“We can’t do this alone and they can’t do it without us.”
I will never forget my first election in East Renfrewshire, then Eastwood.
I remember winning. I remember the faces of local party stalwarts who had fought the Tories locally, some of them since the 1950s, in what must have felt like a futile struggle.
As the result was read out in Barrhead sports centre, their faces were a mixture of disbelief and shock replaced quickly with hope and joy. But above all what I remember from 18 years ago was that feeling of possibility that came from having ended 18 years of Tory rule.
Some people are driven by the anger they feel at the impotence of opposition, the long years watching as governments who don’t share your interests or values get it wrong. And of course I feel anger when I think back to the last Tory Government and the last 5 years.
But I’m much more motivated by the feeling of hope and possibility that comes from being able to use power to help working people. That is what I want to talk about today. Not just why we have to win but what we will do by winning.
In Scotland we are desperate for change. We know the last few years haven’t been good enough. We know we can do better than this.
Tens of thousands of Scots now rely on charity to feed themselves. Working people finish their shifts and head to a foodbank because their wages don’t provide for their families. Too many parents now miss a meal to make sure their children have enough.
This hardship is real for those families, but it affects us all. Our whole country is diminished when our neighbours have to go without food. We can do better than an economy where working people can’t feed their kids. A respect for hard pressed families is a reason we need to vote for change.
In homes around Scotland, tens of thousands of people sit late at night or early in the morning watching their phones waiting for the text or the call to tell them whether they have work the next day. People who work for the same firm, week after week, month after month, don’t get a contract, don’t get certainty or security. They are left hanging on the telephone, waiting to get a text or call to tell them whether they’re needed.
We can do better than a labour market where workers who are committed to their employer are left living temporary lives. We can do better than a Prime Minister who says in one debate that he couldn’t live on a zero hours contract but says in the next “never mind zero hours contracts.”
A faith in a fairer Prime Minister is a reason we need to vote for change.
In our Accident and Emergency departments around the country thousands of patients wait for hours. NHS workers care for them as if they were their own family. But there simply aren’t enough of them to cope. We can do better than a Government where the NHS has missed A&E waiting time targets this week, last week, and for the last 285 weeks in a row.
A love of our NHS is a reason we need to vote for change.
In our schools thousands of children will never get the opportunity to find out who they can be actually scrap that, the chance to find out who they really are. Just 220 kids from the poorest Scottish schools get the grades to go to our best universities. Our nation invests in those young people who continue to learn academically or who earn an apprenticeship. But those who don’t get either are abandoned, with 140,000 Scottish college places cut and job opportunities few and far between. We can do better than this – but the next generation believe they will have fewer opportunities than their parents. The optimism of youth is ground down so quickly into hopelessness.
An optimism for our young people is a reason we need to vote for change.
Across Scotland and across Britain, while living standards fall, social mobility stalls and austerity hurts the poorest, not everyone has had a bad time. While pursuing an economic plan which is first, last and always only about cuts, the Tories have somehow managed to find £3bn to spend on tax cuts for the highest earners.
The empty shops on many of our high streets, that once held cherished local businesses have been filled by payday lenders, who seem to be one of the growth industries in Tory Britain. Inequality has grown with the top ten percent earning ten times more than the bottom ten percent. That holds us all back. Inequality is estimated to have cost us about ten percent off our economic growth.
We can do better than this.
Some of these problems I have described are the fault of the Tories, some are the responsibility of the SNP. And of course there are problems in our country that we should have done more about in our years in Government.
The fact that we now want more change doesn’t mean we didn’t make big changes when we were last in power. We did.
From peace in Northern Ireland and delivering a Scottish Parliament, to workers’ rights and the minimum wage we made a permanent difference. But we always want to do more. We’re restless for change because Labour is now, as we have always been, the party of social justice. To paraphrase a former leader of ours (Jim Callaghan) we may never reach the promised land but we will never stop marching towards it.
We look at Scotland and see our amazing talent and potential, but we see the things that stop people from fulfilling their dreams and ambitions. We share in what the Scottish people know. We know that Scotland and the rest of the UK can do better than this. The question is how do we achieve it?
