We have invited all major political parties in Scotland to take part in an interview ahead of the Scottish Parliament elections on May 6. In this instalment we speak to the Scottish Greens’ lead candidate for the South of Scotland, Laura Moodie...

Q. What is your party planning to do in the Borders, in particular?

A. I live in the south of Scotland in Galloway, so I’m well used to the issues that people who live in the rural south face, and the fact that we tend to be a bit of a forgotten corner.

Having lived here for eight years now I can clearly see the problems that communities face. They are not that different in Galloway to what they are in the Borders or even East Lothian or South Lanarkshire.

A priority for us is transport and always has been. Public transport in the south of Scotland is generally poor and it’s very badly integrated. The Scottish Greens have a £22 billion ‘Rail for All Programme’ which will see a big expansion for railway, but more importantly, perhaps, integrating railway properly with the bus services so people can make joined-up journeys and get around across the country. Not just to and from the central belt or to and from Carlisle, which is too often the case.

The other issue I’ve been campaigning about a lot recently is fuel poverty. Certainly, with the climate crisis, we know a lot of Scotland’s energy emissions come from home energy and energy generation and a lot of housing stock in the south of Scotland is poor quality and poorly insulated. We need a massive retrofitting programme. We’re looking at a £10 billion green new deal investment in all sorts of investments for addressing climate change. But one of the priorities will be retrofitting houses. That will bring really good quality jobs across Scotland. It’s really important that people have work in their communities, especially to bring back young people. The demographic challenge in the south of Scotland is huge. I’ve got four kids and we opted to move here when we started our family. There’s no reason why more people couldn’t do that but with the poor infrastructure, in terms of transport and broadband, it’s a deterrent and it’s a shame. We’re also campaigning a lot on climate and on creating sustainable towns. Borders Greens put out their survey this week trying to get people’s views on what they want their towns to look like going into the future, obviously to recover from COVID and to bounce back. A lot of businesses will have been decimated over the last year, but it gives us a chance to look again at how our towns are structured, the communities they serve, and how we can regenerate them. I work for Midsteeple Quarter in Dumfries and that’s a community project that’s basically buying up abandoned buildings in the centre of town and then redeveloping them to make a new neighbourhood that’s a mixture of retail, housing, enterprise and co-working spaces to completely make the town centre what the community wants.

Q. We have recently seen many young people calling for action on the climate. Do you support the school strikes which have been taking place around the south of Scotland?

A. Yes. We have attended several school strikes – Fridays for Future events – and we support them. In Kirkcudbright we had Green activists help escort children from the school to the centre of town to carry out a more high-profile protest. We had to do that because of school regulations about young people being out and about in the town. So we have done literal support of that. The science is really clear. We have got nine years left to make a difference in terms of the climate emergency. It’s going to take really radical action. The results of the Climate Assembly this week pointed in the right direction and with COP 26 coming up in the autumn, I think it’s something that the new parliament is going to have to hit the ground running with. The full Climate Assembly report will go to parliament in May.

I’d really like to see parliament take up those recommendations and start investing, so we go into COP 26 as a leader on not just talking about climate and setting targets, but actually having actions and plans to deliver that.

Q. A recent report from the London School of Economics suggested that the economic damage caused by independence would be two to three times greater than Brexit. What do you make of that report?

A. I disagree. I just don’t buy it, I’m afraid. I think it is very hard to predict what the impact of this is. No one is saying independence is going to be easy, no one is saying it’s going to be magical. Anything worth doing takes hard work. I think Scotland is more than capable of putting in the hard work that is needed to make a go of being an independent country. In terms of globally and even in the European context, we’re a moderately-sized country. We have huge resources, certainly in terms of renewable energy, but also in other areas. Look at our fantastic food and drink sector. It’s been absolutely wiped out in just a few months since Brexit happened. We know in the south of Scotland that dairy and beef farmers have seen their sales to the EU drop by 90 per cent. Cheese 85 per cent. We don’t have a big salmon industry here but that’s dropped by 98 per cent. That’s entire industries destroyed by Brexit. I’m going to take predictions of doom and gloom about an independent Scotland with a pinch of salt. But I’m not naïve enough to say it’s going to be all rosy.

There are going to be challenges, but I think we are better at addressing those challenges if we have full control of all the tax-raising and economic powers that we have available. Just like Ireland, Denmark or Norway have, who have all achieved independence in the last 100 years or so.

Q. There has been talk of the Greens forming a coalition with the SNP. What have you made of those stories?

A. I think it’s been quite interesting and I think it’s definitely coming from the SNP.

I think it’s coming from the perspective that they know it is going to be a challenge to get a majority. They know that is going to endanger their plans for the next parliament, if they can’t secure an independence referendum. If they can’t secure a pro-independence majority in parliament, that’s going to be very problematic for them. The Greens obviously support independence and will argue for that and vote for that in the next parliament, but we have very different overall policies to the SNP. I think we have seen that in parliament, through the budget negotiations, where we’ve managed to secure an extra half a billion pounds to local government that otherwise wouldn’t have gone there; or the £10 million nature restoration fund in the last parliament; pandemic relief payments; fighting eviction for tenants. There are lots of areas where we don’t agree with the SNP in parliament, but the Scottish Parliament is designed to be a multi-party democracy. So parties have to work together to get legislation through and I think we’ve shown that the Greens will negotiate and we will do what we can to get out policies through. But that doesn’t rely on one party having the bulk of votes.

Q. When Green MSP Andy Wightman left the party last year, he blamed “alienating and confrontational” attitudes on transgender rights. What did you think of his comments?

A. I was very sad to see Andy leave the party. I think everybody was. His characterisation of that discussion and debate within the party just isn’t something that I recognise. Our party policy is made by members at conference and discussed. You could talk to many people about the Greens and one of the things they will say is that we talk too much about issues and we agonise over things. I don’t agree with his characterisation of what the party is and what it stands for and I’ve not found that to be a toxic debate or discussion within the party. We have a very clear stance on equality. Equality is a core part of what the Greens believe in. If you can’t agree with the party’s general policy on such a core area, then yes, it’s going to be difficult.

Readers’ questions (submitted through Facebook)

Q. How can your policies be paid for? Would Scotland not become bankrupt if we adopted the green aims?

A. There is lots of detail on costings which is going to come out in our manifesto. A good example for the recent policy plan we announced was the £22 billion ‘Rail for All’ scheme. Not only would that project pay for itself, it would return well on investment. For every billion pounds in that scheme that is spent, it would generate £1.6 billion for the economy and 14,000 good, unionised jobs across Scotland. The Greens want to spend to invest. Those investments will return money and boost the economy. Particularly when we’re looking at climate issues, the cost of not dealing with the climate crisis is rapidly escalating. If we have increased flooding, increased extreme weather events, if our infrastructure gets undermined, that has a huge price tag and we can’t afford to pay it. Far better to invest now and return money on that investment, than to sit and wait and then be fighting crisis after crisis over the next few years.

Q. Why is the election literature I’m receiving through my door from the Greens prioritising independence over the environment?

A. People are going to be getting a whole range of literature from us over this election process. I wouldn’t say that it prioritises independence, although independence was one of our main campaign themes planned for 2020. There is a lot of material around over that, as COVID has made things challenging. It’s a big part of what we believe. The Greens believe in local subsidiarity, bringing power back to the lowest possible level – at all levels of government. Independence is part of that, but we have a whole range of policies. People can ask us about them and throughout the whole parliamentary term we will deliver on those. Just as we have in this parliamentary term.