Enough is enough – Why I think the Green Surge is happening



It’s spring conference season in the UK. A conference season with the added spice that we are only a couple of months away from a general election which appears to be the most open in living memory, if not of all time. The traditional two party system is under threat by insurgents from both left and right with the Tories and Labour apparently only having the support of a third of the electorate each. Massive gains have been made by the right-wing, populist nutjobs folk from UKIP and the traditional Labour heartland of Scotland looks to be turning totally SNP yellow. 

Amongst these parties is the most left-wing of these political insurgents, the Greens. The party started life as the People Party, changing to the Ecology Party in 1975, then the Green Party of Great Britain in 1985. In 1990 the party split into three to reflect their support for greater autonomy for the constituent parts of the UK; the Green Party of England and Wales (Which contains the autonomous Wales Green Party), the Green Party in Northern Ireland and the Scottish Green Party. They are far from a new party, or group of parties, and even scored some electoral success with 14.9% of the vote and third place in the 1989 Europen Elections (albeit with no MEPs returned due to the first past the post voting system).

What’s the point of going over all of this? Well, we are talking about a Green movement which has been around for 40 years without making any serious impact, barring that one blip on elections or polling. Until recently. The Greens in England now have an MP, Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion, and control the local council in the same town with a minority administration. They are regularly polling 5-7% at the moment, often pushing the Lib Dems into 5th place. They have also seen an enormous increase in membership over the last 12 months.

So, what’s the difference?

I went to the Scottish Green Party spring conference at the University of Dundee this weekend and everybody who was there will tell you what that difference is.

What I encountered in Dundee was the very reason I joined the party last September. I saw ordinary men and women who want to make a change in everyone’s life, but not in the way we normally see from political parties. Gone was the rhetoric of fear and blame. Gone was the talk of Britain’s place at the World’s top table. Gone was the pandering to big business. In its place stood real, practical ideas for making positive changes.

The first session I attended was about Europe. In that session I was involved in a discussion about the hot button issue of the day, the one which every party will address over and over again despite the fact that we are, if some are to be believed, not allowed to talk about it; immigration. What was noticeable immediately was that nobody was discussing immigration as if it was a problem which needs to be tackled. There was no mention of floods of eastern europeans, influxes of asylum seekers, benefits tourism or any of the other inflammatory terms used by many politicians. Instead we discussed a better way to treat asylum seekers, rather than just locking them up for an indefinite period for the crime of wanting to leave a life-threatening situation to live in a free country. We discussed how people are afraid that immigrants will steal their jobs because they are prepared to work for less, and how introducing the Living Wage of £10 per hour would disincentivise companies from actively recruiting abroad and exploiting foreign workers. We discussed how, instead of too much immigration, maybe we don’t have enough as we have a massive shortage of skills in the UK which we need to start addressing urgently within our education system. Gone was the fear and demonisation, in were new answers and new questions.

We looked at new ways for the economy to run. Oxfam’s Katherine Trebeck spoke of economic models which, rather than the failed system of trickle-down, worked for everybody. Businesses which were run by communities, co-operatives and workers whose main objectives aren’t profit for profit’s sake, but successful businesses working for the benefit and prosperity of all those involved and affected by them. An economy whose success isn’t measured by GDP, growth and the share prices of the biggest companies, but by how people’s lives are positively impacted by it. This brings to mind a line used by Bruce Springsteen during some of his live performances,

“Nobody wins unless everybody wins”

This is how an economy should work. Not by driving up profits and prosperity for the few at the top who then rig the rules in their favour, but by ensuring that everybody shares in the prosperity of a community. Everybody has that incentive to work for the good of all.

We heard how the term “fuel poverty” is a nonsense in a country where we have plenty of fuel. Where the term “food poverty”, seeing people rely on foodbanks, is a nonsense in a country where we have plenty of food. The problem is just poverty, pure and simple, and the way our economy and services are being run by repeated neoliberal administrations, with their eyes on graphs and figures rather than lives and people, have meant that poverty and inequality are rife in this, one of the richest countries on the planet. However, to challenge this is consistently attacked by the poltical classes and mainstream media. As Helder Camara said,

“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.”

This is what need to change and it is what the Green Party are desperate to change, to beat the scourge of poverty.

