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Curious about people and their careers....

31.3.2020
Words by Rachel Byrne

Coronavirus Update


Dear Readers,


Following government guidelines, our studio is now closed until further notice. 

As many of us are now working and studying from home, with some facing a complete break from work, we can use this gift of time to properly rest and recover; reading more books and becoming better acquainted with the pleasure of our own company. Stop and consider the question “Do I like the direction in which I am heading?” With more time to sit still and less noise to interrupt our thoughts, we can listen intently to the answer, re-focus and decide what we really want from work, life and most neglected- play. Now is the time to adjust our sails; after all, a mere fraction of change to a boat’s direction can eventually lead it miles away in a new direction.

See you soon,

The Business Portrait



10.Feb.2020
Words by Rachel Byrne



Ross 
Greer


Environmental activist, Christian, feminist, culturally and economically woke; Ross Greer is an MSP who became a member of the Scottish Green Party at 16, and the youngest ever MSP at 21. At 25 he’s still fighting. Here he explains how gender, climate change and poverty are all interrelated, and why recycling is NOT at the top of his agenda.






One thing that I would pass on to young people is— don’t wait. I was constantly told “that you should wait, that you should get more life experience and then go into politics; you should go do something else first.” No. Absolutely not.

 

What is your job?

I'm a green MSP for the west of Scotland region, so I represent an area that includes East and West Dunbartonshire, the Isle of Bute, Renfrewshire, East Renfrewshire, North Ayrshire, and Inverclyde, and that role broadly is two different jobs; one is about being in the region and helping people out and working with and campaigning with local communities. The other half of it is being a member of parliament in Edinburgh, where we are making laws and scrutinising what the government is doing. It’s a couple of what are usually completely different jobs rolled into one- but that's what makes it so enjoyable.


What would happen if both your job and the green party didn’t exist? 

I so often now am working with communities, local campaigns or even individuals who, if they didn't have a green MSP or Green’s representing them there just wouldn't be a politician, and there wouldn't be an elected representative standing up for them. I've spent about 18 months now working with the ‘Save Loch Lomond’ campaign at Balloch- campaigning to stop this awful destructive ‘Flamingo Land’ tourist development on what is currently publicly owned land. No other politician got involved in that campaign; I was the only one 18 months ago that stood up and said "no- this development is wrong" and helped them build that campaign. As a result of that, every single other politician from every other party in the community now opposes ‘Flamingo Land’, but it took the greens to be the first ones to stand up and say no we need to stop this, and that's the kind of thing I'm really aware of— that communities that don't yet have a Green MSP don't have opportunities like that; no one is standing with them. It's the same at the other end of the region in Hunterston in Fairlie— they've got proposals there to decommission oil rigs right beside a site of scientific interest, and I'm the only local politician standing with the community there and saying "no— this is potentially really destructive”, you need to do at least an environmental impact assessment, because they're talking about doing half a million tonnes of dredging work on a sight of special scientific interest, and saying that they don't need to assess the impact on the environment? If Hunterston didn't have a green MSP, there would be no elected representative, no parliamentarian standing with that community saying this is wrong and we need to do something about it.



I thought that I could sit at 15-16 and continue getting angry at the TV, and I could continue just tweeting my anger, or I could go out and do something about it


This is very heavy work for someone so young (he joined the greens when he was 15, elected at 21 and is now 25.) Where did your interest in politics come from?

It's funny, when I was elected, a lot of people were looking for what they described as the colour story— that eureka moment, when Ross Greer at some point as a teenager realised this is exactly what he wanted to do. And there wasn't any one particular moment to be honest. For whatever reason, I had always been interested in Politics, and had always been interested in the environment and in social justice. This wasn't because I came from a political family; my parents always vote, but that is the extent of their political involvement. It took me years to realise this, but I think it was being brought up within the church. Those values that were instilled in me; a really radical notion of justice, what I would describe as ‘gospel values’ that was actually shaping my world views way more than I thought it was. When I was 15 and I joined the greens, I didn't think I was doing it because I was a Christian, because of my understanding of the gospel, but a few years later I realised that was probably what was driving me there. And the reason I chose the Greens is that, for me Green politics and its 4 founding principles (caring for the planet, radical and grassroots democracy, peace and non-violence, for equality and justice) those are incredibly important and are the values that I think should underpin our society. Only the greens were saying, actually the problems that we have in society are all interrelated. The climate crisis is related to gender injustice, is related to child poverty, and the solutions to all of these crises have to be interrelated as well. To me the greens have been the only ones saying, “these are our values, this is what we believe that society should be underpinned by, and here is how we actually make that happen in practice”. I thought that I could sit at 15/ 16 and continue getting angry at the TV— I could continue just tweeting my anger, or I could go out and do something about it— and I decided to go out and do something about it. Not in a million years at that point did I think that I would end up being an MSP. When I Joined the greens, there were 900 people in the Scottish Green party, and the idea that you joined the Greens to have a career in Politics was a bit ridiculous. But I’m really proud that over the last 10 years to have been part of this huge transformation within the greens, to turn us into the kind of political party that can seriously compete, and win elections, and as a result of that bring about the kind of change that we know is desperately needed.



if we look at the problems that are caused as a result of our economic system, and our systems of power, the people that lose out are women, people of colour, disabled people, young people, people in the Global South, and what’s causing that is all inter-related, so the fact that an unacceptably high portion of the world’s population cannot afford to feed themselves, live in extreme poverty, is because of an economic system that is designed to massively enrich a tiny number of people


I think both the world and people are at a place where it is very much now ready for the Green Party. You have said that gender injustice is related to child poverty and the climate crisis. In what ways do you see these subjects being related?

