- CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY -
Conference, without any doubt 2011 has been a very tough year for Labour in Scotland but it has been an even tougher year for the people of Scotland.
Jobs disappearing – more and more in long term unemployment; incomes frozen; hours cut and the highest youth unemployment since the 1980’s.
Along with rising inflation in the items we need the most – food; energy bills and transport, people across Scotland are really feeling the squeeze on their living standards.
Not surprisingly after the May elections, our critics rushed to claim that labour would never recover; that we no longer have a vision for Scotland’s future; that we have lost our way.
But conference the task to protect what is best about Scotland and to tackle the enormous problems we face today is one where Scottish labour should be at the heart. Be in no doubt that we are determined to be Scotland’s voice for social justice.
Since May our members have shown with an amazing determination that this party will not simply fade away.
When we were hit by the tragic death of our colleague and friend, David Cairns, our activists came from across Scotland and were out in the streets of Inverclyde through wind and rain to secure an impressive victory and the election of Iain McKenzie as our newest Member of Parliament.
Our members have also actively engaged with our party review ably chaired by Jim Murphy and Sarah Boyack, which has already introduced substantial changes to the way we work and there will be more change to come.
By the end of this year, we will have a new Scottish Labour Leader, to lead us in our fight against the equally narrow visions of the Tory-led Government and the SNP Government.
Being a leader when your party is in Opposition is a tough job particularly when you have to cope with disappointment and setbacks. But I want to thank Iain Gray today for his unstinting commitment and loyalty to our party over the last few years – Iain, I know that your lifelong drive for social justice will continue to ensure that you make a difference to our country.
And this year, conference has been one where the constitutional future of Scotland and that of the UK has again been dominant.
Our nationalist opponents don’t miss an opportunity in repeating the constant refrain of our separate history and culture, be it Bannockburn or Culloden.
Yes, conference these were momentous battles but there are many battles which have moulded our lives – much more recent; just as impressive and much more relevant to the way we live now.
All of us wherever we live in the UK share the heritage which began with the Industrial Revolution that witnessed working people taking the opportunity to organise and agitate for a better future:
Votes for women, the creation of free universal healthcare and education, equal pay and the birth of the Trade Union Movement which in turn led to the formation of our great Party.
And Scotland was always integral to these advances for working people.
Keir Hardie recognised that the social challenges of poor working conditions, insanitary housing and inadequate education were problems not just faced by Scots but shared with the whole of the United Kingdom.
His call to arms for social justice is one that this Labour Party still heeds today.
Just 2 weeks ago we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the world’s first ever “work-in” at the Upper Clyde shipyards.
That movement was supported at the time not just by Scots but by thousands of people throughout the UK and it became a potent symbol of the fight by ordinary people against Tory complacency.
Conference, just like 40 years ago, ordinary people want to work and live their lives in dignity.
And yet again we have a Tory-led Government failing to reflect established Scottish values of responsibility and community.
It too often rewards an irresponsible minority at the top of our society while leaving hardworking Scots to feel the squeeze of frozen wages and spiralling costs of living. This is a government that has sat idly by and has watched from the sidelines while its cuts, which went too far and too fast, choked off Britain’s recovery last autumn.
It’s time for action. It’s time to heed Labour’s call to temporarily reverse the VAT hike to get people spending again and to re-introduce the banker’s bonus tax to provide a job guarantee for every young unemployed Scot.
Instead of sitting on their hands, it’s time for Cameron and Osborne to act now.
And Conference, the Scottish Government too has to live up to its responsibilities.
The time for playing games with the people of Scotland should now be over.
Are we seriously to believe that the First Minister, who has spent most of his waking hours for the past 30 odd years on how to achieve separation, doesn’t know the question to ask the Scottish electorate?
Does anyone in the Scottish Government believe that this constitutional uncertainty is a good thing for Scotland?
The Scottish Government has spent the last four years having a national conversation with its citizens but still can’t answer basic questions on defence policy, our currency or our relationship with Europe?
What will it take for the SNP to come clean?
Conference, let us be clear – Scottish Labour have never played games with the electorate on our country’s future and we never will.
We judge the argument for change on whether it will be help secure the social justice we fight for and if it is in Scotland’s interests.
And when there is a convincing argument for change we seek political consensus and objective hard evidence.
That is why Scottish Labour was the party of devolution and gave Scotland its parliament; that is why we have supported the aims of the Scotland Bill and that is why we reject debates fixated purely on process rather than real policies of change.
Conference, it is clear that Scots want us to focus on meeting the challenges of unemployment, the cost of living, protecting our public services and ensuring that the next generation in Scotland do not miss out.
These are shared challenges within the UK and, as we have in the past, we will meet them together.