Day One – Scottish Green Party Conference
The most vital Scottish Green Party Conference to date kicked off today in the fantastic Craiglockhart venue we last visited in 2007. The spacious lobby allows plenty of room for exhibitors’ stands, and the lecture theatre is a great space with excellent views over Edinburgh. It is possibly even more attractive from the outside. And it’s where Siegfried Sasson and Wilfred Owen met during the First World War, resulting in some of the most moving war poetry ever written. Our conference coincided with Remembrance Day in 2007, and Chris Ballance read very movingly from Owen. A moment to truly remember.
The opening speeches by Alison Johnstone and Patrick Harvie explained how important next year’s Holyrood election will be for the party and for Scotland. By making the point that a crisis caused by bankers had led to a gigantic attack on the poor Harvie set a firmly progressive course for the campaign ahead.
Lunch was next and offered the opportunity to go to a couple of fringes.
At lunchtime I was able to go to the Victim Support fringe. Unfortunately the Poverty Alliance fringe was full by the time I got there – it was my first choice. But that in itself is a very good thing. The growing appreciation that it is vital to develop and communicate the core Green messages around poverty and inequality is welcome.
Victim Support Scotland focused on how the justice system can be very problematic for victims. Court buildings aren’t set up to keep victims apart from the accused and the police are poor at protecting victims when they act as witnesses. Some of the audience were very grateful for the support given by Victim Support having been victims of crime. Cllr Martha Wardrop explained the impact of crime on some of the people in her ward.
I asked about what they had done to support better legislation on corporate negligence, particularly corporate homicide. The speaker said they’d never been asked about it before – which I thought was surprising. It’s clear to me that the sanctions for corporate crimes are much less significant than those for other crime. The Stockline explosion, which is in Cllr Wardrop’s ward resulted in 9 deaths, 15 serious injuries and the destruction of a 4 storey building. It resulted in a £200 000 fine for both of the companies involved. No one was jailed. It seems utterly disgraceful that companies can act like this with relative impunity.
I was then the speaker at the UNISON/Democratic Left Scotland/Scottish Left Review Fringe. I’m told that Union events no longer have beer and sandwiches at them these days – and that was certainly the case today, where we had to make do with orange juice. At least Jimmy Reid, who features on the front cover of the latest Scottish Left Review would approve. It was good to be able to make the case for a united front with Unions to defend public services and create a green economy.
I took a little break for some lunch and to catch up with people, so missed the session with Rachel Nunn of Going Carbon Neutral Stirling and Alan Caldwell. I’m sure they were both excellent as always.
The afternoon session was consideration of Policy Motions. This is the meat and drink of any conference (even for a vegetarian like me…) and it’s sad that there’s less and less of it at party conferences. The first motion, proposing that the party support the Calman Commission findings fell. That’s probably the right decision. The Comission made proposals about further devolution of powers to Scotland. Our position is sufficiently clear from principle (an autonomous Scotland) and Calman looks like backsliding on that. It’s an odd set of powers to devolve and I think most Greens would prefer the Scottish Parliament to have control over macro-economic powers and defence.
We then moved onto the motion that carried most emotional significance for me. Andy Saunders and I had proposed a motion to get the Scottish Greens to follow our English and Welsh counterparts and the Scottish Trades Union Congress in supporting Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions on the state of Israel. Andy, Colin Cooper and I all spoke about our time in Palestine and how important it was to seek a peaceful resolution to the conflict. I even got a bit emotional at this stage. Seeing children suffering serious slowed development due to Israel’s actions in the second intifada early last decade is something that stays with me to this day.
This must mean an end to illegal settlements. Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions are the best way to put pressure on Israel to stop these settlements. It’s good to have helped build that movement. And I was particularly pleased with the over-whelming majority with which this passed.
In other policy motions we updated our housing policy, formalised our support for a living wage and rejected the idea of a social partnership giving voluntary and community groups the opportunity to play a role at the centre of government and the budgeting process. We also backed minimum pricing for alcohol.
Robin Harper’s rousing finale featured a commitment to confidence and supply rather than any full coalition. Rather gratifyingly it also featured a person by person run down of the Portobello Greens. Our fame spreads!
The AGM at the end of the day featured the usual anorak laden points. But there were some very detailed emergency motions on student fees and the Comprehensive Spending Review. While the content was mostly spot-on, the volume was too much for emergency motions. And I’m not sure an emergency motion (which we don’t get to see until Conference opens) is the right way to introduce possible policy developments like adding higher rate bands to the Council Tax.
We re-convene tomorrow for the rest of the AGM, and most excitingly an address from Caroline Lucas.