Alex Rowley speech to Scottish Labour conference
26 February 2017
***CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY***
Good afternoon and thank you for staying to the end of conference.
In terms of conference speeches this is what is known as the dead slot as most people have been talked out, have had enough, and just want to go home.
I was just saying to Jackson it is great a lot of people are still here for my speech and he said “don’t get too excited Alex, they have all stayed to hear Cathy Peattie sing the Red Flag.
Conference, this afternoon I welcome all the Labour candidates who will be fighting for every vote in the council elections in May.
These are difficult times to be a Labour candidate. Of that there can be no doubt – but remember, it is Labour councils across Scotland that are on the front line every day dealing with the harsh realities of failed Tory austerity and the failure of the SNP to stand up for Scotland.
So on the doorsteps and in the community be proud.
Proud to be Labour and be proud that it is Labour in local government standing up for local communities, standing up for local people and standing up for Scotland.
This year we will see many of our longer serving councillors, and indeed councillors of all parties and none, retire after giving many years of their lives to public service and serving their local communities.
As a former councillor I am well aware of the hard work, and commitment required so today can we acknowledge that service and say thank you to each and every one of them.
A few weeks ago conference, I had the privilege to speak at the Scottish Young Labour Conference in Glasgow and to listen in to the very lively debates that they had.
I want today to congratulate the new Chair Liam Gleeson and all those elected to the new committee of Scottish Young Labour.
It is encouraging as we see many of our comrades retire after years of service to see growing numbers of young people joining our party.
My message to those young people is be bold, develop new ideas, progressive ideas and never be afraid to think big.
Our party was founded by people who thought big, people who were ambitious not for themselves but for the communities they came from.
Our history is one of big ideas, of being bold and of standing up and fighting for working people in every community across the United Kingdom.
Just as in the first half of the last century it was Labour who set out to change society and challenge the status quo, then today we must be clear what our purpose is, what we stand for and we must bring forward ideas to deliver the kind of society we want in 21st century Scotland, the UK and the world.
This weekend we have heard some of those ideas in conference and on the fringe.
Ideas and a willingness to challenge.
Challenge the unacceptable status quo of power and wealth being concentrated within a few square miles of London.
Challenge the unacceptable centralisation of power and control away from our communities in Scotland and into Holyrood among a Scottish elite.
Challenging elites wherever they exist.
And yesterday Kez announced a Child Benefit policy.
I remember when I grew up and my parents worked. My dad worked as a miner and my mum worked in the factories.
We were depending on family allowance to get us to the wage at the end of the week.
And the announcement that was made by Kez yesterday will put more on family allowance.
It will lift 30,000 children out of child poverty.
And that’s what Labour exists for. And that’s what we need to be clear about.
We need to be clear that it is our purpose to use the powers of our Parliament to tackle child poverty.
And there are big ideas: taking control of public transport through a people’s railway and bus regulation, an industrial strategy for a high-skilled Scotland, using social security powers to help stop the Tory attacks on the disabled and poorest.
This weekend we have also debated big issues around automation and protecting worker’s rights and getting the best for people and communities as technology evolves.
Our guiding principle in setting out what we stand for is full employment.
Every individual in our country having the right to work, the right to a decent paid job, being treated with dignity and respect in work.
For too many people this is not the case and if you did not have Labour you would have to create Labour to take on these big issues.
Because you know, despite the many advances of the Labour and Trade Union movement over all, we as a country in many areas are now going back the way.
For the first time in more than half a century we are seeing absolute poverty all around us.
Absolute poverty being when an individual cannot access the very basics in order to survive.
And there is nothing more basic than being able to feed yourself.
Yet since the Tories took power at UK level in 2010 we have seen food banks spring up in almost every community across our nation.
Do you know, last year, in Scotland, there was a record 43,000 children who received emergency food parcels.
In 21st century Scotland tens of thousands of men, women and children are dependent on charity to feed themselves.
And many of those are from families in work.
But let us be clear, food banks are not the solution to poverty they are a symptom of poverty.
So when people say to me what does Scottish Labour stand for, I say we stand for the eradication of poverty in our country.
That means in the first instance standing up against Tory welfare reforms that are driving so many into desperation and it also means standing up against failed Tory austerity policies that are creating more debt, more misery and pulling our economy back at a time when we need economic growth and jobs.
So when you are on the door steps in the coming weeks and people say that Ruth Davidson seems like a nice person, tell them she is a Tory, tell them what Ruth Davidson’s Tories are continuing to do to Scotland and the United Kingdom.
Ruth Davidson does not stand for a stronger Scotland and a stronger United Kingdom.
She stands for division, she stands for a Scotland and a Britain of growing inequality and growing poverty and she stands for a party that will protect the interests of the richest at the cost of far greater inequality and despair for the rest.
And in the Scottish Parliament the Tories want tax cuts for the richest whilst doing nothing to stop the cuts to the poorest.