For me it’s all underpinned by power and economics. The most powerful people in the world are overwhelmingly incredibly privileged white men. That's the people who have shaped our modern world and our modern economy, and our understanding global capitalism and how it all works is driven by a tiny group of people who overwhelmingly are going to be white men; incredibly privileged white men. But if we look at the problems that are caused as a result of our economic system, and our systems of power, the people that lose out are women, people of colour, disabled people, young people, people in the Global south, and what's causing that is all inter-related, so the fact that an unacceptably high portion of the world’s population cannot afford to feed themselves, live in extreme poverty, is because of an economic system that is designed to massively enrich a tiny number of people. That same system is the system that stops women from being in positions of power as much as it possibly can, is the same system that delivers the gender pay gap, these problems are all interrelated. If you take on a really practical level, you look at the climate crisis is now unfolding, and the fact that far too many people in Scotland can afford to heat their own home and they live in fuel poverty, well these are inter related problems. We tackle the climate crisis by ending our dependence on fossil fuels, and consuming far less energy, well if we insulate every home in Scotland, we can massively reduce peoples fuel bills, we can lift families out of fuel poverty, and at the same time we're reducing our carbon emissions. Despite this, the people who profit— the energy companies who profit from this don't want that to be the solution because it means that they make less money. So these problems are all interrelated, and the problem is for us; people often talk about them as if, they're all accidental consequences in the system; they're not. The system is designed to be like this. A tiny number of people massively benefit and profit immensely from a system that oppressed everyone else. Whether it’s the basic principles of wage labour, where you go to work, you get paid a certain amount, but you produce more value than that for your employer, otherwise they wouldn't be employing you. But then the person at the top of that company is the one who benefits the most from that- you don't get that surplus value back, unless you work for a cooperative or something similar.


if we insulate every home in Scotland, we can massively reduce peoples fuel bills, we can lift families out of fuel poverty and at the same time we’re reducing our carbon emissions. But at the same time the people who profit; the energy companies who profit from this don’t want that to be the solution because it means that they make less money

What we as Greens believe in, is a radical redistribution of power in our society; right back down to communities and to individuals— a complete break of our economy it is at the moment. We're so passionate about democracy; we think there should be far more of it in our economy, because the economy that is ran by this tiny number of elites, has brought the world literally to the brink of crisis. We are facing an event that could result in the extinction of our species, that is caused entirely by the greed of a tiny number of people. We want to end that system, and we want to end the strangle hold that that tiny number of people have over everyone else in society. Whether it is the people in this country that are being paid a poverty wage, or the people in the global south who are dying right now because of the climate crisis; it's all interrelated, and it’s the same tiny number of people causing it, and they're doing it deliberately.




The system you’re talking about reminds me of a book I’ve read [Inequality and the 1% by Danny Dorling.] Is there a name for it? How would you define it?

I would talk about it as... capitalism is the economic element of the system, but there's other elements that interplay with it; this is the interplay of capitalism, of white supremacy, of patriarchy- all these different things come together and create this system that advantages this tiny number, and disadvantages most people; but there are some people it disadvantages far more than others. I'm not one of the tiny number of economic elites who profits massively- I am a white man, and I'm privileged by the fact that I live in a society that gives white men all this totally unearned privilege. I’m privileged by the corporate geography that I was born here, and wasn't born in the Global South where life would be much harder for me. So it’s about how all these things interrelate, but for me, unless you are tackling economics, unless you are actually ending capitalism as a system, we won’t be able to unpick these other problems- we won’t be able to end the patriarchy, we will not be able to effectively tackle and destroy white supremacy, unless we destroy capitalism as well because it’s the system that, in so many ways, allows these other injustices to take place.


I am a white man, and I’m privileged by the fact that I live in a society that gives white men all this totally unearned privilege. I’m privileged by the corporate geography that I was born here, and wasn’t born in the Global South where life would be much harder for me

How is the green party tackling these issues?

So there's a challenge in that you're talking about ditching— deliberately ending the system by which the world currently operates, and that's always going to be really difficult. Not just because it involves an immense amount of change, but also because the most powerful people in the world are going to fight back really really hard, because they're powerful because this system works for them, so for us it’s about doing it at every level, so whether that's something that I'm doing here in Scotland at the moment; trying to make sure that every young person before they leave school is taught about consent as part of sexual relationships. Sexual relationship education in Scottish schools is on the whole pretty poor, and I think that has a pretty direct relationship with how women are treated in society with the problems that we have with rape culture, and unless we are tackling that in education, we're not going to be able to tackle that in our wider society. I campaigned for two and a half years, I got a parliamentary enquiry, a government review— all sorts of recommendations agreed, and we're now moving towards a place where every young person in Scotland will be taught about consent before they leave school, because unbelievably, about 3 in 4 young people across the UK leave school having got sex education, but are not being taught about consent. So, unless we're tackling problems like that, we're never going to tackle the patriarchy, we're never going to get rid of rape culture. How that relates to issues like capitalism, well, I think if we make our economy more democratic, for example, if we encourage more workers cooperatives, if we bring more essential utilities into public ownerships so they're directly democratically accountable, then the evidence that we have from across the world is that, not only is that a good thing for society as a whole; we break the stranglehold of this tiny number of people who are profiting at everyone else's expense.


