Richard Leonard : It's time for real and radical Change


 

Speech in Dundee 19 January 2018

I want to thank Jenny Marra for all that she does for this Party and this Movement,and all that she does to promote the interests of the people of this great city.

Dundee, of course, is also a city whose history is intertwined with that of the Labour Movement and those broader movements for democracy : from the Chartists who in 1842 marched from Magdalen Green to Forfar and took strike action in support of the right to vote - to the Dundee suffragists who were the first to be imprisoned for their protests,and the first to go on hunger strike in jail.

And to those who say that the Labour Party must not be a party of protest, I say that we must never forget the importance of protest in our Labour tradition of winning democratic rights for working people . It was here in this city that the first ever Labour MP for a Scottish constituency was elected, when the General Secretary of the Associated Society of Shipwrights Alexander Wilkie became the Labour Member of Parliament in the General Election of 1906.

And down the years from the heat of the jute mills and the radicalism of Mary Brooksbank to the cold brutal lock out of the Timex workers twenty-five years ago it has been a city of struggle in which the balance of power between labour and capital has been put to the test over and over again.

So Dundee is a fitting place to consider where the balance of power is today in our economy and in our society and it is a fitting place to consider what we can do, what I believe we must do, to tilt the balance more in the favour of working people

Comrades , I speak to you today proudly as the elected leader of a Party that is the only Party of real and radical change

As the leader of the Scottish Labour Party that is :

Proud to be the party of labour with our roots in the trade union movement

and yes the party of democratic socialism and of ideals and idealism and the party of public ownership once again

The party of equality and the party with a plan to eradicate poverty and inequality

The Party of investment in our people, in our communities, and in our industries.

The Party once again too, which is in favour of and prepared to vote for a redistribution of power as well as wealth

And so the Party of hope and transformation

The Party with a vision for a country that we know, and the people know,can be so much better than it is now

The Party that I urge the people of Scotland to support, to join with us and to help us build a better country

Scottish Labour under my leadership is clear.

We want to set out before the people of Scotland the biggest programme of social and economic reform in the history of the Scottish Parliament

To offer a clear alternative to the wasted decade of the SNP

And so we will not accept the way our economy and society currently works. Scottish Labour will lead a movement to challenge and change it. And let me begin with public ownership. -

The Carillion scandal highlights the failure of our creeping reliance on private contractors to deliver public services.

For the Tories PFI was the next stage of their privatisation journey

For Labour it became a means to build up our public realm after years of neglect – off balance sheet – with speed.

For the SNP the Non-Profit Distributing model created the illusion of an alternative model.

In truth it has one fairly major problem - it distributes profits!

It has simply led to the same corporations and the same profit distribution to absentee shareholders but just through a different vehicle.

It is time to draw a line under this, and look at common sense ways of bringing these private contracts into public ownership.

Scotland needs to be bold on extending public ownership.

That is why Scottish Labour will :

• Work proactively with local councils to develop and deepen municipal ownership in public services like buses, social care, building and energy.

• Introduce an Industrial Reform and Common Ownership Act to give workers a statutory preferential right to buy an enterprise when it is up for sale or facing closure.

• Support the development of cooperatives and place Cooperative Development Scotland on a statutory footing

• Create a National Energy Company to facilitate and expand community, cooperative and municipal owned energy generation that builds in democratic control of our energy sector where surpluses will be used to reinvest in infrastructure and tackle fuel poverty by keeping energy bills down.

• Campaign Against the Canadian European Trade Agreement (CETA) that has the same potential as the proposed TTIP deal to drive privatisation in public services and undermine democracy

• Legislate to prohibit any future Scottish Government from privatising Scottish Water and come up with a plan to reform Scottish Water making it more of a multi-utility and improve its accountability and its public sector ethos

And we will take Scotland’s train services back into public ownership at the earliest opportunity

Carillion and Bield were probably not well known until this week.

Bield is a social care provider that plans to close twelve Care Homes.

Threatening two hundred jobs whilst one hundred and sixty-seven frail and elderly residents face stress and trauma that they should not have to suffer

Once again the Bield example, just like Southern Cross before it, underlines the need for public provision of social care and the need to invest in this most fundamental of service: investment which guarantees good terms and conditions for the workforce and provides the standard of service that gives dignity in retirement for our older people.