So don’t allow the Tories to pull the wool over people’s eyes.
Make sure people know what they stand for and who they really are.
But what about the so called progressives, the SNP and the Greens?
Well this week their combined efforts resulted in £170 million of cuts from local services.
That’s cuts to care in the community, cuts in support for teaching and learning in the classroom, cuts to local organisations up and down Scotland, and cuts to every community in Scotland.
I say use the powers of our Parliament to invest, use the powers of our parliament to drive the economy and learn the lessons from Labour councils who, despite the SNP cuts, have been using their office to defend communities, to help those in need, and have been working to create opportunity and give hope.
Labour councils creating thousands of apprenticeships while the SNP cut college budgets.
Labour in Stirling being the first council in the UK to introduce 600 hours of free childcare.
Labour in Fife, launching the largest house building programme of any authority across the UK.
Labour in Renfrewshire becoming the first council in the UK to introduce a living wage for all care workers regardless of who was employing them.
Labour in Aberdeen, the first council to take up Unison’s challenge and introduce a bond to protect front line services.
The Glasgow and Clyde Valley City Deal bringing over £1billion of investment and thousands of jobs, although the SNP government had to be dragged to the table for their support.
Labour now driving city deals in Stirling, in the Lothians, and Fife and in Aberdeen. Labour councils driving local and regional economies while the SNP in Holyrood cut investment and fail to stand up for Scotland – failing to drive Scotland’s economy.
In Inverclyde, West Dumbartonshire, North Ayrshire and North Lanarkshire Labour has implemented the Unison Care Charter putting people at the heart of caring services.
People, not profit.
In Fife, North Ayrshire, Renfrewshire and Aberdeen Labour Councils are pioneering the Unite Construction Charter.
And it is Labour that is driving new ideas.
Glasgow and Fife developing local pilots for a Citizens Basic Income that will be a major tool to eradicate poverty from 21st century Scotland.
Scottish Labour has called on government to work with these councils to develop this new thinking not just with words but with resources and actions.
On the fringe this weekend, many issues have been raised and discussed.
One of these issues was the unacceptable scourge of fuel poverty in 21st century Scotland.
Labour councils have driven up energy efficiency standards in social housing ensuring that major progress has been made to address the scandal of fuel poverty.
But sadly the same cannot be said for the growing private rented sector where the average energy efficiency rating is well below acceptable.
That is why we have called on the Scottish Government to work across Parliament and with civic Scotland to take the steps needed to address the awful blight of fuel poverty in Scotland.
They can make real progress if they agree to the Scottish Labour request to introduce a statutory requirement for all private rented housing in Scotland to be at an acceptable standard of energy efficiency.
We, Labour, want to see more than warm words.
We want warm homes for every Scot and nothing else will do.
But it is not just the failure to tackle fuel poverty after ten years of SNP government.
In every area of social policy the SNP is failing.
After being in charge of education for ten years, they now say they are going to fix them.
But you know they are not, for they refuse to see what is staring them in the face.
We need more money for teaching and learning.
The SNP can mess around with structures till Doomsday, they can pour out the rhetoric about empowering head teachers and parents, but the fact remains: we need more money going into the class room to support teaching and learning.
It is so obvious; teachers are working under immense pressure; many are at breaking point but the SNP – just won’t listen – they think they know best.
Now is the time to invest.
We need investment in our economy, we need investment in our countries greatest asset, its people, so let us state time and again.
Asking the top 1% of earners in this country to pay a 50p top rate of taxation is not unreasonable.
It is fair, it is just and it is the right thing to do at this time when we have a massive skills gap in our economy, where we have an unacceptable gap in the levels of educational attainment between the poorest and the richest, and when we have growing inequalities in health up and down our country.
The SNP used to stand for this policy. Now they stand for the rich.
There is nothing progressive about them.
The SNP Council tax, not progressive, but regressive.
Remember what Nicola Sturgeon said about council tax back in 2007.
She said and I quote; “The fact of the matter is that council tax is unfair and cannot be improved by tinkering around the edges”.
And she pledged: “We’ll scrap the unfair council tax…”
Ten years later, they are not going to abolish the council tax, and they are tinkering around the edges –
They even had the nerve to tell councils to put it up by 3% and then to claim this was an increase in funding from government.
You could not make it up but Derek Mackay did.
Make no mistake the council tax was unfair in 2007 and it is just as unfair today.
So lets us be strong, let us be clear who is standing up for local services, standing up for local people and standing up for Scotland.
There is the Tory and the SNP way.
Failed austerity, public services in crisis, lack of opportunity, low wages and growing insecurity.
Or there is the Labour way.
Invest in our economy, invest in public services, in education, in skills and in jobs, support our economy, grow our economy and stand up for Scotland.
We have a chance to shape the future provision of public services in our country.
We have the chance to give young people a better future by investing in child care, in education, in skills and in jobs.
I say, choose investment, choose people, choose a stronger Scotland.