sexual relationship education in Scottish schools is, on the whole pretty poor, and I think that has a pretty direct relationship with how women are treated in society, with the problems that we have with rape culture, and unless we are tackling that in education, we’re not going to be able to tackle that in our wider society... unbelievably, about 3 in 4 young people across the UK leave school having got sex education, but are not being taught about consent

This tends to have better outcomes for women, for disabled people, for people of colour, because suddenly systems are designed to work for everyone, rather than designed to maximise profit, and we see that with public transport being a good example, of women who are disproportionately in care giving roles compared to men, who are reliant on public transport, particularly working class women relying on public transport to get themselves and their children around if that's the situation that they're in. If we are taking these utilities into public ownership, making sure that they work for everyone, the people they work for the least at the moment are going to benefit the most from that. So it's everything from, you know, on a European level the greens have been campaigning; we successfully got a cap on bankers bonuses, were trying to get an end to tax avoidance as much as we possibly can, right down to what I'm doing in Scotland around consent education or even at a really local level, trying to persuade council to give some of their budgets over to the local community so they can decide how it’s spent; participatory budgeting, which is just easier said as participation budgeting. That was pioneered by Green’s in Leith, in Edinburgh, and you find that when communities can actually make these decisions, the decisions that are made usually benefit far more people in the community, because if you look at our local comunity councillors across Scotland, they are overwhelmingly male. I think about 3 in 4 councillors in Scotland is a man, they are overwhelmingly people over the age of 50, retired from work, and they are disproportionately middle class, because councillors salaries are very very low. It's treated like a part time job because it gets part time salary, but it's not, it’s a full time job, so usually it’s older men who've retired and who have an independent source of wealth who can afford to be a councillor, so decisions are not being made that are nearly as effective at raising the position of women, of disabled people, of young people, of people of colour etc. in their communities. If  you let the community decide for themselves how the money's spent, which is one of the most powerful things that you can do, then decisions are going to made that are actually going to be far more effective at helping everyone in the community. So for us, it's about empowerment; Green’s are absolutely convinced that the more power is shared in society, the better the decisions will be made; because we've seen what happens when you have a tiny number of people who are overwhelmingly in control— we are now 10 years away from a tipping point in our planet that we simply will not be able to recover from. If these decisions had been genuinely democratic; if we'd actually allowed our society as a whole to collectively chart its own future, we would've tackled this a long time ago.


I think a lot of people think of the Green Party as just a green and environmentally friendly party— I don’t think a lot of people realize the extent of what you’re doing. I think if they could hear all of this they would vote very differently.

This is our biggest challenge. We find this all the time, that everyone understands that the greens care about the environment, so usually when people are asked which party do you trust more on X, Y and Z issue; education, injustice, the environment etc., the greens will win on the environment. Everyone kind of thinks the greens will probably be the best on environmental policies, and then on everything else support for us just drops away completely. But if people look at our policies, they tend to be the most popular. Before the 2015 general election, there was a massive sample— well over 300,000 people took part in the vote for policies exercise, where each parties manifesto was presented to them, but with all the party names taken out, and it was just a list of policies, and more people agreed with the Green policy than any other party. More people agree with Green policies than Labour, SMP or conservative or Lib Dem, but they didn't expect that those were the Green’s policies. So there's a huge number of people out there, when they think about, for example, tackling gender discrimination in society, delivering something like consent based sex education in school, delivering what I would describe as feminist sex education, they don't immediately think of the greens; maybe labour would be interested in that. When they're thinking about taking core services like transport or energy back into public ownership, or giving people more democratic power in the wider economy, again they're going to think of other parties, but the greens are the ones who've consistently lead the way on these issues, and our biggest challenge is communicating to people that; yes, the greens have this holistic vision for society and we have policies for more than just the environment, but a lot of the stuff does actually relate back. We would not be able to save the planet if we just look at each parties environmental policies. We wouldn't be able to deliver the change we need unless we are also delivering change in transport policy and energy policy, in the very structures of our economy itself. And that's what we’re trying to communicate to people— here is a Green vision, for society, all this stuff relates to each other, and we want to deliver it collectively, because we know that is the most effective way to do it. If you try and do just one or two silos, things will get a little bit better- I don't want things to get a little bit better- I want an absolute transformation in our society. I represent parts of Scotland where most children live in Poverty, across Scotland 1 in 4 children live in poverty- I don't want to make things a little bit better, I want to completely destroy that system that forced that poverty on those families, and replace it with one where poverty simply doesn't exist. Poverty is a man-made problem, so we can unmake it, and I would deliberately use the word 'man' made because it is; poverty is the result of an economic system, driven by and for the benefit of men from around the world.


I represent parts of Scotland where most children live in Poverty, across Scotland 1 in 4 children live in poverty- I don’t want to make things a little bit better, I want to completely destroy that system that forced that poverty on those families, and replace it with one where poverty simply doesn’t exist. Poverty is a man-made problem, so we can unmake it

You’ve been in politics a long time considering your age. Were you always confident enough to speak to and work around older people, or was that something you had to build?

