Keir Starmer speech to Scottish Labour Conference

Thank you. Thank you conference.  And thank you Eileen.

Speaking on behalf of everyone here I’m sure, my heart goes out to you, for what you and your family have been through. 

Believe you me – I know what that kind of loss is like. So thank you for sharing your story today. 

It’s fantastic you have your husband Steven here today and your daughter Grace age 10. Eileen’s delivery was brilliant, because Grace has been taking her through the motions over the last couple of days and tutoring her on how to deliver a good speech. Grace is now going to mark me out of 10, when I finish speaking this morning. 

Grace and Steven, you are very welcome here. 

Conference, Eileen and I first met in Rutherglen and Hamilton. The place where our party was reborn. 

In the same valley of the Clyde where our story began all those years ago. 

So I want to start by thanking each and every one of you here today, who campaigned in that by-election. What a lift you all gave our party back in the autumn. 

We’re having to get used to by-election wins of course. But that one was special.  

And after all of the struggles you have endured over the past decade or more. The hard yards that went into that victory.

The years where your commitment and patriotism towards this nation were questioned. Just for supporting our party.

You should enjoy this moment. Not too much – we can’t get carried away. Can’t stop fighting for every vote. Not even for a second. 

But nonetheless, take pride in your efforts have put us back on our way in Scotland. Enjoy the feeling that a tide has turned. That the wind has changed.

The Labour Party has returned, decisively, back to the service of Scotland’s working people. 

Conference, I want to thank Michael Shanks of course – a fantastic candidate in that election. He’s now providing some company for Ian Murray who is doing such a great job representing Scotland’s interests in Westminster. 

And I am proud to know so many of the other candidates here today. Who are ready to join them and serve this nation with pride and dignity. 

And conference, finally, I also want to thank Anas and Jackie for their outstanding leadership of this party. 

Conference, Anas was with you right through those darker days for Scottish Labour. But his conviction, that Labourwould become the choice for change in Scotland again. That never wavered.

Anas, the whole party, across all four of our nations, draws great strength from your belief.  

And you should know that we stand full square behind you, in your mission to turn it into Scotland’s reality, thank you Anas. 

And conference, before I begin, I have just returned from the Munich Security Conference. 

Where every conversation I had came back to the situation in Israel and Gaza. And the question of what we can do, practically. To deliver what we all want to see, now.  

A return of all the hostages taken on 7th October. An end to the killing of innocent Palestinians. A huge scaling up of humanitarian relief. And an end to the fighting. 

Not just now, not just for a pause. But permanently. A ceasefire that lasts. 

Conference, that is what must happen now. The fighting must stop now. 

Any ceasefire cannot be one-sided. It must stop all acts of violence, on both sides, it must lead to a genuine peace process. 

Because the offensive threatened on Rafah – a place where 1.5 million people are now cramped together in unimaginable conditions with nowhere else for them to go – this cannot become a new theatre of war. That offensive cannot happen. 

And even in this most terrible of circumstances. The two-state solution must be back on the table. 

A safe and secure Israel – where the horror that Hamas inflicted on 7th October, the largest loss of Jewish life since the Holocaust, can never happen again.  

And alongside that, a viable Palestinian state. A state which is not in the gift of any neighbour. But is an inalienable right of the Palestinian people. And is recognised by this party and the world. 

That is what we must hope for now, conference. And there is always power in hope.  

Hope is the fuel of change. The oxygen of a better future. And that is what we must offer Scotland.  Because after fourteen years of Tory failure in Westminster. 

Seventeen years of SNP failure in Holyrood. Only Labour can provide the change Scotland needs. 

I mean, look around this nation.  Drug deaths – off the scale. Schools – going backwards.  Buses that cost a fortune.  Those ferries, still not serving the Island communities who need them. 

And as Eileen mentioned. A terrible crisis in our NHS. Ambulances – queuing up outside A&E. Patients who need treatment, waiting inside. 

Conference, what does the First Minister say to people like Eileen. What does he say to Scots who think: I am paying more and more and more. And getting less and less and less from his government? 

He says: “Let’s send a message to Westminster”.  “Send a message”. 

With all the problems this nation faces. That is the level of his ambition for Scotland. “Send a message”. 

Conference, I’m afraid this is the story of the SNP now. They’re not interested in fixing Scotland’s problems. They want to exploit them. 

The mask has slipped. The pretence they were ever interested in improving the lives of working people. Rather than using their problems as fuel for their grand cause. That has been exposed. 

Scotland should send more than a message to Westminster. It should send a Government. That is our ambition. 

Because you can’t tell me this is good enough for Scotland. You can’t tell me that this nation of ideas, creativity and resilience. The nation of the enlightenment.

The nation that gave rise to our movement. That stood beside working people. Defeated fascism. Built, as part of our union. A welfare state out of the rubble of war.

