Kezia Dugdale’s speech to Scottish Labour conference

This is my first conference as your leader, so I want to start by thanking all of you as supporters and members for your belief in me, for your commitment to our values, for the energy and strength you give to me and to our movement.

To the thousands of new members who have decided to be part of the future of our party and our nation we say welcome. You join a party with an honoured past but I promise you this: we will give you so much more to be proud of in the years ahead.

I want to thank our brothers and sisters in the union movement for standing by us, in good times and bad. Your values are our values. We are, and always will be, the party of working people, a proud party of trade unionists.

And especially to Community Union, and to your members, let me say. We have been with you in past struggles and we stand with you again as you fight today not just to save your jobs, but to save the steel industry in Scotland.

It is indeed a great honour to lead our party and I address you with a strong sense of both duty and optimism.

My duty is also to the millions outside this hall who need a strong Scottish Labour Party as much today as at any time in our recent history.

As a party, we face huge challenges. Of course we do. But we are strengthened by the knowledge of what has gone before.

The people who built our movement faced far greater obstacles than we do. Keir Hardie, whose memory we honour, a century after his death, stood on Irvine Moor with hundreds of trade unionists. And proclaimed – for the first time – that working people demanded our own Labour Party in Parliament.

There was no need (the enemies of progress said then, as they say now) for a political party which exists solely in order to address inequality in society and to advance the interests of working people and their families.

It was a lie then. And it is a lie now.

History tells us that it has always been those whose vested interest is in the economic and social status quo who have said there is no need for Labour. That is no different today.

And sometimes, of course, if they say it often enough and if they say it sweetly enough, they are believed by the very people who have most to lose from that lie.

The historic role of Labour has always been to offer a genuine, radical alternative to the Tories, to Tory priorities and the interests they represent. That is the fundamental division in the politics we believe in. It’s when we’ve won that argument at the ballot box that we have been able to change society for the better and create a better future. And that’s exactly what we must do again.

Win the argument about the future and we will win the votes of the people we seek to represent. We failed to do that in Scotland at the General Election and everyone paid a painful price. But the outcome of that election also confirmed a basic point – that if Labour loses, the Tories win.

Those lessons of the recent and distant past are important but it’s the future that counts. Moulding it, shaping it, realising its potential for everyone.

Of course we have a responsibility to criticise the record of the nationalists after 8 years in power. I’ll never shy away from pointing out again and again that huge gap which exists between what they say and what they do.

But what motivates me is not the cut and thrust of that kind of politics. It’s the possibility of something better. The belief that tomorrow can and should be better than today.

I look at our great, great country and see not just problems that I want to fix, but good things that I believe can be made even better. That for me is what makes this country so special. It’s why I love it and its people.

Our capacity for positive self criticism. Constant self examination. That keeps our society, for all its faults, the envy of the world for the very reason that it is still a work in progress. And it’s that story of progress that I want to tell today.

Because friends, the future is coming, that isn’t in doubt. The only question is whether we are ready for it.

All around the world people are fearful of the pace of change. They see their jobs under threat, their standard of living under pressure, their communities changing in ways they can’t understand. They see their children facing a more uncertain future than they did.

Borders no longer keep problems the other side of the mountains, across the river, or over the sea. Around the world people are turning to populist parties or turning their back on the outside world, seeking protection. People are turning to parties who offer comforting political stories but who, in reality, offer little real progress.

We look at things differently; we look at the world with excitement and see a future filled with opportunities. If only we have the courage and confidence to prepare for change.

And, if we prepare for the future with confidence, rather than fear, we know there is nothing we can’t do together. We look to the possibilities of the future. Not the politics of the past.

It’s why we in this party welcome refugees with open arms. Not just because we have a duty to protect those fleeing for their lives. But because we know that each new community that has joined Scotland has enriched the whole.

It’s why we remain a party not of nationalism, but of internationalism! Scottish Labour is Scotland’s internationalist party. The party of shared sovereignty, of working together with our neighbours for the good of all.

While others will play politics with our future in Europe, I say today that I will work every day to make the positive case for our Union, within the European Union. We are the only force in Scotland who believe in that case, head and heart.

Friends, our opponents want next year’s Scottish election to be a re-run of the argument of last year. The Tories will want to talk about the past because they don’t want to defend the terrible record of David Cameron’s Government. The SNP want to talk about the argument of the past because they can’t defend the threadbare record of their Scottish Government.

We’ll talk about the future – because Scotland is falling behind whilst the world is moving on.

The SNP exist to get to the next election, the next referendum. Governing is only ever a staging post, never a purpose.  We want to govern because we believe in the possibilities that come with power. Because we know we can make life better than this.

