Speech to Scottish Labour conference

Jeremy Corbyn, Islington North: and first time speaker at Scottish Labour conference.

Thank you Conference.

Friends, I want to begin by thanking you all for inviting and welcoming me, thank you to general secretary Brian Roy and all the staff here in Scotland, and to thank Ian Murray for that very kind introduction.

Ian described himself at UK Conference as the last man standing, but week after week in Shadow Cabinet and on the floor of the House he is fighting Scotland’s corner.

Ian, you may be our only Scottish colleague at Westminster, but you have the support of the entire Parliamentary Labour Party behind you.

And let me pay tribute to Kezia Dugdale and to Alex Rowley.

They could have opted for a quieter life. They could have stood aside and let someone else take on their positions, but they stepped up at this crucial time for the Labour Party.

And, friends, let’s make one thing absolutely clear:

It is for you all in the conference hall in conferences like these to decide the policies on which you will campaign.

And I look forward to being a part of your campaign right through til next May.

I have hugely enjoyed working with Kezia Dugdale. She is the Leader of the Labour Party in Scotland.

And we will co-operate together in a spirit of solidarity.

Co-operation and solidarity – two values on which our party and our movement were founded.

And that solidarity and co-operation is international – and I was so pleased to meet this morning with New Zealand Labour Leader Andrew Little and senator Isabel Allende, the President of the Chilean senate.

Friends, we are now almost six months on from the election defeat in May.

And that defeat was not felt more sharply than here in Scotland. I have friends who describe it as “soul destroying” and “devastating”

You lost some great colleagues who had given this party, and this movement, years of service.

But with that election defeat came a stark message from people here in Scotland, with lessons for us all across Britain.

Our party needs to reach out more effectively to people who feel that politics is too distant, that it’s alien from their lives.

You don’t need to be 500 miles away from Westminster to feel that.

Many people in London or Liverpool or Leeds feel as alienated and distant from the political class as many people here in Scotland.

And that’s why I stood to change our party. And people recognised that need for change.

Conference, I was elected with almost 60% of the votes of members and supporters in the leadership election.

I am clear – as I am sure you are too – that there is a strong mandate to change our party.

And we’ve already seen the enthusiasm for politics and for the Labour Party since the election.

Across the UK we now have over 380,000 members and, here in Scotland, the number of members and supporters has more than doubled to over 30,000.

And having our numbers bolstered also gives us the opportunity to remind people of our historic and current purpose to look after and transform the lives of all our people, not just those at the top.

As that great Scottish socialist and poet John Maclean said:

“I am a socialist, and have been fighting and will fight for an absolute reconstruction of society for the benefit of all.”

To me, socialism is simple. It’s about everyone caring for everyone else.

This is a kinder, more caring politics … we don’t compete, we co-operate.

But it is a politics fired by our passion for fighting injustice, in our belief that an injury to one is an injury to all … the concept of solidarity.

It is those values that I know will drive forward the Scottish Labour Party.

And your campaigns, your policies, your candidates will be determined by the party here in Scotland.

Earlier this week in London, Kez and I signed a joint statement setting the direction of how we intend to devolve more power to the Scottish Labour Party.

I am proud that we are a UK wide democratic socialist party.

I believe in the words that are written on all our membership cards – that we achieve more together than we can alone.

But we have to recognise that the UK has changed, and our party hasn’t always kept up.

When the Scotland Bill goes through the House of Commons, the UK will become one of the most devolved nations in the world.

The Labour Party needs to change to respond to that, and respond to the way politics we now do politics.

That is why it is right that decisions about Scottish Labour will be taken by the members and activists of the Scottish Labour Party.

A Scottish Labour Party where decisions about your policy; the management of your affairs; and the selection of your candidates will be undertaken here in Scotland.

That is what I am committed to and what Kezia and I will deliver, with the UK and Scottish Labour parties co-operating in solidarity with one another.

There will still be a united Labour movement. Working across Britain in the way we always have.

Our history is proud and can inform how we should react now, and what we could do in the future.