I think that's mixed. I wasn't the kind of child that really struggled to engage with adults, and I'd have to be engaging with other children, but also even at that point, before the independence referendum in 2014, it was much more unusual for young people to be as intensely interested in politics as I was, so I tended to find that if I wanted to talk about politics, most of the time I'd be talking to adults about it, rather than other people my own age, so that was kind of part of it. But for me the key thing about my confidence was, having the opportunity to do public speaking and debating in school, and this is something I'm actually really really passionate about, because if you look across Scotland, across the UK, and I think it’s common, certainly in other English speaking countries, and I imagine in a lot of European countries, but its particularly bad in the UK; the opportunities to do debating and public speaking when you're at school are massively dominated by private schools, and top performing middle class state schools. I went to a top performing middle class state school; that's not particularly my family background- my dad's a maintenance officer and my mum is a receptionist; they don't come from a huge amount of middle class money and privilege, but I'm aware that I was privileged have gone to one of those schools. But what that means in practice is, people who are already very privileged by how they've grown up; children that go to private schools are coming from wealthier families, children who have grown up in middle class areas who already have all these privileges, get even more privilege and even more advantage over other young people because they are able to effectively communicate, and that is absolutely key to almost everything we do in adult life; the basics of it being able to get a job, being able to convince someone in a job interview that you can do the job effectively; stuff like that relies on your ability to communicate effectively, and we really disadvantage a huge number of young people across Scotland, overwhelmingly working class young people, because they don't have the opportunity to build up these skills when they are at school, and they don't have the opportunity to do debating and public speaking.



I think that every single school in Scotland should be involved in debating and public speaking in some way, because if we only empower those who are already empowered to be able to effectively make their point, then they are the ones who are going to tend to win the arguments and see the change that they want to see

When I did it, for me and my friends, whether right or wrong; we were quite open about the fact that when we did these debating competitions, we were far less interested in winning than we were in beating the private schools. We wanted to make a point, that public schools/ state schools could beat private schools at debating, because it was something that they had always, and they still do dominate. And I think it's absolutely essential, if we're to start un-picking all these inequalities, the experience I have, that has brought me to the point where I think I'm pretty effective at communicating the points I want to make, and I wouldn't be able to do this when In secondary school if I hadn't done all that debating and public speaking. But, young people who care so passionately about their community, their society and the planet, are not getting the opportunities to develop these kind of communications skills, and unless you develop these communication skills, it’s going to be much harder to get your point across, whither it’s at a job interview, or to go out there and campaign for the kind of change that you want to see. So for me, when I was 11 or 12, the idea that I would be doing stuff like this was unthinkable, but by the time I was 15, 16— no one was particularly surprised, because I really enjoyed having these debates, and I've come to realise now that this is something that far more young people deserve the opportunity to do, which is why I think that every single school in Scotland should be involved in debating and public speaking in some way, because if we only empower those who are already empowered to be able to effectively make their point, then they are the ones who are going to tend to win the arguments and see the change that they want to see, or more accurately, make sure that there's no change, because the people who benefit the most as society as it stands, don't want very much change, whereas the people who need change the most are the ones that we should be empowering to effectively make that case to win that argument to actually deliver that kind of change.



To tackle all of the issues you’vementioned, if you could click your fingers and the world would change tomorrow, what would it look like- how would you change things?

There's a really nice comic strip- you could just describe it as a meme I suppose, that summarises this really well, where there’s someone standing up at a conference and saying "what if it turns out that climate change was a lie and we'd made the world better for no reason?" The stuff we want to do save the world from this climate crisis will make our world and society better, separate from that number one priority of saving the world. Our solutions to the climate crisis will lift people out of poverty, our solutions to the climate crisis will make our society far more equal, our solutions to the climate crisis will, we hope, tackle racism and misogyny, and all these other social ills, social poisons that we face, but for me if I was standing at this right now and saying what do we need to do right now to tackle this stuff; in an emergency situation, which is exactly what where in, one thing that should be really easy is... we look at these fossil fuel giants across the world- the likes of ExxonMobil and Shell etc. who are massively wealthy and multimillion dollar corporations, to say, not only are we going to stop them continuing to look for more oil and gas to extract and burn, but we're going to seize the assets of these companies, so the huge amounts of profit that they have made— the massive obscene profits that they have made, from destroying the world— we're going to seize them, and we're going redeploy that immediately into saving the world, because saving the world is going to be really damn expensive.


saving the world is going to be really damn expensive...but that expense shouldn’t be borne by the people who didn’t cause the crisis in the first place. And we have this tiny number of incredibly wealthy people, and this small collection of incredibly-incredibly wealthy corporations who are wealthy because they caused this crisis

We need this massive transformation in our transport system; we’re electrifying our rail network here in Scotland; doing that across the word is going to be really really expensive, we need to move away from gas heating in a huge number of societies and towards other solutions; this stuff is going to be very expensive, but that expense shouldn't be borne by the people who didn't cause the crisis in the first place. We have this tiny number of incredibly wealthy people, and this small collection of incredibly-incredibly wealthy corporations, who are wealthy because they caused this crisis. We should simply seize their assets, and redeploy them right now, because we can do this quickly. Yes, it’s expensive, and yes its difficult, but we can do it right now, and we have to do it right now because we only have a few years left. So that would be at the top of my list of priorities. There's a moral culpability there as well, take the likes of ExxonMobil, one of your big fossil fuel giants. ExxonMobil knew about changes in climate before anyone else; their scientists knew and have spent 40 plus years spending a huge amount of money, suppressing the evidence, discrediting the people who are trying to bringing the evidence to the fore, trying to do everything they can to stop effective measures that would tackle the climate crisis, so companies like this aren't just responsible because they cause the problem in the first place, but because they actively try to stop us doing anything about it, so I think the morally justifiable response to that is to seize their assets, and the vast amount of money they have available to them, and immediately redeploy it into the kind of transformation we need to see, that won’t just save the world, but will result in a public transport system that people can actually afford to use. In Glasgow, just under half of families don't have access to a car, but we have increasingly unaffordable busses, very unaffordable and unreliable trains, people can’t afford to heat their own homes, a huge number of families can’t even afford to feed their children. That's outrageous! The changes that we're going to make will tackle that as well, because we're going to transform our economy into one that is about supporting people and planet, rather than supporting profit, and the easiest place to start is to take the profits that the people destroying the planet have made, and immediately put them back into saving the world from all of this damage that they've caused.



