Real change now
Here is the full text of the keynote speech by Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale at today’s conference in Glasgow.
In the last few months Scottish politics has changed.After the most painful election in our history, we have renewed ourselves.
We have a new generation of leadership;
We have welcomed thousands of new members into our party,
We have strengthened our link with our oldest friends in the trade unions;
We have new candidates,
And most importantly a new vision which we will take to the country.
The terms of the political debate have changed too.
The argument about powers for Holyrood is now over.
The powers exist.
The question now is how Scotland wants to see these powers used.
I know the Labour answer.
We want to use them to achieve the ends Labour has always stood for.
A better NHS.
More opportunities for our young people at school.
A fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.
That is the Labour plan I will spell out and that is what the next 47 days of this election campaign will be about.
And it will be for that same reason that we will spend the 49 days after the Scottish elections fighting for our place in the European Union.
And what of our opposition?
A governing party that has been the vehicle for both power and protest now has to choose between the two.
This is the most interesting, exciting, important election we have ever faced.
We’re having new debates unfamiliar to politicians and parties who have only ever had to answer the easy questions of how you spend money and never the hard questions of how we raise it.
People say this election is a foregone conclusion, that there is no interest in this campaign, but they couldn’t be more wrong.
This is the election where we see who our leaders really are.
Who will stop the cuts?
Who will care more for the vulnerable?
Who will invest in the future of our economy?
Who will be bold?
And who will just settle for more of the same?
The answers we give to these new questions will reveal who we are as leaders, what our parties stand for and who we are as a nation.
This is who I am:
I’m a socialist.
My Scotland is one where there are no foregone conclusions.
I believe that trend is not destiny, that people aren’t fated to be rich or poor, that we can choose to be better as a society.
It isn’t a foregone conclusion that children born to poor families are half as likely to get to university as their wealthier classmates.
It isn’t inevitable that that same child born poor will die nearly a decade earlier.
It isn’t their destiny that poor children will be more likely to die in an accident, more likely to go to prison, more likely to take their own life when they are adults.
We aren’t fated to live in an unfair country.
We can choose to be different.
We can use both our votes to do things differently.
The past needn’t determine our future.
That’s true for our nation.
It’s true for our party.
People say I have an impossible job, ‘the toughest job in politics’.
I tell you, you’ve led a pretty sheltered life if you think being an MSP is a tough job.
I wouldn’t change my job for the world, because if I can reach out to people, if I can convince them that a different Scotland is possible, we can change the lives of millions of people.
The Tories and the SNP criticise me for saying we have to do things differently, they always say it’s all too difficult, it’s too expensive, it can’t be done.
They criticise me for being young.
Well I can’t change that!
But do you know what, I wouldn’t change that – because I look at our country with young eyes.
I still see the things that are wrong, that are unfair, the things that we’ve got to change.
I don’t represent what was done before.
I represent what needs to be done next.
After a decade in power the SNP look at a problem and see only the politics, I see the possibilities.
You know, the Nicola Sturgeon I first saw campaigning for office 20 years ago, she wouldn’t have looked at the Scotland she has created and been satisfied.
Back then she looked for ways to change things, not excuses for why they have to stay the same.
Back then she promised to abolish all student debt – but ten years on she leads a government that has doubled it.
Back then she promised to increase money for schools and cut class sizes – but ten years on she has cut money for schools and increased class sizes.
Half a billion of pounds cuts and 4,000 fewer teachers.
The SNP stood on team, record, vision. Remember that?
But what has the team being doing?
Where is the record of achievement?
What happened to vision?
To those who voted SNP with high hopes, I ask this:
If the SNP haven’t delivered the change you want to see with the experience of ten years in power, with a lead in the opinion polls, with a majority in Parliament will they ever deliver?
If they can’t deliver with a majority, should Scotland really give them another?
In this election it is Labour who are rising to this moment in Scotland’s history.
It is Labour who have the vision for our new powerful parliament.
