6 September 2019
At one of our most successful open meetings yet, attended by 80+ people, it was a privilege to hear guest speaker Molly Scott Cato, MEP for South West England and Gibraltar, talk lucidly about the issues currently facing those of Green persuasion, and how we might best respond to those challenges.
Not least among them, she said, is the resurgence of populism, often closely allied with a form of malign nationalism which belongs in the past. The unmistakeable signs of a drift towards a regressive nationalism – if not fascism – were discernable in an alarming number of countries, she said, including Hungary, Italy, Brazil, India, the USA, Turkey and, to some extent in the UK.
Inevitably, Brexit jumped the queue. “No deal is not what people want”, said Molly, and any suggestion of proroguing Parliament could not be construed as anything but utterly anti-democratic. The referendum result needed to be revisited she said, since few on either side of the issue at the time were aware of the potential consequences of leaving the EU, not least the problems arising from the need for a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic and the consequent risk posed to the Peace Process.
While it was right, she said, that such issues should be at the forefront of our concerns, they should not prevent us from recognising and tackling the other major issues with which Greens are concerned. Molly cited President Trump’s dismantling of the INF (Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces) Treaty, and START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), which expires in 2021 and is likely to meet the same fate. Media apathy towards such efforts to maintain peace was exemplified she said, by the almost complete media silence about the ongoing ICAN campaign (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons).
Of course, said Molly, it was not easy to give all of these issues the attention they deserve, especially when the biggest issue of them all – Climate Change – demands our ever-more-urgent attention. But sustainability issues such as this are closely linked with issues of social justice, and the latter must be a key component of any initiative. There was a real momentum building in the EU, she said, towards what was being called a ‘Green Transition’, which reflected this need.
In the UK, the link between sustainability and social justice was illustrated, Molly said, by issues such as the government not supporting renewable energy initiatives. But even when they do, we taxpayers are short-changed, because currently, for instance, 25% of profits from offshore wind farms go to the Crown, not into the public purse. We need to campaign for public ownership of these resources.
And then last but definitely not least, was the problem of migration. Migration will continue to grow, said Molly, because climate change will increasingly force people to move to more hospitable climatic zones. This is already happening, and thousands have died already because we are not prepared for it. We need to work out how to act quickly.
Molly summed-up by highlighting a number of points which should underpin the Green approach:
In the lively Q&A session which followed Molly’s talk, questions ranged from asking who was actually governing the country – Johnson or Dominic Cummings – to the questionable efficacy of carbon offsetting, and the merits or otherwise of electoral pacts. Another questioner asked whether, in the dynamics of global vs. local action, corporations didn’t have the most to gain. Molly pointed out that, in many cases that may be true, but many of the problems we face can only be tackled at a global level.
Closing Molly’s Q&A session, Liberal Democrat Councillor for Long Ashton (LA), Ashley Cartman, advised that, he, along with our own Stuart McQuillan, had managed to form the first Tory-free representation for LA for many years. Ashley was interested to know what Molly’s advice would be on key initiatives to undertake in such a progressive-held ward.
Molly responded that perhaps the most productive thing to do would be to work across party lines to establish a fund to support local businesses. There were already precedents where local councils had got together to issue bonds to support local business development. In fact, such initiatives were already under way in neighbouring Bristol, where Avon Mutual, a regional, customer owned co-operative bank covering the West of England was in the process of being formed.
Molly’s session was followed by brief reports from our three recently-elected Green councillors. Bridget Petty (Backwell) stressed the important implications of the new North Somerset Council working across party lines in a ‘rainbow alliance’, while Stuart McQuillan (Long Ashton) expressed delight at the breadth of issues he had encountered but frustration at a District Council’s lack of powers to act upon them. He expressed a sincere wish to involve Conservative council members more in Council proceedings.
Karin Haverson (Banwell & Winscombe) paid tribute to Tom Leimdorfer’s help in overcoming what for her was an equally thrilling and daunting experience. Learning what councillors can and can’t do, and exploring how to work across parties and groups was at the core.
Molly was so pleased to hear that our new councillors were establishing completely new cross-connections in North Somerset Council, and expressed the hope that it could be replicated across the whole country.
6th September 2019