dave watson speechDave Watson applauds Kezia Dugdale’s speech yesterday to the STUC Congress, its positive tone and its genuinely anti-austerity message.

 

Well that was different! Kez Dugdale’s speech to STUC Congress yesterday broke the mould.

Past Scottish Labour leaders have come to Congress and launched into a lengthy attack on their political opponents, often sounding like a tribal rant. But what most delegates to Congress want to hear from politicians is what are they going to do for working people – not what their opponents haven’t.

Kez’s speech did just that.

The focus of her speech, unsurprisingly, talked about what Labour will do the new powers that are now on the statue books. She asked, “Will we use the new powers of the Scottish Parliament or will we continue with Tory cuts?”

Labour’s main promise in this election is that a Labour Scottish Government will increase spending on public services in Scotland. That came with a good line:

“We know that austerity is not an act of God, it is a political choice.”

She went on to explain how Scottish Labour will fund public services: by not raising the threshold for the higher rate (and that includes inflation); by returning the top rate to 50% for those earning £150k; and by adding 1p to the basic rate.

A particularly well received commitment was to take a tougher line with those who avoid tax. She said:

“We will make sure that those who do not pay their taxes do not get taxpayers’ money.  There should be no public contracts for those who avoid tax.”

And she highlighted what we all know are the true cost of cuts: thousands upon thousands of jobs being lost, and the rest of us losing vital local services.

Moving on from austerity, she set out a new approach to working with trades unions. She repeated her commitment not to comply with the Trade Union Bill, and then set out a new, positive approach through a Work and Trade Union Bill. This Bill will recognise the positive role of trade unions in the economy, creating better workplaces, increasing productivity and building a fair economy.

A new agency, Skills Scotland, will be established in partnership with unions and employers, and will be co-chaired by a nominee of the STUC. It will bring together employment services and skills services, including the new powers over the Work Programme.

She made a range of further commitment that went down very well in the hall:

  • Labour will keep CalMac in public hands and immediately halting the tendering process.
  • Labour will regulate bus services and bring Scotrail under public ownership.
  • Labour will ban exploitative zero hours contracts with a focus on care workers.
  • Labour will abolish for good the Bedroom Tax, and create a new approach to social security in Scotland that offers dignity and tackles poverty.
  • Labour will launch a full inquiry into the practice of blacklisting of trade unionists in Scotland.
  • And Labour will drop the extortionate pre-devolution interest that hangs around the necks of councils across Scotland.

Kez ended with an appreciation of how hard Scottish Labour has to work to convince people of Labour’s case. “Will we use the new powers or will we make more cuts?” – to me this seems a good place to start.