There is no point in politics if it is all about argument and never about delivery. The whole purpose of politics, for me, is to open up opportunities. And to make sure that it is possible for everyone to share in them.

That is where so many in Scotland are being failed at present. Because change is happening so fast. And the danger is that more and more of our people, who are not equipped to deal with it, will again be unable to benefit from it or play their part.

So we need to close the gap between the rich and the rest, not just because we feel the fire of that injustice but because an unequal society holds us all back.

A more equal society means a happier society for everyone and a more dynamic economy for all.

Labour’s great achievements in the last century left behind equalising institutions that have endured for generations.

In our world of change we need to invest in the one thing that will remain constant – our people.

To help them to be resilient, to meet the challenges and opportunities of longer lives with better health, a working life with several careers, to take up jobs that haven’t even been invented yet.

Look back 20 years and you are in the early days of the internet.

Look forward 20 years and none of us can envisage what technology will have created.

Those who are inside that loop will prosper.

Those who are outside it will be left behind once again.

I want to use the power of government in order to guarantee – and I do mean guarantee – that there will not be another generation of even deeper exclusion.

I want everyone in Scotland.

Rural and urban.

New Scots and old Scots.

Men and women.

The rich and the rest to be part of the opportunities of the future.

I get frustrated when I see it written that having a First Minister who is a woman means women can achieve anything, if only they work harder.

I ask do you not think women work hard now?

Do you really think that women earn 12% less than men because they don’t work as hard?

What about the women who, no matter how hard they work, will never achieve their potential because of the barriers put in front of them?

We can’t create the economy of the future while half our population is locked out of high skill, high paying jobs.

We need 147,000 new engineers in Scotland by 2022.

But just a fraction of those studying engineering, science and technology, preparing for the jobs of the future, are women.

Just four per cent of engineering apprenticeships are taken by women.

Having three female leaders should mean we win more victories for women.

It can’t mean we declare victory prematurely.

The inequality that women face has become part of the political mainstream now.

But that means that politics can now get in the way of progress.

Childcare in Scotland is now focussed on the number of hours available, with little care about quality, affordability and flexibility.

The childcare proposals we put forward for the election will be made to fit around the lives of working parents.

Not made to fit on an election leaflet.

And conference, when the Scotland Bill returns next week Ian Murray will push again for gender balance in the Scottish Parliament and on boards in the public sector.

Last time we tried Labour supported, the Tories opposed and the SNP, who claim to support equality, well they abstained.

I’ll say it again conference.

We don’t just need women in power, we need feminists in positions of influence.

Because we don’t exist in politics to congratulate ourselves on the status quo.

I get frustrated when I hear boasts that almost 75% of Scotland’s premises have access to fibre broadband.

My first thought is – what about the other 25 per cent? Do they not matter?

What about those rural communities desperately trying to hold onto their young people, to their future? Where the possibility is tantalising but the prospect so distant.

What about the families who can see the broadband box at the end of the next street, but who can’t get connected.

We can be more ambitious and as Labour we will, ensuring that every home and every business in Scotland has access to the fastest broadband.

Friends, the most important economic choice we can make is to prepare our people for the future with a world class education.

Our focus on educational inequality is not a social policy.

It is our economic strategy.

Scotland cannot succeed while we squander the potential of so many of our citizens.

My passion is for education.

I was raised by teachers.

I learnt from an early age the power of education to enrich lives. To overcome inequality. To liberate people from a pre-determined destiny.

If there is one thing a government should be judged on above all else it is their record on education:

The degree to which their stewardship of our schools, colleges and universities lifts the next generation to fly further than the last.

Inspired them to reach for dreams their parents could not even imagine.

And equipped them for a life – rich in ways we do not yet understand.

If there is a silver bullet to slay the monsters of poverty, inequality and ignorance.

Then it is education.

If there is a magic key to a fuller and more fulfilling life.

Then it is education.

That is why this movement has had education for all at its very heart since we set up lending libraries.

Workers educational associations.

Night schools.

The Open University.

And Trade Union learning.

I say to the SNP after 8 years in charge:

I will judge you on your record.

And I will judge you above all on your record on education.

Every child you have left behind, well that neglect offends this Labour movement.

Every single one of the six thousand children, who has left a Scottish primary school this year, on your watch, First Minister, unable to read properly?

Well that record disgraces this nation and it constrains its future.

Alex Salmond…

Alex Salmond put a monument to himself in one of our universities, with his tuition fee pledge on it.

Let me tell you what I’ll put in our universities.

Every youngster from our poorest families who has the potential to get there.

