Women aren’t a minority, but the under-represented majority.

Support for Women 5050 has grown in recent months and I’m sure it will continue to do so.  Political engagement in Scotland bloomed during the referendum and that heightened level of involvement has continued. AJ 5050 bag1

 

Many women, young and old, become engaged during that campaign, found their voices and contributed on both sides of the debate.  It’s essential that they are encouraged to continue.

 

There is more discussion now about the need for fair gender representation in politics, but there are still those who are convinced that our representatives are all there on merit.  Globally, almost 90% of parliamentarians are men.  This tells me that action is required to provide a truly level playing field.

 

After all, I’ve attended meetings packed with women campaigning to keep local nurseries or hospitals open.  With less cash, less access to private transport and more likely to have had their much needed benefits cut, women understand the impact of these decisions.

 

But there are too few women able to influence the debate in our Council Chambers and in the Scottish Parliament.

 

It’s time now to make sure that far more women are involved in making and voting for these decisions.

 

My Party, the Scottish Greens, insists that 50% of winnable seats have women candidates.  So it can be done.  Women aren’t a minority, but the under-represented majority.

 

Please get involved and support Women5050.  Your support will make a difference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We must do all we can to enhance, protect and promote employees’ rights.

This week I was pleased to speak in a debate in parliament on employee rights. They can protect us when things go wrong, when companies get into difficulties or in the face of unscrupulous employers, and they have been hard won by labour and trade union campaigners over decades.

Read on for the full text of my speech…

Alison

Alison Johnstone chamber pic
Workers’ rights are human rights. Article 23 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says:

“Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.”

That article goes on to cover equal pay for equal work, the right to just remuneration and social protection “worthy of human dignity” and the right to join trade unions. Those rights are also embedded in the European charter of fundamental rights and, in part, in the UK Human Rights Act 1998.

Strong employee rights are vital, but they face a barrage of attacks from the UK Government. We have heard from other MSPs about the Conservative plan for a 40 per cent threshold for strike ballots in health, transport, fire services and schools. As the minister and other colleagues have noted, the UK Tory Government, with 37 per cent of the vote, did not quite make the grade, but it still proposes abolition of the Human Rights Act 1998.

Employee rights are also under attack from the UK Government’s support of the transatlantic trade and investment partnership—the so-called free trade agreement that is really a corporate power grab that endangers workers’ rights. TTIP proposals will give corporations influence over laws and regulatory convergence risks lowering health and safety protections. That is an affront to democracy, and TTIP should be scrapped.

Governments have to be free to make changes that will improve the lives of their citizens. Raising the minimum wage to the living wage is exactly the sort of policy that the Greens will continue to fight for. In the general election campaign, we argued that, by 2020, the minimum wage should be £10 to ensure that nobody in work is faced with poverty. We also support the introduction of wage ratios.

The rise of zero-hours contracts, which have been much discussed in the debate, is another example of where workers’ rights are being eroded. They will work for a few people, but most exploit people who desperately need work. I support calls from the STUC for full employment protections for all workers, regardless of their employment status.

The Scottish Green Party supported the devolution of employment law during the Smith process and was disappointed that progress was not made. That support was not motivated just by the desire to see workers protected; it also makes sense. In its submission to the Smith commission, the STUC said:

“it is easier to imagine coherent policies on economic development, tackling inequality through public service provision, welfare and active labour market intervention if the Scottish Parliament is empowered to tackle discrimination, poor employment practice, insecure employment, low minimum wages and to create healthier workplaces and promote collective bargaining.”

Employment protections are fully devolved to Northern Ireland, so it can be done while maintaining a single labour market. Employment services and fair access to employment tribunals are referred to in the Government motion. Devolution there is warmly welcome.

Since the introduction of tribunal fees, there has been an 81 per cent drop in applications to the employment tribunal. That is a serious access-to-justice issue for workers. Citizens Advice Scotland, in its briefing for today, sets out its advisers’ experience. They found that “fees negatively alter the power balance between workers and employers” and that the decision whether to take a claim to the tribunal is no longer based on merit but is based on personal finances—can the person afford justice or not? With the fees that we have discussed this afternoon, that is no surprise. Often, those who most need to challenge employment practices are being priced out of doing so.

I support the Law Society’s view, which we heard in committee, that any limitations to tribunal devolution should be restricted to those that are objectively necessary.

The Scottish Parliament information centre has produced a comparison of the Smith agreement and the Scotland Bill. It has marked the devolution proposals on employment programmes in red because they did not address any of the Devolution (Further Powers) Committee’s concerns. That has to change and I hope that it will.

