Written by Luna Webster
64-year-old Andy Collins is a Scottish Green Party candidate, standing for the first time in the constituency of North East Fife. As part of my recent series of interviews with the candidates in this area, I sat down with Andy to discuss Green politics and find out what exactly the party can do for our generation.
Luna: What initially got you interested in politics and led you to join the Scottish Greens?
Andy: Well it was a deep unhappiness with what was going on. I’d not been involved in politics at all indeed not taken much interest in it until the Iraq war, and it was the Iraq war that made me suddenly think how is it that these things can go on. It was a number of things about that war, not just the going into war that were clearly immoral and illegal, it was the build up before it, the London media spent months persuading people that Saddam Hussein was an evil person, this is the same man we were selling arms to not long before, so there was that, I mean the media were clearly complicit in the Iraq war from the beginning, long before we actually said we were going in, and the lies that were told it was clear to everybody, I’m sure everybody in parliament knew there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, they knew that, they lied, persistently lied, the whole war was based on a lie and then, the actual words “weapons of mass destruction” I found deeply infuriating, it means nothing, it means a weapon that can kill more than one person you know, we knew even on that loose definition that Iraq didn’t have any weapons of mass destruction but the media were constantly using that phrase to persuade people and to the man on the street he knows what it means, it means a nuke. And they knew they didn’t have nukes. So that was that, the build up upset me, the actual invasion upset me, the politicians lying, and the fact that Tony Blair’s still not in prison which is where he should be, you know the whole London establishment and the judiciary were complicit, the whole London establishment is rotten to the core, and I hadn’t really realised that until that Iraq war, well, Maggie Thatcher, I was obviously unhappy watching miners being beaten up on the television but I thought that was just a blip if you like, but it wasn’t a blip it was just the rot had set in. The thing that triggered my move to Scotland was purely I’ve got two daughters and the UK was not a country I wanted them to grow up in. I just didn’t think it was a safe environment for them to grow up in. I wanted their home to be a stable home, a peaceful home, and the UK is neither stable nor peaceful. It’s warmongering, it’s run by the elite and big companies, and it’s not democratic. There is no democracy in the UK.
Luna: So you’re disappointed with the slow release of the Chilcot report then?
Andy: Absolutely – I’m not surprised. Disappointed but not surprised. Politicians, the whole establishment is just designed to keep itself going and they will do anything to preserve what’s there.
Luna: In the run up to the general election it seems a lot like more young people are getting involved across the UK and they are overwhelmingly showing support for the Greens. Why do you think this is?
Andy: The Green Party has some core beliefs about the way a country should be run which are totally in conflict with the way the country is run. And I think young people understand that – they’re more open to ideas. You know if you’ve been around as long as I have, it’s easy to slip into the way of thinking. I mean one thing that surprises me is that people think what happens in their own country is what happens everywhere; it’s the normality as it were. There are a lot of people out there who’ve lived in a society for a long time so they think that’s the way things should be run or have to be run because they’re constantly being told that’s the way have to be run. When you’re young you can be more creative in your thinking and I think young people can see that in the Green Party. They see the Green Party can see a better way of running society.
Luna: What policies do the Greens have that will be of benefit to young people?
Andy: Obviously free education is absolutely vital and crucial to that. We think young people should have the vote, there’s plenty of reasons why that should be the case, obviously it’s their future they’re voting for, but also it’s a time when young people should get involved in politics if they don’t get engaged in politics when they’re young it’s unlikely they’ll ever get engaged in it which is what’s happened, people just don’t engaged, so we need to catch them when they’re young and they think creatively about life and so on, so we are certainly in favour of youngsters having the vote and being engaged because school is a good time to get engaged, you know they can go to debating societies and talk about how we should run the country, what should society look like, who’s in control and that sort of thing, so we’re certainly in favour. But, the main thing that would change life for future youngsters not today’s youngsters, would be the citizens income if we can get that through. The citizen’s income would transform society if we could get that introduced. Because young people at the moment are either doing well at school and college and they can go into a job and do pretty well for themselves, but most children just leave school and they’re either faced with the dole or a rubbish job and those are the only two choices they have, in a sense they end up on the scrap heap. But with a citizens income that’s not the case because obviously there won’t be any benefit system, so youngsters when they leave school can be creative, we can encourage people to do things that they want to do, because they don’t have to rely – they can top their income up with a Saturday job or whatever without losing any benefits. Because the whole system is absolutely rotten, it just encourages people to do nothing with their lives, so young people, if they want to be artists you know they can just do painting and if they want to be anything else, whatever they want to do they can do, they can go into the voluntary sector, there’s a lot of talk within the conservatives about the third sector, the third sector just can’t really exist because it relies on people volunteering to work for nothing, you know which is fine if you’ve got money coming in that keeps you going then obviously you can volunteer. Right now there’s no encouragement for entrepreneurs to get out there and do what they want to do with their big ideas, because that’s the time entrepreneurs start, they start at that level and they don’t have to be people who’ve been to Eton or whatever, you know anyone can have a good idea and want to push it and be enthusiastic about it. But at the moment that’s very hard to do because there’s no safety net for them. So for the children of the future the citizens income is the key to giving them something that’ll let them leave school with confidence, they can do what they like and it’s important for people to do what they like, in terms of jobs and what they do for a living and support and things and I think that would encourage the third sector. So the Green Party has radical solutions, but they’re not earth shattering, we’re not asking.
