We asked the two candidates standing for the Scottish Greens’ female Co-Convenor role what Green politics means to them and how they plan to engage with young people. Members of the Scottish Green Party can vote now until voting closes at noon on Thursday 26 November 2015.
Maggie Chapman, 36 years old Zara Kitson, 29 years old*
QUESTION 1: What does being Green in Scotland mean to you?
MC: It means standing with the oppressed and ostracised, the disempowered and impoverished. It means joining hands with migrants and the unemployed, low-waged workers and struggling tenants, disabled people facing cuts and young people written off by society, trans people demanding recognition and people of colour demanding equality.
It means being a feminist because we’ve not won yet; working for peace because “never again” means being ever-vigilant against violence; being an environmentalist because our earth is precious.
It means seeing that while each injustice is specific, they’re bound up with each other in a system we must replace. It means understanding that this system is also crushing the life out of our planet. It means believing we can stop climate change, pollution and habitat loss.
It means seeing elections as one vital part of a process of political change which also includes organising in workplaces, communities, streets and online. It means working with and helping bring together social movements from the housing activists to feminists, peace campaigners to trade unionists, the anti-fracking movement to LGBT networks, migrant solidarity groups to student activists.
It means having faith that we the people, together, have the power and the imagination to build something better. It means believing that by truly democratising our society, by learning from our different perspectives rather than allowing our differences to be used to divide and oppress us, we can build a just, welcoming, sustainable (and independent!) Scotland that acts as a beacon of hope in the world.
KZ: For me, being Green means believing in Green values and principles: democracy, equality, environment; and wanting a fairer, socially just, sustainable future. Greens understand that the challenges of inequality and climate change facing our country and the world are real, and require urgent, committed action. Our vision of Green Yes in an independent Scotland is a shared goal that binds us together – including members, supporters and voters. As we realised through our Green surge, there are many Greens out there who connect with our vision and values, who just haven’t had opportunity to connect with us yet. I believe there are many more Greens in Scotland that are ripe for supporting and engaging with us – it is our job to get our message out in a way that related to their lives.
Question 2: What achievement in your involvement in the Scottish Green Party are you most proud of?
ZK: I was very active in taking our vision of Green Yes out to communities across Scotland. Appearing on panels with other yes ambassadors including: Elaine C Smith, Allan Bissett, John Swinney, Robin McAlpine, Colin Fox, Angela Constance, Michael Matheson; debating heavy weights including Jim Murphy, Lord George Robertson and Annabel Goldie; and appearing on radio, and T.V show Scotland 2014 – I had the great privilege of getting our Green Yes vision and argument out to people and communities the length and breadth of Scotland.
People connected with our message and vision, and in the community halls and lecture theatres I spoke in – we wont the argument. What I’m most proud of in all of this is taking our constructive, and hopeful, solution focused Green politics to new audiences. Engaging with people and communities, and sharing our vision of a future Scotland – I was part of a collective of key Green voices who connected people to our message, and helped galvanise new supporters, and members to join.
MC: In the past, we were pigeon-holed by journalists as only caring about a narrow set of environmental issues which the powerful weren’t afraid of, like recycling and plastic bags. These issues are important, but they never represented the party’s broad vision.
After being elected a councillor in 2007 I worked with trade unions and became the first Scottish politician to demand a living wage for public sector workers. I instigated £eith Decides, a participatory budgeting process where thousands of Leithers come together annually to decide how to spend their public money. I proposed the foundation of and then chaired the council Petitions Committee. I led the campaign in the council against social care privatisation, which we won.
When the referendum was announced I was on the three person committee (with Peter McColl and Hilary Charles) which designed the process to establish the Green Yes platform. We ensured it highlighted the broader Green vision which newspapers had long ignored; putting ideas like basic income and radical democracy front and centre, as transformative policies to be proud of rather than ’embarrassing uncles’ to be hidden away. As top candidate for Europe, I insisted we highlighted migrant rights. While it can be scary to stand up to bullies, it’s the right thing to do.
I hope that these things, along with the actions of many others, have contributed to a growing understanding that Green politics isn’t about lecturing people to change their lightbulbs. It’s about changing a system which is making millions miserable.
