We will be true to our radical roots and return Labour to power
15 March 2018
Last Saturday I gave my first speech as leader to the Scottish Labour Party conference in Dundee.
It was a call for our party to unite, not just for the sake of unity, but for a purpose: to give hope to all those people in all those communities who need a Labour government in Westminster and a Labour government in Holyrood.
Too many of our elderly have to choose between heating and eating; too many parents are choosing not to eat so their kids can have a meal; too many children are living in poverty – despite at least one adult in their home holding down a job; too many people are facing evictions and sleeping rough on our streets; and too many are living deeply insecure lives, not knowing from one day to the next if they’ll be given hours to work and be able to earn any money.
It is little wonder that our nation has a mental health crisis on its hands.
Labour needs to be united more than ever, because society is more deeply divided than ever between the rich, who keep on getting richer, and the poor who become increasingly poorer.
A report published last year showed that the richest one per cent in Scotland own more personal wealth than the whole of the poorest fifty percent put together.
And yet the Scottish Parliament now has tax powers which could be redistributive.
Unfortunately, the SNP is not inclined to use them in any meaningful way.
Neither is it prepared to act as a bulwark against Tory austerity – by setting a Scottish budget that closes the public spending gap.
One of the Parliament’s primary purposes when it was established was to start to build the economic transformation of Scotland – on this measure it has failed.
With Brexit now looming, there must be a redoubled, and a renewed, sense of urgency about devising and then implementing an Scottish industrial strategy, rebuilding our manufacturing base, rebalancing the economy and promoting more democratic forms of economic ownership.
I believe that Labour’s six tests on the Brexit deal set out by Keir Starmer must be met, and we must keep our options open to ensure we get the best deal.
We are a party of democratic socialism, and so must respect the result of the EU referendum, but that does not mean that we will accept any deal negotiated by the Tories.
So Labour will vote down a Brexit deal if it fails the tests – with the strong possibility of cross-party support and rebellions, this in turn could create the conditions for an early general election.
At the last election Scottish Labour returned seven MPs to the Commons – and we slashed SNP majorities in many more seats, some down to single figures.
We have remained on an election footing ever since, for we know that Labour needs to win again in Scotland if Labour is to become the UK government.
Scottish Labour is the party that delivered devolution.
We are the only party that wants to protect it and wants to use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to their fullest extent to bring real, radical change to our economic system, which is letting the Scottish people down so badly.
We need to lead with conviction, openly putting forward our principles and our faith.
I firmly believe that it is by being true to our radical roots that we will build a better future by winning popular support and returning Labour to power.