We can vote out of anger, as a protest. Or we can vote with hope, for real change. It is easy to ride a wave of anti-political feeling. To tell scunnered voters that politicians are all the same. After 5 years of this rotten Tory government, many voters can be forgiven for believing things will never get better.
We need to fill those voters with hope. We need to remind them of how quickly things can change. Just imagine how different things would have been if the Labour Party had been the biggest party.
The cynics in this election want us to believe that five years of Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling would have been no different from 5 years of David Cameron and George Osborne. We know Scotland can’t afford another five years of Tory Government. By 2020 that would be a decade of Tory austerity.
But anyone can tell you what is wrong. This election can’t just be about that. It has to be about how we put it right, who has the best plan, and who is best placed to deliver that change. I want to share with you further details of our plan. What we will do to make the change.
Our starting point is that Scotland succeeds when working people succeed.
So we will raise the Minimum Wage to at least £8 an hour and support a Living Wage.
We want a decent hourly rate, but we also want people to have the regular hours they need to support their families. So we will abolish the exploitative zero hour contracts that leave families with insecure incomes.
We want people’s wages to go further so we will tackle cost of living with a cap on rent rises, a freeze on energy bills, and a tax on legal loan sharks to support more affordable credit.
But even those out of work should be able to feed their kids so we will end sanctions for their own sake and put some decency back in the welfare state.
And we will end the bedroom tax.
Together this adds up to a Labour plan to tackle poverty and we will end the need for foodbanks in Scotland.
We want to bring back the hope in our young people that they can do better than their parents. So we have a billion pound plan to guarantee a better future for the next generation.
Labour will tax the bonuses of bankers to guarantee a job and training for all young people. Labour will keep tuition free and we will give the poorest students an extra £1,000 on their bursaries. And because Labour is the party of social justice, we will never forget the majority who don’t go to university. We will invest the equivalent of those free tuition fees – £1,600 – in every 18 and 19 year old who isn’t in college, university or an apprenticeship. A £1,600 future fund to invest in training, to start up a business, whatever it takes to unlock a better future.
We want the NHS to be there when people need it. To have the resources to deliver new cures and to meet the challenge of an ageing population. So we will tax the profits of the tobacco companies, make sure hedge funds pay their fair share, and, yes we will bring in a mansion tax on those most expensive properties found mainly in London, to invest an additional billion pounds into our NHS. That enables us to deliver in Scotland, for starters, a thousand extra NHS nurses.
We recognise that all this change is only possible with an end to the crushing Tory austerity that has failed working people and failed in its own purpose: to pay down the debt. We will be honest that someone has to pay so we say to the wealthiest, well done for your success, but we need you to contribute a bit more. Through the mansion tax, the bankers’ bonus tax, the tax on tobacco companies, changes to tax relief on pensions for the most wealthy and the 50p tax rate for those on over £150,000 a year.
And Labour will make sure that Scotland will get her fair share of these extra resources because, as we deliver more powers for our parliament, giving us the final say over benefits, we will keep the Barnett Formula which shares resources and guarantees us higher spending.
These ten promises…
…they represent a different plan for Scotland. A world of difference between a Tory future and a Labour future. This is a plan for change, as I will explain, that Scotland will only see if we vote for Labour. I will get to the politics of that in a moment but it is the nationalist policy that risks progress.
I give the nationalists credit for being clear that this election is not about independence. They are clear that they are standing arguing for full fiscal autonomy within the UK. Where they are wrong is in claiming that this policy is what the people of Scotland were promised in the Vow.
The Vow, the Smith Agreement and everything Labour said could not have been clearer. We promised to keep the Barnett Formula and we will. That is totally incompatible with the SNP policy where only taxes raised in Scotland would fund public services in Scotland. So no mansion tax for the NHS, no bankers’ bonus for youth jobs, no pension relief changes to invest in higher bursaries or the £1600 youth fund.
The independent experts at the IFS looked at the nationalist policy of Fiscal Autonomy within the UK and concluded that, far from ending austerity it meant an additional £7.6 billion of cuts or taxes rises.
We know that, apart from the 50p commitment they finally made after months of challenge from Labour, the SNP don’t support any tax rises, so their plans will leave over £7 billion of cuts to Scotland’s budget. Even the SNP’s own economic adviser, Jim McColl, says that the policy would leave Scotland with a fiscal gap.
