Johann Lamont’s speech to Conference 2012
This is my first speech to you as leader of the Scottish Labour Party.
I have had a look to see how leaders’ speeches usually start. They begin, usually, with a tribute to the city hosting us and yes it is great to be in Dundee.
Sometimes leaders pick out a few colleagues to praise and I will happily do that later in my speech.
But conference, I want to start with a very clear message. It is time for us to stop apologizing for the mistakes of the past and to start fighting for Scotland.
We know what happened last May. We looked tired and complacent and we got the kind of beating we deserved.
But now we need to start building the kind of Scottish Labour Party which Scotland deserves and which Scotland needs.
We lost an election. We did not lose our sense of right and wrong. We did not lose our values.
And we will not lose the fight to make Scotland a fairer, more open, more just place to live in because that is why we exist.
I congratulate the SNP on their victory. But that victory did not remove the need for us to exist – it made it greater.
A party, a movement, which speaks up for the voiceless. Which fights for opportunity where there is none. A party which believes – which demands – that all should have the chance to fulfill their potential and be the people they can be.
A party which does not erect borders but one which demolishes barriers.
One which promises every parent that their child will have better chances than they had.
I am a Scot and I love Scotland. But the love of my country drives me to demand that it is better tomorrow than it is today. My love of my country does not blind me to injustice. It inspires me to strive to repair it and improve it.
I will wear the saltire with pride, but I won’t bind it around my eyes so I cannot see the injustice in our country.
I will not talk Scotland down. But I will not be silent while under Alex Salmond, children suffer in poverty and he does nothing about it.
I will not be silent while he does Scotland down. While he uses the powers of devolution not to protect Scotland from a Tory government, but to amplify every cut they make.
Does anything feel familiar conference. We’ve lost and we have a government, cutting services for the poor and vulnerable. Blind to the needs of real people. Wrapping themselves in the flag….and oh….backed by Rupert Murdoch.
We’ve been here before. And we will do now what we did then. We will re-build our party, re-connect with our country, win and put social justice and fairness at the top of the agenda again. And this time we will do it better than before.
Not New Labour, not Old Labour, but Real Labour.
Because while Salmond and Cameron play bad cop, rotten cop over the constitution, there is another reality.
People the length and breadth of this country are fearful. Fearful of their jobs. Worrying about how they will make ends meet. Whether their kids will get jobs. Watching as the public services they need are cut back.
At Westminster we have a Tory led government which doesn’t care. At Holyrood we have a separatist government blithely passing on cuts, failing to seize the opportunity to protect people.
Instead they see every cut not as a blow to Scottish families but as an opportunity to boost their separatist agenda.
Scotland needs a strong Labour Party. One that will put Scotland first. One that will put jobs and communities first. One born out of a desire to change a world ill-divided.
The SNP have been in power for five years now. Last May Alex Salmond told us he would ‘re-industrialise’ Scotland.
And look what has happened. Unemployment up – nudging a quarter of a million. Youth unemployment out of control. Four hundred women losing their jobs every day.
So how has Salmond tried to ‘re-industrialise’ Scotland? He bought a bridge from China.
By bringing forward the Forth Road Bridge contract, he said it would stimulate the Scottish economy.
Yet how does that money – £790 million of Scottish taxpayers cash – stimulate the Scottish economy when it goes to China, Poland and Spain and only £20 million goes to Scottish companies?
How is Salmond standing up for Scotland when our steel industry s ignored?
When he is so reckless, that we get to the point where Lanarkshire steel workers feel they have to write to a Tory Prime Minister to ask for protection from a Scottish First Minister?
When Alex Salmond says that Scots didn’t mind Thatcher’s economics he doesn’t understand Scotland at all.
I can well imagine, the Tories would approve of the Forestry Commission renting out its land to foreign companies so that those companies can make hundreds of millions of pounds from Scotland’s natural resources.
But what Scotland doesn’t approve of is Alex Salmond doing exactly that. Allowing foreign companies to exploit Scotland’s natural resources for a fraction of what this country could make if we did the work ourselves.
Standing up for China. Standing up for Poland. Standing up for foreign energy companies. Alex Salmond can rightly claim to be doing all of that.
But when Scotland’s second largest company – Scottish and Southern Energy – says that his plans for a referendum in a thousand days are damaging their business he can’t say that he is standing up for Scotland.
He can’t say he is standing up for Scotland when Weir’s – one of our finest engineering companies – say his plans are damaging their business.
He can’t say he is standing up for Scotland when Scottish engineering say his plans are damaging the Scottish economy.
Let me tell Alex Salmond something.
Putting saltires around his fireplace is no proof that he is putting Scotland’s interests first and there is one thing we in this country are good at – spotting a conman when we see one.
Putting Scotland first means more than holding press conferences in Edinburgh castle.
