“The future belongs to us all, and we are here to take it back.” Maggie Chapman closes 2015 Scottish Greens Conference
Well, it has been quite a conference, and quite a weekend. Thank you all for being here, and sticking at it right to the end.
And I’m delighted that so many of you have been able to come.
It’s been lovely to catch up with old friends. And it’s been great to see so many new faces and meet so many new people.
I know that debating the details of policy and amending the constitution are a bit strange as initiation rituals go.
But at least we didn’t make you go anywhere near a pig.
And most of all, it’s been great to hear everyone discussing together the policy and direction of our party.
Last year, one new member told me they were delighted to see Party Co-conveners, MSPs, councillors and brand new members sit in conference and make decisions together as equals. For a party that is absolutely committed to radical democracy this is the signal that we are doing it right.
But it can also be difficult.
By necessity most of our time at conference is spent ironing out the details on which we disagree.
But let us not lose sight of what unites us: we are all here because of the compelling vision we share: our vision of a just, welcoming and peace-making Scotland that sees environmental, social and economic justice as inextricably linked.
Let us go away from conference remembering not just the debates on the nitty gritty, but also the ideas that we take together into Scotland’s popular movements, into Council Chambers, and, come May, into the parliament in greater numbers than ever before.
It is because we are committed to democracy that we have open selection processes for our candidates. That too can be tough.
This room is full of superb potential MSPs. If everyone here with the skill, experience and raw talent was elected, the parliament chamber would overflow. Our Holyrood lists are full to the brim of wonderful people from Langholm to Unst, and as we go into the elections, that will shine through more than ever.
But we must not just celebrate. We have to plan keenly for the future. As many of you will know, I was born in Zimbabwe, to South African parents. And I’ve made Scotland my home. Recently I’ve been reminded frequently of the words delivered by the then British Prime Minister, Harold MacMillan, when he visited the South African Parliament in Cape Town in 1960.
“The wind of change is blowing through this continent.”
That wind eventually destroyed the apartheid parliament in which he was speaking. And we can feel it sweeping across the globe again today.
A government of the Radical Left has been elected in Greece, a socialist is a serious contender for US president and people are rising up all over the world.
And the wind is bracing on this island too.
In the last two years, the old British establishment – which once ruled the biggest empire in human history – has lost control of one of its two biggest countries and one of its two biggest parties.
In the last two months, the refugee crisis has shown how fast attitudes can change when our shared humanity breaks through screeching headlines and even Theresa May’s shameful rhetoric.
And in the new two months, we’re going to see the fossil free movement take Paris by storm.
As Hamish Henderson put it, there’s “a roch wind blowin through the Great Glen of the world today.”
And it is filling our sails. It is propelling us forwards in our struggle for peace and justice.
It is driving the movement against the extraordinary imbalance of power which means that rich white men still get to write the rules of our society.
It is exposing the obsession with austerity that is just class war by another name.
It is laying bare a system engineered to take the wealth of our work and our planet and hoard it in the hands of the few.
It is increasingly clear that this is an economic model whose time is up.
The housing bubble may have been reinflated, but the neoliberal consensus has burst.
The old is always swept away.
But, as Antonio Gramsci, that great theorist and politician, warned in the 1920s:
“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born.”
He went on to say that, before the birth of that new world, “a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”
And we see morbid symptoms all around us: inequality, homelessness, privatisation, destitution, abuse of power by the elite, and so many more.
So, in other words, as the old dies, it is now our job to be midwives to the new world.
We cannot do that by collaborating with fracking companies.
We won’t get there if we give up at the first hurdle and let private companies run off with our water and our ferries.
We certainly won’t get there by squandering billions on genocidal nuclear weapons.
And we won’t succeed by quibbling over minutiae. The business of this conference is the first draft pencil sketch of the future we are going to build together with the peoples of Scotland.
And that’s important.
Looking at the Labour leadership election over the summer, one thing was clear. Three of the contenders looked like middle managers squabbling over key performance indicators.