Their candidate in Edinburgh East though says that it is only a “theoretical gap” in funding for our schools and hospitals. Presumably meaning it is only theoretical until their policy makes it real. Little wonder then that, in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday, the First Minister could not even bring herself to utter those three little words ‘Full Fiscal Autonomy’.
Scotland will hear a lot more about ‘Full Fiscal Autonomy’ during this campaign – even if its not from the SNP. The nationalists started this campaign promising more powers and an end to austerity. Now they cannot publicly support their own policy on more powers because it will extend austerity. The SNP have an abundance of confidence in all things except their own core policy.
So the SNP’s policy of ‘Full Fiscal Autonomy’ cannot deliver the end to austerity and change that Labour’s plan would. Our plan would bring £800m a year extra to Scotland – but we need a Labour government to deliver that. And it is far from clear whether the SNP really want a Labour Government at all.
The First Minister says she sees no difference between the two parties. She says she’ll vote to bring down a Labour Government. And she doesn’t want people, here or elsewhere in the UK, to vote for Labour.
Of course she wants people in Scotland to vote SNP. But she urges people in Wales to vote Plaid and in England to vote Green. We can argue about the finer points of constitutional process but one thing is unarguable. We won’t get a Labour Government without people voting for one.
Of course we have been here before. In 2010, as a Scottish Labour Prime Minister sought election, the SNP leader told voters across the UK to deny that Scottish Labour Prime Minister a majority. That’s exactly what happened. Labour was the second biggest party. I was in the Cabinet. We tried to form a Government but the political reality was that the biggest party was in the strongest position.
The SNP counter by arguing that nowhere in any rule book is it written that the biggest party has to form the government. But it is written in our history books. Never in our history as a modern democracy, in more than 20 modern elections, has anyone other than the biggest party gone on to form a government after an election. It is a huge gamble to vote in the expectation that this time will be different.
For years we heard the SNP argue that it was people in England that voted to give Scotland a Tory Government. Now Labour is ahead in Wales, in all the cities of the North, the polls suggest we are far ahead in London. It would be deeply ironic if the only people in the UK that stood in the way of a Labour Government were SNP MPs in Scotland.
Now, that’s my responsibility, my job, to turn that around, to convince people to vote for change, to vote Labour and to make Scotland a partner with London, Liverpool and Cardiff in kicking out the Tories. The SNP’s job is now to stop that from happening.
Our case is that the change we need is too big, the choice between the parties so large, that we cannot take a chance on change this time. The way to guarantee change, to guarantee that this failed Tory Government is sent packing, is to vote Labour.
The decision we take on 7 May will decide the future of Scotland for years to come. We have a once in a generation opportunity to transform the life chances of Scotland’s young people. Let’s grasp it with both hands. Don’t look back in anger and think what might have been the day after the election.
In Stewart Lansley and Joanna Mack’s book Breadline Britain, which is a shocking report into the nature of poverty in our country, they quote interviews with families struggling to raise their kids without enough money to provide the basics. The book closes with a quote from a parent describing her ambitions which stayed with me. She said:
“The dreams for my children is for them to be happy, to be comfortable, see that they have a good job and they can go on their merry ways and enjoy their life. That’s my dream.”
What struck me is how reasonable this mother’s ambitions for her kids is. Her dream is, I believe, the very least she can expect from the society and the economy she lives in.
That is the greatest indictment of Tory Britain. That for too many people their ambition is just to get by. I think we can do better than that. In fact I know we will do better than that. A Scotland, and a Britain, where families don’t just survive, but thrive.
That mother lived in South London but she could have been on the South Side of Glasgow. People across Britain need a Labour Government.
We can be part of the real progressive alliance, a coalition of Labour MPs elected in cities of the North, in the industrial heartlands of the Midlands, in the valleys of Wales, in inner city London, and the cities, towns and villages of Scotland.
We can’t do this alone and they can’t do it without us.
That work gets under way on the morning of the 8th May when a Labour Government starts to change our country and economy.
But for that to happen then the day before that we have to vote for the only Party that is big enough and strong enough to beat the Tories and call a halt to their crushing austerity.
Let’s go do that together.