‘Freedom from poverty and from poverty of ambition’
Johann Lamont MSP spoke today in Edinburgh about finding common cause to deliver what Scotland needs.
Thank you for joining me as we look ahead to this new and exciting time for Scottish politics.
We have just made history with a democratic and fair referendum which has energised our political debate. It is important that we rise to the occasion and grasp the opportunity that this presents. So let’s not concentrate on re-writing what has past, and instead focus on shaping the future.
Because the will of the people of Scotland has now been decided. The people of Scotland want a fairer and more prosperous Scotland – within the United Kingdom. The people of Scotland have decided change does not mean division.
It is now up to us all to make the will of the Scottish people real.
Not my will. Not some imagined will. Not some contrived will. But the settled will of the people of Scotland made a reality.
We are all Scots. We cannot be more Scottish. Let us change the question of the last three years of how Scottish we can be to a new question – how great a country we can make Scotland to be.
When I stood here first as a newly elected Scottish Labour leader my job was to revive my party. I did that in every local and parliamentary election. With some success.
We had to win the referendum. I heard a rumour we did. Emphatically.
Now I will finish the task by being elected First Minister of Scotland.
I had no lifelong ambition to be First Minister. Some may say the job was never meant for someone like me.
But I believe that I have the qualities needed to lead our country at this extraordinary time.
The life experience of a mother, a teacher and of someone who understands and cares about the people we must act for.
Being a politician exposes us to all walks of life and different aspects of our society. But my politics were forged long before I ever considered standing for parliament.
My beliefs were formed growing up in a community where it was clear that life was not equal and I knew that things could be better.
My anger at injustice was instilled in a classroom where too many children were prevented from achieving their potential or denied the opportunity they deserved.
And my optimism for change comes from a life of activism in a movement that has never given up the hope that there is a better way and we can have the fairer, more equal society we aspire to.
These experiences have created in me a burning desire for change and social justice, the kind that drove thousands of people to the polls last month, whether they voted yes or no.
We know that the Scottish Labour Party still has a way to go before we meet the aspirations the Scottish people have for us.
I want to lead this party into the battles over equality and social justice which have been put on hold too long.
I want to put right the wrongs in our society that are deeper than anything constitutional politics can offer. I want better for Scotland.
Weeks before the referendum, I said that Scottish politics would never be the same again. I sincerely hope so. We cannot allow it to be. The people of Scotland would not forgive us for business as usual.
So today, I want to embrace this new phase in Scottish politics.
The challenge for us all is to unite our country behind the decision the people of Scotland have made, and work towards a fairer, better country.
Not the what could have been of the 45, but the what can be of the 100.
We will do that by recognising what we have in common rather than focussing on where we differ. And we can unite the country by making good on the promises which were made to the people of Scotland.
During the referendum campaign, we made a promise – indeed, a vow – to bring more powers to the Scottish Parliament. This is something we all agree should happen across the political divide.
We know there is a process which will deliver more powers for Scotland through the Smith Commission and I would like to thank Iain Gray and Gregg McClymont for agreeing to represent Scottish Labour.
And I will make sure with every fibre of my being that those promised powers come to Scotland. We want them and we will get them.
The people of Scotland are right to hold us to that promise. And our political opponents are right to be vigilant to ensure we do.
But we must also ask the same of them.
Because while all of the parties agree that the Scottish Parliament should have more powers, we also agree on other areas.
A consensus emerged during the campaign that our NHS should be protected and that families would benefit from transformational childcare.
So my challenge today is let us work together to deliver not just more powers, but a stronger NHS and the childcare that will transform lives in Scotland.
Let our ambition not be constrained by the constitution.
We all agree that our NHS is our most precious resource. It has been integral to our lives for the last 60 years. But we must make sure it is ready to serve us just as well for the next 60 years.
My fear is that politics and politicians are preventing us from making the progress we need to fix our NHS.
All of the parties agreed during the referendum campaign that the NHS needs to be protected from privatisation but the real threat comes from rising costs and demographic change.
For too long, party politics has got in the way of taking long-term decisions over our NHS. Time after time, vested interests have been put above patients. We know Scottish patients have suffered as a consequence of the staff shortages, missed targets and lack of capacity.
The only way we can move beyond this impasse is to take this issue out of the hands of politicians and place it in the care of the experts, who can work with the public to fix our NHS.
In order that this becomes more than a talking shop, all political parties should sign up to this process and agree to be bound by the results.
It is clear from the referendum that people want politicians to work together to protect our health service. That is the absolute focus of Labour’s team in Holyrood, led by my health spokesman Neil Findlay.
My offer to Nicola Sturgeon and the other leaders is a way to fix our NHS by putting party politics aside and working together in the best interests of the people of Scotland.
I fear that if we do not take this opportunity, our NHS will continue to decline and patients will pay the price.
