Scottish Labour conference speech 2019
It’s a pleasure to be back here in Dundee, city with a proud industrial history stretching back to the jute industry, the linen industry and my personal favourite, the jam industry.
Every time I come to Scottish Labour Conference I can see how much the Party has grown in energy and vibrancy.
I want to thank Richard Leonard.
Richard is showing how only Labour has a plan to invest in the Scottish people, their communities, public services and industries.
The choice is now clear: Labour investment or more austerity from the Tories, passed down by the SNP.
And I also want to thank Lesley Laird, Deputy Leader and Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, for being a great champion of Labour values.
But it’s not just you, it is all of our Scottish Labour MPs, fighting austerity and making a difference.
It is also right that we remember all the friends we’ve lost in the past year Including two stalwarts here in Dundee: the former councillor and Lord Provost Merv Rolfe, and Brian Gordon, a councillor for twelve years and a member of our party for over fifty years.
Conference, today is International Women’s Day.
A day to celebrate the inspirational role women have played in the struggle for equality.
And always remember, that struggle is not only for legal equality between women and men.
It’s for economic equality too.
And for the women of the Labour Movement, it goes further.
Because they struggle for the emancipation of the whole of society, which is impossible without the emancipation of women.
So often in the history of our movement women have shown men the way.
Just think of the rent strike led by women in Glasgow in 1915.
It’s a story that should be told to every new generation because it contains lessons for us still.
When thousands headed to Glasgow after the outbreak of World War One to fill jobs in the munitions factories and shipyards there was nothing to stop landlords hiking rents.
Nothing, that is apart ,from the women of the city.
With so many men away at the front the landlords thought the women left behind in the tenements would be a pushover.
They thought wrong.
The women organised. They came together in the Glasgow Women’s Housing Association. From among their ranks came great leaders like Mary Barbour.
Together, they refused to pay the extra rent. United, with strength in numbers, they had power.
What happened next was solidarity in action. The industrial workers in the huge engineering works and the factories made common cause with the women.
And the whole labour movement swung behind them.
So when 18 tenants were in court for not paying their rent, shipyard and engineering workers downed tools and joined thousands of women in a march to the court to demand the cases be dropped, or there would be strikes.
As you know, Conference, they won. The government intervened. The cases were dropped.
And that show of strength led directly to the Rent Restriction Act.
Rent controls. For the first time in Europe. Won by community action, led by women and the Labour movement.
That’s what makes our party different. Because that’s where we come from. That’s what we’re about.
And the lesson for us is this:
That struggle between working class people, united by their common interests and the powerful is as real today as it was back then.
And if we stick together in our communities, everyone united, women, men, black, white, gay, straight, Muslim, Jewish, Christian then we can win today, as we did back then.
Turn on the news at the moment and you’ll hear endlessly about constitutional issues. Brexit. Independence. It borders on the obsessive.
You don’t hear so much about the children arriving hungry to school or how the teachers at one nursery have had to arrange for Tesco and Greggs to donate their leftovers so they can feed the kids.
That’s happening today in Govan the very place where Mary Barbour led the rent strike more than a century ago.
The truth about Labour is this: we’re not obsessed by constitutional issues, like the others are.
We’re obsessed with tackling the problems people face in their daily lives.
We’re obsessed with making our country better, fairer and more just.
Ending insecurity at work. Ending poverty wages. Ending the cuts to our public services.
Because we believe that the real divide in society is not between people who voted yes or no for independence.
And it’s not between people who voted to remain or to leave the EU.
The real divide is between the many – who do the work, create the wealth and pay their taxes – and the few – who set the rules reap the rewards and dodge their taxes.
Let me spell it out: our mission is to back the working class in all its diversity.
And that’s what drives our approach to Brexit.
Labour’s alternative plan is credible and has the potential to win the support of parliament.
It will work for the whole country not just those at the top.
Discussions with Michel Barnier and others in Brussels have convinced me that it could be negotiated with the EU.
But let me be frank: our alternative plan is not an end in itself.
The task of the Labour movement is something much bigger: the transformation of society.
Our plan provides a sensible framework that respects the result of the referendum without wrecking our economy and will allow a future Labour government to make the radical changes so desperately needed.
