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Highlands and Islands Greens MSP Ariane Burgess from Forres on her working life

By Garry McCartney

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Ariane Burgess supports local groups. Picture: Daniel Forsyth
Ariane Burgess supports local groups. Picture: Daniel Forsyth

A HIGHLANDS and Islands MSP from Forres believes her home town is leading the way locally in combating climate change.

Ariane Claire Burgess - a member of the Scottish Greens and the Scottish Parliament’s Convener of the Local Government, Housing and Planning Committee - still supports local organisations despite commuting to Edinburgh via train.

She said: “We are fortunate due to the foresight of community members to have numerous places for people to be in nature within walking distance of our town. These places are maintained by Moray Council and a tremendous community volunteer effort. I myself am involved with Transition Towns Forres at Bogton, working to achieve a low carbon lifestyle.”

Ms Burgess believes Moray Council’s declaration of a climate emergency is valid but would like to see more being done. Last September she joined a climate strike march from the Thomson Memorial to Grant Park, demonstrating the strength of feeling of local people.

She said: “We need systemic change and that must be addressed by government at every level. Organisations and businesses in the area have been working on tackling these emergencies for years: I support Moray Carshare, which has a membership of 150 people sharing cars and e-bikes; market gardeners grow food locally to help cut down food miles; and Moray Waste Busters recycle stuff we don’t need anymore.”

Ms Burgess has a Master of Science degree in Integrative EcoSocial Design and Leadership and was a facilitator for the Gaia Education’s Ecovillage Design Education in Thailand and Findhorn Ecovillage. She also has a Certificate in Permaculture Design.

She said: “Before becoming an MSP I was focused on regenerative and sustainable community development. I turned to this 20 years ago when I realised the impact human activity has on the climate and environment. I knew communities must adapt in response to environmental emergencies.”

In a previous career, Ms Burgess moved from Scotland to New York to work in the film and music industry, once working with the Rolling Stones and Mariah Carey.

She said: “It was good fun until I became aware of the ecological problems created by the industry.”

She added: “I’ve always been involved in politics. In New York I was involved in campaigns including standing up for immigrant workers, stopping the development of an incinerator in a community where people already suffered from high levels of asthma, and preventing the bulldozing of community gardens where people were growing food.

“When I returned to Scotland I joined the Green Party and in 2014 took a lead role in the Yes Moray campaign. I’m keen to see Scotland have full decision-making powers. I also want to increase women’s representation in politics.”

One of 12 Scottish Greens running in the 2021 Scottish Parliament election, Ms Burgess contested in the Inverness and Nairn constituency. She was elected as an additional MSP for Highlands and Islands region.

Mrs Burgess still lives in Forres with her partner but works at the Holyrood Parliament.

She said: “My working day is very fast paced and full. Every moment is engaging on a range of issues.

“Each day is different and involves, among other things: working with government ministers; convening the housing and planning committee; engaging in the work of the rural affairs, islands and natural environment committee; handling constituent enquiries; meeting with stakeholders and my MSPs and supporting my team.

“At about 5pm on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday we vote on the motions or legislation debated that day. There are many factors to weigh up to find the right way forward but I come back to: ‘will this decision ensure a better future for young people and the planet?’”

Ms Burgess is confident that an agreement between the ruling SNP and the Scottish Green Party made in August will prove fruitful.

She said: “The cooperation is a great opportunity for Scotland to implement green policies.

“We must make more affordable housing and prioritise using derelict land.

“Locally, with the A96 dualling being put through an evidence-based review which will include a climate compatibility assessment, we have the opportunity to push for better rail and bus services.”

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