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.



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.

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!