It is Labour who see the possibilities for radical change, we are now the ones with ambition for Scotland.
We will stand for the most powerful Scottish Parliament ever with the most radical Labour manifesto ever.
If the first phase of devolution, led by Labour, was about repairing the Tory neglect in our schools, hospitals and public services…
If the nationalist phase of devolution has been about restoring pride…
Then let’s make the next phase of devolution be about radicalism and responsibility.
Let’s define our time with radical policies and financial responsibility.
Here’s the change we offer:
Labour will use the powers of our parliament to get serious about Scotland’s housing crisis.
Instead of the SNP’s tax cut on airline tickets for the wealthy we’ll help people my age to afford a mortgage deposit.
We’ll tackle rent rises in the private sector and take on slum landlords to provide warm and secure homes.
And we’ll build a new generation of council houses.
Our Labour Party that grew out of rent strikes, that built council homes for heroes and the new towns will once again tackle the gaps in housing between the haves and have-nots.
Labour will use the powers to put some decency back into the welfare state.
We’ll increase Carers’ Allowance, recognising the debt we owe to those who put others before themselves.
We’ll give a full grant for those children, our children, who make it to university having grown up in care.
We’ll take up where the last Labour Government left off and tackle child poverty, starting by doubling the maternity grant for struggling new mums.
And we will abolish the bedroom tax once and for all.
Labour will use the powers of our parliament to protect the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food that we eat.
We will protect our environment.
On the science there is no doubt.
The worldwide consensus on climate change is clear: the last thing we need is another fossil fuel.
So Labour will use the powers to say loud and clear – no fracking.
So, while Nicola Sturgeon leaves the door open for drilling, here is where Labour stands:
No loaded studies reporting, conveniently, after the election.
No temporary delays.
No secret dealings with Jim Ratcliffe.
No ifs. No buts. No fracking.
The party that has always protected those services we own together, in the age of climate change, will protect the environment we share together.
On transport, Labour will use the powers to introduce a single smart ticket that you can use on buses, trains, trams, the subway and ferries.
Making life easier and cheaper for working people.
What has been good enough for London for over a decade is good enough for Scotland.
To make it work, our party – funded by the union contributions of train drivers and bus drivers – will do what the party funded by Brian Soutar has refused to do: regulate Scotland’s buses to better serve Scotland’s passengers.
And I’ll tell you one more thing on transport.
We will fight to keep Cal Mac in public hands and immediately halt the tendering process that could see lifeline ferries privatised.
And friends, our Labour Party that established the NHS in the 1940s will be there to ensure that the NHS is fit for the challenges of the 2040s.
Labour will use our powers to offer a real plan for the future of our NHS.
We will increase funding for the NHS year-on-year in real terms.
Because the NHS isn’t just another policy agenda for Labour, it is part of who we are as a party, our pride in its creation inspires everything else we do.
We can take the pressure off our hospitals by getting primary care right, delivering the NHS services people need in their communities.
Instead of the cuts to GPs we’ve seen in the last decade, our plan for the NHS will guarantee an appointment at your local surgery – which you can book online if you choose – within 48 hours.
Hundreds of thousands of days are spent in hospital by people clinically fit enough to leave, many of those elderly people waiting on care packages to be put in place.
It is a national disgrace that more than 270 Scots died last year still waiting for a care package.
And it is unacceptable that so many people who have received care packages under the SNP Government get 15 minute care visits carried out by underpaid staff, often on zero hour contracts, without proper training and support.
So our plan will ensure that everyone is guaranteed an assessment and a care package within a week.
We will guarantee a living wage for care workers but we won’t pay for their wages by cutting back on the local authorities, already struggling to deal with an ageing population.
And we’ll ban exploitative zero hour contracts for care workers.
There is no sense of urgency today in dealing with Scotland’s biggest killer – cancer.
Key waiting times are missed, the Government’s cancer strategy was over a year late.
Our plan will recognise the importance of swift action and cut cancer waiting times – a guaranteed faster diagnosis if you fear you have cancer.
