Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland – Speech to Conference 2019
8th March 2019
Lesley Laird MP
Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland and Deputy Leader of the Scottish Labour Party
Speech to Conference
Good afternoon conference!
It gives me great pleasure to welcome you to Dundee.
And after our very successful conference here last year I am sure you are all looking forward to a terrific
programme of speakers and events over the next few days.
I have no doubt that you will have much to enjoy, debate eat and yes, drink! But, only in moderation…
Conference, Dundee has undergone a period of transformation in recent years with the V&A museum to
the digital and video game revolution – Dundee has a thriving future ahead of it.
But we must not be complacent for cities like Dundee because this city and its people face great pressures
and challenges. We just need to look at the current situation facing the workers at Michelin and McGills to
And Conference I have a message for those workers – the Labour party stands with you shoulder to shoulder.
We have not forgotten about your plight and we will do everything in our power to ensure that your voice
I would like to say a few thank yous – to my fantastic Scottish Labour MP colleagues, our very hard working
MSPs and Labour Party staff, and also to Jeremy and Richard for the work that they do to ensure that the
voices of working people are heard at Westminster and at Holyrood.
Conference, today is International Women’s Day
This year’s theme is #BalanceforBetter
Because a balanced world is a better world.
And conference, there are three calls to action:
1. Celebrate women’s achievement.
2. Raise awareness against bias.
3. Take action for equality.
All of us here have a steadfast belief. A belief in the power of the Labour Party to change lives.
So let’s celebrate the women who have gone before us as the Labour Party continues to lead the way on all
These help to correct imbalances and ensure that more women are elected
It is our duty to finally deliver equality for women by ending the moral and economic disgrace of gender inequality.
Conference – We arrive in Dundee amidst Tory chaos and mayhem. Out there, in the real world, people are
facing hardship, hunger and poverty as austerity gnaws into the fabric of our society.
This city, once again, is facing those pressures and epitomises so perfectly why we need a Labour
I know that local MSP, Jenny Marra, fights that fight every day and I know that the good people of Dundee
appreciate her efforts.
And conference, in preparing my speech I wondered where best to begin in summing up what has been a
roller coaster year at Westminster.
The Brexit negotiations have been handled shambolically by the Tories.
It has been an abject lesson in incompetence and historians will not judge them kindly in years to come.
But amid that incompetence there have been beacons of hope, and I would like to say thank you to Jeremy
and to Keir Starmer and his team for providing comprehensive scrutiny of this government – they have been fantastic.
Conference – there are days when the endless Tory Brexit debate frustrates me beyond belief.
I’m sure you often feel the same – dreading putting on the news and when you muster up courage to do so
you are greeted with continuous talking and bickering about Brexit and the constitution.
Of course, we’ve had the odd bit of drama along the way.
This Government being the first in history to be held in Contempt of Parliament being the first that springs
The need to use an ancient Parliamentary mechanism, the Humble Address, to force the right to a
Meaningful Vote – which if we had not won Theresa May’s botched Brexit deal would already be done.
Conference – as an opposition we have inflicted 17 defeats on this government – one by 230 votes – the
biggest defeat in Parliamentary history.
And there were 22 occasions where the Tories simply chose not to vote rather than be defeated.
I don’t know about you but given the numbers and the DUP sweetheart deal – I think that’s a pretty sound
record for any opposition.
At any other time that 230 vote defeat would have been a matter of honour.
They would have walked.
We would already be in the throes of a general election campaign and on our way to delivering a Labour Government led by Jeremy Corbyn.
And conference, we must not lose sight of that prize.
But Conference we don’t just need an election because of Brexit.
We need an election as people can’t suffer any more of this savage austerity from these rotten Tories.
We need an election to address the issues that are bringing people to their knees.
Our communities have been blighted by a decade of Tory austerity and complacent ambivalence from the
Conference the truth is that Scotland faces a clear choice. Austerity under the Tories passed on by the SNP
– or investment, hope and transformation from the Labour Party.
Conference only a radical Labour Government can truly address the issues facing people every single day
of their lives.
Conference Labour is needed because Britain needs a government with values of fairness, decency and
humanity at the heart of our policymaking.
People are in danger, they are in peril and are quite literally dying as a result of brutal Tory austerity.
Public services are at breaking point. Our communities are creaking under the continued pressure of
austerity – yet, sadly some are still more interested in constitutional wrangling.
And Conference the impact of austerity can been seen right across Scotland.
Here in Dundee, 8,000 children are growing up below the poverty line.
In my own constituency Kirkcaldy foodbank has saw a 64% increase in the past year since the roll out of
Conference, since December 2014, that food bank has distributed over 425,000 meals to almost 50,000
people. A statistic that should shame every one of us.
And we now live in a country where poverty is predicted to reach record levels – in parts of Kirkcaldy nearly
70% of children live in poverty now.
Conference this is not just a national scandal but an international one as the UN Rapporteur so ably
illustrated on his visit to the UK this year.
