Richard Leonard


Scottish Labour Women's Conference


17 February 2018

It is an honour to be with you here today.

And can I say at the outset that I want this Conference to be a permanent annual fixture in the democracy of the Scottish Labour Party

Talking politics, but also importantly making policy, electing representatives and moving the Scottish Labour Party forward with you not as passengers but in the driving seat

We meet in Glasgow  which has a fine tradition, not only of democratic socialism, but of leading the campaign for equality.

Glasgow is the city that produced Mary Barbour, a woman from Govan, who left school at the age of 14, who led the people of this city to defeat exploitative landlordism more than a century ago.

This is where Jean Roberts, a working class woman from Springburn, became its first female Lord Provost in 1960.

This is a city that has always stood up for equality and diversity, be it granting the Freedom of the City to Nelson Mandela, when he was fighting state institutionalised racism from a prison cell on Robben Island , or giving refuge and a new home to asylum seekers from across the world fleeing wars and persecution .

That is socialism with a human face because equality is what Labour was founded to deliver.

It is what Labour has always stood for, and under my leadership, it is what Labour will always fight for.

This month, we have marked the centenary of women, some women, first receiving the right to vote in parliamentary elections.

We have remembered the leaders and the martyrs.

Those brave women,who risked everything in the fight for equality.

The Pankhurst sisters, Emily Davison, Millicent Fawcett whose tireless fight has seen their names etched into history.

But many others remain hidden from history, women like Janie Allan, a Member of the ILP in Scotland, of the Women’s Social and Political Union, of the Women’s Tax Resistance League, who addressing the courts in 1913 refusing to pay a super tax said:

“Government rests upon the consent of the governed, and that consent I consider women are justified in refusing until they are enfranchised.

"I object to pay this tax, my Lord, because I hold that taxation without representation is tyranny, and so long as women are denied any voice in the expenditure of the money derived from taxation, so long are they perfectly justified in refusing to pay taxes.”

It is that fighting spirit, that rare determination to challenge injustice, that vitality, that should continue to inspire us today.

Because there is still so much unfinished business, a century on from women first winning the right to vote, gender inequality remains rife.

While we may have a female First Minister, only 45 of our 129 MSPs are women.

While we may have a female Prime Minister, just 208 of our 650 MPs are women.

While we may have the Equal Pay Act of 1970 on the Statute Book, introduced by a Labour Government, driven by Barbara Castle, but fuelled by the actions of the Ford machinists , pay inequality remains rife.

And, this inequality affects the lowest paid the most.

You are twice as likely to be paid below the Scottish Living Wage if you are a woman.

You are twice as likely to rely on benefits and tax credits if you are a woman.

And so for all the talk of pay inequality at the top - and an injury to one is an injury to all.

The real battle we must fight to close the gender pay gap must begin with those low paid women workers

Those care workers, cleaners, cashiers, clerical and catering workers whose work must be properly valued and properly rewarded.

And so I am pleased that we are now on the right side of the argument with equal pay in Glasgow City Council.

Many equal pay claims were settled under Labour in Glasgow, but there was too much resistance, too much legal obstruction and for that I think we owe those women an apology.

The scourge of gender inequality goes beyond our economy.

As we have seen exposed in recent months, women face not just discrimination at work but violence and harassment at work.

In the end it is about the imbalance of power and the abuse of that power from Harvey Weinstein, who used his position of power to prey on women who dreamed of becoming Hollywood stars, whether it is the gross misconduct of Larry Nassar, a man trusted to heal, who instead to chose to abuse, whether it is the shocking stories of the MeToo campaign, which has seen thousands of courageous women opening up about the abuse they face in everyday life, these are the cases that make the news headlines.

But we know that the issue of violence and abuse of women runs much deeper and wider.

Too many women in Scotland suffer violence, imprisoned by abuse and degradation.

If we tolerate this, it will carry on to the next generation Which is why we cannot let it go on.

While down the years the Labour Party has led the fight and legislated for equality, we must never be complacent.

We cannot hope to persuade others, to treat people with dignity and respect, if we do not treat people with dignity and respect ourselves.

Over the past few months, the culture of politics, particularly in relation to gender equality, has rightly come under the spotlight.

Politicians – including some in the Labour Party – have been found to engage in behaviour that falls well below the standards we in this room, and in this Party and in this Movement expect and deserve.

There has, once again, been a breakdown of trust between politicians and those they hope to serve.

So my job, our job is to work to rebuild that trust.

We will work to ensure that women across Scotland know that the Labour Party stands up for them.

We will work to end discrimination both within the party and without.

And, for the avoidance of doubt, let me be clear, this is not about words – but about deeds.

Not about sentiments of solidarity alone, but about delivery.

Scottish Labour, under my leadership, will be at the forefront of the drive for equality,

Since my election as leader three months ago, I have already taken steps to help make the Scottish Labour Party,and with it politics and wider society, more equal.

From the interim staff appointments I have made, to the interim deputy leadership, from the appointments to the Parliament’s bodies to the 50:50 Shadow Cabinet I want to change the culture of the Labour Party and women’s place in it – at all levels.

That action comes from the one driving principle, that there is no place for any form of discrimination in the Labour Party.

Be it: Sexism,

Be it: homophobia,

Be it: racism, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

So we have already established, for the first time in the Party’s history, an equalities and diversity committee of the party’s Scottish Executive, which will develop a truly comprehensive anti-discrimination and harassment policy.

The work of this committee, which is already underway, builds on our efforts to encourage more women and under-represented groups into the party itself, because our diversity is our greatest strength.

And that is why I am also committed to developing future candidates and activists, who are BAME, who are LGBTI, who are people experiencing  disability, who are young and working class as well.

Through our leadership, we can ensure that under-represented groups are not just visible, but seen.

Not just voices, but voices heard.

Not just members, but participants and leaders.

And where Labour leads by example, others will follow.

With real change in our party, we can inspire people to build a more equal society.

One of my first jobs at the STUC was to promote the campaign for 50:50 representation in the Scottish Parliament.

One of my first jobs at the GMB was to take up equal pay claims in the contract catering and cleaning industry.

My first Employment Tribunal case was for Yvonne Trotter, the Head Chef at Rosyth Dockyard who was being paid £2 an hour less than her male predecessor

I met Yvonne a couple of weeks ago and she is now one of the WASPI women!

And just as I have fought for equal pay, and now we are fighting for pension justice for the WASPI women, so too have I fought for equal representation.

And I learned along time ago that it is not enough to promote equal opportunity.

We need equal outcomes.

So I am delighted that Scottish Labour has already agreed to select candidates from all-women shortlists in 75 per cent of the seats we need to win back to Labour at the next General Election.

Conference, these measures will help make our party more equal, more diverse, and more representative.

And, with the Labour Party taking the lead on equality, they will help make wider society more equal too.

But they are also just the start.

There is much work to be done.

We, in this room, in this party, know that these actions alone will be enough.

We need to do more in local government: where too many young women serve for one term and then stand down.

We need to do more to promote economic democracy and secure more women in the corridors of economic power.

We need to address the gender pay gap.

But the scale of the challenge before us should not serve as an excuse for inaction, but as a motivation for action.

Not as a reason to back away, but as a cause to move forward with renewed vitality.

So in this centenary month of the suffragettes' victory, in this city of Glasgow, that has contributed so much in the fight for equality, we have a duty and a responsibility not only to remember the struggles of previous generations but to be part of the struggles of our generation to bring about the real change we need in society today.

Because as the suffragettes showed, as Mary Barbour showed if we out our mind to it and get organised and march with the people with us , nothing and no-one can stop us.

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