Richard Leonard

 

Speech : Scottish Parliament 4th. September 2018



It is the job of my party to ask difficult questions of the First Minister and to hold the Government to account, and the Parliament and the people who sent us here can rest assured that we will do that week in and week out.

However, let me strike a genuine note of unity at the very start of this new parliamentary term.

I begin by expressing the Scottish Labour Party’s full support to the First Minister in the fulfilment of her Government’s duty to thoroughly investigate and act on all allegations of sexual harassment that arise.

Equally, I say genuinely to the First Minister that she also has our total backing in ensuring that the Scottish Government fulfils its duty of care to the women involved in all such cases and in providing them with all the support that they need when they need it.

She has our full backing, and I hope that I speak for every member on that.

I also record that we welcome today’s announcement on mental health.

It is something that the Labour Party has long campaigned for, and this morning’s publication of the latest figures on child and adolescent mental health serve as a timely reminder of how potentially important the announcement is.

This year alone, more than 2,500 young people have waited more than 18 weeks for treatment.

The review of CAMHS, which was published in June after years of pressure, exposed a system that is simply not fit for purpose, with young people being rejected from treatment because they were not deemed suicidal.

The system needs to change, and I hope that today sees the first step towards doing that.

I am bound to say that I also welcome the toughening of the rules on regional selective assistance awards, but we look to the day when the living wage is a requirement for all companies bidding for all public procurement contracts, and not just those receiving grants.

The First Minister has raised the issue, so I say clearly that we on the Labour benches oppose a second independence referendum and we urge her to drop any plans for it once and for all.

Brexit throws into sharp relief the challenges of leaving one political and economic union. Let us be clear on this as well: leaving the United Kingdom would mean an unprecedented decade of austerity for the people of Scotland.

That is not my analysis; it is the analysis of the SNP’s own cuts commission, published in May, whose members included the Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work.

In the end, the real division that we face is not between the people of the four nations of the United Kingdom; it is between the rich few and the rest of us.

That is the divide that the First Minister should focus on, not dividing the people of Scotland with another referendum.

Some elements are missing from today’s programme for government. In education, there is no mention of scrapping primary 1 standardised assessments.

There is no mention either of the need to deliver a fair pay deal for Scotland’s teachers, or to raise the upper limit on the number of home-based students entering higher education.

In health, there is no mention of the compelling case for imposing a cap on spiralling agency costs in the national health service.

The First Minister talks of wealth and wellbeing but is silent on the distribution of wealth and wellbeing.

The Government knows that the inequality gap is getting wider.

It knows that because its own report, which it published last year, showed that the richest 1 per cent in Scotland now have more personal wealth than the whole of the poorest 50 per cent put together.

 

The Government must know that that results in not just a huge imbalance of wealth but a huge imbalance of power.

 

Although the First Minister and the Scottish Government may choose a vocabulary of radicalism and ambition, in reality they have emptied both of their real meaning.

 

Worse, it is a vocabulary that has been appropriated not for the sake of meaningfully changing the lives of the people of Scotland but for the sake of the political management and positioning of the Scottish National Party.

 

We are 11 years into the SNP’s time in office but where is the vitality?

 

Where is the driving force?

 

Where is the real radical vision in this programme for government?

Over those 11 years in office, the SNP’s ambition has simply not kept up with the growth in this Parliament’s powers.

For our part, Labour will welcome the use of those powers and will always push for a more radical agenda.

Although we welcome the commitment to pay the best start grant before Christmas, we will continue to campaign for an upgrading of child benefit for all the years that our children are growing up.

Over the summer recess, I visited communities and spoke to people across Scotland.

I listened to the asylum seekers in Glasgow facing eviction and deportation and met the resilient community that is standing by them.

I talked to tenants and residents in Alloa struggling with rising rents, witnessing a housing crisis and demanding new investment to bring about real change.

I knocked on the doors of elderly people in Ayrshire, who told me that their GP service was cut back in spring this year.

Those elderly people were in the village of Tarbolton, in the constituency of the new Cabinet Secretary for Health and Sport.

I met business owners and trade unionists, all seeking certainty and firm economic planning and looking for a Scottish Government that not just promises a national investment bank in future but delivers a national industrial strategy now.


Just last week, I listened to people in the fishing industry in Shetland, who are concerned that this Government does not have a plan for what happens if we crash out of the European Union next spring.


I talked to club 365 food project workers in Coatbridge, where practical welfare action by the local Labour council is making a difference to the lives of bright kids who just want a chance in life.

I listened to communities who have taken over the land where they live and work, from the Mull of Galloway to west Harris.

I met workers up and down the country who have had enough of their living standards falling year after year.

Young workers who are exploited in the hospitality industry and workers of all ages are getting organised and getting unionised, because they know that the time has come to fight back.

 

We are seeing a reinvention of citizenship, a new political engagement and a democratic renewal that is based not on national identity but on the universal values of solidarity and equality and a hunger for real and radical change.

In this next parliamentary year we will mark and celebrate the 20th anniversary of the first elections to this Parliament—an event that awakened hope.

 

We want to reawaken that hope by showing that we can take a different path—a path that is radical and ambitious and that will bring about real change, and a path that the people of Scotland deserve.


 

 

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