The day was rounded off by a talk by the co-convenor of the Scottish Greens, Patrick Harvie MSP. He did a fantastic job of showing the differences between the Greens and the other main parties. The fact that all of the other parties seem to want you to choose a least worst option, holding your nose in disgust as you put your cross in the box. We hear that if you vote Labour you’ll get UKIP, if you vote UKIP you’ll get Tory, if you vote SNP you’ll get Tory, if you vote Green in Scotland you’ll get Labour (UKIP’s MEP in Scotland, David Coburn’s, even suggested that if you vote Scottish Green you’ll get Sinn Fein, demonstrating a remarkable lack of knowledge of our electoral system). Tactical voting needs to stop. It’s time we actually voted for what we wanted, not what we don’t want the least. Decades of tactical voting, coupled with the unfair FPTP voting system have led to a complacency from the main two parties. He spoke of Ken Baker’s suggestion of a form of coalition between Labour and the Tories in order to keep the SNP from holding the balance of power, a suggestion which flies in the face of the principles of both parties; principles they both gave up many moons ago.

He also spoke of the failure of austerity. The fact that, due to the blind devotion to it, we have seen the slowest recovery on record. The fact that we have seen growing inequality as the poorest, youngest and women have borne the brunt of this. How we are looking to spent billions on the renewal of the morally reprehensible Trident, using that same politics of fear, despite cutting benefits and services where they are most needed. I have heard some defend Trident by saying we leave ourselves open to attack by ISIL or Putin if we scrap it. If this were the case, why have they not attacked Denmark, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, Australia, Canada or many of the other countries without a nuclear deterrent? In Putin’s case, maybe he just doesn’t want to. In ISIL’s case, maybe they don’t have the resources (and if they did, who would we use the missiles on? They aren’t an actual state). Do we really want to waste billions on a deterrent which appears to be deterring nobody, which most other countries don’t see the need for and would not be able to live with ourselves if we actually used it? I say no. So do millions of others. So do the Greens. We say that we need a much less confrontational foreign policy, one where we stop arming groups overseas who end up using those arms on us, one where we stop making enemies of people with a continued sense of self importance. We don’t need Trident, we need a new outlook. And we need to spend that money on maintaining services and benefits for those who need them the most.

He finished off by speaking of “the urgency of removing this austerity coalition, we have to bring it to an end”. And this is why the Greens have seen such growth. They speak with hope rather than fear as a way to deal with business as usual. They don’t, as I heard said about them recently, only care about talking to flowers and climbing oil rigs. The environmental issue is still there, at the heart of the Green movement, of course. However, the main topic of conversation wherever you were yesterday in Dundee was poverty and inequality; bringing people out of hoplessness and despair and empowering everybody to work together for the prosperity of all.

Are all Green policies perfect? No. Do I agree with them all? No. The thing is, these parties, the three UK Green parties, are parties who accept this. They accept their imperfections, they accept dissent within the membership and encourage open and respectful discussion, they accept that working with other parties on areas of common ground is the right thing to do. They also accept that those in power need to be held to account and are, more than anybody, prepared to do just that.

That is why the so-called Green Surge is happening. That is why they… we are getting louder. Something needs to change, for the good of us all. As the campaign slogan of the host branch, the Dundee Greens, says,

“Enough is enough!”

Bad caretakers

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This World is beautiful. I mean, not just quite pretty, but absolutely mind-blowingly, outstandingly, breathtakingly, stunningly beautiful to the extent that, sometimes, all you can do is stand and stare in sheer awe.

I took the photograph above on the Isle of Arran, just off the west coast of Scotland. It’s an island which has been given the moniker of “Scotland in miniature”, mainly because it has flat(ish) rolling fields in the south and rocky mountains in the north, caused by it lying on the Highland fault line which runs through the mainland. It is home to beautiful trees, wild flowers, seals, deer, red squirrel, golden eagle and so many other flora and fauna that you could spend weeks looking at it.

I only spent one day on the island, but also visited the Isles of Bute and Greater Cumbrae, as well as several west coast towns in mainland Scotland, all with their own unique character and quirks. That was just five days in a very small area of a very small country on a planet containing over 300 countries and 7 billion people. From the Himalayas to the Grand Canon, the desolation of Antarctica to the crowded Amazon, there is so much beauty and wonder on this Earth that you could live for over 100 years and still only be able to experience a fraction of it.

