Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale unveiled a key manifesto pledge in a speech in Edinburgh this morning. Labour will put home ownership back within reach of young couples in Scotland.
Thank you for joining me today, and for those of you for whom this should be the first day back at work, I’m glad I was able to extend your holiday for at least a few hours more. It’s the time of year for new beginnings and for making resolutions to change.
I want to talk today about how we can take advantage of a new beginning in Scottish politics as new powers come to our Parliament, and I want to demonstrate the resolve we have as a Labour Party to change Scotland.
In every election leaders like me stand at a podium like this, in front of audiences like you, trying to interest an electorate who are getting on with their lives and who won’t turn their mind to the election until late on, to talk up the importance of the decision they will make in May.
The appeal from us in speeches like this is always the same – that this is the most important election of your lifetime. I won’t make that claim today, but rather I’ll begin with a simple fact that should shape the future of Scotland: the election on Thursday 5th May is the most important election in the lifetime of our Parliament.
The most important because the power held by our parliament and by our government, that possibility for change in Scotland, is greater than ever before. In addition to powers over the NHS, education, skills, transport, rural affairs, economic development, justice and policing…new powers over tax, borrowing and welfare will be in the hands of those we elect. And with these new powers comes a responsibility. Not just to use them wisely – that is the ambition of the managerial politician – but to use them boldly. To make the most of the opportunity they bring to change our country for the better.
I am more excited about the possibilities of politics than ever. This is what I came into public life for. For my generation, the Scottish Parliament has been the central institution of Scottish life the whole of my adult life. And as our parliament has matured and changed, so my party has had to mature. Now is the time for our parliament to come of age.
It is time for a generation of change. In May it will have been nearly a decade of SNP government. People can’t keep waiting for things to change. We can’t wait for austerity to run its course. Too many young Scots will start this New Year finding it just too hard to get by.
- There were 60,000 visits to food banks over the last 6 months, including thousands of people who work full time but still can’t put enough food on the table for their families.
- There’s been a rise in child poverty and among all those aged under 30; that decline that we saw under Labour, our proudest achievement, now going in the other direction.
- Six out of ten jobs created in Scotland in the last four years have been in low paid, insecure work. And wages have not kept pace with inflation since the Government were re-elected in 2011.
- Young people who have done everything asked of them – get the grades, go to college or university to unlock those opportunities – find there is nothing there when they open the door to adult life.
We can’t wait for aspiration to become a reality. Too many young Scots are also finding it too hard to get on:
- A fresh look at Scottish education by the OECD found the achievement gap between the most and least deprived children rising in our schools.
- We also know that 6,000 children left Scottish primary schools last year unable to read properly, having spent every year of their formal education under the SNP.
- For all the self-congratulation by the SNP on their higher education policy, wealthier young people are twice as likely to go to university as those from poorer backgrounds
- Children with a history of being in care are still far more likely to sleep in the Polmont Young Offenders Institution than they are in the Pollock halls of residence, just half a mile up the road.
Poverty is a result of economic choices, it isn’t written into the DNA of the poor. Nothing is inevitable about that. Yet the poverty children live through today is more likely to be passed down onto the next generation due to this growing education gap. That’s a scandal and it should shame the First Minister.
Scottish politics must change to rise to the challenge of these new powers because people can’t keep waiting for change. In our formative years Labour was described as a party lead by “young men in a hurry”. Well, today we are led by this young woman, and I am no less impatient for change. I am in a hurry because we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reset Scottish politics; to get on with creating a fairer, more prosperous Scotland. A once in a generation chance to break from the years of Tory austerity and replace it with a generation of aspiration and ambition. That future is in our hands. Will we have the audacity to grab it?
We need a Scottish Government in a hurry to change things. What we’ve got is a government that havers. They tinker around the edges, take small steps but never bold action. Steady as she goes. Their energy goes into the politics and the process but never the possibilities of policy.
The nationalists have sold themselves as a ‘competent’ government. If only that were true. Look at the record of the lead ministers in the areas where we already have full powers:
- We have an Education Secretary elected on the promise of cutting class sizes who has instead cut teacher numbers.
