MAYBE it was fitting, perhaps even a sign. But as the Clyde’s salty expanse was sprayed at pace up and over the quay wall outside the Beacon Arts Centre in Greenock, inside it was the stormy waters of Brexit that the Scottish Green Party were choosing to navigate.
Patrick Harvie, co-convener outlined the course he and his colleagues were plotting, about where the submerged political rocks lay hidden and of safe harbours within easy reach in Europe.
It would have been easy to use their Spring conference be triumphalist and jubilant at the way the group has apparently managed to tug the Scottish Government’s budget from starboard towards port, or of the legislation they have helped push through.
Instead the mood, pre-St Patrick’s night ceilidh shenanigans at least, was relatively sober.
Both Harvie and his co-convenor struck a chord of work to be done, battles to be fought, organisation and structures to be welded.
And the near 200 folk assembled, those who gave up their Saturday to travel from far and wide to help ‘lead the change’, were quick to register their approval with nods of the head and significant applause.
Mr Harvie told conference: “We don’t just need to challenge the fundamental approach that the UK government is taking to the Brexit crisis, we need to challenge the whole Brexit project itself.
“The reasons to oppose this Brexit crisis are stronger I believe now even than they were in 2016, not least the consequences for the island of Ireland, the wave of racism, prejudice and hate crime unleashed by the leave campaign, the fully exposed lies of the likes of Boris Johnson, the need for Europe’s climate change and the need for us to work together to face new threats like a Russian regime that’s willing to oppress its own people at home, undermine democracy around the world and even arrange assassination in the UK.”
He continued: “The evidence growing stronger all the time of the economic harm that is going to be caused as a result of this change.”
Mr Harvie said members could “bet your bottom Euro that it won’t be people like Jacob Rees Mogg who bear the burden of this economic damage” caused by those he described as “Brexit ultras” who he said had been campaigning for years “for a bonfire of the regulations”
He criticised the UK government for being willing to contemplate throwing regulatory standards overboard, particularly where it came to workers, the environment and devolved matters.
That, he said, was akin to a “direct assault on the well-being of people, on the environmental protections we’ve achieved and indeed on policy area which Holyrood is responsible for.”
He told the audience: “We will not permit that to happen. Theresa May’s government cannot be trusted with these powers and we will not hand them over.”
“One of the biggest threats, one that angers me the most from this Brexit project is the loss, the destruction of perhaps the most astonishing political achievements since the Second World War in European politics, the achievement of the principle of freedom of movement,” he said.
He warned that would put decades of work thwarting wars, opening up educational, working and social evolution at risk.
And – in what appeared to be a clear invitation to disenfranchised Scottish Labour voters to jump ship – he rounded on the official UK opposition for failing to take the Tories to task over the “crisis”.
He said: “The Brexit crisis would be bad enough if the UK had a government which had the moral authority to put the public interest ahead of their own party politics, or a main opposition party that was capable and willing to oppose and offer a real alternative.
“Now I know that there are Labour supporters who felt excitement and new fresh energy with the rise of Jeremy Corbyn – finally a Labour Party that would put Blairism behind it and recapture a mood of possibility.
“How dismayed they must have felt last week to hear Jeremy Corbyn speaking from their conference in Dundee and claiming quite in defiance of the facts that its foreign workers that drive down wages in this country. Is that what international socialism looks like? I don’t think so.
“Greens know that the exploitation of people’s labour is rife in today’s economy and getting worse, but we also know that we have a responsibility not to pit one group of exploited workers against another, but to take that fight to the employers who are taking advantage of them all.
“Labour at both Westminster and Holyrood have been offering the false promise that they will do the same as the Tories taking the country not only out of the EU, but also out of the single market and of the customs union, yet somehow getting the exact same benefits.
“Freedom of movement is undeniably an objective benefit for our economy, for our public services and for people here at home and across Europe and we must hang onto that benefit, we must maintain that principal.”
Recognising that Brexit, given its constitutional and long lasting import, would dominate the rest of the parliamentary session, he laid out what he and his colleagues saw as the likely options ahead.
“In one scenario,” he said, “Scotland will have the tools that we need, the ability between the governments and between the parliaments of these islands, to create common approaches to the things that affect us all together and where co-operation is in the interests of both, but never allowing one level of the UK to impose its will.
“Common frameworks must be based on active consent and as we all know, for the principal of consent to mean anything, both sides have to accept that it can be withdrawn at any time.
“This empowered Scotland with the tools that it needs, would be able to stand up against deregulation, free market ideal lobs, we would be able to hold UK ministers to account for the impact on Scotland of new trade agreements, just as the European Parliament successfully challenged the worse elements of the Transatlantic trade agreement a few years ago and defeated it.”
“We’d be able to put global justice and the transition to a clean economy into the heart of government policy and we would have the economic clout to oppose ongoing austerity and domestic policy and protect citizens rights to a decent society and a more equal economy.”
But he warned: “The other path ahead would lead to a diminished Scotland, fatally undermined by the Brexit power grab, we would face a stark future.
“With current EU powers transferred to UK ministers even in devolved areas, no role for Parliamentary scrutiny and the delusional, Moggest tendency dominating the UK government, our economy and our society would face a severe threat with very little chance to defend against it.
“Hard right, free market extremism would result in the evisceration of what’s left of our industries, posing an existential threat to agriculture, our renewables industry, and to producers.”
‘The assault against international development would continue and the most vulnerable people here at home and around the world would be left behind. We would be unable to protect our air quality, our climate change goals or our social provision.”
He added: “The bulk of the economic damage would of course fall on the lowest paid, those without secure work and those without asset wealth.”
Mr Harvie said it would be part of the Scottish Green Party’s strategy to continue its work on trying to rid Scotland of the council tax, believing as they do that empowering communities will help the nation survive Brexit.
He continued: “There are some things that these possible paths in the face of the Brexit crisis, these two possible Scotland’s, there are some things that they share.
“One priority has to be that we would improve Scotland’s standing in the way that this crisis plays out by decentralising power in Scotland.
“Those who depend on local services deserve far more of a voice in shaping those services and the people delivering them need the economic freedom to make economic choices that are right for their local circumstances.
“Since devolution, Scotland has always had the ability to create new fiscal powers by empowering local government but the case for reform has stalled time and time and time again.
“With further attacks on Scotland’s budget expected to come from the UK over the coming years, we simply cannot allow the pressure just to be pushed down the chain to local community level year after year.
“The reality of this is that council tax finally has to go.
“How many elections did the SNP fight saying that? It’s about time to deliver. We need new local fiscal freedoms, a new opportunity for councils to make choices that are right for their circumstances. We need a renewal of local government, not just an empowered Scotland, but a Scotland full of empowered communities.
“That would stand us in better stead to face the future in either of the paths Scotland tales constitutionally.
“We know that our future, Scotland’s, and the future of the other nations in these islands are as European countries and that our future remains as part of the European family.
“Over the course of the day we’re asking you to join us in committing not just to opposing the Brexit crisis now, not just to opposing the assault on devolution, but if this thing is done to us, if we are taken out of the European Union, let’s commit now to campaigning to get back in,” he concluded.
“Because our future is European and we will be part of that project as well as part of a strong, green European family.”
The SNP conference takes place in June. Scottish Labour had their conference in Dundee while the Scottish Tories were forced to cancel theirs when extreme weather hit earlier this month. The Scottish Lib Dems go to Aviemore next month.
WANT TO LEARN MORE: Read: Scottish Green Party Conference
IMAGE CREDITS: @shaunmilne
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