It would mean a new customs union, and a close relationship with the single market to protect jobs in the short term and allow for a manufacturing renaissance under Labour in the future.
And it would ensure that the UK keeps pace with the EU on workers’ rights and consumer standards – enabling us to go much further once in office.
The Tories have very different priorities.
Their approach reflects the kind of country they want to create, which is why it has divided people and lost support.
So it’s no surprise that Theresa May sounded so desperate earlier today. To coin a phrase…nothing has changed.
If she cannot to get her botched Brexit deal through Parliament next week it will represent an unprecedented failure in British political history.
The utter mess the government has made of the Brexit negotiations and their reckless abandon when it comes to people’s jobs and livelihoods is unforgivable.
The Conservatives’ deal will make us all worse off and we could never support it.
So having already failed once to get her deal through,
I want to make it clear to the Prime Minister if she fails again it will be the end of the road for her deal.
There is no coming back from it.
There can be no more playing for time.
Incredibly, Theresa May is still refusing to rule out a no deal disaster. With every minute that goes by uncertainty and fear grows.
This is crippling our economy and manufacturing.
Investment has come to a standstill and jobs are under threat.
A no deal crash would cause havoc in our economy.
Businesses know it, trade unions know it, and Theresa May knows it but still she puts her party before the people.
We will do everything we can to stop a no deal crash.
We favour a general election. We’ll push for our alternative plan. And we will support a public vote to prevent disaster.
We will not allow the failure of this government, to take our country over the cliff edge.
Right now what matters is protecting jobs and living standards from this damaging Tory Brexit.
But let’s not fall into the trap of thinking that everything was fine before the EU referendum.
We still had austerity, we still had homelessness and we still had thousands of workers earning less than a living wage.
Conference, we can organise our society very differently and we can improve people’s lives by making our economy work for all.
But any government that has that as its priority has to have a serious strategy to achieve it.
That’s what an industrial strategy is.
A strategy to create good, skilled jobs that pay well, to encourage manufacturing and the industries of the future.
And to ensure that investment reaches the places that need it most not just London and the South East.
Now you may have seen that the Tories launched a Towns Fund the other day and some may think that does the same thing.
But they’d be wrong. It’s a bribe. A one-off, paltry bribe from the Prime Minister to persuade English MPs to support her terrible Brexit deal.
And when they announced it they ignored Scotland and Wales entirely, until yesterday, as an afterthought, they suddenly found £100 million for Scotland over seven years.
That’s about £2.50 a year per person.
Never say the Tories don’t give you anything.
A Labour government in Westminster will invest £70 billion in Scotland over a decade through establishing a new National Investment Bank, a National Transformation Fund and additional Barnett Consquentials from UK Labour policy commitments to stimulate and boost the Scottish economy.
The days when governments could get away with sitting back and leaving all the major decisions about our economy and our working lives to mysterious market forces are over.
It hasn’t worked it doesn’t work and it will never work.
Let me give you an example of what we should be doing instead.
We are facing a climate crisis. There’s no bigger threat to our future.
And fundamentally the destruction of our climate is a class issue.
It’s working class communities that suffer the worst pollution and the worst air quality.
It’s working class people who will lose their jobs as resources run dry.
And it’s working class people who will be left behind as the rich escape rising sea levels.
And when animals and insects are dying out in alarming numbers as their habitats are destroyed we all lose out.
Biodiversity isn’t a niche concern. It affects us all.
Big corporations will never do anything serious the climate crisis.
The Conservative government will never do anything serious about it either.
But Labour will make it a central objective of our industrial strategy.
We need to reduce our net emissions to zero by 2050 at the latest, it’s not just an ecological priority, it’s a socialist priority too.
So we’ll put public investment into renewable energy on a massive scale.
Because given the gravity of the emergency we need nothing less than a Green Industrial Revolution.
Technology and manufacturing don’t have to be a threat to the environment.
Our responsibility is to develop the next generation of technology that will help us preserve our natural world.
And conference this is not a burden.
It’s a huge opportunity to bring new manufacturing and engineering jobs to places that have been held back by decades of neglect.
