Monday 25 September 2017 / 3:06 PM 2017 Press Archive / The Latest from Labour

Alex Rowley MSP speech to the Labour Party Conference

Alex Rowley
MSP, interim Leader of Scottish Labour Party, 
speaking at the Labour Party Conference in Brighton today, said:

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Chair, Conference, Thank you
for that welcome.

This week we gather here in
Brighton, united, strong and determined. Determined to expose how this Tory
Government is failing working people. Strengthened by the size of our
movement.  And united around our leader. The person who will be Labour’s
next Prime Minister – Jeremy Corbyn.

Conference, I was elected to
the Scottish Parliament in Cowdenbeath in 2014. And since then I’ve experienced
great highs and lows. There is no doubt that we have seen tough times in
Scotland. But we are back on track. And I want to pay tribute to the woman that
saw us through after our defeat in 2015. Kezia Dugdale.

Friends, Kez stood up for the
Scottish Labour Party in the toughest of circumstances. Both as Deputy Leader
and Leader of our Party. Conference, let us send her our thanks today. The work
that Kez did, and the result that she and Jeremy delivered alongside our
members in June, shows that the Labour Party is once again connecting with
communities across Scotland.

This year, we won back
constituencies from the SNP that people thought were lost for generations.
Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill, Rutherglen and Hamilton West, 
Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, Glasgow North East, East Lothian, Midlothian, along
with Edinburgh South –  all now represented by Scottish Labour MPs.

They will ensure Scotland’s
voice is heard in Westminster.

And let’s welcome each of our
new MPs to Conference today, led by our Shadow Scottish Secretary, Lesley
Laird.

I know we have asked so much
of you – our members, activists and supporters – over the last few years. But
we are so close in so many constituencies.  And we should set our sights
high. Being a strong opposition should never be enough. Our aim must be to win
the next election in Scotland. Because let me be absolutely clear. Scotland can
make that difference at the next election.

The choice will be between a
Labour Government that will tackle poverty, increase family incomes and raise
the standards for all.  Or more decline, decay and drift with a Tory
Government.

Conference, it’s not the SNP
who can deliver an end to the Tories. It’s the Scottish Labour Party.

Friends, we will win because
we will have the best candidates, the better ideas and the bigger vision.
That’s what our Manifesto this year gave us. A plan for the many, not the few.

In England, people saw
straight through Theresa May’s hollow words. Because this is what a ‘strong and
stable’ status quo means to working people across this country:

Cuts to public services, to
schools and hospitals, pursued by the Tories in England, but also for ten years
by the SNP in Scotland;

The loss of jobs that
provided the backbone of communities and their replacement with low pay and
insecure work;

And the disgrace of the
people, who suffered because of austerity, being asked time and again to pay
the price for it.

Conference, this is an
affront to every decent hardworking person in our country. Scotland is a rich
country. There’s no reason why children need to go hungry, why foodbanks should
be appearing in our communities or why men and women should be forced to spend
their nights sleeping on the streets. 

Conference, austerity is a
choice, and these are its consequences. And this is what the Labour Party will
stand against now and always.   

Conference, changing our
country has to start with changing the Government.

The election result in June
has energised us and shown that the chance to serve again in Government – in
Westminster and Holyrood – is within our reach.

Labour’s Manifesto showed
what we will do if we get there. It will be a Government for the many, not the
few. We’ll take industries that used to belong to every one back into public
ownership, and put people – not profits – first. We will oppose a Tory right
wing hard Brexit. We want a jobs first Brexit that keeps our access to the
single market. And, over the next year, under a new leader in Scotland, we will
start to lay out what change with Labour would mean.

Our party has not been in Government
in Scotland for ten years, and that has to change. Whenever the SNP leave
Government, they will leave having divided our country. Our first job will be
to bring our nation together again. And, just as Labour has always done, we
will bring people together around a vision of the future.

