Building a movement once again
Thank you Chair and it was an absolute pleasure to join so many of you at Kelvingrove last night. We’re very proud of that museum. Hundreds of thousands of people visit it each year admiring all the art and artefacts – I’m pretty sure there’s some people in this room feeling like an old relic themselves this morning…
I want to begin by thanking you for the support you have given me as Deputy Leader of the Scottish Labour Party. And I’m so proud to have your backing as I stand to lead our party in the huge challenges that we face today.
We shouldn’t mince our words about the challenges our party and our movement face:
- We lost 300,000 voters between the 2010 and 2015 general elections. One third of our support.
- Whilst we’ve faced the challenge of Scottish nationalism for some time now, many of you in this room now see a resurgent English nationalism in your heartlands and marginals in the North and South. Stoked by the Tories with the tacit support of the SNP.
- Together, we all face a Tory government, emboldened by the first outright Tory victory since John Major in 1992.
- And the result is that we all face an assault on union rights and an attack on the working poor.
It is a huge challenge but I know we can do it with the right leadership and the courage to change. And I believe that the Labour Party can and should learn from you, Community.
You have faced huge challenges as a union. The decline of your industrial base could have seen you simply manage that decline. But instead you adapted and changed, setting out to grow in new sectors. You had a higher ambition for trade unionism than simply organising a declining number of members: a vision of a growing private sector union, organising in new industries.
But more than that you had a vision of a new relationship with the people you seek to represent. I’ve experienced that first hand with the support this trade union gave Debtbusters – a campaign I ran here in Scotland with the support of thousands of others – against payday lenders. A campaign you backed when we last met in Jersey.
That campaign wasn’t about rights at work, but it did have a direct impact on the livelihoods of union members. Community understood that. As a union, it never fails to see the bigger picture.
Labour needs that vision and courage that Community has shown in the face of adversity. Because for me the fundamental problem the labour movement faces is that there aren’t enough people in it. It’s really that simple.
So I’ll do everything I can to bring more people into our movement, to join a union, to support the Labour Party. Because we know what the rewards are when we are able to inspire and organise people together. And we know what we can do – we can achieve change together.
In 1997 workers could be sacked or blacklisted for joining a trade union. There was no minimum wage. There was no Scottish Parliament. In 1999 there was no smoking ban. Most children were going to school in buildings older than their parents and in many cases grandparents.
We changed that together. Working with brothers and sisters in other parts of the Labour movement, across the UK.
I will never give up fighting the Tories just as I’ll never give up on workers in any part of the UK. I want Scotland to be the best place in the world to work – but I want our people to have the talent and skills to compete globally. Not on low wages and poor working conditions.
The nationalists chose a different path. They chose to walk away rather than stand together. They chose a lower minimum wage on one side of the border from the other. A different pension for English and Scottish workers. Different workplace rights, different protections.
When they talk about more powers and you press them on what that really means it always comes down to cutting taxes for business. I will never start a race that’s about trading on workers terms and conditions.
My test is a simple one – when it comes to powers for the Scottish Parliament, if devolving power would make Scotland either less fair, less prosperous or less secure then I can’t and won’t support it. Because I believe in devolution and solidarity. So let’s bring new jobs in new industries to our shores and let’s do it by using the power of unions, business and government working together to ensure we have the best skilled workforce in the world.
Being ambitious for Scotland’s future means having high hopes for children in our schools today. That’s why I’ll make tackling education inequality central to my leadership of the Scottish Labour Party. There are still too many children in this country whose opportunities and life chances are determined by their parent’s income.
After 8 years of the SNP government the attainment gap between the wealthiest kids compared to the poorest kids is as stubborn as ever. The Scottish Labour Party remains firmly committed to a 50p rate of income tax, the proceeds of which would be used to tackle that inequality, targeting resources where they are needed the most.
The major new powers coming to Scotland mean decisions about income tax will be taken here in Scotland. So the challenge now for the SNP is whether they back our commitment to asking those at the very top to pay just a little bit more to transform the life chances of Scotland’s kids. It’s time for them to put their money where their mouth is.
But having an equal chance at the same old opportunities isn’t enough for me. As we come out of this recession and head back to economic growth, new developing technologies mean the world is full of possibility and potential new jobs. Let’s bring those jobs to Scotland by having the best skilled workforce – but let’s make sure that women have equal access to those jobs as well.
My grandmother’s generation were the first to go out to work. My mother’s generation the first to have a career. The generation that comes after me need skills not for one job but for an ever changing world. There’s a great danger that if we don’t tackle the occupational segregation that so many women still face, we’ll lock women out of the jobs of the future and lock them in to low paid low skilled work.
I’ll say more about this in the days ahead. Because Chair, it’s only when women fulfil their potential that our country will realise its own potential. Tackling inequality isn’t just a fundamental principle, it is good economic policy.
You know there’s a great temptation after such a bad election result to rip up our manifesto and start again. I’d like to caution against that. We know here in Scotland that our policies were popular – that’s why the SNP stole them. What we failed to do was to convince voters that we are the right people, that we have the right values. That we are the right people to stand up for people like them.
That means being bold and brave in the positions we take. Under my leadership it will be clear what we stand for and who we stand with. Nothing and no one will stop me standing up for what we know to be right.
That isn’t just what the party needs; it is what the country needs. Labour’s fightback starts now on the doorstep, in the canteen, the shop floor and staffroom. In every village, town and city.
Because socialism and trade unionism offer something nationalism never can. We offer a political movement that is about people, not place.
Our project is to put power into the hands of the powerless. That means not just legislating for a living wage but campaigning on it together. That means not just electing a Labour Government that can overturn Tory attacks on union rights but growing a stronger trade union movement that can stand up to attacks on working people.
We have to fight for every vote next May to ensure that a failing SNP Government isn’t given a free pass to another term in office. We have to win the upcoming EU referendum, making the case that the Tories never will for Europe, for workers’ rights and for protecting the poor. And we have to win in the local elections in 2017 because it is Labour councils who are best placed to protect working people every day.
Scottish Labour started as a movement of political insurgents. That is where our future lies. Holding power to account. Taking on the establishment. Building a movement once again one victory at a time.
You can find full details of Kezia’s campaign at www.keziaforleader.scot.