You can’t tell me – Scotland does not deserve better. Because it does. And we will deliver it.  A new Scotland. A new Britain. Bound together, again.  By an old partnership.  

The solidarity of working people. Across four nations. Driving our country forward. With a Labour Party dedicated to its service. 

This is what the SNP will never understand about our movement.  The solidarity of working people is our identity and our argument. The force – perhaps the only force. That can unite these four nations and drive us towards a better future.  

So when they say, “Labour doesn’t need Scotland”?  We say – with one voice. Labour isn’t Labour without Scotland.  Britain isn’t Britain without Scotland. 

This isn’t about gaming an election for us. This is about who we are.  Who we stand for.  Who we fight for.  Who we serve.  

And our answer, without distinction or fear. From Nottingham to Neath. Dumbarton to Dundee. Is the working people of this country. They are our cause.  

And conference, as I’ve explained before. It’s a cause that’s personal for me. Because I grew up working class in the 1970s. And while I don’t plead poverty, I know what a cost of living crisis feels like. 

I know what it feels like, to be embarrassed to invite your friends round, because the carpet’s threadbare. There’s a hole in the window.  The phone’s been cut off. Because your family can’t keep up with their payments. 

The cloud of anxiety that hangs over a house. The “what next” fear of the postman coming down the path. Will he bring another bill we can’t afford?  I remember that. 

But I also remember what’s it like to look around your community. Look at other people like you, making their way in the world. And to think, if I work hard, if I apply myself, if I get a break or two, I have a chance in this country. 

We took that for granted didn’t we?  Even as things got tough.

Even as inflation spiralled. There was a sense of security.  A comfort, even. 

That hard-work and imagination would be rewarded. Britain would get moving again. 

Things would get better for families like ours.  My parents always believed that. And I believe it’s what people want, more than anything, for their family now. 

A story we still tell our children. “Work hard and you can achieve anything. Work hard and you will get a fair chance in Britain”.

The question is do we still believe it? Do we still believe that working people will get a fair crack of the whip in Britain today? 

I don’t even need to answer that – do I? Not in this nation. And that’s a tragedy for those of us who believe in Britain. 

Because if, like me, you believe that delivering on working class aspiration is our core purpose. If, like me, you believe fighting the idea background equals destiny – is our main battle.

And if, like me, you want to build a Britain where you don’t have to change who you are just to get on. And yet you still can’t answer that question.  

Then it cannot be any surprise that this fraying of a British promise. This absence of a security we used to take for granted. Led to working people across Scotland turning their back on Britain. 

Conference, that is why Tory stagnation is a threat to Britain itself.  

The recession announced on Thursday – that isn’t just a line on a graph. It’s confirmation that the idea which holds this country together – is on life support. 

You know, even now, I don’t think they realise just how much their war on economic stability, their ignorance about working class aspiration, their lack of a plan for growth in every community.

They don’t see that this is a direct threat to Britain. That is why we have made growth for working people our central mission for this country.

Why – every fight I’ve had, has been about reconnecting our party to the job description.   

A project – to drag us away from the game of gesture politics. And return us once more to the politics of service. 

That’s why I’ve always said we have to win in Scotland. Have to win in the red wall in England. Have to win in working class communities in the valleys of Wales, as well.

This project has a purpose.  We changed the Labour party for a reason. To unite working people behind that old partnership… 

That we serve working people, as they drive our country forward. It’s an approach to politics that has been forgotten. Dismissed as ‘old-fashioned’. 

People say – speaking about class or working people, that just isn’t a strong enough identity any more.  Not when we have to compete with a party that claims they – and only they – can be a vehicle for Scottish national pride. 

Others say it’s not edgy enough.   They say modern politics is a battle for clicks. Division not unity is the order of the day. That’s what grabs the attention. 

But how can you talk about taking on inequality, or racism, or any other structural injustice in this country, without an account of class? 

How can you unite a country as diverse and complicated as Britain, without an appeal to the solidarity our argument contains? 

No – every country, especially one as old as ours, has many stories to tell.  And our story– the Labour story – is one that connects with our times. 

Because people are tired of division. They’re tired of a politics that demands a constant focus on enemies. Rather than the ideas and aspirations that bring us together.  

And frankly – when your public services are on their knees. When your mortgage is going through the roof.  When you have to choose between feeding your kids and putting the heating on. That has to be our priority. 

That’s not just about turning down the temperature, either. I believe people want unity in their politics. I believe people want a sense we can come together. That our four nations can pull in the same direction for a common good…   

That’s what I mean by national renewal. 

It’s not just a plan to get us back on our feet.  It’s the rediscovery of a political muscle we used to flex. 