It means ensuring that Scottish investment benefits Scottish workers.
So this is what I want. I want the contracts which the Scottish Government puts out to tender designed to benefit Scottish firms. I don’t want them bundled up together to make deals too big for Scottish firms to bid for.
I don’t want our land put out for rent for foreign companies to exploit when with greater imagination we could benefit more ourselves. I want Scottish companies and institutions to be given the encouragement they need to exploit Scotland’s resources for the benefit of Scotland.
And let me tell you this. I don’t want you to think I want this just because I am Scottish – or to prove how Scottish I am.
I want these things because I believe they are fair and just and I believe that if Scotland stands for anything it is fairness and social justice.
But let me try to fish the phrase social justice out of the pool of political clichés and tell you what I mean by that.
I mean that when a mother gives birth to her child, the hope they can fulfill their own ambitions is a real possibility, and not a pipedream snuffed out by the time they are three, the hope and ambition of a child suffocated by poverty, poor housing, bad neighbours, and a lack of opportunity.
I mean a world where what you can be is more important than where you come from. And I mean a world where a politicians’ budget matches their claim to care.
I mean a world where caring for you loved ones is regarded as a common good to be supported not a welfare benefit to be cut.
A world where our enemy is fear – not our neighbours.
Conference, our friends and neighbours in England are currently being subjected to the Alex Salmond roadshow.
Going round the lecture halls and TV studios, he is dusting off his old favourites. An oil fund, a currency union, and a mobile defence brigade – its like a greatest hits set.
Many of us have long been tired of Alex Salmond’s fantasy assertions and deluded deflections but it is proving quite the novelty for his new English audience.
He is of course an avowed Anglophile – so much so that he wants the Bank of England to set interest rates in his independent Scotland.
My favourite line from his tour is that Scotland – as an independent country under his leadership – will be a beacon for progressives.
Progressive is one of those words politicians use – I prefer plain and simple fair.
Is it fair that an elderly person has his care visits – possibly his only contact with the outside world – squeezed into 15 minute windows because their care worker is overstretched?
Is it fair that a teacher, someone who devotes their career to bettering young people, has to delve into their own wages to provide jotters and pencils for their class?
Is it fair that a vulnerable child in a chaotic home, is left at risk and at the mercy of unfit parents because overworked social workers don’t have time to carry out the proper checks?
In Alex Salmond’s progressive Scotland, he took a 2 per cent cut from the Tories, doubled it and handed it to Scotland’s councils. We are seeing the consequences of these decisions in our communities every day.
Is it right that a young adult – who wasn’t able to take from school the qualifications he would have liked – is being denied a second chance at learning because colleges cannot guarantee him a decent level of bursary support?
Is it right that a worker made redundant misses out on the opportunity to retrain for a tough labour market because his local college has had to cut the number of courses it provides?
Is it right that in Fife, where 25 per cent of school leavers go to Adam Smith and Carnegie Colleges and 2.5 per cent go to St Andrews University, it is college funding that is attacked?
In Alex Salmond’s progressive Scotland, where the rocks will melt with the sun before he will introduce tuition fees, colleges in Scotland are being filleted with 20 per cent cuts. Meanwhile, youth unemployment spirals out of control.
Is it acceptable that families are trapped in sub-standard or inappropriate homes because we cannot meet the shortfall in housing demand?
Is it acceptable that first time buyers are shut out of the property market because of a lack of investment in affordable housing?
Is it acceptable that 30,000 construction workers lost their jobs last year because we are not providing work for them?
In Alex Salmond’s progressive Scotland, the housing budget was cut by nearly a third while the waiting lists and the dole queues get longer.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well conference, I can take no satisfaction from seeing the SNP’s pathetic attempts to place themselves as the party of progressives. It was Labour at Westminster who introduced the minimum wage, working family tax credits and the winter fuel payments.
It was Labour at Holyrood who introduced concessionary travel, free personal care and reformed land ownership.
It was Labour who delivered new schools, hospitals and housing for our communities. We are the progressives, it is Labour who understands fairness.
Last May, Alex Salmond told Scotland he doesn’t have a monopoly on wisdom. I couldn’t agree more.
If Scotland is going to get the progressive government which embodies Scotland’s values the only party that can deliver that is the Scottish Labour Party.
But conference, if we are to get there we must change. If we are to get the opportunity to serve the people of Scotland again we must renew ourselves. We have started that work.
I am the first leader of the Scottish Labour Party. So let me tell you the kind of Labour Party I am going to lead.
We have talent in this party. But the current structures I believe stifle much of that talent, they make it difficult for it to flourish be that in our council chambers or at either of Scotland’s Parliament.
I want those structures changed. Today I am charging my deputy, Anas Sarwar, to work with the party to find how we best change those structures so that the best talent the party has to offer is made available to local parties with a real chance of being selected.