Question 3: What will you be doing to ensure SYG gets more support and the party invests in its Young People?
MC: The Young Greens in England and Wales got a full time staff member in 2006, when they were much smaller than we are now. This position allowed the party to recruit and retain enough members and fundraise enough that it paid for itself, and helped transform the party by bringing in a younger generation of activists. It’s time to employ staff support for the Scottish Young Greens. The exact nature of that should, of course, be up to the current Young Greens committee, but as party co-convenor, I’ll help them push for it.
I was first elected a councillor when I was 27, and part of the reason I stood was that I was fed up with young people in the party being treated as leafleting fodder. People often say that young people are the future of the party. I think this is wrong: Young Greens are the party now!
I also think we need to learn from the significant success of the 30 under 30 scheme in the Young Greens of England and Wales. I’d be very keen to work with the Scottish Young Greens and support the development of such a programme, or one like it.
I’ve argued before that the Scottish Greens can become the official Holyrood opposition by 2021. We’ll only do that if we become the go-to party for young people in the country. We’re beginning to get there, but significant investment in the Young Greens will be a key part of that.
ZK: I am delighted to see that Maggie is also championing paid staff for SYG – something we worked on when I was co-convenor of SYG 2014-2015. Linking with Young Greens of England and Wales – attending their conference in Brighton, we costed up a proposal, put to SGP council. Paid staff resource is important as it can support: events, training, administration, membership engagement and growth. Youth membership is a key foundation of our party – and one we should invest in. Investment in SYG is an investment for the party as a whole, as young people are more likely to stay with the party throughout their lives if they feel valued and included, and their skills and knowledge is an ongoing asset to the party.
We need to invest time, and resource in ensuring young people’s voices are heard at every level of the party – inclusion in branches is crucial to this. Branch meetings can be a turn off for young people, women and others engaging with the party at local level for the first time. Issues that are focused on are often not priorities in young people’s lives, and language used can be filled with jargon and assumed knowledge, which can be exclusionary.
Having mechanism to ensure young green reps are included and have voice and votes at branch and local decision making structures are important. A peer focused approach to development would ensure everyone benefits and development is shaped in a way that works for young people and local areas.
Question 4: What opportunities will you create for the party’s Young People if you are elected?
ZK: Work with branches to ensure young people have opportunity to engage in local activity, in a way that is meaningful to them. This involves being accessible and connected to both branches and local SYG groups – something I am committed to ensuring I do well as our new co-convenor. I have committed to visiting every branch in the run up to May, this includes ensuring young greens are connected in to this, and also have opportunity to build relations with key people in the party. I have already visited Stirling and West Lothian in the last two weeks, and am linking in with young Green Lewis Campbell to go to Dunfermline next week to support the local by-election – territory I’m familiar with from my standing there in 2013!
I will work with international committee and SYG’s international rep to ensure all young greens have access to the vast array of international development and activist opportunities open to us – Scotland has particularly low engagement with international opportunities with FYEG, Global Greens and other young green affiliated organisations – we need to explore what the barriers and challenges to participation are and address these.
Work with MSP’s, Councillors, and other party officers to push for shadowing opportunities for young people to gain insight in to opportunities available to them, and gain experience and support to develop skills and have confidence to put themselves forward for opportunities in the future. GPEW’s 30 under 30 scheme is one to draw inspiration from.
MC: Being a young, female immigrant in politics has often been difficult and lonely. It means being at once held to a higher standard and patronised, watching others claim credit for your work or dismissing you as ‘divisive’ when you have opinions. I want to make sure that future candidates from all kinds of excluded and under-represented groups get much more support than the party was able to give me, and that absolutely includes young people.
As a party, I hope we’re improving in our inclusiveness. For example, we used to have a rule that new members couldn’t stand to be on any committee until they’d been in the party for a year. This disproportionately impacted younger members. I seconded the motion to abolish that rule, which was controversial at the time, but I think has really paid off in allowing new and younger members post-surge to take part in our committees.
As co-convenor of a democratic party like ours, there is only a certain amount you can do without broader agreement, and that’s quite right. But as well as pushing for the changes I mention above I will:
Work with others to establish a mentoring scheme for people who wish to be candidates or to stand for internal posts.