Sadly, there is one blot on God’s amazing creation. One factor bringing destruction, desolation, pollution, division, pain and death.

Human beings.

I recently read this post about the awful situations in places such as Mosul, Israel/Palestine and Ukraine. Places where those kids in the school playground who fought every lunchtime, using the excuse “but he started it” have failed to progress from their childhoods, but now have control of media and military and are dragging as many innocent bystanders into their fights as possible, with painful, deadly consequences. Humanity is forgotten and old, man-made artificial divides and selfish motivations become the important things.

Nations and businesses are built on the backs of the poor and disenfranchised. The Earth’s resources are stripped bare in the search for money and power. Natural habitats are destroyed and animals are forced into endangerment and extinction due to the greed of those who then destroy economies, tearing lives apart, pushing the poor further into poverty, seeing the vulnerable blamed whilst those responsible and in charge get off scot free. We accept and encourage hatred of the poorest and most vulnerable, but accept the myth that the rich can’t be punished for fear that they’ll all pick up their ball and run away.

Our atmosphere is being poisoned by burning fossil fuels and belching noxious gases into it in the name of progress, yet we let ourselves be taken in by journalists and politicians who have vested interests in big industry telling us that man-made climate change is a myth. Even if we believe that it isn’t, we sleepwalk towards destruction through apathy, laziness, materialism and greed.

Animals are raised in the harshest and most desperate of conditions in order to feed the richest for as little money as possible. Cattle, fowl and others crammed into barns with no room to move or lay down so that as much food can be produced as possible in as little time as possible and for as much profit as possible. A miserable existence, whose only relief is the violent death which will come at an abattoir.

“Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” Then God said, “Look! I have given you every seed-bearing plant throughout the earth and all the fruit trees for your food. And I have given every green plant as food for all the wild animals, the birds in the sky, and the small animals that scurry along the ground—everything that has life.” And that is what happened. Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good! And evening passed and morning came, marking the sixth day.” (Genesis 1:26-31 NLT)

The part of God’s creation made in his image, the part made to reign over the Earth and all of its animals and plants, is the part which is destroying it. I don’t subscribe to the view that the creation story in Genesis is a literal account, but I do believe that it is an accurate portrayal of God’s purpose for humanity on Earth. We are his gardeners, curators, groundskeepers and caretakers. We have dominion, as some translations put it, over the Earth, but that comes with a responsibility. A responsibility of care and of love for all of God’s creation, not just those in which we have a vested interest. We have neglected that responsibility, either directly or indirectly. Most of us don’t cause this destruction and hatred, but we stand idly by and allow it to happen. We encourage it. We get sucked in by it. We live our lives expecting and wanting it.

The thing is, it’s become so difficult to know what to do about it. I’m not going to give you an answer, because I don’t have one. However, at the very least we need to stand up to hatred, speak out against injustice and the destruction of our planet, seek ethically produced food and clothes.

And pray. Pray for change, for forgiveness, for strength, for guidance. We live in a world which has turned it’s back on God, especially many of those claiming to fight in his name. So much has replaced God in people’s lives; money, power, fame, belongings, sex and, yes, religion.

We need God and the peace he brings, rather than the wars that many think he wants.

We need God and the guidance he gives, not the selfish desires of man which many think will set you free.

We need God and the grace that he gives, because we don’t deserve him. But he still wants us to return to him and be the custodians we were created to be.

We need God.

Whose work is it anyway?

This afternoon I was in a meeting at work. It was one of those meetings which had no obvious purpose, but still filled its allotted time. One of those meetings which turned into people, justifiably, moaning about being overworked with no light at the end of the tunnel. One of those meetings which made you want to pick up your things, walk out and never come back.

Then these words came to mind,

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Colossians 3:23 NIV)

And I thought, really?! Really, Paul?! You want me to look at this as like working for God? This is pensions admin, not missionary work. I have no time to actually do my job because I spend all my time doing my job (and, somehow, that actually makes sense!). We’re all doing the jobs of three people with questions asked when stuff isn’t done. Within two minutes of arriving I already feel beaten down and running out of time. Everyone is miserable about the standards they’re expected to live up to, but can’t. Several have been off with stress or anxiety. I’m supposed to be dealing with depression in this environment. Yet you think I should see it as if I’m working for the Lord?!