The radical tradition that has always been alive in Scotland has inspired me for my whole political life.

Keir Hardie – our party’s great founder who died 100 years ago – born here in Scotland, is the emblem of what our Labour Party is about.

(He was also, by the way, the last bearded leader of our party.)

He was born in Scotland, but he represented seats in Parliament in England (West Ham) and in Wales (Merthyr Tydfil).

Our mission now is the same as that which he laid out just 21 years into the Labour Party’s life when he said that the movement would not rest until “the sunshine of Socialism and human freedom break forth upon our land.”

“The sunshine of socialism”, friends.

I couldn’t think of a better prescription for what our country needs to break through the narrow, nasty, divisive politics of the Conservatives

We have seen it since May and it was on full display this week – as they sought to portray a crisis they’re inflicting on 3 million families as a constitutional crisis.

Hardie’s “sunshine of socialism” was about providing people with decent housing, it was about promoting peace and defending jobs – and there is no contradiction between those last two points.

We know there are skilled jobs in the defence industry. We cannot be negligent about skills and jobs. We must secure every one of them.

But don’t tell me we can’t put those skills to better use: the innovators, the engineers, the technicians, the security staff and the civil servants too.

No one should even consider allocating a penny saved on not renewing Trident until those skills and jobs are protected through a proper programme of diversification.

You will decide what position you must take on that – for the good of Scotland.

Whatever you decide, it must be in solidarity with workers who may feel threatened and communities that may feel vulnerable.

Scotland has always demonstrated its international solidarity – from the Scots (so many of whom never came back) who left this country to fight fascism and stand alongside Republicans in the Spanish Civil War.

It was also demonstrated decades later when those fighting for democracy in Chile were welcomed by Scottish trade unionists, including just down the road in Fife, where coalfield communities took in Chilean families fleeing the tyranny of Pinochet.

As it was in East Kilbride where 4,000 trade unionists at Rolls Royce refused to handle Pinochet’s engines meant for jets to crush the Chilean people.

The anti-apartheid movement was one of the strongest here in Scotland – and it is a pleasure to walk in Mandela Place in Glasgow.

Conference that is solidarity in action.

We are standing up for human rights around the world today – opposing Tory plans to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights.

In demanding the Government takes its share of the desperate refugees fleeing to our continent as a safe haven from the horrors of war.

By speaking up, we forced the government into a u-turn on the Saudi prisons contract.

And today we welcome home Shaker Aamer, finally freed after 13 years in Guantanamo Bay.

We stand for human rights and against injustice home and abroad.

And, conference, we must remain united against what this Tory government in Westminster is doing:

Look at their failure over the steel industry. Nearly one-in-five jobs in that industry have either gone or are under threat.

Yesterday I met with steel workers in Scunthorpe.

They were worried about a government that doesn’t care about steel communities, that has no industrial strategy, and no long term economic plan other than their ideological commitment to shrink the state – cutting services, jobs and benefits.

I want to pay tribute to shadow Business Secretary Angela Eagle who has led the fight on this. We need to fight for every job in Motherwell and Cambuslang.

Why has it taken so long for the UK government to act? And why have UK and Scottish government failed to procure steel from the plants in this country.

And friends, with the Tories attacking the tax credits and the incomes of working people, we need to renew our fight for decent wages.

We will not rest, as our shadow chancellor John McDonnell has said, until those cuts are reversed fairly and in full.

John was right too when he said at UK conference that “austerity is a political choice not an economic necessity.”

Conference, be assured that our political choice will be to act in the interests of all and to rebalance our economy in a way that is just and fair.

And just look at the choices George Osborne is making:

Money available for giveaways to the wealthiest families and to big corporations, yet the books are being balanced on the backs of low and middle income families.

£1300 a year will be taken from nearly a quarter of a million families across Scotland from next April.

And across the UK, these tax credit cuts will put another 200,000 children into poverty – and half a million more children are already in poverty today than in 2010.

How can we rest when the Government is trying to dismantle the supports for working people that Labour put in place?