In 1945, Labour under Clement
Attlee gave us the vision of the NHS and the Welfare State. Through the 40s and
50s, Tom Johnstone brought power to rural Scotland and pioneered
hydro-electricity. In the 1960s, Harold Wilson saw a future powered by the
White Heat of Technology. And in this century, Gordon Brown, a son of Fife
church minister and a son of Scotland, ended the scandal of pensioner poverty,
made Keir Hardie’s vision of a minimum wage a reality, and lifted a million
children out of poverty.

Conference, that’s the
difference a Labour Government makes. And that’s why we will never stop
fighting for the Labour Government this country needs.

Friends, Labour’s mission was
about building a lasting legacy and giving people the opportunities they needed
to succeed. Today, we have that vision in Scotland again.

We need to set out a plan for
our major industries – for oil and gas, for shipbuilding, for finance, food and
drink. And we also need to attract the jobs of the future – in advanced
manufacturing, in renewable energy and in science and technology. We need to
provide this next generation of Scots with better opportunities than the last,
by investing in education, training and skills. And we need to renew our
commitment to the public services that look after us from cradle to grave – the
welfare state and the NHS.

That means being honest about
what we have to do to pay for these services and, as Labour, making the
argument that our duties to each other mean that we can afford to pay a little
more.

Not like the Tories in
Scotland, or like the SNP Government that only has one tax policy. A tax cut
for the airlines that will benefit the richest the most.

The
SNP cannot have a serious debate on tax if its only policy kicks off a race to
the bottom against a UK Tory Government, propped up by the DUP, who are
desperate to see that tax abolished. The SNP face a choice – work with Labour
to use the tax powers to protect public services – or give Philip Hammond and
Arlene Foster the excuse they are looking for to give the richest yet another
bonus.

Conference, the Scottish
Parliament’s new powers do not end with tax.  As powers over the welfare
state come into force, we need to think about how we can use them to show the
kind of society we want to build. And that is why I renew my calls today for
the Scottish Government to use their new powers to add £5 to Child Benefit – a
move that would lift tens of thousands of children out of poverty.

This would send a clear
signal that in Scotland we are willing to pay so that every child can get the
best start in life. Conference, we can afford this change and we should make
it, for this generation and generations to come.   

Conference, if we are to
build a better society, we also need to think about how we run our
country.  Scotland has been divided for too long by the question of
independence.  And, now the UK is divided by Brexit. Our nation faces the
greatest political change of our lifetime.

When power returns from the
EU, maintaining the status quo should not be an option. Because how we run our
country isn’t just an abstract discussion for politicians and academics. It’s
about how we enable working people across our country to have power as close to
their hands as possible. That is why I am proud that Scottish Labour supports
federalism, and why I believe this points the way for the future of our
country.

With the Tories and the SNP,
we have two Governments with no interest in reforming how the UK works, and
making it work better.

That is why it must fall to
the Labour Party. And why I renew my call today for a Constitutional
Convention, convened by the Labour Party, to determine how our country can be
renewed for the future. And, Conference let me be very clear. We will resist at
every turn the Tory Brexit power grab.

In Government, Labour will
defend Donald Dewar’s devolution settlement – Labour’s devolution settlement –
so that the powers of the Scottish Parliament are never diminished.  For
many who voted yes in Scotland, Jeremy has provided them with real hope of an
alternative. He has shown that change is possible inside the UK. That should
now be matched by a commitment from Labour for a Constitutional Convention and
a federal solution for the United Kingdom, with Scotland as a full and equal
partner.

Conference, the challenge
ahead of us now is straightforward. To restore Labour to Government in Scotland
and across the UK. Whoever wins our leadership election in Scotland will be our
candidate for First Minister and we will all get behind them to make that
happen.

And in Jeremy, we have a
leader who is a Prime Minister in waiting. So let us leave this Conference
later this week, united, determined and strong. Let’s win the next election for
working people. Let’s win to stand against poverty and inequality.

Conference, let’s win for
Labour.