They seem to think that the point of politics is to propose a couple of flashy ideas, set up a delivery unit, and then step back and let the system get on with it.
The reason that Jeremy Corbyn won is that he pointed out a simple truth: the problems in Britain cannot be fixed with a couple of bright policies from a couple of smart Oxbridge graduates.
We don’t just need to fine tune the engine.
A little polish isn’t going to fix it.
We need to take the machinery of our politics apart, and build it up again, from scratch.
Where others argue that the change we need is a different person in charge of our schools or hospitals, or stricter targets for our nurses and teachers, we refuse to lay the blame for the failures of our social and economic system at the door of hard pressed public sector workers. Illness and illiteracy are the products of poverty and inequality. Until the main goal of our economic system is our health and our happiness, of course we’ll be plagued by chronic disease. We need an economy for people not for profit.
Where our welfare system is used to bully unemployed and disabled people we need to replace it with a social security system which gives us just that: security for everyone in society; a basic income for all.
Where others discuss how to make fracking safe, Greens understand that a civilisation which depends on scraping the bottom of the fossil fuel barrel will always be putting itself in peril. We need an energy system which gives power to the people and preserves our future.
I do not care who sits in the seats of power if they’re taking their orders from business. What matters is that we stop our government being run for the big brewers, the supermarkets and all of those frackers.
And more than ever, people are coming to the conclusion that we don’t just need a change in management. More than ever, people are recognising that we need a whole new politics.
And because of that, another world is emerging.
In this extraordinary new world: there are over 700 of us at the Scottish Green Party conference, Jeremy Corbyn is Labour leader, and Scotland reached the quarter finals of the Rugby World Cup.
Things we were told were impossible are happening.
The neoliberal consensus is dying because our generation has discovered an old truth:
The future belongs to us all
Together we can reinvent it.
And in Scotland, we have had our fair share of that creativity.
We didn’t win the referendum and so we are stuck with the same over-centralised structures of government. A failed Parliament at Westminster, a Scottish Parliament with too few powers and local government that is neither local nor government.
… For now.
But the culture of Scottish politics has been transformed.
People are more engaged than ever.
Across the country, we’re finding out what I discovered when I brought the people of Leith and Leith Walk into the process of distributing their council funds for themselves:
Humanity is swimming with genius.
When people come together to invent the future they want, a force is unleashed which is powerful enough to utterly reshape society.
Green parties across the world were founded on the principle of radical democracy.
It is an idea whose time has come:
The elites have failed us. They must be sacked.
In their place we must put not a new group of rulers with built-in obsolescence.
We must devise a new set of processes.
And that means we need to get inventing.
From the Ineos scandal to the shocking Volkswagen revelations, we’ve learnt that we need to develop new, accountable ways of doing business for the modern world: to rekindle the spirit of New Lanark in the digital age.
The success of community owned estates across the Highlands and small scale innovations in direct deliberative democracy like Leith Decides show that when people are put in charge, they are more than capable of coming up with better ways of doing things.
And the fact that Westminster epitomises the opposite of everything I am talking about shows independence is as necessary as ever.
And so I am delighted that we have agreed to put the answer to the biggest question in Scottish politics into the hands of the people of Scotland. If Scottish Greens have a say in it, there will be another referendum when the people demand another referendum: when enough Scots sign a petition saying that the time is right.
Friends, I am going to leave you with one thought.
In recent months, our screens have been filled with images of refugees and migrants, heading to Europe because they have been forced from their homes and come seeking, hoping for, a better future.
Many of us are involved in the campaign to say that we have room, that Scotland welcomes refugees and migrants.
We do have room. We must welcome them. But let us do more than that.
Let us involve all who come here in the project of creating a better Scotland, and then make it real.
Let us open our sails to the winds of change and chart the way to tomorrow.
Let us show the world that the future does not belong to those rich, white, boring men.
It belongs to us all.
And we are here to take it back.