Sunday, 7 February 2016

Support a Fairer Scotland for Women

Yesterday, at a hustings organised by the Scottish Women's Convention, for the Holyrood Elections on 5th May 2016, I spoke about the key issues to support a Fairer Scotland for Women - Education, Jobs, Funding of public services, Local Democracy and Tackling Climate Change. 

Scottish Greens recognise the importance of women accessing a wide range of educational opportunities and challenge the barriers for girls/women in taking up Modern Apprenticeships. The Scottish Government’s Modern Apprenticeship programme is continuing to reflect outdated male-female job stereotypes, drawing young women into poorer paid work. Analysis by the Scottish Greens shows the severe gender imbalance in different sectors has hardly changed in the last two years, with the proportion of young women doing construction apprenticeships falling from just 2 per cent in 2013 to an even lower 1.7 per cent in 2015.  

Scottish Greens will push for a plan of action including specific efforts to help women access non-traditional courses like engineering and support for experienced women in these sectors to act as ambassadors. Construction and engineering careers can be incredibly satisfying and are vital if Scotland is to create the jobs our society needs in housing, oil and gas decommissioning and renewables. Scottish Greens will continue to push for training and employment that delivers good wages for young women, not just men. 

Scottish Greens are seeking action to reduce class sizes, protect additional support needs and address teacher workload. We are share the concerns about national testing, of many parents, teachers and education experts. Scotland can close the attainment gap but what’s needed is investment in teacher recruitment and training, and investment in Additional Support Needs which disproportionately affects children from lower income backgrounds.
It’s clear that we need more Green voices at Holyrood for bolder action on the educational improvements that will make a real difference.

Scottish Greens will support the Educational Institute of Scotland’s (EIS) action to resist the pay award imposed by Colleges Scotland. Following a national bargaining process with all parties involved is crucial to supporting college lecturers and rebuilding trust between management and staff after years of cuts in the Further Education sector. Lecturers, who are the backbone of our further education system, have been stretched incredibly thin in recent years, and we must give them our support. 

The Scottish Greens believe that for our colleges to keep providing high quality education, staff have to be properly supported to do their jobs. With the mounting pressure on wages and crumbling trust between workers and management, disregarding the national bargaining process is simply unacceptable. We support efforts ensure that college leadership gets back around the table and a fairer pay deal is agreed on by all parties involved. 

In terms of UK Government’s Trade Union Bill, Scottish Greens oppose and condemn the this Bill and believe that it restricts the fundamental rights of workers to organise, bargain collectively. We believe that it will both undermine the effective engagement of trade unions across Scottish workplaces. Scottish Green MSPs have given support for trade unions taking necessary industrial action in defiance of it. We must resist the UK Tory government attack on workers’ rights.

With draconian measures such as fines of up to £20,000 for picket supervisors not wearing armbands, we will need the determination to defy this law if it’s passed. Scottish ministers have said everything possible would be done to oppose the Bill, but we need a firm commitment from them that the public sector and trade unions in Scotland will be supported by the Scottish Government in refusing to implement the UK government’s attack on working people’s basic rights.

In terms of Equal Pay, Scottish Green MSPs praise the Law Society of Scotland for publishing research showing a 42 per cent gender pay gap among its members. This research underlines the need for action, and shows that governments and employers have been paying lip service to equal pay law. We know that across our economy women earn 13 per cent less than men in full-time private sector jobs, and almost 34 per cent less in part-time jobs. At the moment only public sector employers are required to take steps to ensure pay equality. Voluntary measures have not worked and the time has come to require large private sector employers to ensure pay equality.

Scottish Greens are supporting restoration of our local democracy and giving communities greater say in how funds are raised. Local authorities should have a choice of progressive measures such as land, wealth and visitor taxes, as is commonplace in other European countries. 

From 2008-09 to 2015-16 the local government budget has fallen by 6 per cent compared to 3 per cent for the Scottish Government. Central control of funding has exacerbated the flaws in the council tax, which is based on property values from 24 years ago. This broken system has unquestionably harmed vital public services.

The Scottish Government knows that reform is needed, and set up a local tax commission, which my colleague Andy Wightman from the Scottish Greens took part in. We can improve our democracy and our public services by giving councils the kind of income-raising powers councils in other countries take for granted. 

Labour are right to say that public services can only be protected if we raise the revenue that’s needed. This is a case we’ve been making for several years now, but Labour’s proposal on Income Tax would place a greater burden on income when it is the huge wealth inequality in our society we should be tackling. Their proposal would also increase local reliance on central government funding when we should be devolving power within Scotland. 

In years to come, increased powers over rates and bands of Income Tax will give Holyrood real flexibility to target the wealthiest in our society, while today we must focus on giving local authorities the ability to raise funds including from vacant land and under-taxed luxury properties.

The Finance Secretary should not penalise councils who exercise democratic decisions. Scottish Greens have shown we can raise hundreds of millions of pounds in extra revenue from derelict land, and we’ve also made the case for ending the Council Tax freeze and ensuring the owners of luxury properties pay more. These tax policies would protect services, they’d be progressive, but they’d also empower local communities and address wealth inequality. 

On housing, Scottish Greens believe Scotland can provide good homes for all but we need to see ministers match their commitment to energy efficient housing with a funding increase rather than a cut, and a specific budget line to demonstrate it really is a National Infrastructure Priority. A clear timescale is needed for bringing all residential buildings up to modern standards, so we can end the scandal of Scotland’s cold and expensive-to-heat homes.

The Scottish Greens have welcomed the decision of Land Reform Minister to investigate the options for bringing Scotland’s 11,000 hectares of vacant and derelict land into the valuation system. Analysis by the Scottish Greens suggests that taxing such land could raise around £300 million a year for house-building. The progress made shows how important it is to have Green voices at Holyrood pushing the Scottish Government to be bold.

Scottish Greens have consistently pushed for community and public ownership of energy assets so the profits can be used to fund the transition our local economies and communities need.  Locally owned capacity now operational in Scotland represents only three per cent of renewable ownership in Scotland and includes small private ownership. By contrast Germany has 65 per cent in local or community hands. We could be copying Germany’s programme of switching to renewables and reducing demand through widespread local ownership. Giving communities and public bodies control not only creates jobs and cuts bills but provides revenue to invest in other priorities.

On Monday, 8th February, Scottish Greens are launching the campaign for Holyrood. Tune into Periscope on which goes live on the morning and follow tweets on #GreenLaunch16

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