So today I have written to all of the party leaders in good faith, hoping that we can work together to put this right. Patients all over Scotland, and generations to come, will thank us for facing up to the biggest challenge before us in Scottish politics today.
The other area where our parliament can and should make progress in the next 18 months is childcare.
Whether on the Yes side or the No side, we all agreed that families struggling with the costs of childcare need support. We all recognise that there are serious economic benefits, including enabling more women to join the labour market.
But let us not be blinded to the social and educational benefits – all the experts agree that childcare is integral to tackling gender equality, child poverty and improving educational attainment.
So if these are not the goals for which my party and our parliament should be aiming for, then I don’t what is.
The SNP talked of transformational childcare with a Yes vote. Well, lets have transformational childcare now we have said yes to the UK.
And do not let our ambition be checked by these straitened times – Finland set in train some of the most progressive early years policies from the embers of their own recession – why can we not do the same?
First, we must accept that while the Scottish Parliament has made progress in providing free places, all childcare cannot be free.
If we are to build on that progress, then providing better childcare cannot simply be an auction to see which party can offer the most hours. We can do better than retail politics.
When I was bringing up my children, I knew there was childcare provision available to me for free that I couldn’t access because it was not flexible to suit my working life. Instead, like many other mums and dads, I had to rely on family or pay the high costs of private childcare.
This is something most families will recognise – our childcare costs are among the highest in Europe. We cannot make all childcare free. But we can make it affordable.
We have heard from the SNP of an ambition to be more like Scandinavia. Yet the reality of childcare in Sweden, Denmark and Finland is childcare which is not free but affordable and as integral to their education system as school is.
Earlier this year, my education spokesperson Kezia Dugdale visited Finland where the total costs any family spends on childcare is no more than 10 per cent of the median income of the people in the country. She saw first-hand the opportunities it gave to their children.
I want the same for families in Scotland. So let us set a goal of capping childcare costs at no more than 10 per cent of median income of Scotland.
I want to help those families struggling with the costs of childcare, and the mothers at home because childcare prices them out of the job market. Most of all, I want to give those children the best possible start in life.
If we are to adopt the Scandinavian model then we must accept it will not happen overnight. It didn’t happen overnight there and it won’t here. But if the political will exists to make it happen, then we can do it step by step.
Where I disagree with the SNP’s plans for childcare as put forward in the white paper, is I won’t ask women to return to work on low pay, low skills and low job security.
The SNP’s policy on childcare would have cost £1.2 billion which would have been paid for by the tax receipts of all those women returning to work.
But to pay for their policy, they would have needed all of those women to earn the average income of worker in Scotland without acknowledging the sad reality that this is not possible for many women returning to work. And even then they didn’t have enough women to deliver their pledge.
If we are enable women to access the job market, then we must give them the skills needed to make the most of their potential.
So today I propose that we work together to provide a childcare place for every mum who wants to go to college and gain the skills to needed to get a job.
This would be an important first step in achieving this parliament’s mission to transform childcare in this country, supporting families, allowing women to access the skills to get a good job and giving children the best start in life.
Friends, since 2011 our parliament has been dominated by the politics of the referendum. When Alex Salmond secured a historic majority three years ago, it was clear that it could be no other way.
Now we all must accept there is no other way than to work with the will of Scotland. Not to bend it. Misunderstand it. Pretend it is isn’t there.
The will is clear. The desire passionate. The future is to be moulded.
The focus must be this. Powers for people not politicians to change real lives.
In 2016, there will be another election in the Scottish Parliament. I sincerely hope that the people of Scotland are persuaded by my vision of what a Labour Government could do.
But first, we have 18 months to make something of the current parliament. Rather than slip back into campaign mode or fight the battles of old, let’s aim for something better.
This is an opportunity to move beyond the division and grievance of the referendum.
An opportunity to achieve change for the people of this country, something they clearly desire.
An opportunity to build a consensus on achieving our shared ambitions for Scotland.
I want to get to work today. But if the other parties will not help us to build a better Scotland now, then a Labour Government will do it in 2016 with me as First Minister.
The freedom which most Scots seek cannot be so simply described as freedom from one political institution or another. Not from Westminster or Brussels or indeed Holyrood.
We seek freedom from poverty and from poverty of ambition.
They say charity starts at home. I fear poverty of ambition starts at home.
That is what must change. The cry for change cannot just be an expression of pain. It must be an act of hope.
No change comes without pain. No hope becomes real without effort.
The democratic deficit I believe is being addressed.
The deficit of hope requires a greater effort, a greater will, a greater resolve.
We can have any number of Scotland Acts – Scotland will improve when Scotland unites and all of Scotland acts and that is the challenge, the change to our politics which I hope to represent.
For too many years the Scottish government have told us what we cant do.
That time has gone.
Lets now talk about what Scotland can do. And we will do it.