August 21, 2020 Blog, Media, Videos

Fighting for Scotland’s Future – Full Speech


When future generations look back on 2020, they will look back on a defining year in Scotland’s history.

A global pandemic. The beginning of an economic crisis without parallel.

The spectre of mass unemployment levels of government intervention in Scotland’s economy unprecedented in peace time.

But a government that has failed our most vulnerable older people living in care homes.

And a government forced to fundamentally re-consider the exam system, stalling in the task, and our school students rising up and securing a U-turn to right the government’s wrong.

At the start of this year, I said that in 2020 we would face a choice: whether we broaden our horizons, or narrow them.

Today I am going to set out, not just how we should broaden our horizons. I am going to set out why we must broaden our horizons.

In the past six months, we have seen governments take steps that they would have dismissed out of hand a year ago.

We have witnessed a new willingness to intervene in areas that many politicians previously would not have touched with a bargepole.

And all the time we hear those politicians say that they are doing things differently.

But there is still far too much that has stayed the same.

And even where changes have been made, the ground is already being prepared to return to the same old failed normal.

And those same politicians still rely on the same rigid doctrines and outdated practices which left us unprepared for the public health crisis, unprepared for the education crisis, and unprepared for the economic crisis.

So today I am issuing a warning to Scotland’s political establishment. Your old ways were never the answer. But the need to break with them is more urgent now than ever. It is time to fight for Scotland’s future.

And that is the fight that I will lead Scottish Labour into the 2021 elections to win. The fight for a fairer Scotland, a greener Scotland, a better Scotland.

Before I set out the changes we need to make to our economy, I want to address something which is hugely personal to me, and to many of you. Last weekend, thanks to an investigation by the Sunday Post we learned for the first time the shocking news that hospital patients who had tested positive for Covid-19 were discharged to care homes.

And we know the lived experience of people in care homes. Loved ones living in isolation. Families unable to visit them for weeks, sometimes months, desperate to see them.

And so for some unable to say even a final farewell to them, a final hug, a final kiss, a precious time, a time that families will never get back.

We know the pain because this is the example of many families.

And it is the example of my own family. When I first spoke about my uncle Ralph’s death in a care home, I received many messages of sympathy. But I also received messages attacking me for mentioning his death – because he had died in a care home in England.

I wish it was the case that here in Scotland families with relatives in residential care had had a better experience.

I wish care homes residents in Scotland had been better protected during this crisis.

But we know that while only 0.7 per cent of the population live in our care homes, almost 50 per cent of all Covid 19 deaths have been in care homes.

In fact the situation is so bad that the Scottish Human Rights Commission had to call for the future Covid-19 public inquiry to investigate whether the fundamental human right to life of residents has been violated.

For two months, I pushed for this. And the First Minister has now conceded it.

But we need to go further. So that those who knowingly decided to transfer patients with Covid-19 to care homes, and those who knowingly took the decision to transfer patients to care homes in the full and certain knowledge that there was Covid-19 present, must face justice if necessary in a court of law.

We know that families are already considering bringing about prosecutions. And we will be on the side of those families in their pursuit of justice.

It is time to accept once and for all that our fragmented care system is broken. That the profit motive and the shareholder dividend should have no place in it, in my view that means we must establish a National Care Service, with national standards for service users and staff.

It means a new care service that can create 25,000 quality jobs – building a sustainable workforce that can care for our ageing population.
Because never again can our care service be treated by government as a poor relation of the NHS. It is time to care about care and restore dignity to our care system.

Never again can fifteen minute visits be an acceptable standard of home care.

Never again can precarious employment contracts mean a continued rotation of home carers.

And never again can those working people who keep our care service running be left to languish on poverty pay.

The way we value our older citizens says a lot about the kind of society that we are.

And for Scottish Labour, a National Care Service that puts the dignity of our elderly at the heart of all decisions is a powerful expression of the new society, the fair economy, the post Covid Scotland that we must create

Over the past six months, people across Scotland have got to know their neighbours many for the first time. Communities have come together to provide a helping hand to those in need.

But too many families have seen changes for the worse. A deepening of poverty, a rise in inequality

Those already in debt plunged even further into misery and hardship. Those with limited personal savings have seen them wiped out, and so across the board poverty and indebtedness up, with new anxieties and new fear.