I, too, support calls for a weekend allowance for all staff in National Museums Scotland. Like others, I look forward to the establishment of a much-needed Scottish hazards centre that will actively campaign for safer and healthier workplaces and more effective enforcement by the Health and Safety Executive and local authorities.

Graeme Pearson spoke of his concern about the varying practices by trade unions in different parts of these islands. While he questioned the need for two different approaches, if the one approach that we have is regressive and truly woeful, I support having two different approaches.

Alex Johnstone spoke of “socialist failure”. Last night, I was watching the late news—it was on one of the major channels but I cannot remember which one—and I saw a dinner of bankers who were described as “the elite”. Is it not the case that, if the losses that they incurred had not been socialised, failure might have been truly catastrophic?

I suggest that this Parliament do all that it can to enhance, protect and promote employees’ rights.

MUSSELBURGH LINKS: PRAISING THE BIG NATURE FESTIVAL VENUE

I’ve lodged a motion in the Scottish Parliament praising the Big Nature Festival at Levenhall Links in Musselburgh.AJ and rangers at Musselburgh

The family-friendly event took place on 23 and 24 May, with an estimated 6,000 people taking part in activities and talks and sampling local food and drink.

My motion welcomes the ongoing efforts of East Lothian Council, Scottish Power, RSPB and the Friends of Musselburgh Links group to progress further restoration of the site.

I really enjoyed my visit to the Big Nature Festival and the conversations I had with many people passionate about wildlife and unique sites such as Levenhall. The festival’s organisers and participants should be proud, and the event undoubtedly brought a welcome boost to the East Lothian economy.

Levenhall links and lagoons are a real haven for birdlife and a valuable green space for the community. I hope the success of the festival is repeated and we see the site fully restored to create a high quality nature reserve for future generations to enjoy.”

You can read my motion here.

 

 

Devolution must not stop at Holyrood

This week I spoke in parliament on the findings of the Devolution committee’s inquiry into the UK’s Government’s proposed legislation on further powers.

Smith

Here’s what I had to say:

 

The committee was tasked with scrutinising the previous UK Government’s translation of the Smith commission’s recommendations into proposed law. As my committee colleagues have said, that scrutiny was undertaken in an atmosphere of mutual respect and with an agreed determination to ensure that, as the report said,

“both the letter and the spirit of the Smith Commission’s report”

would be

“fully translated into a legislative package”.

A key conclusion that the committee reached can be found in paragraph 493 of the report, which states:

“In some of the areas … the Committee believes that the current draft legislative proposals meet the challenge of fully translating the political agreement reached in the Smith Commission. In other areas, improvements in drafting and further clarification are required. In some critical areas, the then UK Government’s draft legislative clauses fall short.”

In the time that I have, I intend to outline where the Scottish Green Party is content that the clauses meet the letter and the spirit of the Smith commission’s proposals and where we believe that they do not. I will also stress the need to broaden public engagement as widely as possible as the process moves forward, which Jackie Baillie touched on.

It is fair to say that we are having this debate because, during the referendum campaign, the people of Scotland, regardless of what side they were on, became so involved in the debate about what kind of Scotland they wanted to live in. Some 18,000-plus emails were received during the Smith commission process. Given the tight timescale, it is fairly likely that those emails did not all receive the consideration that they perhaps deserved. We will never have all the time that we wish to have, but there is a little more time now for engagement. That level of engagement illustrates that, as the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations noted,

“If it is to be meaningful and effective, devolution must be driven by the people of Scotland”

and

“There must be opportunities for the public to influence the process and contribute their views.”

The committee report states as a key recommendation:

“The Committee believes that further public engagement, directly with the people of Scotland as well as representative bodies, charities, industry groups, voluntary bodies etc. is still a vital activity that needs to be carried out and is fully committed to the spirit of the recommendation made by the Smith Commission in this respect.”

It says:

“The Committee calls on the UK and Scottish Governments to consider how to commit to the spirit of the Smith Commission’s recommendation in this respect.”

The committee did what it could in that regard to go out and about. It had meetings and engaged where that was possible, but I would like the Scottish Parliament and the UK Parliament to consider properly how to broaden meaningful consultation. I urge the Government to look at things such as citizens juries and consensus conferences. As colleagues know, the charrettes method has been used with some success in the planning system in Scotland. Those techniques are used across the world to help to solve complex problems without top-down imposition by so-called experts.

As colleagues have stressed, welfare devolution is one of the complex problem areas. At First Minister’s question time last week, my colleague Patrick Harvie spoke of the

“tangible level of fear among so many people in the face of”

cuts

“to what remains of the welfare state.”—[Official Report, 14 May 2015; c 16.]