In light of all this, how would you encourage us all to be more environmentally friendly? What can we all do to help make these changes?

The number one thing that I would encourage people to do in their day to day life to help save the planet, is demand change from the governments or corporations, because for years, the people who have caused these problems; one of the ways they've cheated the rest of us is by persuading us that the solutions have to be individual lifestyle changes. Don't get me wrong, some of those are important, for example not eating beef. We know the damage that methane does, and reducing our beef consumption; that's an important thing to do. Not flying if you possibly can— I'm not saying never fly- if you have family who live in another country and you need to go and see them— I get that. The problems we've got are the people primarily who are flying every week or every month for business, domestic flights within the UK— if you are on mainland Britain and you are flying between Edinburgh and Manchester- that is ridiculous- that has to stop, and that has to stop very quickly. If people are wondering “what can I do? I am just one person, what can I possibly do?” Get involved; this is a mass-movement whether you get involved in the Greens, or Extinction Rebellion, or Friends of the Earth, or whether it’s just something in your local community. Maybe you've got a food growing project— that would be a really good thing to get involved with, maybe there's a local campaign to improve bus services in your area. Maybe it’s just about going to your MP or MSP or councillors surgery and demanding that they do more.



we absolutely cannot let the government and corporations and billionaires who caused this crisis, persuade us that it’s up to all of us to fix it- we are way past the point where individual lifestyle changes can actually stop what’s now happening- what we need is wholesale economic transformation


Maybe it's about something like ensuring your pension isn't invested in fossil fuels, which for most people- myself included are. I'm involved in in the campaign to get my pension to divest in these fossil fuel companies, and to invest in something that won’t destroy the world before I start collecting my pension. So I think it's really important that we can make positive changes in our life, and I’m not discouraging positive changes, and I've certainly made a number of them, but we absolutely cannot let the government and corporations and billionaires who caused this crisis, persuade us that it’s up to all of us to fix it— we are way past the point where individual lifestyle changes can actually stop what’s now happening-what we need is wholesale economic transformation, and we  will get that wholesale economic transformation by demanding it from the people in power, or by simply overthrowing the people in power and replacing them with those who will actually make a change, and whether that is something as simple as people in their own community taking power into their own hands and doing stuff the council won’t do, like community food growing, or campaigning to improve bus services, or whither it's about more people standing for election in the first place. I moved from a place from lobbying politicians to doing the stuff that I wanted, to realising that actually, the most effective way to do this is just to get in there and do it- to replace the parties who have failed the status quo, with parties and politicians who do believe in the change that we need to see. So for any individual out there, the number one thing to do is realise that you are not alone, and you’re not an individual— we are a movement of hundreds of millions of people now across the world who are trying to stop this, and we are going to do it together, and we don't need to feel guilty all the time about the stuff we are or are not doing, because the more we feel guilty, and the more we feel worn down, the more the people causing the crisis win, and we can’t let them win because we've got almost no time left.


we are a movement of hundreds of millions of people now across the world who are trying to stop this, and we are going to do it together, and we don’t need to feel guilty all the time about the stuff we are or are not doing, because the more we feel guilty, and the more we feel worn down, the more the people causing the crisis win

What do you enjoy most about your job?

One of the wonderful things about being an MSP is the massive variety of stuff you get up to, and the best example I've got for that is, there was one day I was with a pensioner’s circle dancing group in Milngavie, and the next day I was having dinner with one of the major actors in the Syrian civil war (in northern Syria you've got his amazing feminist democratic revolution, it’s the one bit of Syria that is free, where people had come together across ethnic and religious lines and built something that was genuinely revolutionary) and I’m really proud to do whatever I can to help them with their European solidarity work. But it was this huge contrast with taking part in this circle dancing with this pensioners group, to then the next day having dinner when it was at the height of the counter offensive against ISIS. Those kinds of things are so wildly far apart. I get the opportunity to help individual constituents every day, whether it is, a housing problem, or a care problem someone has, and to them that is the most important thing in their life— if they can’t get care for their partner who has dementia, if they have been put in council housing that is downright dangerous, or they have a private landlord trying to illegally evict them, helping them and delivering these individual changes is fantastic. Then I'm sitting there, writing law in the Scottish parliament which we were doing recently, passing some amendments to a bill. Then there's the level above that where you're doing the solidarity with the folk in Syria, or the Global stuff we're doing around the climate. This amazing variety of stuff that at every level, I hope is making a positive impact— it’s fantastic. It doesn't mean that absolutely every hour of every day of my job is exciting. Sometimes stuff is important but incredibly tedious, like we were passing legislation not that long ago on the the Pow of Inchaffray drainage commission which was a law that needed to be passed that was essentially about a ditch. Not massively exciting talking about drainage, but actually really important. My favourite part is how incredibly varied it is- if something is a bit tedious, it's not going to be the only thing I do that day never mind that week.




Finally, is there any life advice that you’d pass on to others?

