Patrick Harvie autumn conference speech 2023

Party co-leader Patrick Harvie discusses housing, active travel, and the importance of Scottish Greens in government while speaking to the Party's autumn conference in Dunfermline. 

I’m going to start in Rutherglen. Somewhere Lorna and I, and more than a few people in the room, have become very familiar with recently.

A Westminster by-election is a tough one for us. First past the post forces many people to vote as if it’s a two horse race, but the expectation and the media exposure is on all parties. 

So I want to invite Conference to join with me in thanking our outstanding candidate in that by-election; quite an experience for a first time parliamentary candidate, but he rose to the occasion so well - Cameron Eadie and everyone who made up the team in Rutherglen. 

Cameron and all the team took our message to new voters, showing that Greens stand up for climate and nature, for action on hate and discrimination, for the role of young people in politics.

Building a strong Green presence for future elections. In an area where we’d never stood a constituency candidate before.

And I was really struck by the number of people who said they would vote for one of the front runners in the by-election, but without much enthusiasm, and who would always give us their support under fair voting systems for Holyrood and the local elections.

Rutherglen also reminded us of the work we still have to do as we approach the next election cycle. 

We need to learn from every election campaign, and keep improving how they are planned and run. We know, because we have learned the hard way, what makes successful campaigns. 

Good, well-supported candidates - so that the experience is one they want to repeat.

Well-organised, well-led teams on the ground who are committed to working together.  

Clear and consistent messages which resonate with people who care about the future, but which relate to their lives and priorities.

When we learn these lessons we achieve things. And there’s so much more that we need to achieve.

Our voters want us to continue to thrive, to make sure we’re in a position to put Green ideas into practice. 

Not just to make speeches for them, but to make decisions for them. 

For the last two decades we’ve been growing and getting better, but that journey is far from over. Now as a party of Government, we need to continue to step up.

In many ways Scottish politics is more turbulent than it has been for decades. 

But one of the few islands of stability is the consistent trend of record high poll ratings for the Scottish Greens – over the last two years, poll after poll showing our support well into double digits and the predicted number of MSPs in double digits too.  

And that’s on the back of a record return of councillors last year too. 

Green voters like what they see.

At no time in our history have more people identified with and supported the Scottish Greens.

Green ideas have never been more popular, never been more urgent, never been better aligned with the greatest challenges of our time. 

That is why the opposition to us is becoming ever more extreme, ever more personal, ever more bitter – from the right-wing press, from an utterly broken Tory Party and from the right-wing fringes of other parties. 

This is not really driven by simple hostility to us as ministers, as MSPs, as councillors or us as a party.  

It is aimed at the core ideals of our movement.

Of a liveable planet.

Of justice, equality and dignity for all people.

Of Scotland’s right to decide its own future - not because of attachment to one flag or another, but because of a clear, compelling vision of what a Green Scotland could be.

And that is also why our increasingly desperate opponents hate the Bute House Agreement.

The people who most want the Agreement to fail are the same people who rant about an imaginary “war on motorists”.

Who fear 20-minute neighbourhoods as a sinister conspiracy; 

Who regard loft insulation as the front line of communism;

Whose hearts bleed for the oppressed landlords of Morningside;

Who still, even now, as the world lurches from destructive fire to devastating flood, these people cheer on the fossil fuel industry in its destructive pursuit of new oil and gas; 

Every chance they get to sow division, they will seize it.

Those whose goal is to get the Greens out of Government would leave Scotland with higher rents, colder homes, more polluted air, busier, more dangerous roads, lower pay, and an ever more depleted natural world around us.

Greens are here to stand against that bleak vision of our future, and show by our actions, not just our words, that we can change it. 

So, today, we are in a better place than ever before. And yes Mags, i mean more than just Dunfermline.

But to achieve all that we want to achieve, to be as ambitious as we need to be, means going further, and going faster.

Because we know the clock is ticking ever louder. 

Lorna has already highlighted a lot of what we have achieved so far but there’s so much to shout about:

The first ever Green legislation in government - capping rents for tenants and restricting evictions.

Making our publicly-owned rail system more affordable whether at peak time or any time.

Driving forward fair work as a core part of how we do government. 

And against a backdrop of UK-imposed austerity, of the two child cap, the rape clause, benefit sanctions and bedroom tax - delivering the unique Scottish Child Payment 

Described by leading anti-poverty commentator, Professor Danny Dorling as the single policy intervention that has created the largest fall in child poverty anywhere in Europe for at least 40 years.  