The situation at Bield is another reason why we intend to conduct a comprehensive root and branch review of social care, with a view to increasing socialised ownership of care provision.

The lesson of Carillion is that the model of private provision of public services is no longer, in so much as it ever was, delivering for the people.

That is why, in the absence of any action by the Scottish Government, we intend to initiate an urgent review of who runs our public services and how we fund our public projects and infrastructure so that it does not provide a cash bonanza to absentee shareholders.

For the avoidance of doubt our public services are there to serve the Scottish public not the balance sheets of financiers.

Scotland is deeply divided.

Poverty and inequality is rife: the richest one per cent in Scotland today own more personal wealth than the whole of the bottom fifty per cent.

It is clear that too much wealth and too much power rests in too few hands.

So this is no time to tinker around the edges; no longer can we have business as usual.

Inequality has got worse, not better, under both the Tories and SNP In truth the Scottish Government has offered no help and no hope to the cold pensioner, the college student dropping out working as well as studying because of no guaranteed financial support, the low paid worker still living in poverty, the debt laden graduate stacking shelves in supermarkets, the woman getting paid less than her male counterpart, the family dependent on food banks, the sick having to wait on treatment, the pensioner languishing (sometimes dying) in hospital in the absence of a social care package; the family in temporary accommodation; the family in overcrowded private accommodation and the homeless person sleeping on our streets this winter.

The truth is we live in a class based society in which wealth distribution – the greatest inequality of our time - remains not just unaltered, but largely unchallenged.

The wealth gap is widening. The value of wealth in Scotland rose by over twenty-two per cent over the last two years and at the same time public spending on housing is woefully insufficient.

We need to do better than this. We have to provide people with hope. Hope that society can be transformed in a way that rewards the real wealth creators. The hope that we are offering is a promise to do things differently; more equally.

That is why Labour will tackle the housing crisis, building new housing and ending exploitation of tenants by private landlords

Labour will tackle in work poverty: build a high wage high skill economy and give help to those struggling to make ends meet

We will tackle the scandal of the gender pay gap

We will tackle real unemployment

The SNP claim we have record levels of employment.

But, as a recent Sheffield Hallam University Report shows, the real rate of unemployment in Glasgow is not 3 per cent it is over 9 per cent.

In North Ayrshire it is not 4 per cent, it is 10 per cent.

In Dundee it is not 3 per cent it is 8.4 per cent

We do not have full employment.

Which is why we must make real full employment part of our real change - and a clear and specific goal of government again.

And we will continue to campaign for an end to the public sector pay cap and end the policy long held to that the price of austerity must be paid for by working people through pay restraint.

Two-thousand and eighteen will mark the thirtieth anniversary of the watershed Lawson Budget of nineteen-eighty-eight which saw a massive shift in the burden of taxation from the rich to working people and the poor

We need to change and shift the balance towards a far better deal for the many.

I recognise that there is a national conversation required in order to think about what type of country we want to build and how we should pay for it.

We need a conversation around how we invest in and sustainably develop the Scottish economy, which we have had confirmed again this week is lagging behind the rest of the UK.

That is why I will lead a once in a generation conversation around taxation and how we grow and build our economy through redistribution, including a consideration of a wealth tax.

So today I am launching a Tax and Investment Commission to be chaired by Professor Christine Cooper. I have tasked the Commission with looking at how we can secure a fair division of the nation’s wealth.

This represents real change.

We will also be using that same approach in how we respond over the coming weeks to the Scottish Government’s budget which we believe needs significant change. Budget priorities are the clearest indication of a government’s real priorities and the values which drive them.

In the coming days we will outline in detail our plans to deliver a Budget for Real Change, and our work on this will be underpinned by the values which I want Labour to take into government.

The five tests that a budget for Real Change must meet are:

1. Does it stop Tory austerity?

2. Does it tackle the shameful growth of poverty?

3. Does it redistribute wealth?

4. Does it redistribute power?

5. Does it grow the economy for the many and not just the few?

There is no need for us to accept or pass on the damaging and dangerous austerity agenda being pursued by the Conservative Government. For too long our parliament has served as a conveyor belt for Tory cuts, which have hit our local communities.

The Scottish Budget must put resources into public services like our local councils, and stop the cuts.

And neither can we have a budget which allows more children to be drawn into poverty – we must use our powers to weaken the grip of inequality that holds back so many children.