And I’ll just mention this: if new industries can help prevent the destruction of our environment then we need to invest in education and training for people to do those jobs.
So the very last thing the Scottish Government should be doing is cutting college funding as it is now.
If we want to rewrite the rules of economy we need a Labour government in Westminster.
But it’s a central belief of our movement that not all change comes from the top.
The greatest progressive changes in history have come from the bottom up, just like the Rent Strike and it’s no different today.
That’s why our Party’s historic link with the trade union movement is crucial.
I want to send my solidarity to the council homecare workers here in Dundee from Unison, Unite and the GMB who recently voted in favour of action in a consultative ballot because of the attacks on their terms and conditions.
And Richard, and the Scottish Labour Party, have been steadfast in backing workers at Michelin, Kaim, McGills, and St Rollox.
The Labour Party will always support workers in struggle. If you’re being treated so badly that you’re forced to strike we are with you.
The need for bottom up change is why I’m so proud that Labour is now doing real community organising.
Because our philosophy is to empower people not just to invest power in politicians.
In Edinburgh, in December, Richard and I had a Christmas lunch with some of the volunteers and charities doing their best to help people on the sharp end of the austerity driven by the Tories at Westminster and passed down by the SNP in Holyrood.
They are the unsung heroes of our society, doing inspirational even life saving work.
But we all know they shouldn’t have to do it.
Because we shouldn’t have a situation where a quarter of children in Scotland are living in poverty.
We shouldn’t have thousands of Scottish young people without a home.
We shouldn’t have life expectancy in Britain falling.
What is happening to our country? It’s not only an economic and social disaster it’s a moral outrage.
Last month, in Glasgow, Richard and I met Tariq and Nasreen Ali from the Crookston Community Group which runs foodbanks across the Southside of Glasgow. Nasreen won a Mary Barbour Award for her work.
Imagine being one of the parents who relies on that foodbank to feed your kids.
You have a job and you’re in work… rents are high, energy bills are high, but you’re just about keeping your head above water.
Until, because of the uncaring attitude of this government, you’re moved onto Universal Credit, which doesn’t just punish you for being poor, it punishes your children too.
So now you can’t make your rent, you can’t pay your bills, you can’t even afford food for your kids, and you’re forced to go to a foodbank.
Why do we make people live like this?
Why in 2019, in the fifth richest country in the world, can we not use our wealth to give people some dignity, to give families safe and secure homes, to give children a future?
Conference… we can… if we have Labour governments in London and Edinburgh.
But to get there we have to be united.
That doesn’t mean we have no room for disagreement. Discussion and debate are the lifeblood of our democracy.
But there is no justification for the abuse of anybody.
Racism, religious bigotry and misogyny have no place whatsoever in our movement.
And we will root out antisemitism in our Party… and in society at large.
We, the Labour Party, must lead the fight against all types of racism.
This matters so much when racism and xenophobia are on the rise across Europe.
Neo-Nazism is growing in Poland, and Orban’s regime in Hungary continues to foster antisemitism, yet was backed by the Conservatives in the European Parliament.
Conference, I was elected Leader of this party, and Richard was elected Leader in Scotland, to bring real change.
As a movement, we all have a responsibility to deliver that change. It’s what people need right now.
The Labour movement is the greatest force for progressive change this country has ever known.
We delivered the NHS, the welfare state, every anti-racist law on the statute book, we delivered the minimum wage, and sure start centres.
The Party is the biggest it has been for generations and we have popular policies which people know will improve their lives.
The only thing that can hold us back… is if we were to turn our fire on each other rather than on the Tory government and the wealthy establishment interests they represent.
With the Conservatives in disarray, now is the time to come together and defeat them.
We cannot shirk our responsibility to serve the people of this country in government.
There’s too much riding on it.
Too many people are relying on us.
Conference, unity is our greatest asset.
Labour doesn’t divide communities with fake solutions.
We unite them for real change.
So let’s have confidence in our cause, and confidence in each other, just as those brave working class women had confidence in each other when they refused to pay their rent back in 1915.
Years of austerity and neglect have ripped the heart out of towns and cities right across Scotland.
But change is coming.
Together, we will transform our society for the many, not the few.