Scottish Green Party Conference 2014 – Live Blog
Alison Johnstone MSP closed conference showing off our latest membership count (just passed 7,000) and lauding Patrick Harvie MSP’s emergency motion on Green Yes (see below).
Free Public Transport was hotly debated, the penultimate policy motion this year. Patrick Harvie MSP spoke in opposition, concerned about people “flooding public transport” which would undo gradual improvements in the system.
Peter McColl spoke to how transformational free public transport has been for older people and Sarah Beattie-Smith said “public transport should be like the NHS: valued and used by everyone equally” with examples from Switzerland and Estonia.
The motion was narrowly voted down by conference.
The final motion on Space travel (yes), was given to policy committee for further work, and conference concluded by voting through emergency policy supporting Kurdish groups defending themselves against IS and a our submissions process for the Smith Commission on further devolution for Scotland.
Lots of discussion about what we’re going to do to get public transport and railways out beyond the cities in Scotland, and we now have new policy on expanding Scotland’s railways.
Some specific policy on the health impacts of endocrine disruptors was also passed, as was a new policy on saying “shooting for sport is an activity that will not be eligible for support as an agricultural activity under the Common Agricultural Policy.”
Some photos from lunch today.
Speakers from NUS Scotland talking about divestment at a lunchtime Fringe.
The policy document has a hardy section on trade unions, but one errant paragraph was put up for debate.
A motion was proposed by Peter McColl to remove text from our policy document which asks trade unions to “balance” collective rights of workers against responsibilities to “colleagues”, “employers” and “tax payers”.
The motion was passed thus removing this text from our policy, reconciling our policy as clearly pro-union.
Motion on pay ratios now being discussed (debated is maybe too strong a term). The motion supports a “relative earnings limit applicable to all paid workers within companies and organisations.” Some discussion about how this would be applied to international organisations and NGOs, and should include non-pay forms of income.
This motion for new policy was passed overwhelmingly.
Underway with a cheery introduction from former MSP Robin Harper. “This party that I joined 29 years ago is in very good hands, and very many hands!”
Changes to the constitution are currently being debated, centring on how we make our debates democratic with many more folk attending (and not).
Motions being debated later today include:
- Relative earnings limit. A motion which would add new policy to require “a relative earnings limit” for workers in Scotland.
- Support for trade unions. Clarifies green policy in supporting the “collective and individual rights” of workers.
- Free public transport. A motion to create new Green policy that seeks to drive massive cuts in carbon emissions by gradually introducing public transport that is free at the point of use.
A motion passed at this evening’s AGM said campaigns committee will reconsider what is achievable for the Westminster 2015 elections in light of our thousands of new members and covering of local groups, such as Falkirk. Read: we can win!
If you didn’t catch it Adam Ramsay write about our current lead candidate for Westminster, Peter McColl, on Bright Green yesterday.
Reports at the AGM show the detail of Greens huge membership surge this last month: networks including the Young Greens and Women’s Network are now bigger than the whole party was in August.
We’ve also heard that the LGBT group is to be refounded and called Rainbow Greens (awesome), as well as new trade union and disabled people’s networks.
As of 6pm the Scottish Greens total membership was now 6,934 – including of course our newest member, John Finnie MSP.
A brief note on amendments from the floor. Currently they’re not allowed if one person objects, but there is an amendment to the Standing Orders coming to conference tomorrow morning.
I’m a member of Standing Orders Committee (SOC) and I’m very much steeped in the bureaucracy and democratic processes of the party. In many ways the role of SOC is to avoid wasting conference’s time (whilst ensuring the party is run in as democratic a way as possible). We have to recognise that with 400 odd people in a room, and hopefully more in the future, we have to keep everything relevant and meaningful. For this reason we don’t bring motions to conference if they don’t make sense, or if they don’t actually change anything if they pass. High quality motions are a necessary part of democracy.
This is part of the justification for objecting to amendments from the floor – amendments made in the fly from conference floor are often not of very high quality. It’s also true that amendments from the floor can’t be scrutinised by members of the party who aren’t at conference. That’s all true, that’s why amendments from the floor should be as uncontroversial as possible.
However we also need to consider whether we’re wasting conference’s time. When one person objects to an amendment from the floor which everyone else thinks is perfectly reasonable, what typically happens is the motion is then referred back and appears again at the following year’s conference. So rather than just amending the motion and passing it, someone needs to work on the motion again, SOC needs to consider it again, and conference needs to spend time voting on it again, and in the meantime our representatives do without policy which in some cases is sorely needed. I’d urge you to vote for the amendment to standing orders on this issue which is appearing tomorrow morning.
Further policy debates today and we have updated policy on Marine Protected Areas to restrict dredging; to apply the precautionary principal to neonicotinoids; and a proposal for health concerns to be included in planning procedures.
Policy on tenant farmers having the right to buy their land, and improving gender equality in maternity and paternity leave was given to policy committee to develop for 2015 conference.
Right to Cooperative has been debated. Andy Wightman proposes with a invigorating speech. “Green politics is about communities taking more control over our economy. Worker coops businesses are some of the most successful organisations in the world. This policy would give workers a route to ownership fitting with our policies on land reform and community power.”
Patrick Harvie proposed an amendment to have a government process to decide which companies should be liable to be bought by workers, which was passed – and the motion was passed, overwhelmingly, as amended.
