Ross Greer Spring Conference 2023 speech
Good morning conference. Welcome to Clydebank. Welcome to the West of Scotland.
Home of Loch Lomond - Where I am delighted to say our campaign to defeat Flamingo Land’s destructive mega resort plans has just hit 57,000 objections.
I know that some of you thought we had lost it when we announced that we were having party conference at a hospital. But I’m delighted to welcome you to a hotel owned and operated by the National Health Service, and whose staff benefit from the kind of fair work policies we, the Scottish Greens, are delivering as a party of government.
Every day, Greens in Government are delivering a fairer Scotland
Just yesterday the Scottish Government published fresh guidance for companies to implement our Fair Work agenda, reflecting new requirements - delivered by the Scottish Greens - that any business in receipt of public grants must ensure effective workers voice such as union recognition and pay their staff at least the real Living Wage, that comes a day after we delivered living wage for all public sector interns and modern apprenticships.
Depending on how you got here, you might have come across some of our local industrial heritage. Clydebank is a town with a proud working class history
Some of you might have got off the train at Singer station, named after the sewing machine factory which used to occupy that area of the town. And whose iconic clock dominated the skyline.
That factory is where the Red Clydeside era of working class radicalism really started. In 1911 it's 11,000 workers - mostly women and children - went on a months-long strike to protest at decreasing wages and increasing workloads.
Clydebank also played a central role in the anti-war movement during the First World War. People here knew that war was a pointless slaughter and not only resisted the jingoism and conscription efforts, but also the attempts to use the war as a pretext to roll back what progress had been made for workers rights
The town’s experience of the Second World War was very different. Most of you probably learnt something about the Clydebank Blitz when you were at school. This was the only town in Britain to be completely destroyed by German bombing.
My gran was here that night. In a spectacular example of bad timing, she’d been evacuated but she and her mum came back for what they planned to be just the one night. She was five years old but to her last day she vividly remembered those forty eight hours. How every window in the building was shattered by the blasts. How the adults hid the children under the stairs at the bottom of the close before leaving to help fight the fires
And the orange glow which seeped in to their hiding place from a town which was engulfed in flames. My gran’s old house is now the home of a family forced to flee the civil war in Syria. As someone who experienced the destruction of war firsthand here in Clydebank, I know how happy she would be about that.
Across this region and across Scotland we have a proud history of welcoming refugees into our communities. I am proud to have passed the first motion in Parliament proposing that refugees be granted the right to vote, something which became the law in time for the last Scottish election.
That welcome our communities and our Parliament have provided is in spite of the incompetence, hostility and outright racism of the UK Home Office. A Home Office which is not fit for purpose /must be abolished.
Directly across the river from here, in Erskine, the UK Government has placed 174 young men seeking asylum in a hotel. Many members of the community want to offer support, get to know these guys and to provide a warm welcome, but they can’t because the Home Office and their private contractor, Mears Group, have refused all attempts to engage with them.
They have created exactly the conditions for fascists to take advantage of the concerns some in the community have - playing on that fear of the unknown. And that is exactly what is now happening.
A handful of pathetic former BNP members and those with links to banned far-right terror groups have now arrived to try and divide the community and whip up hostility to the vulnerable young men stuck in that hotel.
I’m proud to be working with local residents, including Renfrewshire Green members, who are resisting them. This is exactly where Greens should be, fighting racism with solidarity. Our enemies don’t arrive in this country in dinghies. They come by private jet.
This job certainly has its tough moments - as those of you who caught some recent media articles will know - but it is a huge privilege for me to not only represent my community in Parliament but to go to work every day with the overwhelming backing of this party to deliver the greenest and most progressive Programme for Government in the history of devolution - the Bute House Agreement.
In the face of yet another economic crisis and unprecedented hostility from the Tories at Westminster and in Holyrood, the Scottish Greens have spent the past 18 months delivering policies which redistribute wealth and power from those who have far too much to those who need it the most.
It’s easy to talk a good game about eco-socialism on twitter when you’re in no position to deliver it. But thanks to years and decades of hard work from the people in this room and across our party, the Scottish Greens are delivering real change.
Here in West Dunbartonshire, 11,000 young people have, between them, taken 900,000 journeys on the bus for free since last January, thanks to the Scottish Greens. Maybe it was one of those young people who took the 50 millionth free bus journey in Scotland last month.
As our finance spokesperson I’ve had the privilege of working alongside John Swinney over the last year to produce the Greenest budget in Scottish history. What the BBC’s Scotland editor described as the most left wing budget.
The Institute for Fiscal Studies - hardly natural allies for our brand of radical politics - have confirmed that Scotland now has by far the most progressive tax and social security system anywhere in the UK.
Put simply, we are asking those who can afford to pay more to do so. And redistributing that money to the lowest income families and the public services they rely on.
For the budget we have just passed through Parliament I secured a rise in income tax for those on the highest incomes AND an increase to the tax on buying second homes and holiday homes.
Collectively, the tax changes we delivered this year will put over half a billion pounds more into Scotland’s budget every year. And that’s on top of the progressive income tax changes our party had already secured.
Together, the reforms delivered by the Scottish Greens mean that our public services are better off to the tune of a billion pounds every year.
This is funding Green manifesto policies like mitigation of the Tories’ cruel benefit cap, helping four thousand of the most vulnerable families in Scotland. That is eco-socialism in action.
I want to thank the Scottish Green councillors who worked with me throughout that budget process. Some of the changes we’re making fly under the radar. But whether its increasing fines for illegal parking - Or devolving powers over empty property reliefs to local government - which comes in one week from today -
Every extra bit of resource or power we deliver for councils really matters. And Patrick and I are excited to work with our councillors to deliver far bigger reforms to Council Tax, culminating in its complete replacement.
That Budget wasn’t perfect. How could it be when our spending envelope is largely set by a UK Government which keeps cutting it? And when the Scottish Government’s hands are tied so tightly by the completely inadequate powers we have under devolution.
Just this year £1.7billion has been wiped off the value of our budget by inflation - driven in large part by the Tories but which they refuse to compensate us for. In the face of the cost of living crisis and continued Tory hostility, we are doing everything we can to provide support.
That’s why this year we are delivering another Green manifesto commitment, capping the cost of school uniforms. That’s part of a huge package of changes across our schools and education system.
This past week I hosted student climate activists from the Teach the Future campaign in Parliament, where the Education Secretary, Shirley-Anne Somerville and I were able to share with them that we have been working to deliver exactly what their campaign is calling for - an education system and school experience rooted in climate justice and which equips young people to play their part in tackling this crisis.
And that’s not to mention my personal passionate project, abolishing and replacing the SQA AND replacing the Victorian-era system of high stakes end of term exams it presides over.
We are doing so much vital work. But I want us to go so much further.
I want us to have the powers of a normal independent country, so that we can spend our resources for the benefit of people and planet, rather than put hundreds of millions a year into just mitigating the worst of Westminster’s cruelty and incompetence.
The people of Scotland want that too. Recent months have given us record poll after record poll, because with Greens in Government they like what they see - unprecedented climate action, a fairer economy, and unashamed commitment to human rights.
Good luck to any party and any politician who wants to give up and row back on all of the progressive change which the Scottish Greens are delivering.