And that – whether it’s for tackling climate change. Dealing with artificial intelligence. Or standing up to the aggression of tyrants like Putin.

We need to flex again.  It’s a kind of partnership.  A bond of respect between people and politics. 

That is essential for dragging Britain out of this hole the Tories have dug. But which – and this really is the radical part, I believe we can deliver. 

I mean – go back the pandemic. Or to be honest – the whole fourteen years of Tory rule. Because, if you can look beyond the chaos and crisis of Westminster.  There is another story. 

Working people never let each other down, did they? 

Whenever they were asked to dig deep by politicians – whether in Westminster or Holyrood. They did, didn’t they? 

It’s why we clapped for our carers.   Why we clapped for our nurses. Stood by all the people who were indispensable to keeping Scotland and Britain going in that crisis 

Our teachers and teaching assistants. Our childcare workers, warehouse workers, delivery drivers, retailers, energy workers, the armed forces. 

And conference what did we do?   We stayed at home.  Gave up our freedom.  Missed our families.  Missed weddings, missed births and even in some tragic cases missed last goodbyes. 

So look I know how broken politics in Westminster is. I’m not blind. 

I came to politics late, having run a large organisation dedicated to public service. I honestly can’t believe some of the things that pass for normal in that place.   

But however cynical you are about the failures there. Or, for that matter, the failures in Holyrood. Politics is still our only path towards a better future. 

The hospital your children were born in. The home you live in. The wage in your pocket. The opportunities in your town. The sense of pride – or unease – you feel when you walk down your street. 

That’s all politics.  And, as the pandemic shows, or at least the example of working people in the pandemic shows. If there is respect, if there is a plan, if there is a cause, and four nations backing the pride and potential of working people is a cause, then yes, I believe we can unite our country. Yes, we can reach beyond our communities and nations for that common good. 

Turn the page on division and decline. And walk towards national renewal, together. 

I mean let me put it this way. Wherever you are in Scotland. Wick, Fife, Motherwell, Rutherglen, Aberdeen, Leith, Glasgow here today.

The value of politics is written into the walls of every community in this nation. You can see it in the Scotland that the solidarity of working people built. That the Labourmovement built. 

The industrial spirit, the sense of community, the social housing, the NHS, welfare state. All emerging out of the trauma of national sacrifice.  All delivering security for working people, in defiance of a volatile world. 

But it’s also there in the scars of the Scotland born of 1979 onwards. When the Labour Party was turfed out of power – in part, it has to be said, by the SNP.

And the Tories got to manage a period of enormous upheaval instead. A Scotland where too much of the prosperity oil and gas could have brought was squandered. 

Where the government saw working-class security, not as a source of hope and dynamism. But as a threat. 

And where the economic transition away from central Scotland’s main industries was, as it was across Britain. Chaotic. Unstable. And needlessly cruel. 

Conference, what I’m saying is this. We live in a time of upheaval every bit as a big as those two defining periods of modern Scottish history. 

Revolutions in energy, science, technology that are changing our children’s future beyond recognition. 

Overturning the established relationships of power all around the world… 

And with that – creating new threats to democracy. An age of insecurity. With fault-lines that run right through the living standards of working people.

So make no mistake. In this era, the difficult decisions will come thick and fast. And the consequences might stay with us for decades. 

The job we must take on, is to build a bridge to the future. Between the jobs we must protect today, good jobs in communities right across Scotland, and the opportunities we need to win now for a better tomorrow. Security for decades. 

Climate change is the perfect example. It’s a transition we will have to make. Where, at every stage, we must maintain the consent of working people… 

Show we understand that the economic stability they need in their lives. That is non-negotiable. 

This is why we took a tough decision last week on our green investment plans. An acknowledgement of the damage the Tories have done to our public finances. But also that it’s not good enough to say we’ll do something popular. 

If that stability can’t be delivered alongside it. That’s not serving working people. In fact, it’s precisely the sort of politics that got Britain into this mess in the first place. 

Nonetheless. On all of the things that matter. On energy security. Cheaper bills…

The jobs this nation needs to retain its status as a pioneer of energy innovation. Then mark my words, we will move Britain forward. This is a race we can and must win. 

I went to Aberdeen recently. Met the workers who maintain the pipelines. 100 miles long – stretching all the way back to the oil and gas fields.   

They’re proud of what has been built in the cold waters of the North Sea. Proud of their work – hard work, against the odds and elements – that built a legacy for this nation. Part of the Scottish story. 

So I’ve said before – and I say again – that work will continue for decades to come.  But they also told me about the legacy they can build for Scotland’s future. The pride they have in a new opportunity. Converting this infrastructure into a thriving Carbon Capture and Storage industry. 

Literally putting the carbon back in the ground it came from. And giving their community a future – not just for the short-term – but for decades.  

