the skills and opportunity to create well-paid, secure jobs, in many areas such as shipbuilding, energy, digital technology, construction and engineering that can thrive across Scotland with investment and attention. We need to offer more than insecure jobs and low wages.

With a Yes, we can decentralise ownership of land and infrastructure that renewable energy depends upon, as well as developing a large, publicly-owned energy company and networks of local banks with communities’ interests at heart. The renewables industry has enormous potential to create the jobs required, but its prospects are damaged by Westminster’s determination to saddle us with astronomical costs and environmental damage from nuclear and fracking.

Decentralisation of responsibility must also be seen within the context of embracing a more responsible position internationally. The internet is moving towards a point when everyone on Earth should soon have access to the sum total of human knowledge. Governments and societies must collaborate to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead – including protecting against invasions of privacy.

Internet legislation remains with Westminster, and through Scotland taking responsibility, Greens see greater opportunity for a Digital Bill of Rights, democratic control of intelligence functions, a Scottish communications regulator, and a public forum for debate about the future of global society and technology.


As a Green, I see an opportunity to reframe narratives of “defence” in terms of what security threats people actually face. While a Yes vote should consign Trident to history, we must also challenge the notion that Scotland should seek the moral hypocrisy of joining the NATO nuclear club, or, as the SNP intend, devote twice as much to military spending as to international development.

Major global threats facing humanity involve scarcity of food, water and land, as well as digital crime, and while Greens want a smaller defence sector, there will continue to be significant need for infrastructure and hardware for humanitarian and development work. We also want to see skilled workers deployed in the rapidly growing renewables industry, and see this opportunity as part of a long-term economic diversification agenda.

Key factors needing addressed by a government serious about people’s security within its borders involve health and wellbeing, domestic and sexual violence, poverty and working conditions. Immediately post-independence, we should begin by looking at what measures the government must take, particularly in terms of spending decisions, to alleviate the real threats facing people every day.

While this debate offers the opportunity to consider measures to enhance security and wellbeing that we could implement with new powers, we must also seriously consider why we would spurn the opportunity to crack down on tax dodging by corporations and rich individuals, or end the inhuman sanctions regime forcing hundreds of thousands into foodbanks and crisis loans.

Another issue affecting powers already devolved is immigration. There is no one-size-fits-all policy for attracting new citizens – particularly in areas like healthcare and education, and those coming to Scotland face unacceptable hostility from Westminster, no matter how much those in Holyrood urgently want to change that.

I wasn’t always of the view that independence was vital, but the debate has made clear that the path Westminster continues along is failing us all, and the genuine will that exists to do things better is matched in Scotland by a once in a lifetime opportunity to make it happen.

2014 can mark the beginning of a radical transformation of our economy and communities. I will vote Yes because I believe we must accept further responsibility, then we can push ahead to create a society that works for all, now and in the generations to come.

This article was originally published in Bella Caledonia – Closer edition 3. You can read more here.

With independence we gain the opportunity to decide how we build society

This article was originally written by request for a PCS Union members’ newsletter.

The debate on Scottish independence provides a unique opportunity to ask what kind of society we want to be, and with such a broad range of people inspired to talk about their vision, I am grateful for this opportunity to share my own views with members of PCS.

As a Green, my confidence in independence stems not from national identity, but from a desire to bring power closer to people. Greens don’t see independence as an end in itself but as a means to delivering politics that are better suited to those living with the consequences of decision-making, which engender more localised economics, and which encourage job-creation.

As a highly skilled country with good education and great potential, Scotland has the opportunity to create well-paid, secure jobs, with many sectors such as shipbuilding, energy, digital technology, construction and engineering that can thrive across Scotland with dedicated investment and attention. We need to offer an alternative to austerity, inequality, insecure jobs and low wages.

We live in a wealthy nation yet inequality is increasing, and the austerity agenda has a particularly devastating impact on women and children. Families struggling in poverty are bearing the brunt of the UK cuts, while the rich continue to get richer. A Yes vote will not transform our economy overnight, but does provide the opportunity to begin to create a jobs-rich, equal, resilient and locally-based economy designed for Scotland that provides for everyone to live well.

In the event that responsibility for employment law comes to Scotland, our polling shows over 75% support a requirement for large private sector employers to ensure pay equality. On average, women earn 13% less than men in full-time jobs, almost 34% less in part-time, and it is clear the strong desire exists to close this shameful gap. With employment laws reserved to Westminster however, public opinion being reflected in political will in the Scottish Parliament cannot yet be enough to allow us to effect necessary changes.

The opportunity we have in September is to take responsibility for decisions like this here in Scotland. I believe we have a greater chance of achieving the changes that so many want to see if we make decisions for ourselves rather than leaving them to an increasingly out of touch Westminster.

Independence is also an opportunity to create a progressive tax system, free from the loopholes that have seen billions lost in tax dodging and offshore tax havens, with enough people employed to collect a fair tax. We can afford more for education, healthcare and other vital public services if we take the opportunity to change course, and fulfil the responsibility we have to make Scotland as healthy and as fair a society as we have it in our power to be.

For many people there is no option but low-skilled, poorly paid work. Too many face underemployment and don’t have the secure jobs to provide the quality of life they need now, let alone a pay packet that enables them to save for the future. Focussing on creating highly skilled and highly productive jobs will provide better pay and more rewarding work. This will bring an increased tax take and the ability to invest in research and development, innovation and the services we all rely on.

While both support independence, one of the areas Green policy differs from the current SNP government is in their wish to cut corporation tax. This is a regressive step that risks a race to the bottom.

Employers seeking to develop or locate in Scotland need good quality infrastructure, a skilled and healthy population, and the other benefits of social provision. These factors matter more to employers with a genuine long term commitment, while marginal tax rates appeal to here-today-gone-tomorrow investors.

Nevertheless, differing opinion on policy among pro-independence parties is healthy, it emphasises that the politics of Scotland’s future does not end with a Yes vote on 18th September – that just marks the beginning. From the Holyrood election in 2016 and beyond, the people of Scotland will have the opportunity to choose the government that best represents them, whoever that may be.

The mass under-representation and lack of expectations currently on offer tell of a society desperately in need of revitalisation. With independence and further community empowerment, this generation has the chance to address the democratic deficit that exists in Scotland, giving people far more say in how their communities, let alone their country, should be run.

2014 can be the starting point for a radical transformation of our economy and society. I will vote Yes because I believe we must take the opportunity of further responsibility, for welfare, employment law, taxation and much more. Then we really can push ahead to create a society that works for all, now and in the generations to come.