One thing that I would pass on to young people is— don't wait. I was constantly told that “you should wait, that you should get more life experience and then go into politics; you should go do something else first.” No. Absolutely not. Politics needs young people, and young people need to be involved in politics, and if we don't turn up, we won’t win, and if we don't win then we won’t see the kind of change, not only that we want but that we need. So my number one piece of advice for young people who care and who are passionate is- throw yourself into it. These fights, all these campaigns, these struggles, they are damn important, and they will not be won by the generations that either caused the problems in the first place, or those who have spent decades failing to solve it. It’s for us to do that, so we need to throw ourselves into it.


my number one piece of advice for young people who care and who are passionate is- throw yourself into it. These fights, all these campaigns, these struggles- they are damn important, and they will not be won by the generations that either caused the problems in the first place, or those who have spent decades failing to solve it. It’s for us to do that, so we need to throw ourselves into it.

The best bit of advice that I got was on my first day, not even as an MSP, it was before I was sworn in, but my first day in parliament after being elected with Mike Russell, who is now Cabinet secretary for the constitution, and  has been dealing with Brexit. Mike Russell who had been an MSP for quite a while turned round to me and congratulated me, and he said “enjoy it- enjoy every minute of this, but the moment you stop enjoying it, stop doing it” which I though was absolutely bang on. Being an MSP is far too important a job to be doing in a frankly half assed manner, or to be doing it without any passion. What we do matters to people’s lives, it matters to millions of people’s lives, and if we don't genuinely care about it, if we're just going through the motions, we shouldn't be there. So that's the best bit of advice I've certainly been given in this job.








20.Jan.2020
Written by Rachel Byrne

Yingying Li



Born in Shanghai, having moved to Geneva at 13 years old, Yingying Li has three languages under her belt, along with an undergraduate degree in environmental engineering. Currently completing a masters in ecotourism, she enlightens me on the importance of conscious traveling & why she wasn’t happy living in one of the most beautiful countries in the world.



“It was because of my dad; he was actually one of the first generations who left china to a go to a foreign country, I think it was in 1980... my dad is a very free spirited person, and at that time he didn’t feel comfortable being in China.”

Going on to study in Japan and then work there, Li tells me “when you see China now it’s very modern, but at that time in 1980, it was an underdeveloped country. And so he left to have a more exciting life; in Japan everything was very advanced” Having found success there “because he’s quite a smart person— he’s a fast learner, and also he’s a hard worker” he then decided to travel. All through Asia, Europe, going on to live in Italy, and “for some reason he ended up in Switzerland.”



it’s like being a bird in a cage... a very nice golden cage; that’s the image I have of Switzerland.



Li then moved to Geneva at 13 to live with her dad, learning French and going on to study environmental engineering. She found getting a job in Geneva proved difficult, because the job market is very steady— a job over there is a job for life, meaning fewer opportunities for young people. She also realised that “because it’s not my own country, even if I ask for the swiss passport, because I look different... I’m not saying that people are not open in Switzerland, but if you have one job, and one Swiss person or me, they would rather choose a local person.” As well as this, despite being one of the most beautiful places in the world, Geneva felt too conservative and restrictive a place to live “there’s lots of rules that you have to follow, otherwise we look at you very strangely. For me it’s like being a bird in a cage... a very nice golden cage; that’s the image I have of Switzerland— golden because it’s wealthy, but it doesn’t make people happier because they are enclosed.” It’s a beautiful place, and very peaceful and quiet, which makes it perfect to go on holiday, or retire, but not ideal for young people, as Li tells me “I see lots of young people having mental health issues, and they are not happy because of the atmosphere; it’s too serious.”


Knowing that she would perform better in an international environment where people speak several languages and there are more opportunities in environmental fields like WWF, Greenpeace, or IUCN Li decided to move to the UK. At 25, on a visit to London, she instantly felt at home “it was completely a new thing for me, because I could feel that people are really open-minded, and you can see that people don’t care if you decide to have a banana on your head today, and you’re happy with that.” She continues “I like that craziness, because it’s so authentic— it’s very healthy, because you express yourself, and that’s the thing that I didn’t find in Switzerland.” Soon after moving to Edinburgh, she became an ecotourism Masters student at Napier university, where she is currently completing her degree. 


I could feel that people are really open-minded, and you can see that people don’t care if you decide to have a banana on your head today, and you’re happy with that... I like that craziness, because it’s so authentic.


Founded on principles that serve to make tourism kinder to the environment, and more economically friendly, ecotourism is all about slowing down and taking time to get acquainted with the beauty of the natural world. It encourages traveling less yet seeing more; leaving a smaller carbon footprint and learning about the beauty and power, yet fragility of the natural world. Li explains ecotourism’s importance, “when you have a hard year; you’ve worked really hard, and you go to another country to get sun and have a rest, you don’t think “is what I’m doing good for the environment?””  Because going on holiday is so integral to how most of us reset and refuel, it’s unlikely that our first instinct is to think of the impact we’re having.


when you have a hard year; you’ve worked really hard, and you go to another country to get sun and have a rest, you don’t think “is what I’m doing good for the environment?”