The Engender briefing for today’s debate sets out starkly how gendered the cuts have been. Since the coalition Government started cutting, 85 per cent of the money that has been saved from tax and benefit changes has come from women’s pockets. We want to fix those wrongs that are harming women, children and vulnerable people, but there are genuine concerns that we will not get the devolution of welfare right. Our job has not been made easy by the complex devolution agreement, which could potentially make things even more confusing for people.

The committee report has important recommendations to ensure that we are able to create a system that works. On top of that, women and those who are in receipt of benefits need to be much more involved in the design. Engender calls for the administration of universal credit to be devolved early with a section 30 order. Jim McCormick also pointed out that we need much-improved intergovernmental working if we are going to manage properly those really important areas of shared responsibility, such as welfare.

The Greens called for and welcomed agreement on the proposals for the devolution of unconventional gas licensing, fuel poverty and energy efficiency programmes, and formal consultation on energy policy. I agree with much of what the First Minister said yesterday on energy policy. Scotland needs a stronger voice.

The Scottish Government has a moratorium on fracking, but there should be no delay in the public consultation. It is time for a complete ban with no delay in devolving the licensing regime.

As we have heard, the Crown Estate is another area in which the draft clauses do not deliver the Smith agreement. For some reason, the proposed method of devolution is convoluted—the land reform expert Andy Wightman described it as “opaque, complex and unnecessary”. I strongly support the devolution of the Crown Estate away from Holyrood, but there is no need for overly complex preconditions in an already complex settlement. In effect, the draft clauses allow two Crown estates in Scotland, with one managed by commissioners in London and one managed by whatever sort of local devolution scheme is established. That is entirely at odds with the spirit of the Smith commission and must be rectified.

I welcome colleagues’ openness to the idea of building on the Smith commission. There is too much to cover, but I will make a final point. Devolution must not stop at Holyrood. I did not campaign for a mini-Westminster in Edinburgh. If the past couple of years have taught us anything at all, surely they have taught us that we need to trust our local authorities, our communities and our people with more power.

Alison

 

The University of Edinburgh’s fossil fuel investments

I have lodged a motion concerning the situation at Edinburgh University, where students are more than a week into their peaceful protest on campus, dismayed over the university’s decision not to withdraw investments from fossil fuel industries to pursue more ethical investments instead.

I had the pleasure of joining the occupation on Friday evening, where the positive and constructive way in which the students are making their case is clear for all to see.

The campaign is an inspiration to myself and many others who share the view that Edinburgh University should reconsider its position, and follow a more responsible path when it comes to investment.

You can read my motion online here.

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EDINBURGH DEVELOPMENT PLAN MISSED OPPORTUNITY

 

Today’s decision by Edinburgh city council to approve a new Local Development Plan, shows it is obsessed with suburban sprawl rather than building affordable homes.map-of-edinburgh-640x300

The long-awaited plan allocates land around the city for the next 10 years, and has been driven by controversial Scottish Government projections that more than 100,000 new homes are needed across South-east Scotland. It earmarks areas such as Brunstane, Cammo and Newmills for development.

It’s frustrating to see this plan being passed without addressing the real concerns of communities around Edinburgh where unnecessary developments are earmarked. Our city has thousands of empty homes, plenty of brownfield sites and land that has been banked by developers. That is where the focus should be.

The city urgently needs more affordable homes – homes which are built in compact communities with easy access to services and transport. Much of the LDP debate has sadly been about swapping suburban sprawl in one location for sprawl in another, without fundamentally addressing the need for a spreading the city at all.

It is a missed opportunity to develop a sustainable city region.

Alison

 

 

 

Health inequalities: why has there not been more progress?

The Scottish Parliament held a debate on health inequality last week, which I was unable to speak in but I wanted to share some thoughts on.

This is a significant issue in Scotland where people in the most deprived areas of the country are more likely to suffer from poor health and die earlier compared with people in affluent areas – the infographic below highlights this disparity in Edinburgh along the tram line route. However, government incentives so far have shown little tangible difference due to their emphasis on individual behavioural change.

Mind the Gap graphic

This debate has coincided with the Green MSPs publication of a new health inequality briefing which you can read here. The briefing, based on a Health Inequality research paper, outlines the importance of tackling the social determinants of health including income, access to health and social services, good quality jobs and the quality of our environment.

Given the wide range of factors influencing our health, we should be looking at how all major government decisions affect health inequality. And we should be supporting a community-led approach so that particular local health challenges can be tackled through projects designed and run by the community.

Greens are calling for:

  • Incomes to be raised through policies such as a £10 minimum wage
  • Legislation to bring in Health Inequality Impact Assessments (HIIA) for all significant government policies
  • The creation of a Healthy Challenge Fund to empower communities in the same way as the hugely successful Climate Challenge Fund

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.