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East Lothian Greens
East Lothian Greens

SCOTTISH GREENS CAN PUSH GOVERNMENT BEYOND COMFORT ZONE, SAYS HARVIE

Monday, February 1st, 2016

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Patrick Harvie addresses an audience at the David Hume Institute

Public policy research organisation the David Hume Institute last week (26th January) invited Scottish Greens co-convener Patrick Harvie to address its members. Patrick was introduced by the institute’s director Ray Perman, and went on to deliver an unscripted, somewhat ad hoc but often amusing speech that focused on the importance of transitioning from a fossil fuel-based economy to one that is more sustainable. The bullet points below summarise many of his insights…

  • There is a disconnect people have with politics now, unlike during the independence referendum, which really mattered – it was yes or no.
  • The Scottish Green Party has nearly 10 times its membership at the last Scottish election. Post referendum there was a remarkable surge of members, who have remained with the party.
  • Green votes could make the Scottish government bolder and pushed beyond its comfort zone. Constructive challenge is what the Scottish Green Party is about – reorganising politics, economics and society.
  • We are seen as prophets of doom – but we bring a green perspective into the arena because we are prophets of hope.
  • We are accused of not being serious about the economy – but the economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment.
  • Too often the word “sustainability” is used as mere jargon: sustainable fisheries, sustainable forestries, sustainable mining… Which are nothing of the kind. Sustainable economic growth has been mentioned for eight years by the Scottish Government but it doesn’t have a coherent definition. In Scotland there is talk of a “return to a sustainable oil and gas industry” – the Scottish Greens are accused of not caring about oil and gas industry workers but we’re arguing for a move towards an economy of lasting jobs. That is true sustainability. We should be planning for a transition to the next economic stage. I see little of this happening.
  • There is an overreliance on the fossil fuel industry among every one of us. Every industry is dependent on petrochemicals. This is a profound challenge but also a profound opportunity to move to industries not reliant on hydrocarbons.
  • The subject of the carbon bubble is usually addressed by green activists but most recently by Bank of England governor Mark Carney, who said that “climate change will threaten financial resilience and longer term prosperity”. Business as usual is no longer an option.
  • The other main parties have all signed up to the concept of “maximum economic extraction”. But most of the remaining fossil fuels cannot be extracted; we must move onto alternative energy sources. There is an appetite for this among many SMEs, which see fair treatment of staff as an opportunity, and abandoning zero-hour contracts as a basic way of working.
  • It’s not just competition that’s dynamic – collaboration can see more innovation. This way of working isn’t being talked about by the Scottish Government. But even the STUC has shown that we need to start planning for the short life of oil and gas. If they’re looking for an economic plan for transition from oil and gas, surely the Scottish Government should, too.
  • Scotland is in pole position to do something transformational and build a humane economy. We could use the innovation Scottish cities saw during the Industrial Revolution!
  • The Scottish Greens have a record of pushing the Scottish Government beyond its comfort zone: with the concept of community ownership, and fans’ buyout of football clubs, a fracking ban, climate change targets, land ownership…

Patrick’s speech was followed by a question and answer session chaired by Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell RSE. Among the questions, Patrick addressed issues of fair tax (“We have had and failed to use local government tax powers. We could create economic powers at a local level to redistribute wealth where it’s required. We must stop handing over public money and space to big business offenders who avoid paying tax”); the lack of parliamentary discussion about the environmental impact of intensive stock farming (“It doesn’t get discussed in parliament I think because it’s seen as a consumer-led industry”); how to transition from oil to renewables (“We must stop handing out tax breaks for new oil exploration and instead use the revenue from the oil coming out now to invest in a transition to renewables”); and the impact of robots and digital technology on future work forces (“The answer to this is the Citizen’s Income – a basic income that will free people to be creative”)…

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The Young Academy of Scotland’s Edward Duncan

The evening ended with a reference by Edward Duncan to the Young Academy of Scotland, which is part of a global network. It encompasses academics, business folk and third sector representatives, and its aim is to help shape the future of Scotland. Among its recent work has been an effort to debunk the myths of headlines, for example about the impact of refugees and also whether skinny jeans are bad for one’s health…

The organisation recently engaged with schoolchildren in a “rewrite the headlines” project and competition, which can be seen at http://researchtheheadlines.org/rewritetheheadlines/.