That’s the legacy I want to leave in our universities.

And until their chance of getting there no longer depends on which school they went to, how much their family earns or what someone decided their place was when they were five.

Then you won’t find me carving complacency and self-congratulation in stone.

Conference, the rocks will melt with the sun before I accept even one working class boy or girl who can’t get to university just because their family wasn’t rich enough or their school wasn’t posh enough or the system just did not believe in them enough.

I am glad that after eight years of congratulating themselves the SNP now have to admit that there is a problem.

That something has to be done about the achievement gap in our schools.

About widening access to university.

About falling standards of literacy and numeracy.

They just don’t get that every school in this country has some children who face barriers to achievement.

I’ve looked around the world for what works and here is the different approach I propose, new for Scottish Labour and new for Scotland.

Here’s what we say to parents:

We would introduce a Fair Start Fund which follows every child from a poorer family to school.

So that every school has an attainment fund equal to its needs.

We know which interventions work best.

But let’s leave the decisions in a particular school to those who know that school best – the teachers.

So we won’t hand the money to local councils, we’ll hand it to head teachers.

Giving them the freedom to prepare with their staff a plan for how they will use this money.

And let’s tell them that this is not a fund for one year or two years or four years but for good.

Because poorer children will always face extra barriers to achievement.

And Scottish Labour will always give them that leg up to overcome it – not for four years but forever.

Conference, there is one group of children who never get a mention, but who need our support more than any others.

The system is failing them in ways it fails no one else.

Looked after children – kids in care.

These are all our children. The state is the parent and we pay the bills.

Too often society writes them off as bad kids, worthy of little sympathy rather than fundamentally good kids, who find themselves where they are because of a life that has been free from care and full of neglect.

Young people who often have more experience of violence than affection

Right now, they are more likely to go to jail than university.

Think about that for second.

These are our children. The children you and I are responsible for bringing up.

When I strive to close the gap between the richest and the rest. When I seek to widen access to our finest institutions, I do so with these young people in mind.

And when they get there, I want mum and dad, you and me,  to make up for all the times we weren’t there.

Under Labour plans, every looked after child in Scotland that wants to go onto higher education will get full grant support, worth £6000 a year.

We will pay for this education plan by making different choices from the SNP and by asking those very top earners to pay a bit more tax.

A tax rise on the richest not because we are against aspiration but because we are for it – for every child in Scotland having a world class education.

With the new powers that are coming to the Scottish Parliament comes a real chance to change things.

That means real choices need to be made.

I’ve been clear that I lead Scottish Labour.

That decisions will be made in Scotland.

And that we will have a more autonomous Scottish Labour party.

But simplistic claims to be doing the best for Scotland are meaningless if the power to change things for those who need our help goes unused.

The SNP are obsessed with powers but they are too scared to use them.

What is Scotland after all?

Well it’s just us.

It’s not a concept.

It’s not an ideal.

It’s not a dream.

It’s just people.

Individual people deciding whether they genuinely see the humans they share their country with as their equals.

Whether they want to help people less fortunate than themselves. Less able than themselves.

Whether they want to offer them a hand up to stand beside them or whether they want to push them down as they fight their way to the top of some pile.

To those who base their politics on nationality rather than need I ask this – who in Scotland are you standing up for?

The SNP have joined with the Tories, not just once, but four times, to vote against introducing a 50p top rate for education.

Pretending that you stand for everyone means you end up standing for nothing and for no one.

If talking about a fairer Scotland was what made the difference then Nicola Sturgeon would have made Scotland the fairest country in the world by now.

But talking about it isn’t enough.

You need to change.

To act.

To do things differently.

When there are choices to be made here is Scottish Labour’s decision.

We stand with everyone who needs government to get by or to get on in life.

We want everyone to be able to aspire for something better but we will be, as Jeremy says, straight talking and honest.

Because someone has to pay.

And if it isn’t those at the very top then it will be the rest of us, and our children who will lose out.

Because it’s easy to rail against austerity, to pose as a socialist when no one ever asks you how you will pay for the fairer future you claim to believe in.

The political posturing has to end with the new powerful Scottish Parliament and the power for change.

A fairer Scotland isn’t one where everyone pays more tax, in fact we want hundreds of thousands of working Scots to pay less tax.

That’s what we did the last time Labour last had the power to change things.

We introduced tax credits to help working families.

Tax credits were a tax cut that worked, using the system to boost people’s earnings.

They lifted hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty.

They allow families to aspire to more than just making it to the end of the month.

At the general election David Cameron was asked if he would cut tax credits.

We’ve all seen the videos.

He has broken his promise and it is working families who will pay the price.