Google-image search ecotourism, and your screen will become a collage of ripe green Amazonian forests, waterfalls, trees and abundant nature— it’s a different animal altogether from the usual beach or city break. “Normal tourism, for example, mass tourism, is basically when you see people get off a big tourist bus, and just take some pictures and sightsee; they do it very quickly” she continues “especially you can see Japanese and Chinese tourists, you know, they travel around Europe, but just for one or two weeks maximum. They go everywhere; Spain, Portugal, England, France— just in two weeks, they move every day through the countries; but they don’t really discover them, they just take pictures, so it’s very fast. People think that they have travelled, but actually it’s just taking pictures.” The slower, more in-depth pace of ecotourism, however, serves as its environmentally conscious counterpart. “It’s more sustainable; you take time to discover a place, usually you just stay locally. It’s very much linked to the environment and nature; you talk about animals, you talk about plants, and you learn about the environmental issues of the place you’re staying… basically, just bringing people closer to nature.



Ditching our beloved Costa Brava package holidays in place of expeditions through the amazon jungle, in a sacrament of dedication to ecotourism is not for everyone, and it’s also not our only option— there are countless ways to incorporate its principles into how we all travel. We can even consider exploring our own doorstep; “Have you heard about staycations? Instead of traveling far away for holidays, you can stay near where you live, and discover more about your home country. But if you really have to travel, you can choose alternative ways, other than by aeroplane.” If hiring a car, we can choose an electronic instead of using fuel, rent a bicycle, or walk. Li tells me “it’s all about reducing your carbon footprint; trying to eat local, and respect people. The concept of ecotourism is to be more responsible to the environment, and also to people.” She adds “Your question is all about choice; what people choose for their holidays.” When we’re abroad we can choose to consume locally Li adds, “for instance, instead of buying Coca-Cola, or buying big brands, we can support local people.



in two weeks, they move every day through the countries... so it’s very fast. People think that they have travelled, but actually it’s just taking pictures.

 

I ask Li what her plans for the future are, and she tells me “if I have a good [financial] situation, I would start to do art again, just for my hobby, because I feel that it’s quite therapeutic and I feel like I need it sometimes when I’m studying too much, or when life’s too stressful. The other thing is... something related to my course; I would imagine myself working in a national park.” She laughs when telling me that there are over 4000 national parks in the world, and so when it comes to finding a job, unlike in Geneva, she won’t be short of opportunities. 









6.Dec.2019
Written by Rachel Byrne



Daniel
DeWolfe



Rich in language and deep in thought, a conversation with long-time friend and artist Daniel DeWolfe always feels like time well spent. We sat down to talk about his creative process, the beauty of living a simple life and the importance of practicing caution when using social media.








“Lately I’ve been seeing the value in being content. Not settling for something that I don’t want, but I feel like I’m seeing clearer and clearer what I do want from life, and it probably is more the quiet peaceful life than the well-connected creative art-scene type life. I think I’ve spent enough years in the city and around people involved in those settings (to some degree) to see that it’s not actually a space I feel very comfortable in.” He continues “for a while I felt like I needed to push my boundaries and actually force myself to be a part of it, but now it’s just not really what I want. And that’s where the idea of doing some freelance work near where I live would almost be the nicest thing - you know, I could pay my rent, I could buy food to eat, I could spend time with my friends and see my family, and that’s enough for me.”



Born in America and raised in Germany from age 11, multi-disciplinary artist Daniel DeWolfe has been drawn to creating art for most of his life and early childhood. By the summer of 2012 he had moved to Scotland to study at Glasgow School of Art, which, for DeWolfe then aged 20 “was almost like the virtual and creative world that existed in my bedroom at home and on my laptop met real life, and it was like, ‘oh this doesn’t need to be confined to my bubble in the middle of Germany, in the middle of nowhere.’ ” After Graduation, he has been taking time to grow, traveling a little and working outside of the art world, which has given him room to explore and enjoy art on his own terms. Instead of focusing on just one medium, he has always played with as many as he can in his non-binary approach as he details “there’s so much variety within a creative lifestyle that you can do, be it painting or illustrating, digital art, then you can transition into music and sound and writing, so there are all these different categories, and personally I’ve always dabbled in everything.”


I felt like I needed to push my boundaries and actually force myself to be a part of it, but now it’s just not really what I want

His attraction to a hybrid of creative disciplines and multi-sensory art forms, stems from early childhood, after creative exposure from his mother as he describes “she is a passionate creative person with a very diverse background, and I think it was natural for us to grow up around art materials. She played the piano and she was always playing music and all sorts, and as long as I can remember I’ve loved to sing and make up songs and I’ve loved to sit and draw. It was just always something I naturally did. And write for the that matter, poetry or lyrics or stream of thought type of stuff.” He continues “So there were always those three mediums; the visual the sonic and the lyrical… or written.”





Fast forward to DeWolfe’s teenage years, around the advent of digital technology boom, his experimentation with photography and digital manipulation was rife “I got my first digital camera and I started filming stuff and, admittedly, taking lots of selfies, but in quite a creative way. There would be a concept behind it, and I’d create studio set ups in my bedroom; I’d hang big sheets from the ceiling and I didn’t even have a tripod, so I’d stack books a meter high on my dressing table.” These days he keeps a low profile on social media; his online presence is refreshingly minimal for someone of his generation. On the platform he does use to showcase his art, there are no pictures of him, which seems a world away from the teenage self he reflects on; “I’ve always been interested in the way others perceive me… but, looking back, through self-portraiture I started to figure out how I saw myself more than anything.”



looking back, through self-portraiture I started to figure out how I saw myself more than anything

 

Reflecting on his long-term relationship with art DeWolfe says “I think, as a person, the way I think, the way I perceive things, and the way I react to things, I see myself as an artist. I don’t want to pigeonhole myself or other people, but I do believe an artist is a type of person, and I think there are plenty of artists in this world who aren’t living as artists who have exhibitions or are involved in the art world; but it’s how I see myself and many of my friends.”