And we have only just got started.

From within government we will be introducing a housing bill in 2024 to deliver rent controls and enhance tenants rights.  Far ahead of any other part of the UK

Funding investment in walking, wheeling and cycling at levels that even our Dutch neighbours envy.

Straining every sinew to produce a climate plan which rises to the challenge of the global climate emergency.

That work never stops. 

We’ll debate a lot of it over this weekend, then we’ll get back to work delivering more. 

On Monday coming I am proud to say that new rules will be laid which guarantee places for trade unions on all college boards. 

A case we have been making for years and deliverable because Greens are in government.

Conference, with Greens in Government for the first time ever in the UK, we are changing Scotland for the better. 

We are not alone on that journey.

More than any other political cause, Greens are part of a global movement.

We share with each other, take strength from each other. And occasionally disagree with each other.

And we learn from each other.

Our sister party in New Zealand has just emerged from that country’s general election, with a record-high number of members of parliament. 

The second time in succession that they have increased in popularity.

At the same time as being in Government over two successive terms.  

Conference, our friends in New Zealand show us that we can have both achievement and ambition, we can be both challenging and co-operative, be both decision-makers and movement builders.

It is not just connections that are forged across the oceans that give us that strength of argument. In many parts of the world we see the same bitter arguments being played out – right wing populism pitted against people and planet. 

That’s why in Germany, over this summer, heat pumps have become the new hate-symbol of choice for the climate-change deniers of the extreme right.

Here in the UK, a Prime Minister, desperately clutching at anything that will allow his party to cling to power, has once again chosen once again to copy the extremism of the far right.

Only last month he had the gall to stand behind a podium with the slogan “Long term solutions for a brighter future” while reading a speech which amounted to a betrayal of both current and future generations.

They’re undermining their own climate action, and making ours that much harder as well.

But the UK Government really does have the power to make the transition to net zero more affordable, like breaking the artificial pricing that takes cheap, clean, green, renewable electricity and forces people to pay more for it. 

That one change alone would have done more than any other to help people cut emissions cheaply. Instead, he just watered down, delayed, and downgraded climate action.

A lot of that speech should just have been just laughable. While his Tory colleagues trotted out absurd conspiracy theories, he was reduced to inventing spurious, non-existent policies and immediately saying “I’ve scrapped it.”

A vacuous Prime Minister with absolutely nothing real to say. Not only betraying our future; not only betraying his own manifesto pledges. But debasing the office he holds.

Conference, those will not be our choices in government.

With Greens in Government, Scotland will do what the science demands, what the public wants, and what our party is dedicated to - we’ll press forward with climate action.

Because any stalling on transforming how we heat our homes would also mean accepting the tyranny of volatile global fossil fuel markets, which only benefit brutal regimes and dictatorships.

It would mean surrendering to the harshness of fuel poverty and turning away from heating our homes through clean, green energy produced here in Scotland.

So conference, these are not choices which I will make.

In past decades this country has made heat transitions on a dramatic scale: in the 1960s and 1970s from the cloaks of coal smoke hanging over our towns and villages. 

We must, and will, make such a dramatic transition again.

Yesterday I published my annual report on the progress we are making with that 21st century heat transition.

Over the last year alone we have passed new regulations which mean that from next April all new buildings must be heated by zero emissions sources. 

We have provided support to 138,000 households.

We have launched a new Warmer Homes Scotland programme, with over £700m of funding to tackle fuel poverty.

We have revamped our grants and loans scheme for replacing boilers with clean heat, the most generous in the UK.

And let’s be absolutely clear about one aspect of this contrast between the UK and the approach we are takaing in Scotland.

Last month Rishi Sunak scrapped energy standards for private rented homes, consigning private tenants to colder homes and adding over £300 extra on their fuel bills. 

That’s not the choice I am making. Our path to a zero carbon future will not include abandoning Scotland’s 300,000 private tenants to cold, damp homes, to higher fuel bills, to fuel poverty. 

That is why I’m confirming to you now, that unlike Rishi Sunak we won’t scrap action on this.

The Heat in Buildings Bill which I will take through Parliament will include new regulations that make sure landlords invest in the improvements which give tenants the warm and healthy homes they deserve.

Conference, in the next few days we will hit the halfway point of this Parliament. It is a good time to pause and to take stock.

With your overwhelming backing, we entered government with the SNP because we recognised that while we don’t agree on everything, we have common ground. 

And because reaching out for the common ground is always how we’ve worked, and it gets results. And that at a time of division the world needs politicians who will seek and find that common ground. This has always been a core value of Green politics.