Luna: Some of our readers might not be aware of exactly what the citizen’s income is – could you summarise it for them?
Andy: It’s very simple. It’s just from cradle to grave, you get money from the state, enough sufficient to live on. What you then do beyond that is up to you, you get to work, there’s no benefit system, you could work one hour a week, you could work just Saturdays and Sundays, you could do a part time, it doesn’t matter. Whatever you earn, you pay a share of that to the state so at a very trivial level it’s easy enough to see, let’s say someone earns ten grand today – these are not the real figures but it’s just to make it easy to understand – if you give everyone a citizens income of 5k, everyone in the country gets 5k from the government regardless, no strings nothing, they get 5k. What happens is if you earn 10k today you don’t pay any tax. But assuming you pay 50% tax on all income then if you earn 10k you get 5k in your pocket and the other 5k goes to the government. So for someone on 10k there’s do difference they get 5k from the state regardless and give half their 10k salary to the state. If you’re on less than 10k it doesn’t matter where you are if you earn 1k a year you still get £500 in your pocket, if you earn 5k a year you get the 5grand from the government plus the extra 2500 in your pocket, and if you go beyond that, how much you want to earn and how much you do want to work, your salary you just get half of it as you go up the scale. So there is no benefits, nobody has to work, there’s no workfare. and obviously Westminster is certainly too far away.
Luna: Going back to the topic of education again, do you think now that Scottish 16 and 17 year olds can vote at Holyrood elections political education should be somewhat improved?
Andy: It’s a delicate subject, teaching politics in schools because there’s been a feeling all along that teachers will try and influence pupils. I think that can be dealt with, I think politics should be taught in schools in a sort of general way, in the way that religion should be taught in schools – with an open mind. And I’m sure that it could be drawn up to do that, I don’t think it should be compulsory. What I would encourage is schools to actively set aside some time especially at election times, to debate and to talk about politics, not necessarily as part of the curriculum. But just as something they should do in school time. They should get people together and talk about what it means. But part of the problem with politics is that when you get down into the policies it’s just a drip feed you know. The main parties seem incapable of looking at the whole picture, and things in the long term, and that’s partly to do with the short termism of politics, no politician at the top looks beyond five years because they just want to be elected for the next five. But we really need politicians to take a much longer view, we need more input from academia and from science in politics. And that does happen to some extent, we have these committees and they do take evidence from people who know what’s going on in the world. I don’t want to run politicians down, I’m one myself, though not really, I’m just someone who cares enough to want to do something about it. Most politicians are decent people. If you listen even to labour politicians and Tory politicians I’m Scotland they are decent people they’re doing what they think is best, their problem is not that they’re not decent people it’s that they belong to a not decent party and an establishment which is not decent. There are some people at the top who are corrupt and just in it for themselves or in it for their friends and they’re doing it because they want to leave and make huge amounts of money afterwards, purely self serving. But most politicians aren’t like that, they’re trying to do the right thing but they’re living in a country where that just isn’t possible, they have to toe the party line, they’re told how to vote by the whips and that’s not right, people should be able to vote with their conscience, I don’t really approve of whips. I understand that you have to have coherent policy and you can’t just let people do what they want, but we should let people vote with their conscience most of the time unless it really is something of vital importance. I certainly won’t be taking any whips, I’ll vote how I feel. And the Green Party may or may not take a view on that but you’re elected to represent the people and that’s thing I think has been forgotten, politicians in Westminster have forgotten what they’re there for, they’re there to help the people build a decent community. And yet they spend billions on trident, you know I just can’t go there, every family in the country is going to have to pay five grand for that. Out of their money, out of their pocket – for what?
Thanks so much for joining me Andy – good luck with the campaign!