Add to this that we are also on the brink of a massive rise in unemployment, we are witnessing the potential collapse of town centres, all around us night-time economies in danger of going bust, youth unemployment at levels not witnessed for decades, and so for many and little wonder that a feeling of uneasiness persists across the country.

Boris Johnson’s government must allow for flexibility in extending the furlough scheme in certain sectors and areas.

As too many people are having sleepless nights in fear of not having a job or a business to go to. So this pandemic is not just a public health danger that takes the form of a physical threat but it takes the form of a mental health threat too.

We know that the pandemic has had an adverse and disproportionate impact on women. Unemployment among women in Scotland has increased by almost half in the past year.

Which is why any Scottish Jobs Guarantee Scheme should be open not just to young people, but to other people of working age disadvantaged by the economic lockdown.

It must also offer more than the part-time, low-paid and short-term jobs and training that the Tory Government’s Kickstart scheme promises.

Scotland needs a full-time, well-paid Jobs Guarantee that will equip people with skills that they can use for the rest of their working lives.

And if the SNP government is genuinely interested in developing such a quality Jobs Guarantee Scheme, we will work with them to deliver it, but that must include a rate of pay based on at least the real Living Wage.

And the urgent introduction of a quality Scottish Jobs Guarantee Scheme must be part of a Post Covid alternative Programme for Government

And there are a few other radical steps I would like to see. Make no mistake, jobs will be critical. Kobs must be the economic priority. Job Guarantees, Job Retention and Job creation. As thousands of people in Scotland lose their jobs, and as debts rise many will fall into rent arrears.

But the SNP Government has not banned evictions, only delayed them. Which is why today I am calling on the Scottish government to introduce a ban on evictions for the remainder of this parliament.

And I am also calling again on the SNP Government to re-consider its opposition to Pauline McNeill’s Fair Rents Bill.

They should ask themselves if continuing to join forces with the Tories to block the Bill from making it on to the statute book really puts them on the right side of history.

Daniel Johnson’s Bill to protect retail workers has a universal and enduring application, but its necessity has been brought into sharp relief by the experience of shop workers during this pandemic. It should be in the Programme for Government.

Period poverty will increase too – making Monica Lennon’s Bill to eradicate it truly transformational. And so truly a priority for the Parliament to use its powers to pass this year.

And while I am on the subject of bills, we need a parliament focused on the job in hand that’s why Neil Findlay’s double jobbing bill is so important.

People want politicians who are on their side, not someone more interested in catching footballers offside.

We know as well that we are seeing more families slide into food poverty. Which makes Elaine Smith’s Bill to enshrine the right to food in law all the more important.

And today I am calling for the Programme for Government next month to contain a commitment to bring forward the Scottish Child Payment of £10 per child per week sooner than February.

We think that the time has also come for a Community Wealth Building Act, to stimulate more local initiatives like the one launched this year in North Ayrshire.

So that we start to use public procurement to boost local economies not big corporations.

So that we support worker ownership and co-operatives especially as a viable option to re-float businesses as we come out of lockdown.

Because why on earth shouldn’t the people who create the wealth own the wealth that they create?

It would mean greater community ownership of land as well because land reform remains an important chapter of unfinished business for the Scottish Parliament.

A community wealth building approach to reduce inequality. Spread democracy and to reinvest in local communities and local people That is what is needed.

It is an economy that has to be re-imagined with a renewed emphasis on investing in and so diversifying our manufacturing base and the skills of our people

As the climate and ecological crisis continues to escalate, 2020 must also mark a turning point in the direction of Scotland’s economy and its environmental impact.

We cannot afford to return to business as usual – instead a green and just recovery must focus on tackling the economic crisis and the climate crisis at the same time.

That is why, earlier this year, I asked the economist Laurie Macfarlane to draw up a report with recommendations for a Scottish Labour Green New Deal.

In Scotland we are blessed with an abundance of natural resources. We also have the will to change and to make things better.
So we must bring together all sectors and sections of our society, harnessing all our natural resources, all our workforce skills, and all our ambition to create a greener better future for us all.

Scotland has a housing crisis which stretches back before the pandemic. Too many people are stuck on never ending housing waiting lists, losing hope by the day, too many young people with no prospect of having their own home outside of the private rental market, and too many children going to sleep at night in damp and over-crowded accommodation.