We share a common hunger for Scotland to be able to chart its own future, but ours is a different vision for independence to that of the SNP’s – more radical, more decentralised, more eager to use the levers that independence gives us to achieve that greener and fairer Scotland. 

So much of what's happened since 2014 has made this even more urgent. 


Right wing populism.

The lurch of Labour to the right, ditching its principles at breakneck speed. 

All of this has amplified the urgency of being able to choose our own path forward. 

But I share the frustration that too much time has been spent on the HOW of independence - the questions of process. We should be talking about “why.” 

Because here and now our Parliament is under threat. Time and again, over the last year the Tories have lain waste to the notion of the Union as a partnership of equals.

Blocking long-awaited gender reform, destroying recycling ambitions and cheerleading from the Scotland Office in the shape of Alister Jack as he tramples over devolution with all the finesse of a toddler on a sugar rush.

And too often Labour, once the party of devolution, has been posted missing when it comes to defending our parliament. 

So today we are right to offer Scotland a vision of a greener, fairer and independent Scotland. To protect and expand Scotland's powers. And to seek common ground with those who share those aims.
The Bute House Agreement sets out that common ground. 

But it also recognises the right to differ.

On NATO, air travel, economic growth, and the pathway for oil and gas development.   

And most recently, we've seen those differences of views on local council funding. 

This is partly about the policy of a Council Tax freeze, but also how it was announced.

Over the last week Green MSPs and Green councillors have clearly expressed criticisms of the council tax freeze, and asked challenging questions about what the phrase “fully funded” even means. 

This whole issue only serves to highlight just how broken local government funding is. 

The long overdue need for fundamental reform is where this issue should go now. And only with Greens in Government will we be able to take it there.

At his party conference the FM said he is “committed to fundamentally reforming local taxation” - well those are words we can welcome, but it’s a piece of work that is long, long overdue. 

That is why since his announcement, we have secured the recognition of the First Minister that the process of reform now needs real momentum. 

So Green MSPs will make sure that over the same time period as this year’s budget process a timetable and way of working is agreed so that by the end of this Parliament there will finally be a firm alternative put forward to complete the long overdue replacement of council tax. 

Getting agreement will still be a challenge, and Green councillors we will need to play your part and lead the case for reform within Scotland’s councils too.

But it’s only with Greens at the table that progress is possible. To step away from government or to step away from working together on council tax as a shared policy concern is to step away from any prospect of reform.
And, colleagues, we have shown ourselves to be a party which delivers on reform. 

One of the landmark achievements of Greens in Parliament has been provision of free bus travel to young people under the age of 22. 

A scheme secured from the opposition benches through our co-operation on budgets, but designed and delivered by Greens in government.  It’s the difference between lining up policy and getting policy over the line.

Bus travel for U22s has been truly transformative.

I know colleagues feel just as passionately about extending the benefits of free bus to others. 

That is why I am delighted to announce today that we will be working with the ferry operators to extend the National Ferry Concessionary Travel Scheme to all young people under the age of 22 who live on Scottish islands.

The current scheme which covers 16-18 year olds provides a set number of journeys a year from island to mainland and as a result of this announcement many more children and young people will benefit. It’s yet another example of Greens in Government determined to make all forms of public transport more affordable.

But, as well as that,

Some of the most vulnerable people in Scotland are people seeking asylum.  There has been an effective and widely-supported campaign to highlight just how difficult it is for those members of our communities to access transport.

In Parliament that cause has been championed by Mark Ruskell and by many councillors like Cllr Anthony Carroll in Glasgow.     

So I am equally delighted to announce today that we have agreed that the next Scottish budget will provide £2m to allow asylum seekers resident in Scotland to access free bus travel. 

Making that a reality will take time. It also means carefully considering any potential negative consequences for people we are trying to support, in light of the hostility we know they face from the UK Government. 

But we now have a firm commitment to work through the necessary legislative and budget changes to achieve that end.   

And we'll need to step up the pressure on the current UK Government, or the next one, to do the right thing.

To stop obsessing about cramming people seeking asylum on barges and instead help them freely to travel on buses.

Conference, with Greens in Government we are continuing to make a crucial difference.    

For people.

For planet.

The achievements that Lorna and I have highlighted are your achievements

The challenges that we have described are our shared responsibility to overcome.

The opportunity in the years ahead is to deliver on the full potential for Green ideas to make Scotland better.

Let’s seize that opportunity.

Thank you, and have a great conference.

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