Why should our members of the House of Lords not take action to force the Government’s hand, as they did earlier this week?

Conference, we will use every mechanism at our disposal, every possible opportunity to stop these unfair, unjust, punitive attacks on working people.

No one will be left with any doubt about who the Labour Party stands for or who we stand with.

That’s true on working tax credits, it is true on the Trade Union Bill too.

The Trade Union Bill is just as much an attack on working people’s living standards as the tax credits cut.

The best way to get job security, get a pay rise, or win equal pay is through well-organised unions in every workplace.

When you attack trade unions you attack jobs, pay and pensions.

I want to pay tribute to all the Labour led local authorities who have promised not to assist in this draconian attack on the right of working people to organise.

Led by Frank McAveety, Labour Leader of Glasgow City Council, who said, “Glasgow will say no to these attacks on working people and we will not co-operate with attacks on facility time or check off.”

Hardie’s ‘sunshine of socialism’ was about allowing human freedom to break forth.
But under this Scottish Government it is breaking down.

An education system where 6,000 children a year leave primary school unable to read properly and there are 4,000 fewer teachers in Scotland’s classrooms.

And where, in that great vehicle for a second chance – the college system – there are 140,000 fewer students going to college.

In the health service Audit Scotland warned only last week of the pressure there is on our cherished NHS. 7 out of 9 targets missed and a real terms budget cut.

I agree with Neil Findlay and Alex Rowley that it is a national scandal that a baby born this afternoon in our most deprived council ward will become ill and die decades earlier than a baby born today into one of our least deprived council wards.

Conference that is why I was delighted to read the report into health inequalities, commissioned by Neil Findlay, that was launched here earlier today.

In local government tens of thousands jobs have been lost under this Scottish Government’s watch with many more likely to go: only this week we have seen some of our councils under so much financial pressure that they are tragically planning further redundancies.

Friends, if you want socialist change, if you want a left wing alternative, you have to vote for it.

If you’re satisfied with rising inequality, rising child poverty and widening health inequalities – then Labour is not for you.

If you’re satisfied that nearly a million people in Scotland are in fuel poverty or that half of all housing in Scotland falls short of official quality standards, then Labour isn’t for you.

But if you’re not content, if you won’t walk by on the other side …

Then vote for a party next May that is a democratic socialist party in both our words and our deeds. Vote Labour.

It is the Labour mission that no one is left behind, that everyone has the chance to get on – socially, economically and culturally.

That pensioners won’t have to choose between heating and eating this year.

That working class children have the same opportunities to learn an instrument at school, to thrive and realise their potential …

That young workers have the opportunity to improve their skills …

That older workers can go to college and re-train …

As that great Scottish socialist Jennie Lee said when founding that proud Labour achievement, the Open University:

“[It] does not insult any man or any women whatever their background by offering them the second best, nothing but the best is good enough.”

Conference, it wasn’t just people across Scotland who said that Labour needed to change in May.

It was people the length and breadth of Britain.

We had become too distant, too remote and – whether it was true or not – we were perceived to be a party that could no longer represent the whole of Britain.

It is my mission, it is our mission, to turn that around.

That means engaging with thousands of people who have never voted before, and giving them a reason to turn out to support us.

Too often, people say that everyone involved in politics are “all the same”. We need to break that perception.

In the referendum last year, 85% of people turned out to vote because the stakes were high, and because they knew that regardless of how people voted it would have a dramatic effect on the future of your nation.

I believe that all politics today – not just constitutional politics – is that important.

The stakes are high. When we vote for a Government – as we are seeing with these Tories – their decisions have an impact on the lives and life chances of an entire generation.

That’s true for Scotland and it’s true for Britain.

So let’s take the best of the energy the referendum campaign unleashed, and let’s fuse that with Hardie’s hopeful vision.

Let us keep going “until”, as Keir Hardie said, “the sunshine of Socialism and human freedom break forth upon our land”.

It is a vision for a more equal Scotland and a more equal Britain.

A Labour vision for a better future.

Let that be our mission. Let us co-operate together to build it.

Thank you.