- We have a Justice Minister who didn’t even bother to meet the Chief Constable whilst the police were engulfed by crisis after crisis.
- We have a Health Secretary who has now failed on her personal promise to eliminate delayed discharge by the end of 2015 and instead has managed to turn an NHS winter crisis in to an all year round one.
What unites all these failures? A complete and total refusal to accept responsibility. The responsibility of power.
We have a government which complains that Labour aren’t offering enough opposition. But oppose them and you’re “talking Scotland down.” A government led by those who refuse to accept responsibility for the power they have simply cannot unlock the potential of the powers that are coming. The way the SNP choose to describe themselves – competent -is revealing. Competent. Their selling point is that they can manage the status quo, rather than change it. There’s no attempt to describe themselves as, say, radical because there is no credible case that they have been.
There is no better example of how ill-prepared for the new, powerful Scotland the SNP are than John Swinney’s budget. It has been seen by commentators of all political stripes for what it was: a poor copy of a Tory budget. Here’s how the papers reported it the next day:
The Guardian described it as a ‘powerful echo of George Osborne’s approach.’ The Financial Times concluded he ‘did little more than ape the UK Chancellor’s policies’. The Telegraph: ‘a Tory copycat’. The Daily Mail even dusted off the old nickname describing it on their front page as a ‘Tartan Tory Budget’. I don’t know if the Daily Mail meant that as a compliment or an insult…
Even normally supportive commentators like Lesley Riddoch pointed out that the SNP’s lack of action against austerity risked their own referendum arguments being used against them.
Instead of using new powers in Scotland to offer a break from Tory austerity, John Swinney offered pre-election give-aways but wouldn’t tell us where the money was coming from or where the cuts will fall over the next Parliament. He could have offered a longer term plan. He could have, and should have, offered change.
The Tories took great pleasure in welcoming the SNP budget. It’s why the Tories will never be an effective opposition to the SNP. They don’t stand opposite Nicola Sturgeon asking her to be bolder, to do more, like we do. They want her to do less, to cut more.
If you wanted evidence that the Tories haven’t changed look no further than their list of candidates where one area famously has more men called Maurice than women on it. Both Labour and the SNP will make great strides towards gender equality in May and once again the Tories will drag the Parliament’s progress back.
The Tory endorsement of the SNP budget shames the SNP but it also showed that, for all the rebranding, the Scottish Tories remain a party whose ambition runs no further than implementing Osborne’s austerity in Scotland. Because make no mistake. This is a Scottish budget that accepts austerity. Not a budget that ended austerity.
At that moment of choice, the moment when the power they have always claimed would unlock different choices for Scotland, they chose the status quo.
It’s not just that people will now question whether the SNP’s left wing rhetoric means anything in reality, they might also now ask: what is the point in a nationalist who doesn’t want to do things differently from England? Reassessing the SNP record voters would be entitled to ask themselves: if the SNP haven’t delivered the big change you want to see in schools, in the NHS, in your community, after nearly a decade of power – will another 5 years really make the difference?
Of course that is only one side of the judgment that voters will ask themselves in May. They will also ask whether Labour have the vision for change that the incumbent party lacks. I’m in no doubt as to the scale of the challenge, but in the weeks ahead we will leave no one in any doubt that we offer that change. We will challenge the consensus, stand up to the establishment and, I believe, defy expectations.
I want today to set out the three arguments that will shape the debate over the next few months. The first of these is that we will focus on the possibilities of the future over the arguments of the past.
Scottish politics is fascinating for commentators. For those of us who are in the cut and thrust of politics it is exhilarating. But politics cannot only be about the strategy and tactics. The spin and counter spin. At some point politics in Scotland has to be about the future, about change.
But we face a Scottish Government that lives from one news bulletin to the next. We need to stop obsessing about the next 24 hours and start thinking about the next 25 years. Where will the jobs of the future come from? In this very building students are working on robotics which will transform our lives. Breath-taking, world-leading technology which will abolish jobs we have done for generations and create jobs we haven’t even thought of yet. How will we prepare our economy and our people for that?
How will we invest to support an ageing population without cutting back on the need to prepare the next generation for the opportunities that come? How will we prepare an NHS founded in the 1940s for the 2040s where infirmity beats disease as the major challenge?