In Scotland nearly 350,000 families rely on the money from tax credits.

The average family will be more than £100 a month worse off as a result of these changes.

70% of the money saved by this tax rise on working people will come from the pockets of working mothers.

In a few weeks, just before Christmas, families were due letters on their doormats telling them how much they are going to lose.

After months of supporting Osborne, Ruth Davidson is now trying to distance the Scottish Tories from him, whilst one of her MSPs flew down to London to vote for the government.

She knows this unfair Tory tax rise will be as unpopular for her next year as the poll tax was for previous generations of Tories.

We don’t yet know how they will react to the defeat Labour handed them in the House of Lords but let the message go to David Cameron – keep your promise, stop this tax rise on working families.

But friends, we should remember that David Cameron wasn’t the only one who made a promise at the election.

Both Labour and the SNP promised working families a break from Tory austerity.

We should keep that promise.

The Scottish Parliament will soon have the new powers which give us the chance to break with the Tories’ unfair taxes.

At SNP conference John Swinney was asked if he would make a different choice on tax credits from the Tories.

He offered only excuses, saying they couldn’t afford to do it.

If the SNP Government can’t even commit to doing things differently from the Tory Government, what does it say about their ambitions for Scotland?

What does it say about them?

We have a government in Scotland which looks at a problem and sees only the politics.

We need a government that looks at a problem and sees the possibilities.

I see things differently.

I don’t look to make political capital out of a grievance.

When I see a problem I ask – what can be done?

So let me say today to Scotland, what we will do:

If the Tories do not see sense, Scottish Labour will stand for the elections with a promise to restore the money Scottish families stand to lose from this Tory tax rise on working families.

We will act as soon as the new powers make it possible.

We don’t need to tax ordinary Scots more to make this change.

We just need to make different choices from the Tories and different choices from the SNP.

The SNP have said they would cut the tax paid on airline tickets, a policy which will eventually cost 250 million pounds a year.

I know that this is a policy which many will welcome, not least the airport operators.

But I say this – a tax cut for those who can already afford to shop for airline tickets cannot be Scotland’s priority when families cannot afford the weekly shop.

So we will spend the money the SNP would instead spend on abolishing Air Passenger Duty, and we won’t implement George Osborne’s new tax cut for those on the higher rate of income tax.

We will do things differently.

Before the UK elections our opponents said there was no difference between  Labour and the Tories.

I hope they can see the difference now.

A Labour Government introduced tax credits, a Tory Government will cut them.

At the Scottish elections if people ask what is the difference between a Scottish Labour Government and an SNP Government this is the difference.

A Scottish Labour Government will restore the much needed tax credits.

An SNP Government, left to their own devices, would leave the Tory cuts in place.

Let the message go out.

By using both votes for Scottish Labour in May’s election, you are voting to use the new power of the Scottish Parliament to restore the money lost through tax credit cuts.

Every Labour MSP who is elected will make sure that is what the Scottish Government does.

Voting Scottish Labour is a vote for a Scottish Government that offers a break from Tory austerity, not a Scottish Government that offers only excuses.

The possibilities open to us with our new powers, the opportunities of the future are so big,
the challenges so great that it’s not good enough anymore to have leaders who congratulate themselves on managing the status quo, to have ministers who are campaigning when they should be governing.

Real financial responsibility means we can make different choices but it doesn’t mean that these will always be easy choices.

We will offer a reverse to the Tory tax rise on working people but we know we also have to make
our money go further, especially in the NHS.

Our NHS staff perform miracles every hour of every day.

The treatments and cures our research scientists create and our doctors deliver are simply awesome.

But progress comes at a cost: to pay for new drugs, new equipment and for a population that is ageing and living longer.

Nowhere are the challenges of the future more obvious than in our NHS.

Yet we have a Scottish Government who are managing short term crises rather than securing the future.

The SNP have squeezed health spending by more than even the Tories in England.

I’ll say that again, because it is hard to believe.

Even this Tory Government, the most hostile to the NHS in a generation, has increased spending on the NHS in England more than the SNP have in Scotland.

Isn’t that shameful?

Last week the SNP Government’s own auditors confirmed that Nicola Sturgeon has now cut NHS spending in real terms.

Last week the Royal College of Nursing also told us that years ago, they had warned the then Health Minister, now our First Minister, that cutting the number of student nurses would undermine the future of the NHS.

And we can see, week after week, the impact of the choices they made in hospitals and health centres across Scotland.

What used to be a winter crisis in our hospitals, continued into the spring and then into the summer.

The SNP, under pressure from Labour, have now promised a ten year plan for the NHS – it will be published next year.

