The cost-of-living crisis and the climate crisis are two sides of the same coin
It has been a historic year for the Scottish Greens. We have gone from opposition to government and are building a fairer, greener future for Scotland.
Last May’s election saw a record number of votes cast for, and MSPs won, by the Scottish Greens. There wasn’t much time for celebrating though, as we were straight into Holyrood only a few days later.
As a new MSP, my first few weeks were a frantic mix of inductions, meetings and recruiting staff. There was nothing in the way of a gap, with parliament sitting straight away. What made it even busier was that almost immediately we began negotiations for what would eventually become the Bute House Agreement.
It was a long and occasionally challenging process, but what it led to was an agreement that we are very proud of. It resulted in a bold and ambitious policy programme that has put Green MSPs at the heart of decision making and Green priorities at the heart of government.
Last August my colleague Patrick Harvie and I became the first-ever Green ministers anywhere in the UK. We started work that very same day and only a few weeks later, in my ministerial capacity, I was proud to announce a review into incineration.
The review itself recommended an end to planning permission for new incinerators in Scotland, a recommendation that I was delighted to accept. Being able to turn words into actions and longstanding policies into reality is the difference between opposition and government.
Last May the people of Scotland didn’t just elect a record number of Green MSPs, they also elected a pro-independence majority. We have a mandate to hold a referendum and that is what we are planning for next October
And we have done it time and again. With Greens in government we have secured record funding for wildlife, nature, recycling and active travel. We have introduced a ban on many of the worst single-use plastics, doubled child payments and have introduced free bus travel for everyone under 22.
These changes are good for our environment and our communities. In the case of the child payment and free bus travel, they have put much-needed money in the pockets of families who are being hit hardest by an unprecedented cost of living crisis.
We have also taken vital and long overdue steps on equality. I am proud that this Scottish Government has finally begun the process of introducing legislation to amend the Gender Recognition Act to allow self-identification for trans people.
We are also delivering a full and comprehensive ban on conversion therapy and providing record funding for trans healthcare while working to tackle the waiting lists that have seen some people having to wait years for their first appointment.
Despite a lot of highly misleading reporting and a campaign of disinformation against our trans siblings, we are standing with them and doing everything we can to build a more equal Scotland.
Many of the things I am doing as Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity will take more than a year to achieve. Right now, I have consultations open for our Circular Economy Bill and waste route map, our biodiversity strategy, and to create Scotland’s next National Park.
These are all substantial pieces of work that I am proud to be leading on and they will make some of the longer-term and structural differences that we need if we are to do our part to avoid further climate breakdown.
People can see the impact that we are having locally and nationally. That is why, in May, I was proud to see the election of a record number of Green councillors.
We asked the people of Scotland to think globally while acting locally, and that is what they did. We had a breakthrough set of results, securing record numbers of Greens in Edinburgh, Glasgow and the Highlands, and, just as importantly, we won our first councillors in North Lanarkshire, Moray, Argyll & Bute and other areas that have never voted Green before.
Unfortunately, this past year has also been defined by the brutal and immoral Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russian forces have bombed schools, hospitals and homes as part of a military campaign that has inflicted a terrible humanitarian crisis. It is not often that our parliament stands as one, but on this crucial issue we all did.
I have been proud to stand in support and solidarity with MSPs from across the political spectrum. I marched with campaigners from all backgrounds and spoke at demonstrations alongside other leaders.
I am proud of the role my party has played in the solidarity movement and of the work that the Scottish Government and the Scottish people have done to provide support and to help refugees who have settled here.
As we look ahead, our next parliamentary year will be defined by three big themes that all overlap. They are the cost-of-living crisis, the climate crisis and independence.
Right now, millions of people across the UK are suffering. Every day my office is contacted by people in desperate circumstances. It is not even a case of families having to choose between heating and eating, as there are millions who are finding themselves unable to afford either.
This has been made even worse by cruel and unnecessary Universal Credit cuts, which were inflicted during a pandemic, and the disastrous Brexit deal that Boris Johnson negotiated.
With inflation soaring and costs skyrocketing, it will need radical action from all levels of government. My Green colleagues and I will continue to do everything we can to provide help and support to the many families who are struggling to make ends meet, but the biggest steps have to be taken by Downing Street.
There must be an immediate focus on providing meaningful relief for the many people who need it, but that must also be complemented by a major investment in renewable energy to transform our economy and break the link between fossil fuel prices and household bills.
One of the main driving factors has been the huge increase in gas prices.
Despite record profits for oil and gas companies, household bills are going up at a far greater rate than wages. That is why the cost-of-living crisis and the climate crisis should not be viewed as separate crises. They are two sides of the same coin.
Even with recession looming, the UK Government is ignoring the suffering and proposing more of the same cuts and austerity and even more oil and gas exploration. The Cambo oil field and Jackdaw gas field are environmental catastrophes in the making and will do nothing to ease energy prices, but what the Tories see is an opportunity for their wealthy supporters to get even wealthier.
In Scotland, and even against this challenging backdrop, we are making vital steps towards a greener economy and future. However, many of the key economic levers are in Westminster. With independence we can do so much more to ensure a recovery that works for people and the planet.
That is why the cost-of-living crisis and the climate crisis should not be viewed as separate crises. They are two sides of the same coin
Last May the people of Scotland didn’t just elect a record number of Green MSPs, they also elected a pro-independence majority. We have a mandate to hold a referendum and that is what we are planning for next October.
Every day as an MSP, and as a minister, I can see how we are being held back by Brexit and by damaging decisions being made in Westminster. Whether it is the moral abomination of nuclear weapons on our coast or the threat of dawn raids and racist deportations, I know that the vision I have for Scotland is fundamentally different from that of Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss.
I have no doubt that it will be a challenging year. There will be a lot of big questions and decisions, and it is vital that we get them right.
But however hard things are for those of us in Holyrood, they will be a lot tougher for the millions of people struggling to pay their bills. They will be at the forefront of my mind and at the heart of everything I do as a minister, an MSP, and as a party leader.
Lorna Slater is co-leader of the Scottish Greens.
This article appears in Holyrood's Annual Review: A look back at the parliamentary year