So, we will build 12,000 council homes each year, to the highest energy efficiency standards.

And to carry out this work we will establish a new Land and Communities Development Agency to employ and train thousands of new workers.

We will improve all of Scotland’s homes, to reach at least Energy Performance Certificate C energy efficiency standard by 2030, and be zero-carbon by 2045.

A safe, warm, affordable home should be the human right of every person, and our homes plan will help to make that right a reality in Scotland.

We should also set a target for expanding Scotland’s domestic renewable energy production to meet 200% of our own electricity needs by 2030. This will ensure that we are ready for future increases in demand and can be a net exporter to the rest of the UK.

But I have always been clear that when reviewing energy, we must ensure there is a Just Transition for workers and communities. To do this we must establish a £500 million Just Transition Fund to assist workers and businesses with the realities of transition … and we must create a new Scottish National Energy Development Agency to coordinate the development of renewable energy infrastructure, generation and local supply chains: so we get the jobs dividend here.

Working with experts such as Scottish Carbon Capture and Storage and learning from the world leading work at Heriot Watt University, we must focus on carbon capture, maximising Scotland’s potential to become a European leader in CO2 management with a state owned carbon capture company.

But we can’t just use up our natural resources, we must replenish and look after them too.

That’s why we must have a major reforestation plan and a plan to restore degraded peatland every year for the next quarter of a century. To do this we must employ and train a new workforce dedicated to restoring Scotland’s natural environment and meeting our climate commitments.

Just yesterday ADL in Falkirk announced 160 job cuts.

At the very point when a modern moving Scotland needs a modern public transport system these jobs are at risk.

So we must expand Scotland’s bus network by investing £100 million in buying new electric buses from domestic manufacturers.
I want to also reaffirm Scottish Labour’s commitment to not only retain the over 60’s bus pass, but to provide free bus passes for the under 25s, with an ambition to expand this to everyone of all ages.

We know that encouraging the habit of using public transport when people are young, is more likely to result in a lifelong habit of public transport use – reducing future car miles and emissions

However, we must also understand that some people will still need and want to drive, so to ensure this can be done in a more environmentally friendly way, we believe we need to invest £200 million in rolling out electric vehicle charging points.

Housing, energy, infrastructure, environmental restoration, and transport, these, our bold plans would create in total up to 131,000 new jobs.

With careful planning involving businesses, trade unions and government and the right investment, we can create sustainable jobs in all parts of the country, staving off the imminent and real threat of mass unemployment.

We can retain jobs, guarantee jobs, we can create jobs.

We can move away from low-paid, insecure work and towards the “sectors of the future” such as those that are necessary to decarbonise the economy. Not only will this create apprenticeships and jobs for our young people, but it will provide retraining opportunities for all working people who have the skills and experience to help build the Scotland of the future.

And people will say, how will you pay for this to them I say the Scottish Parliament needs more borrowing powers to provide the investment that is required now.

And as one of our post Brexit calls should be that Westminster reallocate around £800 million per year from the current EU contribution to the Scottish Parliament’s budget, in addition to Barnett formula funding.

And lastly we must draw down on the benefit of being part of a stable and credible monetary union.

We are backing the IMF’s call for countries with ‘fiscal space’ to run deficits to promote growth.

THE OBR reported last month, “One silver lining to the current fiscal cloud is that it remains relatively cheap for the government to borrow – and indeed it has become more so.”

So my call today is that Boris Johnson’s government must unleash the monetary fire power to stimulate Scotland’s economy. In 2020 we have seen the need for a brighter vision of the future based on communities united, and as we look to the next Programme for Government.

We believe that it is the task, that it is the responsibility, not just of this current Parliament and this current Government but of the next Parliament and the next Scottish Government, to build a better future.

To put Scotland’s economy on a different path. To make full employment a central goal of public policy. To put people and planet first.
We cannot just talk about Scotland’s future: it’s time to fight for Scotland’s future.

Let me end with this final thought. We are regularly told that we will emerge stronger from this pandemic. And I hope that we do. But I say that we must never ever forget those wonderful friends and those deeply missed relatives who we have lost over the last six months
It is to their memory, it is in their name, that we fight for this better future for Scotland. That is our duty. That is the call of these times to us.

Let us answer that call. And let us rise to that challenge.