And I don’t just want to reach within the party, I want to reach out to wider Scotland to find the new talents which will rejuvenate our party – making us truly representative of all parts of Scotland.
And so I have asked Anas to work with Margaret Curran and MSPs and MPs from all parts of the country to build task forces in their communities to identify and bring in new talent so that we better represent those communities.
We need to be open to new members and we need to be more open to our existing members and supporters.
I know that many of our comrades in the trade union movement left us in May because they felt that we had left them.
And so I will work with my trade union colleagues to re-engage with union members and demonstrate that our cause is a common cause.
We will listen to and learn from communities the length and breadth of the country.
My shadow cabinet will over the next twelve months travel to every part of Scotland to talk to anyone interested in social justice and equality and will report back to next year’s conference on the people’s priorities.
The next twelve months will be a period of renewal for our party in terms of structures, organization and policy as we become a party fit to serve the people of Scotland once again.
And I want to use all the talents of this party. It is the people we serve which matters, and the principles we hold to, not the institution in which we serve.
If we believe in partnership – and we do – then I want members at Holyrood and Westminster to work more closely than we ever have before to re-build this party.
Some say the big beasts – or men as I call them – only go to Westminster. I know we have talent in both parliaments and I will build a team across the party which serves Scotland well.
It is asserted that no one is putting forward the positive case for Scotland remaining in the UK. That’s not true. We do. But its not just us. The SNP do it almost every day.
They do it when they say that Scotland needs to keep sterling. They do it when they say that our crucial energy sector needs the support of UK consumers’ investment to grow.
They do it when they say our shipyards would need Royal Navy contracts to stay open.
My question is this: if even the SNP acknowledge that Scotland needs the UK for a stable currency, a growing energy market and to keep our defence industries why would we contemplate leaving it?
The Scottish Labour Party is the party which is radical on the constitution. The Party which delivered devolution. A referendum within four months of being elected in 1997 and the Scottish Parliament open for business two years later.
We were the ones who fought for the greater powers we see now in the Scotland Bill.
But our test is different to the nationalists. Our test is what is in the best interests of the people of Scotland.
They have no test. They just think more powers for Alex is by definition a good thing.
Our test is a lot more rigorous than that. We cannot allow ourselves to be boxed into an Orwellian debate – more powers good, anything else bad.
We need to examine whether tax competition is in the interests of the people of Scotland. If that competition is wasteful, if it leads to a race to the bottom, if it leads to less money for public services – is that in the interests of the people of Scotland?
I will not be seduced into the place where which powers you demand is a test of political virility. Where calling for corporation tax to be devolved somehow makes you harder, or more Scottish, or even more progressive.
It won’t be in the interests of Scotland if the only people who benefit are big business, and it won’t be more progressive if it means we spend less on public services, on caring for the vulnerable and giving opportunity to the disadvantaged.
The debate on tax powers has to go beyond the cartoon politics of Alex Salmond.
And at heart, the SNP want to sell a skewed vision of where Scotland is at.
They want you to believe that Scotland is somehow oppressed. That somewhere deep in the bowels of Whitehall there is a little saltire box marked ‘Scottish rights’ and that somehow only if we make enough of a fuss will the box be opened and a few new powers grudgingly tossed over the border.
My view of Scotland and the Scottish people is profoundly different.
I believe that power lies with the Scottish people, and it is for the people of Scotland to decide how that power should be used in the interests of the Scottish people.
The question is not what powers should Scotland claw back, but which powers should we share. How do we share power in a way that best benefits Scotland. What do we share with our neighbours to our mutual benefit.
I question, for example, whether we should devolve a power like corporation tax, not because I don’t think we are capable of using it, but because I want to see the detailed evidence that will tell us whether it would be in our interests or not.
Whether pooling tax raising powers isn’t in our interests. We have as part of our union one of the richest international hubs in the world – London.
My question is this, is it in the interests of Scotland to enter into tax competition with London, or as someone who has a progressive vision for Scotland, is it better to have a unified tax policy which redistributes wealth to where it is needed most?
What matters most in this is not theories of the state, but what these powers do for people.
Will they be good for the businesses we rely on to create the jobs families need? Will they help create the wealth we need for the public services we want to build? We they increase or decrease the stability we need in our economy?
I believe that one thing which should inform our debate is the debate in Europe. The experience of the Euro.
I think the Euro teaches us two things.
Firstly taking deeply technical economic decisions for purely political reasons leads to disaster. It was the political ideal of a single currency which has led to the economic disaster felt by families in Greece and Ireland and Portugal right now.
And the second lesson is this. If you want monetary union, you need fiscal union and a degree of political union.
The SNP acknowledge that a separate Scotland would need to stay in monetary union, but want to break up the fiscal union and political union which we currently have.
