Election Essays: Sarah Beattie-Smith, Scottish Greens

Beattie-Smith in Edinburgh's Gayfield Square. Her party is fielding 31 candidates in Scotland, their biggest showing yet. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor

Beattie-Smith in Edinburgh's Gayfield Square. Her party is fielding 31 candidates in Scotland, their biggest showing yet. Picture: Steven Scott Taylor

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The referendum has created a new hunger for equality and democracy – and an end to exploitation

AS FAR back as I can remember, politics has always interested me. From seeing the Ravenscraig tower pulled down when I was just 11, to sitting cross-legged in front of the TV in 1997 watching Tony Blair walk into No 10 and wondering if things really were going to get better.

‘In the long term, we’d introduce a citizen’s income for everyone from cradle to grave’

I grew up in a pretty political home in rural South Lanarkshire and then in the Borders. My mum was a Labour supporter back then and my dad always instinctively Green. Both rallied against Thatcher and Major when I was wee and marched with me as a teenager through the streets of Glasgow to protest against Blair’s war in Iraq. At 16, I moved to Edinburgh to pursue my dream of going to Edinburgh College of Art.

As a student, wondering how I was going to make a career out of creativity and working as a waitress to make ends meet, I saw that whilst my life in art college was overwhelmingly positive, for many others the experience was less so. I became a class rep, gathering views, advocating for fellow students and securing change. In my final year, another student encouraged me to stand for president and work for the student body full time. I stood and I won and so began the realisation that campaigning for change and achieving it was something that people could do as a job. It was a revelation to me.

I had found myself fighting dodgy landlords and overpriced housing and helping students down to their last ten pounds to apply for a hardship grant. Soon I was working in the voluntary sector where I’ve now worked for the last nine years, championing charities who support many thousands more people in need and changing the world around them for the better. I discovered the power of civil society and of social movements and it wasn’t long before I discovered the Scottish Green Party.

Despite being political for most of my life, nothing prepared me for the awakening that was the referendum campaign. Like many thousands of others in Scotland, the chance to debate our nation’s future was an unmissable opportunity. I went along to debates, rallies, discussions and political gigs. Before long I found myself on the panels talking on behalf of the Scottish Greens.

The referendum gave our party the chance to talk to people in Scotland about equality and democracy, about the failures of austerity and the opportunity to chart a different course in an independent Scotland. As a socialist, a feminist and as someone who recognises the interdependence of people and planet, the Scottish Green Party was always going to be my natural home. And after the referendum, it seems thousands of others agreed. The party has grown five-fold since then, now sitting at over 8,600 members.

As a bigger party, we’ve gone into this general election campaign with more candidates than ever before, standing in 31 out of Scotland’s 59 seats. Our messages of equality, not poverty; of keeping public services in public hands; of delivering more power to Scotland and to local communities are bringing more and more people our way.

Standing in Edinburgh North and Leith, I’m proud to be sharing those messages on the doorstep and in hustings, not just because they’re the ones my party has chosen but because they resonate for me personally.

Having waited tables on and off for seven years, I know what a difference a secure job and the dignity of decent pay can make. I worked on minimum wage and, like many people in the service industry, worked without the security of a contract or regular hours. But Green ideas, put into practice, can make an enormous difference.

We’re promising a £10 minimum wage and a stop to a cruel benefits system that punishes the poor for their poverty. We’re pledging to end zero hours contracts and invest in good, well paying, sustainable jobs. We’ll fight for workers’ rights and roll back anti-trade union laws. And in the longer term, we’d introduce a citizen’s income for everyone from cradle to grave.

In my lifetime, increasing numbers of public services have been sold off by successive governments for private profit and taken out of public control. Industries that once returned a healthy profit to the public purse now line the pockets of some of the wealthiest people in the country. I’ve watched, bewildered, as private credit was used to finance public goods, only for all of us to be left with the bill for generations to come.

That’s why I’m proud that the Scottish Green Party is taking a stand to keep public services in public hands. We pledge to bring the railways back under public control and to fight the privatisation of public services like the NHS, whether that threat comes from Westminster governments or from shady trade deals like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Like so many other aspects of our lives, decisions about how we fund public services are often taken by distant governments behind closed doors. If the referendum campaign has taught me anything, it’s that people 
are more than ready to take more power into their own hands, to take decisions about local matters and have a much greater say over the future direction of the country.

The Scottish Green Party wants to bring real democracy to our communities and to our parliament. We’ll press for new powers for Scotland to be devolved quickly and completely and we’ll push for parliament to hand on real powers to councils and communities.

There has never been a better time to vote Green. So for anyone who believes that everyone should have the dignity of decent pay; that public services should be in public hands; and that power belongs in the hands of communities, vote Green next month and help build an economy for the people and a society for all.

Sarah Beattie-Smith is the Scottish Green candidate in Edinburgh North and Leith

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