I train people to process applications for pension transfers, I don’t feed the hungry, dress the poor, comfort the grieving, preach to the deaf, heal the sick or do anything remotely worthwhile. How is that like working for God, Paul? How?!

Then, I heard a voice. Not audibly. Not like ‘hearing voices’. More of an impression of a voice, pushing through the self pitying ranting of my mind.

I know the voice.

I should do, He is always trying to say something. I’m just not always ready or willing to listen.

I can hear Him now, though.

“Give Paul a break. He’s right. He knows what he’s talking about. I told him to say it!

You think this is tough? You think this is pressure? You have a job. A regular income, bills paid, food on the table, a roof over your head.

Think of the unemployed, scrabbling around on small change in homes where the landlord won’t fix the boiler or Windows, but still charges the earth in rent for it.

Think of those who have final demands piling up on the doormat. Scared of every knock at the door or ring on the phone in case it brings homelessness.

Think of those starving, scared and alone in Syria, Somalia, North Korea or many other places where poverty, war, oppression or all three are a daily prescence.

Think of those who are persecuted because of their faith in Me. You have freedom to worship, meet others in My name, write a blog proclaiming your faith. Others have to meet in secret, in fear of their lives if they are even seen with a Bible.

And you think middle-class, first-world problems are tough?

You have a wife and family who love you.

You have a nice home.

You have a job where you have the responsibility for developing others. Helping them to build skills and knowledge. Helping them to realise their own potential, to turn around faltering careers, to mentor new staff, to be the best they can be at their jobs. To help make their Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 existences as rewarding as they can be.

How is that not My work?”

And He’s right. Of course He is. When isn’t He?

So, I will. I’ll work with all my heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.

Because that’s exactly what I’m doing. We all are. We just need to listen and find out how.

A prayer about the Equal Marriage Bill in Scotland. And beyond.

Today, the Scottish Parliament debate and vote on the Equal Marriage Bill. This is a bill which has seen divisions widened in Scottish society and the Church as well.

For Biblical reasons (which I may expand upon at another time) I support the bill. However, there are many within the Church who, for equally valid, Biblical reasons, oppose it.

For this reason, I have a prayer. Not one that the Bill passes or fails, but for what I hope happens during the debate and beyond.

Loving, Heavenly Father

Today our politicians will decide whether or not to extend your gift of marriage to same-sex couples.

I pray that the debate is both impassioned and reasoned. That facts, evidence, thoughtful reflection and, above all, love are demonstrated by those taking part.

I pray that the mudslinging and name calling stop. That fears are not stoked. That people, not prejudice from either side, are accounted for.

I pray that your will is done. That it is done in the debating chamber, in the vote, in the reporting, in the reaction and in the whole of society in Scotland. Whatever the outcome.

I pray that we can move on from this to address the true, pressing needs in out society today. That we realise that the urgent priority is not in who can marry, but in poverty, injustice, loneliness, homelessness, hunger, inequality, religious division, racial hatred, sickness, alcohol and substance abuse, people struggling with parenthood, child neglect and abuse, disengagement, materialism, greed, exploitation, mental illness and many other things which make your people suffer.

Let us not become a people who argue over two people in love. Let us be a people who bring sight to the blind, hope to the poor, freedom to the captive and good news, your good news, to our country and to the world.

In Jesus’ name

Amen

A modern interpretation of Matthew 25:31-46

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Then, the King said,

“I was hungry and you told me that it was my own fault for being lazy and believing that I was entitled to help from hard working families and that I’d probably spent all of my money on alcohol, cigarettes and drugs anyway.

I was thirsty and you assumed that I was desperate for gin or vodka, rather than water.

I was naked and you said that I would have more chance of a job if I took more care of my personal appearance, even though I wore all I could afford.

I was poor and you told me I was a scrounger who just wanted to sponge off the state and put stories about me on the tv and newspapers, despite knowing nothing about my circumstances.

I was sick and you denied me any help, told me to go back to work and assumed I was faking illness in order to scrounge.

I was in prison and you demanded that the key was thrown away and that I was kept away from all respectable, law-abiding members of society because I was a bad person who could never change.

I was a stranger and you ran, scared of me, told me to go home, that your country was full and that I was only there to steal your money, possessions and jobs.

For I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it to me”