While the rest of Europe moves in one direction to avoid economic disaster, Alex Salmond wants to move in the opposite direction and head straight for it.
It makes no sense.
That is not to say that the United Kingdom is perfect. That it should not change.
But once again I believe that we need to get what the UK means, and what Scotland’s place is within it, in proper perspective.
What would the UK be without Scotland? It is a country which we built with our neighbours over the last three hundred years.
Scotland was never conquered or annexed by the UK. And since we have had proper democracy in this country Scots have always chosen to live in it.
And our values have influenced the modern UK. Scottish values of community, where we believe that is one part of the community is in need, others should come to their aid.
That is the essence of how the UK operates.
Scotland gets more of the UK resources not out of charity, or because of weakness but because with less than a tenth of the population but a third of the land mass we need more.
So when the Royal Bank of Scotland goes down, Scotland didn’t have to negotiate with foreign governments.
We didn’t need have to endure years of negotiations as the Greeks are going through. The help was automatic – given within hours.
We didn’t have the indignity which some of our neighbours had of seeking bailouts from foreign governments.
What happened with the RBS bailout wasn’t about Scotland’s weakness, it was about the Union’s strength.
In a world of enormous economic uncertainty, one where we see power moving from west to east, I believe that if Scotland were independent today, a Scottish Prime Minister would be looking to negotiate with our neighbours a union which shared risks and rewards as the UK does.
This debate, of course, will be filled with meaningless soundbites. Phrases without concepts. Indy Lite, Devo Max.
But our language has many phrases which mean nothing in reality.
You know the kind of thing – the cheque’s in the post. I’ll be straight home. Or I was always backing you for the leadership. Even later on – loved your speech.
But let me tell you one phrase which really is meaningless. North of the border. And here is another one. South of the border.
Because we have no border. We haven’t had one for three hundred years. And without a border, has Scottish identity flourished or diminished?
We don’t need a border to be Scottish. We don’t need a border to flourish. What we need is a commitment to Scottish values.
A commitment to our communities, to equality, to solidarity.
And I am afraid, Mr Salmond that doesn’t mean a commitment to the low tax, low public spending ideology which is at the heart of your politics.
I believe that being in the United Kingdom is good for Scotland.
But that does not mean it cannot change. We will look at ways that devolution can change. What more powers are needed.
I will lead Labour’s commission on devolution. And on that commission I want not just Holyrood and Westminster colleagues but trade union colleagues and colleagues from local government.
Devolution can’t just mean powers going from London to Edinburgh.
If we believe in devolution we must be more radical than that and ask at which level should power lie if we are to serve the people.
That means a radical look at not just what powers should the Scottish government have, but what powers does local government need and which should be devolved further to local communities.
Our values endure but the way we express them can never be static.
We will come up with proposals which strengthen devolution and by that strengthen the United Kingdom, and Scotland’s place in it.
But before we do that, we must take to the country the case for Scotland remaining with the UK.
It must start with Labour’s case for the United Kingdom and Labour’s campaign.
I will lead that campaign but I want it to be a collective leadership.
I will draw on all the talents we have in all the institutions in which we serve.
But may I say I am delighted that Alistair Darling has agreed to play a leading role. And I am equally delighted that Gordon Brown will play his part too.
And we will also work with others who want to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom, people from all parties and none.
The skills of the Labour campaign will be leant to an all party campaign when they are needed.
But what we first have to set out is what we want Scotland to be.
Our greatest asset is our people. But we still live in a country where our people cannot make the best of themselves.
We have parts of our country where families haven’t worked for generations as much by their own culture as lack of opportunity.
That has to change. I want a society where there are genuine opportunities for all. An education system that is a gateway to a better life for all. I want this party to talk of the dignity of Labour again, the right to work again, of full employment again.
And I want to create the kind of genuine enterprise culture in this country which ensures that our greatest export stops being our people – because Scotland is a place they no longer have to leave to find opportunity.
A Scotland where we create the wealth to have the public services we aspire to.
A Scotland which leads the world in education again – and where education really is open to all.
That is how I express my patriotism. Not a separate Scotland but a better Scotland.
But if you express your patriotism by finding difference with others rather than unity of purpose, go with the other guy, not with me.
If you measure your love of your country in yards of tartan, go with the other guy not with me.
If celebrating your culture and tradition has at its heart a desire to divide, not appreciate diversity, go with the other guy not with me.
But I ask everyone in this party, everyone in our land to come with me. To celebrate Scottish values and make them real.
In a Scotland which is a land of fairness, of equality, of solidarity.
A Scotland of innovation, invention and opportunity.
We will renew our party, to rebuild our land.
And we will do it by being a better Labour, real Labour, Scottish Labour.
Johann Lamont MSP is the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party. Follow her on Twitter@JohannLamont.