These are huge challenges. They need big, bold answers. If politics serves a purpose, it is surely this. We now have in Scotland the opportunity to do that, to do more than repeat the stale constitutional debate of the past. Replaying the endless rows about the context change might take place within. Wouldn’t that be something?
Let me get this out the way at the start of the election year. Let me say this to Nicola Sturgeon – on the constitution I will take her at her word. She has asked Scotland to trust her and Scotland will expect her to keep her promise. She has said again and again and again that she does not want another referendum, that she isn’t planning another referendum, and that this election is not about independence. On that we can agree. In fact the only party you can expect to hear banging on about independence is the Tories, because fear of that is the only hope they’ve got.
This matters because the opportunities for the future that our new powers open up are too great to be buried under the arguments of the past. The new powerful Scotland is an opportunity for the SNP too: to leave behind not their belief in independence – no one would expect that – but to break from the arguments of the past.
To step away, if only for a while, from the politics of grievance, and embrace this amazing opportunity for change. But of course the real challenge in Scottish politics isn’t for the nationalists who know that they can play it safe, offer more of the same and dig in for the long constitutional battle which really interests them. The challenge is for us as a Labour party. How would we better deliver the real change people want to see?
That is the second argument that will set the terms of this election: we will be relentless in setting out how we will use the powers to deliver real change now. For the party which throughout our history has stood as the radical alternative to the forces of the status quo, this can be our moment, as socialists, to challenge the establishment again.
Over the next few weeks we will set out plans which are as bold as the challenges Scotland faces. Actions speak louder than words so I will start today by setting out the first of the big changes we will fight this election on. A whole generation of Scots, thousands of people my age, have been left behind by austerity.
- Workers aged under 30 have had the weakest wage growth of any group since the financial crisis.
- Young people are twice as likely to be unemployed.
- Those lucky enough to find work have been more likely to find themselves in part time, low wage, insecure work than previous generations.
- And young people have found themselves saddled with increasing levels of student debt under a government which promised to cancel debt but which has instead doubled it.
As their position in the economy has gone backwards they haven’t progressed in life in the way previous generations have enjoyed. Under paid and overburdened with debt, too many people my age have been unable to enjoy things which their older brothers and sisters or parents took for granted. Owning a car, putting aside some savings, and above all owning their own home.
The proportion of young people able to buy their own home is falling and is now at the lowest level since devolution. A whole generation left wondering: “When will it be my turn?” The price of austerity has been that aspiration has stalled for a whole generation.
Of course we have a need, an urgent need, to build more social housing, more affordable homes to rent. We’ve been making that case passionately in Holyrood and Alex and I will have more to say about that in the weeks ahead. Affordable rents should be available for all. But so should home ownership be open to all who work for it. The facts show we are moving in the opposite direction.
The number of Scots under 34 who have been able to buy their own home has fallen by 15% under the SNP. Just 28% of that same generation now own their own home – that’s the lowest level since the Scottish Parliament was established. This is a problem that has happened on our watch.
For too many young couples in Scotland today, buying a house isn’t a realistic prospect. A lot of young people are stuck in a cycle from which there appears to be no escape. They decide to rent a flat to save for a deposit to buy a house, but the rent is too high so they can’t save much for that deposit, which means they continue to pay the high rent for years to come.
Existing interventions to help people buy have been welcome but scarcely match the scale of the problem. Something has to give or this generation may never catch up, may never recover what they lost out on. That hope, that dream, will simply pass them by. So we will take bold action to begin to set that right. Not just a break from austerity for my generation, but a boost for aspiration.
We previously set out different tax choices from both the Tories and the SNP, which we would have used to restore the money lost from tax credit cuts. Labour’s victory over the Tories, and Osborne’s retreat on this issue, means that those revenue raisers can be used for other more positive purposes.
Austerity has meant years of cuts to services for the public sector, it has meant higher costs of living for families but it has also meant people making compromises, lowering their expectations about what life should bring them. So far the debate about austerity has been about how we reverse those cuts and costs.
I want it also to be about how we reverse those compromises, how we can return to an economy where people can expect more in life. Ambition and aspiration are Labour values. And we begin to reclaim them today.