Conference, this is what our investment can do. This is a race Scotland can win. If that’s not national renewal, I don’t know what is.

And it captures perfectly the arguments we must put forward to the Scottish people at the next election. Who do you trust to make the big calls in Scotland’s interest. 

Who do you trust to maximise Scotland’s influence. What kind of politics do you want to steer our ship through these storms. And the answer, with a new sense of service and respect in our politics. 

With a plan for Britain that can get our future back. With a cause that will always serve the interests of working people. Is national renewal with Labour.

But conference, we know that Scotland will judge us – will judge Britain – by our actions not our words. So for our argument to convince again, it needs to feel true in the communities that once voted for us.

But have found a new political home with the SNP. And that will be hard. 

Because for the past fourteen years the SNP have had a faithful ally in a Conservative Party in Westminster. That wilfully makes it impossible to argue that Britain is on their side. 

I mean how can you contest that?  At every stage of this vicious cycle of crisis and stagnation.  The Tories have protected people like them, while working people pay the price. 

At every opportunity, they have stoked the fires of division, because they think it works for their political objectives. Party first, country second. 

So we know this leaves us with a mountain to climb. We know that we will have to fight for every vote. 

The right to say we are the change Scotland needs – that must be earned. Door to door. Conversation to conversation. Community by community. 

With our ears every bit as open as our mouths. But if people want to know what I would say to those voters who have left us. 

I would say this. First – that Scotland’s influence in Britain will be strongest, if you have a Scottish Labour Party working with a Labour Government. 

And a new generation of brilliant Scottish Labour MPs in power in Westminster. But also – that no matter what the SNP say,  the Tories can win the next election. 

Of course they can – politics is volatile. It’s ridiculous to say otherwise. 

So I would also say this: imagine – even if only for a second – what it will feel like, if you wake up on the day after the election. And the Tories are back. Encouraged again. Emboldened again. Entitled again.

Because – respectfully – I do not think that would be in Scotland’s national interest.  And the easiest way to stop it, the only way to be sure of stopping it. Is to choose Labour to fight for Scotland in Westminster.  

Furthermore, I would also say this. That while I know there will always be a debate about Scotland’s constitutional future. If, right now, you want a Britain that places Scotland at the heart of the Westminster debate. 

If you want a politics that is committed to smashing the class ceiling. If you want to see more money for Scottishpublic services or Scottish community energy projects… 

Then that’s change we can deliver for Scotland. 

If you believe in industrial strategy. If you believe growth comes from us all, not just those at the top. That every community deserves secure jobs and higher wages. That we should bulldoze through red tape to deliver affordable homes.

And that working people deserve a new deal at work. Which understands – the best way to get things done in a modern workplace, is to treat people fairly and respectfully. 

With no more zero hour contracts. No more fire and rehire. And a real living wage for all. Then that is change we can deliver for Scotland. 

If you want a credible plan to tackle the climate crisis. That understands clean energy is a golden opportunity. That new jobs can be created here in Scotland. And that the SNP has failed Scottish workers on this.

Because they don’t have the desire to do the job. When you could have a National Wealth fund to invest in Scottish steel and ports. 

A British jobs bonus to create 50,000 new jobs in Scotland’s industrial heartlands. 

A publicly owned company – Great British Energy. Based in Scotland. Investing in Scottish energy. Removing our dependence on tyrants like Putin. 

And delivering cheaper bills to Scottish homes. Then that – all that – is change we can deliver for Scotland. 

And finally I would also say this.  Because if you do want that change for Scotland, if you do want this to be more than words. If we are to show you what Labour Britain can do for your community, then we do need the chance to serve.

And maybe for the first time in a long while. That chance. That change. That difference we could make. It is on the ballot at the general election. And the power of the vote. The power to build a new Scotland.  Rests in your hands. Because all around Scotland, you can see glimpses of a new future. 

You see it in the hydrogen and carbon capture cluster in Grangemouth. The marvel of the Whitelee Windfarm outside this city.  The innovative brilliance of the video gamers of Dundee.

The strength and resilience of Scottish rural communities. The restless creative spirit of its cities. The unchanging beauty of the Highlands, the allure of these Islands.

And, most of all. From the yards of Fife, to the rigs of Aberdeen, and the hospitals that even now in terrible circumstances, still do their best for this nation. You see the determination and pride of working people.

An ambition – their ambition. That we can match in Westminster. Empowering Holyrood. And with it. Build a new Scotland, a future Scotland, a Scotland once again – the beating heart of Britain.

Because Britain once again serves its working people.  

Conference – that is what I would say. That is the Scotland we can build together. 

The future we can get back.  The change we can deliver.  The argument we take to the streets, communities and islands of this nation. 

Labour will end decline and division.  Labour will deliver national renewal for Scotland.  Thank you.