Today, DeWolfe’s art is still very much cross pollinated, incorporating many artistic disciplines “all my life it’s been like ‘oh drawing, but oh no video, and oh photo and music and writing’. Maybe that’s not wrong, but I feel, not so much for myself, but for the audience - whoever that may be - people want to recognise something and know what you do. And they want it to be accessible enough.”


beauty isn’t just symmetry and pretty things; there’s beauty in darkness and beauty in more complex things

Asking him about his why… and what drives him to create, he responds “I think a big element of art and creating anything is our affinity with things that are beautiful, we want to create beauty and, you know, beauty isn’t just symmetry and pretty things; there’s beauty in darkness and beauty in more complex things, but I do believe that I am driven by a longing for beauty.” He continues “art is a way in which we can process our surroundings, our impressions. Not to go religious on you, but I do believe that we were created by God, and that God is the ultimate creator, and so we inevitably are also creators. And that is a whole other story, my experience with religion and faith, which has been very tumultuous throughout my upbringing till my adolescence and young adulthood, but that felt like a really eye opening moment for me where personally that is what I understand as the reason why I feel an urge to create.”



So what does the creative process of DeWolfe look like today? “I just naturally find myself doing it, I never plan it, it’s not like ‘oh I have a day off so I’m going to sit and draw’. Last night… I have this big MDF board that actually was part of a big crate that came into where I work. It’s about a meter fifty by a meter and I was like ‘let me take this home, this is a good drawing board.’ And recently I bought this massive role of water colour paper, so I was creating these big graphite drawings of faces and flowers and landscapes from my imagination, but that’s a pretty recent thing, doing it on such a large scale, which I think is kind of exciting. I think scale is important and I tend to draw on little A4 or A5 drawing pads. Before that I had a few weeks that I was just turning out digital drawings on my iPad, and they were like very poppy and in almost gaudy, acidic colours.”

For his next step, he’s decided to take the body of work he’s built over the last few years, including fine art, drawing and illustration, brand development, product photography and food photography, and channel them into drawing forth more freelance work, of which he notes “I’m kind of trying to put aside my sentiment and artistic vision, which I don’t want to lose or forget, but right now I’m trying to be more practical with what I’m capable of, and casting my bread out across the water and seeing what comes back to me.”






It isn’t simply his art that makes DeWolfe interesting, rather, his views on everything from religion to social media are beautifully stoic for someone of his generation, including his awareness of the hyper-fast pace of the modern world around him... “I think this world is insatiable, and especially the internet makes us want so much. We are being advertised all these different ways of life like ‘oh I can travel the world’ and ‘I can be like this or that’, where it’s not just the individual that’s being sold to, it’s every single person who is engaging with, and it’s a heavy word, but, in a sense, propaganda. So, I’ve been trying to check out of that.” He does this by staying off Instagram, and he doesn’t have a facebook account, or any other form of social media. “I’ve not deleted my Instagram and I’m sure once I figure things out a bit I will use it as a tool, but actually having the app on my phone and being able to access it freely is a big waste of time, and I think it really messes with our emotions and perceptions…I think it’s quite helpful for me personally not to have it.”




I think (instagram) really messes with our emotions and perceptions…I think it’s quite helpful for me personally not to have it

This very grown up, almost old-fashioned view on life is wonderfully juxtaposed to his personal style “as long as I can remember I’ve been drawn to things that are out of the ordinary when it comes to clothing… I’m interested in tomorrow more than today when it comes to style, and I think that drives the way I dress. I love natural materials and fibres; I love cotton, I love linen, I love wool, I love leather, which may be a bit controversial coming from an ethical point of view, but as a material it’s still beautiful. I love metal, and then you have this whole world of synthetics; my raincoat over there is almost like a garbage bag, it’s like a very thin waterproof synthetic material, so the space in which those contrasts meet interests me.”



Asking if he has any life advice that he’d pass on he responds “I’m 27 now, I’m not old but I’m not a teenager anymore. Probably for the first time in my life I’ve started to feel like an adult, and reflecting back over more difficult times, I realise that I undermined my intuition and the voice inside me that told me that something wasn’t right and that a person wasn’t good for me, and I totally overrode that and just continued on a path that ended up being quite bad for me. I knew better and I didn’t listen to that and it got me into trouble and just really hard times; so don’t silence your gut feeling about situations, be it work, be it relationships, you know, even just small decisions. Growing up my mum always said, ‘if in doubt, leave it out’, and she’d apply that to… you know if you’re going through your closet and you’ve got a bunch of clothes you never wear, or if you’re going shopping and, oh there’s a nice pair of jeans, but they’re a bit short and a bit tight; if in doubt, leave it out.”




11.Nov.2019
Written by Rachel Byrne


    

Strathclyde Telegraph
Editorial Team



  


Photographing the editorial team at the university of Strathclyde’s student newspaper the ‘Strathclyde Telegraph’ was a pleasure. Each student more polite and engaging than the last. During the portrait sittings, one student mused that between applying to study politics at the university and being accepted onto the course, both Donald Trump had been elected as President of the USA, and Britain had opted to leave the European Union; by the time classes began in September, all textbooks were virtually "thrown out the window".

A beautiful and thoughtfully written periodical by skilled students expanding their knowledge and skill set beyond the realm of their course, and their learning practice past the walls of the traditional classroom. I salute and wish them well on their journey.








29.Sep.2019