If the Planet had Been a Bank it Would Have Been Saved Years Ago – Scottish Greens Conference Day 2
The second and final day of Scottish Green Party Conference was marked by two fantastic speeches, and two debates on Greens’ participating in coalitions. The speeches one by Caroline Lucas and one by Andy Wightman were stirring and sent everyone away thoroughly inspired. The debates provided an interesting insight into the party’s hopes and fears for the coming year.
The kicked off with a continuation of the AGM and then the Conference Motions. Here the main debate centred on Chris Ballance’s motion to prevent Green cooperation in a government based on the Conservative/Liberal Democrat cuts agenda. There were strongly made points about how important it might be for Greens to prevent a new government from making bad decisions, and therefore how important it was to have Greens in government. On the other side some argued that the enduring survival of the Green Party was too important to risk by entering a coalition in which Greens may be destroyed. The motion passed and means that Greens can clearly campaign on a platform against cuts.
Hopefully we can avoid has happened to Greens in Ireland, as discussed earlier on Bright Green. We returned to coalitions later with a constitutional motion on political cooperation.
We had a series of policy motions pass at this session as well, including my cherished motion on proper funding for voluntary sector, social enterprise and development trust organisations. No opposition to this made me very happy. I’m confident the Scottish Green Party is now at the cutting edge of voluntary sector funding. The substantial endowment for the sector will make a particular difference. We were also able to celebrate the birth of Phyl Meyer’s daughter, Evelyn by passing a motion he’d drafted with me to ensure our manifestos are drafted in good time. Particularly appropriate as Evelyn arrived pretty much on time…
Undoubtedly the most anticipated part of the conference came next. The address by Caroline Lucas created an electric atmosphere in the hall, and more than a few tears were shed. It’s a real testament to the work of Greens in Brighton and our sister party in England and Wales that Caroline was able to win in a very difficult election for smaller parties.
The speech was studded with memorable lines, and focused on the need to build a Green economy, not smash the public sector. Basing her analysis on the reality that climate change cannot be tackled without changing the economic system that caused the environmental crisis she set out a distinctive Green vision.
She said that if the planet had been a bank it would have been saved years ago. Supporting the Greens’ policy of a living wage, developing a manufacturing sector based on energy efficiency and renewables, she criticised the other parties for their failures in these areas. And particularly impressive was her call for a massive Green Jobs programme to tackle inequality and climate change at the same time.
She went on to praise People and Planet (formerly Third World First), where so many Greens have cut their teeth. She’d addressed their “Shared Planet” conference the day before, and spoke with great passion about the student activists there. So congratulations to Bright Green stalwart, Adam Ramsay, who organised the conference and to fellow editor Gary Dunion who also addressed the conference.
I went to the Justice for Palestine Centre fringe addressed by new Green member Hasan Nowarah. Hasan had been on the flotilla to Gaza, and along with prominent Scottish Free Gaza activist Theresa McDermott gave us a very moving account of what they’d experienced. The audience were shocked by the brutality of Israeli troops and that they stole all the convoy members’ personal belongings. It’s great to see Scottish Greens taking a stand on Palestine, having passed a motion to support the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign on day one of conference.
I had a bit of a break instead of going to a second fringe, and a welcome catch-up with other Edinburgh Greens. Everyone seemed to be enjoying conference. And we were delighted to find that National Returning Officer Nigel Bagshaw finally has a photograph of himself on the internet – we’re wondering if he’ll be on the Twitter next…
After the break we had an excellent session with Kirsten Robb talking enthusiastically about winning in Central Scotland next year. It would be great to see her in Parliament. Patrick Harvie also spoke in this session.
We then moved onto the final session of business at the conference. It became clear early on that there was not going to be enough time to get through all the motions. This was particularly unfortunate as it meant no discussion of the homeopathy motions. It’s important we sort our position on this out as it is clear many party members are deeply uncomfortable with what exists.
The most significant debate in this session, and indeed in the whole conference, was on political cooperation. A motion moved by Mark Ballard and Maggie Chapman aimed to put members in control of any proposed political cooperation. The mechanisms outlined in the motion would ensure that any coalition required a weighted majority of both the top decision making body in the party, Party Council, and an Emergency General Meeting.
Despite strong contributions against the motion by Martin Ford and James Mackenzie, who both objected on the grounds that we should trust our elected representatives to make these deals, that the motion was weighted against entering a coalition, and that it would embarrass the party in the media if a deal was rejected. Kate Joester spoke to say that coalitions mean abandoning manifesto commitments, and this requires membership engagement.
A long pause followed as tellers counted the votes. It turned out that the motion reached the required two-thirds majority by one vote. Knife edge stuff.
We then moved onto Andy Wightman’s closing speech, which was simply terrific. Railing against the government’s cap of £26,000 in benefits to any one family he listed the extraordinary sums of public money paid to Scotland’s biggest landowners. He said “During the ten years from 2000 to 2009, the top 50 recipients of agricultural subsidy received £168 million – an average of over £3.3 million per farming business.” His rallying call was for a radical redistribution of land and land rights that would make us all richer. We went away well and truly rallied.