Support the Scottish Young Greens to create a young people’s manifesto for Holyrood 2016.
Challenge ageism wherever I see it.
Support Young Greens wishing to stand for election at every level of government.
Question 5: Given our best electoral demographic is Young People, how do you think we need to shift party discourse to suit this demographic?
MC: Radical change is needed to secure the future that young people so desperately need and deserve. And Greens are the ones to deliver this. We must campaign positively, presenting that radical change in a pragmatic and well-researched way, as we did with Green Yes.
We need to talk more about key issues directly affecting young people, like housing, unstable and low-waged jobs, and education. Young people have been hit hardest by the long economic slump, because many employers simply stopped hiring, or recruited with worse contracts. The re-inflation of the housing bubble means that rents and house prices have soared ahead of wages and student loans, and lots of people are really struggling. We need to be their party.
Similarly, we need to be the go-to party for students. As a student activist and then a trade-union organiser in education, I was involved in the struggle to win the abolition of tuition fees in Scotland. That was a great victory, but now we need to be at the forefront of ensuring that no one has to live in poverty to get a degree or go to college.
This will also be the first election in the UK ever that 16 and 17 year olds will get the vote, and they will bring a vital perspective on a range of issues to the election, including the education system, and the lack of respect with which young Scots are often treated by those in positions of power.
ZK: The independence referendum opened up a space for young people to engage with politics on their terms – and when given that opportunity they took it and ran with it! A discourse that moves beyond tribalism and negativity, but instead is solution and future focused and engages with issues in a way that relates to young people’s everyday lives and lived experience is key to engaging with and relating our politics to young people. If young people feel empowered, and that their voice and vote can make a difference, then they will use it. Our discourse needs to reflect this – demonstrating the positive impact and difference green politics makes.
Question 6: What issues do you consider to be most important to Scotland’s Young People and what will you do to champion them?
ZK: Youth employment and education are important issues for young people. In a landscape of austerity, young people often face the brunt of failed economic policies, and services relevant to their lives are the first to go. Youth employment and opportunities for young people to live happy, healthy lives must be at the forefront of issues we champion: within a context of growing inequality and child poverty, we must tackle these issues on those fronts, working to ensure no young people are left behind.
Climate change is an issues important to young people – as the hashtag for FYEG’s COP21 campaign highlights #ItsOurFuckingFuture – and one we should absolutely be championing.
International issues are important to young people: immigration, asylum, and the European referendum – movement of people is a core them in all of this – one which effects and will continue to effect young people.
Scottish Greens should be bold in vocalising issues relevant and topical to young people that others shy away from: drug policy, transgender rights, sex work to name a few.
What’s most important is that it should not be me, Patrick Harvie or anyone else deciding which issues are most important to young people – this must come from young people themselves – which is why it is important young greens are engaged in all aspects of party activity. As a 29 year old young Green – we have a great opportunity to ensure a young green voice is at the helm of the party.
MC: From the young people I represented in Leith Walk to the students I represent as Aberdeen Rector to being a member of generation rent myself, it seems to me that the biggest issue affecting young people in Scotland today is housing.
So many young people are caught in a housing trap. They are robbed of the social housing sold off by Tory governments. House prices are so high that they’re unaffordable to even those lucky few who earn a decent and stable wage. As a result young people are forced into either living with their parents, unable to lead an independent life, or into renting privately, where they face high rent for poor quality housing, and where they’re essentially paying someone else’s mortgage for them. Greens must stand together with young tenants. That is why I proposed the motion to conference this year to support the Living Rent campaign in its call for rent controls. If re-elected, I’ll argue for decent and affordable housing for all to be at the core of our Holyrood campaign.
The availability of well paid, secure jobs is also crucial to enable our young people to flourish. Greens are in a particularly good position to call for the Green New Deal, investing in the infrastructure needed for a low-carbon economy. That way when we do stop taking oil and gas out of the ground, for example, there’s a thriving renewables industry taking young workers into the high-skilled and well-paid jobs that they deserve.
*In the interest of fairness please be aware that Zara Kitson missed the deadline for responses.