If your GP suspects cancer you should see a specialist and get results within a fortnight.
No plan for the future of our NHS can neglect the growing problem we have with mental health amongst children and young people.
One in ten of our children and young people are affected by a mental health problem and early intervention is key but even the 18 week waiting time target has failed to be met and the situation is getting worse for these children who need help.
Our plan for the future will focus on prevention and better access to treatment, with more educational psychologists in our schools and more community mental health professionals, and we will end the scandal of missed mental health waiting times.
And finally, our plan for the NHS will back a drive to put Scotland at the leading edge of researching and tackling the diseases of the nervous system that define our age including MND and MS.
This is a bold programme that will transform Scotland.
Labour will use the powers to change Scotland.
These are big promises.
But because we are being honest about how we’d pay for our promises you know we can afford to keep them.
And that is the promise that underpins all other promises in this election campaign.
Labour will use the powers.
If even Iain Duncan Smith is claiming the cuts are too far then you know it’s time to do things differently.
We won’t use the parliament as a conveyor belt for Tory cuts.
We will offer a real alternative to Tory austerity.
A real change for Scotland.
And a real choice for voters.
This is the opportunity our new powers present: the ability to make different choices to build the better nation that we all want.
It is also the responsibility of all parties in a mature political system to set out your tax and spending decisions in advance of an election.
We will end austerity in Scotland.
This pledge will set simple fiscal principles for our parliament’s new financial powers.
It will set out what a Scottish Government has to do to take a different path from Tory austerity.
It won’t be prescriptive about what the next government spends: it will simply set out the path that must be followed in order to dispense with austerity and invest in our economy.
Based on the reality of the cuts planned by the UK and Scottish Governments.
It makes one guarantee to take a different path.
So that between the Scottish election in May and the next UK General election spending on public services will rise in real terms.
Any party claiming to be against austerity must support it.
It is a pledge to prevent billions of pounds of unnecessary cuts.
Cuts we don’t have to make.
Cuts that will damage local services and hit the poorest, the hardest.
Cuts that will undermine our economy.
Cuts that will undermine our future prosperity.
If the SNP don’t match our anti-austerity pledge, their claims to be anti-austerity will be exposed as false.
That is our challenge to the SNP.
Depart from austerity and use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to invest in the future of our economy.
Only we can make that promise because only Labour are making different choices on tax from the SNP and the Tories:
We won’t make the SNP’s tax cuts for the top 20%.
We will reverse George Osborne’s tax cuts for the top 15%.
And we’ll reverse the Tories’ tax cut for the top 1%.
So many Scots were excited to watch Nicola Sturgeon in the last TV debates position herself as the great anti-austerity alternative…
…only to see her come home to force through the Tories’ cuts in Scotland.
Because we don’t get Nicola the ‘socialist’ who says let’s change things…
…we get Nicola the nationalist who says that she can’t.
I wish that once, just once, the Nicola Sturgeon England sees when it’s time to campaign was the Nicola Sturgeon that Scotland got when it’s time to govern.
You know, what politicians will promise you sometimes tells you less than what they won’t.
The SNP, like us, have said they would guarantee NHS spending over the next parliament, they have said they would increase police spending, they have said they’ll protect business support.
What they won’t promise is to protect education. We will.
We’ll set the Scottish Rate of income tax 1p higher than George Osborne, and use the money to protect local schools, colleges and universities from further cuts.
It isn’t an easy choice but it is one we have to make because we cannot keep cutting education and skills.
People ask me ‘why do I always hear you talk about education?’
I’ll tell you why.
I was raised by teachers.
I went to an ordinary school.
But I was taught by extraordinary teachers who opened up a world of opportunity to me.
That’s what this is about – the young person who has an amazing talent for science, music or business, but no-one knows, not their teacher, perhaps not even them.
That young person who will never discover that talent because in Scotland our government are cutting the subjects our pupils can study.
