THE Scottish Green Party used to be a very different party.

When I first joined in 2000 we were a party of 500 that used to meet in old school halls and small pub backrooms. Our conferences could fit comfortably in a scout hall.

In those days, it was easy to know almost everybody in the party, and so many of the organising tools we take for granted now were years away from even being envisaged.

We had no shortage of ideas and ambition, but we struggled to reach many voters, and we lacked the means to turn our words into actions and deliver the change that we knew was needed.

Things have changed and, when we meet in Clydebank tomorrow for our annual spring conference, we will be doing so as a party of government.

The last 18 months have been quite a journey for all of us.

The cooperation agreement that we entered into with the Scottish Government was a leap of faith. It took us out of our comfort zone, but it was also a chance to follow in the footsteps of Green parties across Europe by turning Green priorities into real concrete policies.

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When it comes to the biggest challenges facing us today, the cost of living crisis and the climate emergency, I know that having Scottish Greens in the room at all stages is ensuring that the decisions we make are better for people and planet.

Scotland has changed so much since I first joined the Scottish Greens, as it will again next week.

The First Minister’s resignation was a historic moment. She’s someone who I have known, respected and worked with for 20 years, and she leaves a proud legacy.

My first memories of Nicola Sturgeon come from the Section 28 debates, when she rightly took a stand against an outdated, bigoted and discriminatory law.

That principle, and that commitment to equality, is one that stayed with her and has characterised her politics at a time when more fair weather allies have chosen to look the other way and others have joined in with attacks on the most vulnerable, whether out loud or by dog whistles.

Her leadership has offered a stark and bold contrast to the pathetic and shameless antics of Boris Johnson and the gaggle of Tory Prime Ministers she has outlasted.

That difference was never sharper than during the pandemic. While Johnson was lying through his teeth, she was providing comfort, empathy and stability at a time when so many people were hurting.

The government she has led, and which I am proud to have been a part of, has provided a far better counterweight to Downing Street than Keir Starmer.

Even at this moment of historical crisis, the Labour leader has pandered, folded or U-turned on almost every major issue.

When it comes to nuclear weapons, the hostile environment for migrant communities or the disastrous Brexit that is doing so much damage, there is barely a difference between them.

Like Sunak and his predecessors, Starmer has also refused to recognise Scotland’s right to choose our own future, and stood by silently while a Tory government has abused its Section 35 power to block a simple and long overdue Gender Recognition Reform.

Scotland’s next first minister will take office at an absolutely crucial time for our country and our planet.

This week’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report showed just how desperate the situation is and how little time we have to act. There is nowhere to hide, not least when three billion people already live in areas that are highly vulnerable to climate breakdown.

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The IPCC’s message was simple: governments need to take action now, or it will be too late.

The months and years ahead will be absolutely crucial in shaping Scotland’s response and the message we send to the world.

As a nation with a dirty oil history, we have an important role to play in advocating for a fast and just transition away from the very fossil fuels that have played such a central role in our politics and our economy.

We know what Westminster stands for: even more oil and gas drilling and a huge investment in costly, inefficient and toxic nuclear energy.

Scotland can and must do better than this. In the areas where we have the power to do so, we already are.

Whether it is the groundbreaking Deposit Return Scheme we are introducing, the free bus travel we have introduced for young people, the record investment we have delivered for walking, wheeling and cycling infrastructure or the bans on new incinerators and single use plastics, we are leading the UK in terms of climate action.

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But there is so much more to do.

The next first minister will have both an imperative to act and a golden opportunity to rebuild and decarbonise our economy.

My Green colleagues and I will be urging them to accelerate the pace of change and take decisions that drive our ambitions even further. If they share those values and a commitment to act, we will be proud to continue working with them.

Whether it is refocusing food production and farming to restore nature, or taking action to reduce aviation, they can expand on the legacy we are building through the Bute House Agreement and push harder, faster and smarter than ever before.

Regardless of who is the next First Minister, we will remain committed to the progressive politics that are so vital and so necessary.

These are the values that must be at the heart of the fairer, greener Scotland and that the Green activists I joined in 2000 have been campaigning for for so long.