Nine years in government to come up with a ten year plan.

That tells you everything you need to know about the priority the SNP place on the NHS.

The frustrating thing is that we know what needs to be done.

Here’s an incredible statistic: 2% of the patients in the NHS account for 50% of NHS spending.

We know who these patients are, we can follow them through the system, we can intervene to improve their health and save the NHS money.

We know why our Accident and Emergency Departments are under strain.

Because the beds that new patients should be sent to have elderly patients lying in them who are fit to go home, where they should be supported by care workers.

But rather than having a long term strategy for improving care for the elderly, the big challenge for the NHS over the next generation, we send emergency teams into A and E departments while the strain grows and grows.

We’ll take a different approach. We don’t want to manage the NHS of the 1940s but to build an NHS ready for the challenges of the 2040s.

As our population gets older we want our parents and grandparents to have a regular, friendly face with the time to care for them.

So we will take forward one of the ideas in Unison’s report into the future of care.

We know that one in five care workers will leave their job each year.

Let’s make caring a career that more will choose for the long term.

Let’s put more money in to the pockets of low paid workers and local economies.

So I can announce today that Scottish Labour will guarantee a real Living Wage for care workers.

It’s Labour’s mission that those post war babies, born to the NHS, will be cared for into their 70s and beyond with the dignity and respect they deserve, by people with time to care.

And by improving care we will relieve the pressure on our frontline NHS.

Investing now can save hundreds of millions of pounds in the costs of delayed discharge, allowing us to meet not just the costs of care, but to fund the new cures and treatments the NHS can offer in the years ahead.

Labour is the party of the NHS.

Nye Bevan, after he created the NHS, famously said that if a bedpan was dropped in a hospital ward he wanted to hear it in the corridors of Whitehall.

Today you could drop a skip load of bed pans into Holyrood and the SNP wouldn’t hear it.

We have a government that is deaf to the alarm bells ringing in our NHS, whose mind is on the next press release rather than the next generation of patients.

A Labour Government won’t just manage bad headlines about Scotland’s NHS, we will protect and invest in an NHS which can meet the challenges of the future.

Friends, the first step to returning to power is to prove you are an effective opposition.

But we don’t exist to force the SNP to match their left wing rhetoric with real action.

We would rather take the decisions ourselves.

I don’t want Scottish Labour to keep rolling the SNP boulder up the hill.

I want Scottish Labour to be out ahead.

We are the party of action not protest.

We are the party of progress not bumper stickers and t shirt slogans.

Friends, next year’s elections will be hard, but I have no intention of making it easy for the SNP either.

But you know what? The SNP are starting to make the kind of mistakes we did when we dominated Scottish politics.

They see the reasons not to act rather than the way to make change.

The dominance of one party in all ministerial positions, a majority of in our parliament, in Parliamentary committees, across public life and civil society – that was not the pluralistic vision of the Constitutional Convention.

While the SNP went from strength to strength, the increasingly arrogant way in which they exercise that strength – well that has been their choice.

Freedom of Information requests are refused, parliamentary questions are stonewalled,
journalists come under attack for simply asking difficult questions.

At First Minister’s Questions, whatever issue I raise, the response has been the same complacent answer – look at our poll ratings.

Friends, in a modern democracy we need a government in Scotland that spends more time explaining itself and less time congratulating itself.

In the months ahead we will set out a different vision for our economy and for our public services, but we will also set out a different vision for our democracy.

Starting with Graeme Pearson’s review into the single police force, we will put power and resources back in the hands of local decision makers.

Jackie Baillie will set out the principles of Scottish Labour’s reforms to local government finance.

We will recapture the democratic spirit of the early days of devolution, reforming our parliament, renewing our Scottish democracy for a new generation of leadership.

But to those who want more accountable government, let me say this too.

The only way to stop the SNP having it all their own way is to use both your votes for Scottish Labour in next May’s election.

Friends we are changing.

Getting back to the values that did so much for Scotland.

Back as the radical alternative to those whose ambition goes no further than managing the status quo.

We are looking anew at our nation, and we see a future of possibility.

We have a unique opportunity to show how what we believe in, the power of government, those new powers of our parliament, can change Scotland and change the lives of working Scots for the better.

And when we talk about the change we will make with the incredible power and potential that now lives in Scotland, people will take a fresh look at us.

But they will do something else – they will take another look at our opponents and ask: when you take away all the empty rhetoric and fancy packaging, what do they really stand for?

I’ve never been more excited, more proud, or more optimistic about our party and our people.

What an opportunity we have.

Let’s make the change.

And let’s walk with confidence into the future.

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