Conference it is heart-breaking to see what people in our communities are having to endure.
In recent months I have met with community organisations and leaders, like Liz from the YMCA.
They tell me how they have been left to pick up the pieces to stop people falling through the cracks.
Across the country as a whole 59% of those who are living in relative poverty live in households where at
least one person is in work.
Think about that – just for just a moment.
That is the harsh reality of life in Scotland in 2019.
That is the reality of austerity
And Conference, this is why we need a Labour Government now.
Because our people, our communities and our public services cannot cope with another two or three years
of vicious Tory austerity.
Conference, we need a Labour Government because I do not believe any other Party is committed to funding
and protecting our public services in the way that we would.
Our public services, which are often the safety net for so many people, are being systematically degraded
by the SNP.
Year on year Council budgets are being reduced and the ability of councils to support the most vulnerable
in our communities is being eroded.
We are told that local government settlements are increasing – but conference that is a lie.
The Scottish Parliament’s own independent information centre has confirmed that £230 million has been
cut from local government budgets this year alone.
They try and spin their way out of it – but the reality is there for all to see.
Just ask Scotland’s doctors, nurses and care workers whether they feel the SNP have their best interests at
Ask those who are stuck in Scotland’s hospitals waiting to be allowed to go home whether they think
Scotland’s NHS is being looked after.
Ask Scotland’s commuters – especially in Fife – whether they think ScotRail is delivering for them.
Ask those who rely on our social security system whether they think leaving the control of benefit payments
with the DWP until 2024 is the action of a government who is concerned about the most vulnerable in our
Their utter failure to mitigate the worst ravages of Tory austerity is simply a vehicle for grievance to fuel
their quest for a second independence referendum.
But the people of Scotland were not fooled by their 2014 White Paper – which is now just as discredited as
And their Growth Commission shines an all too bright spot light on the cuts and sacrifices that would be
required from the people of Scotland.
Conference, we really are at a cross roads.
The choice is clear.
Only Labour is committed to tacking the fundamental inequality in our society.
And we will do this, by investing in our people and in our communities.
We will do it by introducing a £10 per hour national living age and banning zero hours contracts.
We will do it by the introduction of a Scottish investment Bank with £20 billion of investment power.
And we will do it by investing in public services with our commitment of £30 billion of Barnett
Consequentials over 10 years.
Frankly Conference, only the Labour Party can commit to these policies and only a Labour government can
deliver the change we need.
Our economy is skewed in favour of the few – we want to make it work for the many.
But sadly – for now – we can’t get to those issues. We are trapped in the Brexit Bubble.
And the irony is that all the arguments the SNP make as to why Brexit is bad, are the same arguments as to
why independence for Scotland would be an unmitigated disaster.
Comrades, the reality is that the real division in our country is not between those who voted to remain or
leave, or those who voted yes and those who voted no.
It is between the many who do the work, create the wealth and pay their taxes and the few, who make the
rules, reap the rewards and often dodge their taxes.
Constitutional politics is the scourge of our times.
But ultimately if we are to break free from this impasse we must remember one thing.
That whether you are from Benarty or Broxburn, Kelty or Kilmarnock, Lochgelly or Lesmahagow, it is
If you are up against it, you are up against it.
But you are not against each other.
Against this backdrop we must recognise that any party who wants to bring the country together cannot
wish away the votes of 17 million people who wanted to leave the European Union any more than they can
ignore the concerns of the 16 million who wanted to remain.
Conference – this is perhaps one of hardest and most difficult times in our country and our party’s history.
I believe that Labour as a democratic party have genuinely tried to unite the country.
As a democratic party we have listened to our members using our September conference motion – and Keir
and his team have used that as our road map
But Conference be assured – Labour will not accept Theresa May’s botched Brexit.
And Labour certainly will not accept no deal.
Parliamentary processes will soon be exhausted with all options explored.
And if there is no resolution that meets our tests then – as our conference motion compels us to do – we will
seek to put it back to the people.
But Comrades, that path is not smooth.
Right now there is no parliamentary majority for this.
Ultimately no matter what outcome we want to achieve, if we cannot get the numbers we will not win the
But we cannot give up.
We must keep fighting.
We must reject Theresa May’s shoddy deal and we MUST get no deal off the table.
Conference, there are so many reasons why this country needs a Labour Government.
Our 2017 Manifesto set out our plan and 21 months on this country needs us more than ever.
That is why my closing call to you today is this.
Unity is key to any winning team.
Division only plays into Tory and SNP hands and Conference I know that you will definitely not want to
see that happen.
On any journey there are always different routes to take, but Conference, what is really important now is
that we get to the right destination.
And, that we get there, together.
Ready to deliver a Labour government.
Comrades – let us all stay united – focused on working to deliver on the needs of the Many for that is where
our strength resides and that is where all our efforts must be.
For the Many – not the few.