Green voices are more vital than ever

The Scottish Greens will stand more general election candidates than ever before, announced Lorna Slater in her speech to the Scottish Greens spring conference 2024.

For decades, the climate emergency which Patrick spoke so passionately about has been intertwined with a catastrophic decline in nature. 

The same forces that have profited from digging up and burning every last drop of fossil fuels have also extracted and used up our natural resources in a way which has left life on this planet hanging in the balance. 

Over a million species globally currently face extinction, whilst here in Scotland nearly half our species have decreased in abundance in recent decades. 

So the mission to restore nature has also been central to our time in Government. 

Because just as climate action benefits us all, restoring our natural environment benefits us all. 

From the communities who welcome visitors coming to see our stunning and unique landscapes, to the farmers who have rich, healthy soils and sustainable ecosystems in which to grow our food. 

Since we last met in the Autumn we’ve made some exciting progress in delivering on our commitments to restore Scotland’s environment, and as our Minister for Biodiversity I’ve been in the privileged position of driving them forward. 

In the Bute House Agreement we promised to establish a groundbreaking new Nature Restoration Fund. 

Since then I have overseen more than £40 million of investment through the Fund. Restoring vital habitats like the Atlantic Rainforest and our rivers, and saving species.

We also committed to creating a new National Park for Scotland, building on the 20 years of success for communities and nature that we’ve seen in Scotland’s two existing national parks. 

After extensive work by local community groups, I was delighted to announce a few weeks ago five potential sites for a new national park in Galloway, the Borders, Perthshire, Lochaber and Loch Awe. 

There is overwhelming public support for National Parks because here in Scotland National Parks are about creating special places where nature, communities and visitors can come together, co-exist and thrive together.

They drive investment not just into restoring the natural environment, but also into creating facilities for people to enjoy nature in a sustainable way, and creating housing and employment for the communities who live and work there. 

They’re an amazing example of how Green policies benefit both people and planet, and I can’t wait to announce where our next national park will be before the summer. 

This is only one part of our work in this area. Only last month we  passed a historic piece of legislation which is the result of decades of campaigning by environmental activists, Scottish Greens members and MSPs, including some of you in this room here today. 

The Wildlife Management and Muirburn bill finally creates a system of licensing for grouse moors in Scotland which will tackle the long history of wildlife persecution on shooting estates. 

It bans the cruel and barbaric use of snares, which cause long and painful deaths for wild animals, and gives the SSPCA new powers to investigate wildlife crime and support the police to bring those, who persecute our wild animals, to justice. 

My colleague Mark Ruskell has been campaigning for these powers since 2016, and this year, with Scottish Greens in Government, we were finally able to deliver them. 

This bill says that Scotland values our iconic birds of prey, our unique heather moors, and the myriad of wildlife that make our uplands their home. 

You don’t get to destroy these in the name of profit or sport. 

As long ago as 1998, Scotland’s first First Minister, Donald Dewar, called the persecution of birds of prey in Scotland a ‘national disgrace’. 

It was true then and it’s true now. It’s taken the Scottish Greens in Government to finally take steps to ending it. 

Another area where we’ve been able to translate community campaigning into legislative action has been on disposable vapes. 

We’ve all seen the blight these vapes and their packaging cause to our landscape, with more than 2.6 million disposable vapes being littered every year in Scotland. 

With many of them directly marketed to children and young people, the untold health impacts vaping could cause the next generation are terrifying. 

The campaign to ban single use vapes united environmental and health campaigners, and was driven by my colleague Gillian Mackay in the Scottish Parliament. 

We worked with concerned communities, and across all 4 nations of the UK, and as of the 1st April next year - they will be banned. 

This is how we work with campaigns on the ground and turn them into action. 

This is Scottish Greens in Government, delivering for people and planet. 

People and planet. The two have to go together.

You can’t have environmental justice without social justice.

We will always stand up for human rights and stand with vulnerable communities.

That is why we have pushed for support for communities on the brutal frontline of Westminster cuts.

It is why we are working to deliver a watertight ban on so-called conversion practices, driven tirelessly by our very own Rainbow Greens and my MSP colleague Maggie Chapman. 

It is why, especially when we are seeing such scaremongering and hostility, we will stand with trans and gender diverse people.

Everyone has a right to safety, dignity and respect.

Whether it is people spouting bile on social media or the tech billionaires profiting from it, there is no room for bigotry.

Trans rights are human rights.

Equality isn’t just a word to us. It is right at the heart of our values and what we stand for.

2024 is a pivotal year 

This year, perhaps more than ever, our vision needs to go beyond our borders here in Scotland. 

In 2024, nearly half of the world’s population will go to the polls in 64 countries - including the US, the European Union, and here in the UK. 

This is our last chance to elect politicians and governments who will seize the opportunity and act on the climate emergency, before it’s too late. 

It could not come at a more crucial time for global peace and security. 

With no end in sight to the brutal invasion of Ukraine, and Putin now in power until at least the end of this decade, the spectre of war remains firmly on our doorstep here in Europe. 

Meanwhile, the genocide and famine in Gaza continues.

Some of the worst war crimes of the 21st century are being inflicted on a vulnerable civilian population in a brutal act of collective punishment.

Back in November, the Scottish Parliament voted overwhelmingly to support a full and immediate end of the ongoing slaughter in Gaza. And less than two weeks ago, the UN security council finally got on board and declared that the global community demands a ceasefire too. 