Telling children they have to go to night school to do the subjects they want.
They’re sacking the classroom assistants who get to know pupils.
They’re cancelling the extra-curricular activities where children find out who they really are.
Scotland has no future as a low wage, low skill economy.
We have no future as a nation that competes, not on how much more highly educated we are, but on how much lower we can cut taxes than our neighbours.
The SNP have treated education like an inconvenient social expense when they should have seen it as an essential economic investment.
This is the big difference in vision between Labour and the SNP: faced with the choice between using the powers we have or cutting education, cutting the future of our economy, Labour’s choice is to use the powers.
The SNP say they are ‘stronger for Scotland’.
Stronger for who?
What is strength without principle?
What is strength if you use your power to force cuts onto communities, school children, the vulnerable in our society?
What good is strength if you don’t use it to protect those without power, without opportunity, without wealth?
Stronger for who?
Stronger for what?
That’s the difference between socialism and nationalism.
I know that where you are born is an accident of birth, a geographical lottery.
I can’t base my political vision on that.
I didn’t come into politics to help those at the top of Scottish society, just because they are Scottish.
Nor would I turn my cheek to a child living in poverty just because they are born on the other side of a dotted line on a map.
I came into politics to make sure that where you are born doesn’t matter.
I want a country where the place you are going in life isn’t determined by where you began your life.
That’s what being Scottish means to me.
It’s not the idea of Scotland that I love.
It’s the people of Scotland.
The wonderful, kind, funny, thrawn friendly people who make up the community of this great nation.
Scotland is its people.
And that’s why who the Government is matters so much.
It’s about people’s health, people’s education, our jobs, our loved ones, our freedom, our choices.
These are Labour’s priorities because we care about the people of Scotland.
Otherwise Scotland is just a word.
And it’s the word that the SNP put first. Never the people.
I want a Labour Government after the election.
I’ll never be satisfied with anything else.
I want as many Labour MSPs in that Parliament so that rather than arguing for change we have the power to force change.
We can’t sink back into the referendum arguments of the past – we need a government that uses the powers, shows more courage and makes the change.
That’s why I believe this country’s interests lie with the Labour Party – whose sole priority is to use the powers of the Parliament for the betterment of our people.
That’s why we’ll be fighting for every vote, on every street, in every part of Scotland.
Because we are the ones who will change things.
Let me speak directly to the voters who aren’t yet convinced: after a decade sat in Ministerial offices, the SNP are too comfortable in power and they’re being too cautious with their powers.
If you want more accountable government, more radial government.
If you want a government that is less interested in taking selfies and more interested in taking on the establishment, then consider giving your first or second votes to the Labour Party.
And if you use both your votes for Labour you will ensure that our parliament, and our government, use the real powers we have to deliver real change.
Not in a few years, not in a distant promised land, but now.
But friends, wouldn’t it be better if, rather than having Labour slowly grinding down the SNP, dragging them kicking and screaming into using the powers they have…
Like we have done on the bedroom tax,
On the A&E crisis,
On the attainment gap in our schools…
…wouldn’t it be better to have Labour Ministers making the change in the first place?
We want to govern, not oppose.
Nicola Sturgeon keeps confidently announcing that Labour is only fighting for second place.
Just think about what that means – she’s already declared victory before any of us have cast a single vote.
How utterly arrogant of her.
We’re here to tell the First Minister that there are no foregone conclusions in a democracy.
We’re here to tell her not to take her power for granted.
We’re here to tell her not to take people for granted.
Lift your gaze around the world First Minister, and you’ll see the overconfident front runner surprised by the newcomer, the complacent establishment upset, expectations confounded.
I know this will be a tough election for us. But I tell you this. I have no intention of making it easy for the SNP.
A changed Scotland is within our power.
We just have to choose it.
We just have to believe in it.
We just have to vote for it.
So stand with me. Join me.
And this Labour Party can do again what we’ve always done at our best.
Challenge the establishment.
Overturn the status quo.
Deliver real change now.