The only use of new tax powers which the SNP have prioritised is their tax cut for those buying airline tickets. That is the extent of their ambition. A £125 million cut, rising to £250 million, for an industry which is experiencing record passenger numbers across Scotland, and which is already receiving a massive financial boost from record low oil prices. Even before you consider the environmental impact of this policy it would mean a minimum of £125 million additional cuts – that means adding to austerity rather than ending it.
We will use the money to help young people to aspire to owning their own home again.
So here is the change we plan: today you can save in a first time buyer ISA where savers will receive a 25% top up, up to the value of £3,000. This help is welcome to many but still leaves a deposit for a home far out of reach for low and middle income young people. We will effectively double the help towards saving a deposit for first time buyers. Investing an additional £3,000 for first time buyers saving as part of our plan.
So, take an example of a young couple, each saving £100 a month towards a deposit. Their savings in their first time buyer ISA, over the three years, would amount to £7,200. They will get an additional £1,800 automatically through the ISA. We would add an additional £6,000, taking that couple’s deposit to £15,000.
This puts a typical deposit for a typical starter home well within the reach of anyone able to put aside something each month. That is the first choice, the first change we will offer in this election campaign. The chance to own your own home. Real change using the power of our parliament.
It’s big and it’s bold. But the challenges Scotland faces deserve nothing less. Years more of the SNP’s managerial politics and half measures aren’t good enough. We can’t wait for change.
The SNP response to this policy in the next few days will be telling. When we announced our plan to restore tax credits should the Tories cut them, they first claimed it wasn’t possible, then they admitted it was. They then claimed it wasn’t affordable, then they admitted that the tax changes we had identified did in fact offer different choices. Then they simply told us it was all too difficult. It can’t be done. It can’t be afforded. It’s too difficult… The arguments offered by the defenders of the status quo against those of us who want to change things throughout history.
Well it can be done. It can be afforded. It is only as difficult as finding the will to do it. But more than this it must be done. We cannot tolerate an economy where people’s ambition is to just to survive, rather than for their family to thrive. We cannot let a whole generation miss out on the life their mothers and fathers expected as a right. A whole generation forever waiting for it to be their turn.
We have other plans for tackling the big challenges we face that are every bit as bold as our plan for first time buyers. We’ll set those out in the weeks ahead. As we set out our plan for change we will look for consensus where it exists. But I say this to the SNP: every single Labour MSP elected to the next Parliament will stand for radical change, using the new powers. If that is where you stand, then we can work side by side, but if you stand in the way of change we will not give you a moment’s respite. We simply won’t let you pose as an anti-austerity party if you pursue the same grey austerity agenda as the Tories.
And that is the third argument that will dominate this debate. Our new powers offer the chance to break from Tory austerity. In Scotland, those who claim the banner of the left have coalesced around a cost-free and cosy consensus. In the comfort of never having to make the difficult choices, never having to say how we would raise or spend resources differently.
The SNP government and Labour, as the official opposition in Scotland, have offered the same analysis of the Tories: that their choices were wrong for Scotland, that we should take a different path from austerity, that we should not walk by on the other side. Now, with the opportunities that come with the new powers, with the choice of real change, we will see who really means it. We will show that we really mean it in the weeks and months ahead.
Friends, this is going to be the most exciting time to be a Labour member. And those three choices –
- The possibilities of the future not the politics of the past
- The power to deliver real change now, starting with the chance to own your own home
- The promise to break from Tory austerity
– will challenge the SNP, force real choice into our election debate and offer real change for Scotland.
Friends, this is going to be a hard campaign for Labour too. But I tell you if our opponents think I’m going to make it easy for them they can think again. We’re going to show what we are made of, where we stand and who we stand with. We will go into this election with the most radical proposals in the history of our party and the history of our parliament. We will surprise people. Shake things up. And confound expectations.
And isn’t that when we’ve always been at our best? When we’re up against the powerful forces of the status quo.
We can change Scotland. Issue by issue. Voter by voter. And when we set out that vision for change. And when the nationalists set themselves against it – as they will, again and again. People will decide it is time for change.
Let’s offer that real change that Scotland wants and needs now. Thank you.