Second session fringes include UNISON talking about local government, discussions on assisted suicide, food issues, community power, and post indyref campaigning. I’m in the session by the Electoral Reform Society talking about the possibility of a constitutional convention for Scotland. A really interesting discussion about how participatory processes in different places – British Colombia, Ontario, Iceland and Ireland. It’s clear that there is potential for Scotland to follow suit, but some clear lessons to be learnt. Key issues included budget and resourcing of the convention, how to involve institutions, how to make it manageable but not fall into the same pitfalls of parliament (ie representatives too distant from the population). Also to be considered is the involvement of politicians. If there is no involvement, then the transition from public convention back to parliamentary matters is very tricky, but politician involvement can be seen to remove legitimacy of process. Do we need to accept politicians as a ‘necessary evil’ (direct quote from speaker, sitting next to Alison Johnstone MSP….) in the process?
Given the rapturous applause to Patrick’s speech this morning calling for a constitution, and engagement in the room, this is clearly an issue which could be key for the Greens.
After the exciting opening session ended with rapturous applause and a standing ovation, we’re now in the first fringe sessions – packed out rooms for most including Andy Wightman on land reform, Robin McAlpine on the future of the Commonweal and Scottish Environment Link and Oxfam talking about moving beyond GDP. I’m in a really interesting session run by GeoGeo on empowering community resilience with open source mapping. An issue I’d never thought about before but really interesting to see the power than open source mapping can have on community ownership and projects. From international development projects mapping HIV drug distribution or landmine removal, to projects in here Scotland there seems to be loads of potential for community action. And he’s just brought out a drone!
BREAKING NEWS: Patrick Harvie announces SGP’s newest member John Finnie MSP. More info here.
Conference has begun with rapturous applause for speeches by Co-Convenors Maggie Chapman and Patrick Harvie. Great buzz in this jam packed room.
Maggie told us the referendum was about much more than independence: it was about politics becoming something people do – not politicians. You can read Maggie’s full speech here.
Patrick is speaking about the green vision for reform in the new Scotland including our input to the Smith Commission, which he and Maggie will sit on. He outlined key issues including a just tax and welfare system.
Caroline Lucas MP also addressed conference via video, congratulating Scottish Greens for “showing us that people aren’t apathetic” and hope can be kindled!
Just had our new members session for the opening of conference – amazing energy with more people in the one room than we normally have at the whole conference! People overwhelmingly here because of their involvement in the referendum and excited to continue the momentum of Green Yes! As well as covering the boring stuff (what does Ops mean? Does SOC stand for special operations or standing orders committee?) it was a great chance to talk about what conference has in store – fringes to learn more about issues or feed into green strategy, challenging and inspirational speakers, a chance to meet new folk and have fun! Bring on #SGPconf !
Policy Motion 4 is Tenant Farmer Right to Buy, and we think it’s a great idea.
What’s the motion about? It supports the right of tenant farmers to buy the land they farm from estate landlords.
What does will the policy say? In Section ‘8.1.6 Agriculture’ in the subsection on ‘Specific Areas of Support’ insert a new section after 220.127.116.11 “We will give tenant farmers with more than 10 years of tenancy the right to buy their holdings”.
Why is this important? The motion pre-amble notes “Giving long term tenant farmers the right to buy the land they manage would promote stewardship of the land and counter the concentration of landed wealth and power in a tiny minority of citizens” and the Scottish Tenant Farmers Association says such a policy would unlock “…the benefits that ownership gives to tenants who freed from the constraints of a tenancy.”
We know that half of Scotland is owned by less than 500 individuals. Community right to buy can help with this to some extent, but individual farmers need a path to land ownership too. Supporting this motion shows Greens standing against big landowners who oppose further rights for tenants.
Crucially the intervention is timely with land reform a live political issue in the Scottish Parliament and SNP support growing. Scottish Government minister Richard Lochhead said last year “…tenant farmers and stakeholders [should have] the opportunity to enter into full and frank dialogue about absolute right to buy.”
We’re watching closely a bunch of motions this weekend and will be posting some detail about those we think are most interesting.
First up, and first on the conference agenda is Right to Cooperate.
What’s the motion about? Based on Green Party of England and Wales policy, this motion would give workers a “Right to Co-operate”. The policy builds on the party’s approach to land reform and applies a similar principle to company ownership.
What does will the policy say? We will legislate to grant private sector employees the right to buy the company for which they work, where that company has more than 16 employees, creating a workers’ co-operative. Exercise of this right will be contingent upon demonstrating broad support among the affected workforce. In the case of large companies this right will also be exercisable with respect to a single branch or franchise, or a group thereof. The co-operative will be subject to an asset-lock such that it cannot be disposed of by the owners, except where they derive no benefit from the disposal. We will make provision for accessible capital to fund such buyouts, including through the Scottish Community Development Bank.
Why is this important? We urgently need to promote ways of working which promote equality and workers’ rights. Scotland has a gross imbalance in business ownership with a very small number of people controlling the majority of our businesses. Amelia Womack, deputy leader of the English and Welsh Greens, made this case well today.
Will it be passed? The motion was proposed last year but instead of being passed it was given to the party policy committee to rework for 2014. Concern about the impact on small business have been met with changes made after member consultation, so it should be well supported.
Bright Green’s editorial team will be live blogging from this weekend’s Scottish Green Party Conference at Craiglockhart in Edinburgh.
What do you think will be the top story to come out of the conference? And what questions do you want us to put to the MSPs, Councillors and other delegates this weekend?