It has been shameful to see the politicking that has taken place at Westminster, descending into chaos and procedural infighting, in an attempt to avoid even debating a ceasefire. 

When we see a genocide happening we try to stop it. The UK Government tries to arm those perpetrating it.

In the last ten years the UK has licensed at least £500 million worth of arms sales to Israel. Weapons which have been used to inflict untold misery on an entire population. 

How many more people will have to die before they can bring themselves to say that enough is enough?

Last month a United Nations expert panel called for a halt to arms sales. 

This week 600 lawyers and judges, including some of the world’s most eminent lawyers joined them.

Even some Tory MPs have said it is time.

It should not have taken the killing of UK citizens for this to happen.

Hundreds of aid workers and journalists, and tens of thousands of innocent people have already been killed. 

Hospitals, schools, homes, and lives have been destroyed.

But, finally, the prospect of an arms embargo is now real, and it must be achieved.

We are doing everything we can with the limited powers we have here in Scotland. 

That is why we have called for an end to all Scottish Government contracts for companies fueling the repression of Palestinians and for an end to all Scottish Enterprise support for the arms companies profiting from the destruction. 

Thanks to the Scottish Greens and other ceasefire campaigners, Israeli military flights are now banned from using the publicly owned Prestwick airport. 

But one airport is not enough. The Scottish Greens are calling for Israeli military flights to be banned from all UK airspace, and an immediate halt to all UK arms sales to Israel. 

We will not stand back and be complicit in slaughter. We will never support genocide. We will always stand up for human rights and with the people of Gaza. 

Later this year, when we finally go to the polls in the General Election, we have the chance to demand better. 

To demand a government that takes the plight of Palestinians seriously. 

To demand a government that takes our climate seriously.

And to demand a government that will support people through the cost of living crisis rather than punishing the most vulnerable while offering tax breaks to their wealthy friends.

We are at a crossroads, and Scottish Green voices have never been so necessary. They have never been so vital.

Rent controls. Free bus travel for young people. A real living wage for public sector workers. Buffer zones to protect people accessing reproductive healthcare. A ban on conversion practice. These things don’t happen by themselves. They need Scottish Greens working with campaigners and our communities to deliver change.

A strong Scottish Green turnout at the General Election would change our politics. It would be the wake-up call that is so desperately needed if we are to take real climate action and tackle the scandal of child poverty.

We know that when we get Greens elected, people like what we do. 

That is why more people than ever are supporting Scottish Green candidates.

People feel proud to have Scottish Greens fighting their corner, and know that we will be a powerful, effective voice, whether that’s in council chambers, the Scottish Parliament, or Government. 

Nowhere has that been more apparent than in Hillhead. I also want to congratulate our newest Scottish Green councillor, Shona Hoy. 

Shona was a fantastic candidate and will be a huge asset to the Glasgow Greens Group.

But I also want to take a moment to pay tribute to the great team that delivered that amazing result. 

And that starts with the legend that is our other councillor for Glasgow Hillhead, Martha Wardrop. 

I have never before knocked on doors where so many people know their councillor. And I don’t mean they just knew they had a Scottish Green councillor. They knew Martha by name.

So many of them had been personally helped by her in the seventeen years she has represented their local community and they recognised the tireless campaigning and work that Martha has done. Martha and her fellow Glasgow councillors have been making people’s lives better, day in, day out. 

We’ll be hearing from both our wonderful councillors for Hillhead later today in our closing plenary, so please do stick around for that. 

There was a huge team behind that amazing result though, so I want to thank everyone who coordinated and contributed to that effort.

It is the single most organised and professional campaign I have ever taken part in as a Scottish Greens member, and it has been an inspiration to branches up and down the country who will be ramping up our campaigning in the coming years. 

Congratulations Seonad, congratulations Martha, and congratulations and thank you to everyone who made such a historic result possible.

We’ve talked a lot this morning about the good stuff we’re doing for people and planet. 

But, if Hillhead teaches us anything, it is that in this political environment it’s not enough to just do good things - we need to get out there, knock on doors, and tell people how we’re making their lives better. 

That starts right now, with this year’s general election. 

It is only with Scottish Greens in the room and on the ballot paper, that the voice of the climate movement will be heard in this crucial election. 

It is only the Scottish Greens who will be championing an economy that works for people and planet, which puts power in the hands of workers and a fair wage in everyone’s pocket. 

And it is only the Scottish Greens who will fight to ensure that Scotland is granted the powers of an independent country, not just for the sake of independence alone, but so we can build a country based on fairness, equality, and climate justice. 

We want as many people as possible to have the chance to vote for the Scottish Greens and for our vision. 

We want as many people as possible to be able to vote for climate action and equality.

I’m delighted to confirm today that the Scottish Greens will be standing more candidates than ever before at the upcoming general election. 

And here’s why. This UK Tory government is not fit for purpose. It has broken its promises to the people. It has failed in every single duty. It has cost jobs, it has cost lives and it is time for them to go. 

Labour have already reversed their position on climate action. 

The Scottish Greens belong in every election, at every level of government, from councils, to Holyrood and beyond. 

So to everyone in this room, I urge you to take inspiration from conference today, go back to your communities and your branches, and get involved in this election campaign. 

Because people and planet need us. They need us now more than ever. And we are ready to step up and take action.