Our budget for real change will listen to the Give me Five Campaign by increasing child benefit and reducing child poverty.

It is of course one thing to redistribute wealth, but as our tests set out, people across the country feel further from power than ever before.

We must re-empower local communities and their local representatives.

That includes enabling councils like Edinburgh to be able to levy a tourist tax or Dundee to be able to levy a Land Value Tax on vacant, economically inactive land.

And on growing an economy for the many not the few, we must see a proactive investment led industrial strategy which will create good and meaningful jobs and the wealth that pays for the services that benefit us all.

When Labour forms the next UK Government Scotland will get twenty billion pounds from the two-hundred and fifty billion pounds national transformation fund to invest in infrastructure and capital investment projects over ten years.

This could include investment in housing which would help us tackle homelessness whilst growing our economy and creating employment at the same time.

A Labour Government will also provide twenty billion pounds to a Scottish Investment Bank.

Our Scottish Investment Bank, which will be democratic and accountable to the public, will provide the funds required to support our industries and develop a proper industrial strategy.

Let me give you an example :

We have known for many years there would be growth in renewable energy generation.

But typically, onshore wind farms constructed and operational right across Scotland over the past twenty years, have been supplied using technology, manufacturing capacity, and even labour, sourced overseas.

With private profits going to shareholders overseas.

The opportunity to build up local supply chains has been missed.

We need to better understand the demands of the future economy – where growth will come from and respond accordingly by investing in education and training, research and development and manufacturing capacity on a planned basis.

I have long held the vision that Scotland could become the “green enterprise centre” of Europe.

That includes the planned development of oil and gas decommissioning technology and production: onshore and offshore, including here in Dundee.

It means considering how the burgeoning market for low emission vehicles can be met – including public transport

This would help create a full employment economy with more economic planning and less reliance on the market

We saw last year in June’s General Election that people want change.

Labour’s transformative manifesto energised and struck a chord with many people in this country.

2018 can be another turning point in our politics.

Scotland not only needs a Scottish Labour government with the agenda I have outlined today, it also needs a Labour government in Westminster.

That is why we are on an election footing for a UK General Election.

We will be ready to fight the election whenever it is called.

A Labour government with Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister would mean real improvements for the many, not the few, here in Scotland.

This brings me to Brexit and why we need a UK Labour Government to conduct negotiations in a constructive and positive way.

Not the shambolic way of the Tories who have shown again this week their shocking disregard of devolution.

Meanwhile the SNP see Brexit as a means to progress their constitutional fixation

Currently they argue for permanent membership of the Single Market without being a member of the EU.

This would lead us to a position of being rule takers and not rule makers...we believe Scotland and the rest of the UK deserves better.

The SNP position is to abandon the UK single market which supports four times as many Scottish jobs as the EU single market

The Tory position is to abandon the EU Single Market and turn our backs on Europe

Only Labour is getting on with ensuring that jobs and our economy are protected and that we retain environmental and consumer safeguards.

Labour is also intent on protecting workers rights.

We believe we should retain the provisions of the Working Time Directive but end the UK opt-out to end excessive working hours but managed so that earnings do not drop and so that new jobs are created.

This would benefit over a quarter of a million workers in Scotland

We want to see a transfer of powers from the European Union and its institutions to the Scottish Parliament not to Westminster and Whitehall.

So decisions in key areas like environmental regulation, agriculture, fisheries, public procurement and state aid should be put in the hands of the Scottish Parliament

Access to EU projects like Horizon 2020 and ERASMUS should be negotiated either directly or through the UK

The truth is that only Labour can achieve a Brexit deal that prioritises a future relationship with the European Union that puts jobs and the economy first.

And so 2018 can be a turning point.

We are on an election footing for a UK General Election.

We are engaged in a new battle of ideas with old conservatism and nationalism .

We want real change.

We want to face the future.

We will lead new creativity in political thinking in Scotland.

We are not simply socialists we are democratic socialists.

We have had over a decade of wasted years of indifference and timidity when the times demanded a radical new approach.

It is twenty years since the devolution referendum, it is time to restate the Labour case.

Politics is about power, power for a purpose, the Scottish Labour Party has renewed purpose: new purpose and new direction.

A new purpose and direction to lead Scotland to a better future.

A future of real change.


 

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