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Rhona Brankin

Iain Gray MSP

Iain Gray MSP

The address given by Iain Gray to the Scottish Labour spring conference held in Glasgow, 19 March 2011.

Conference, thank you. And thank you to Fiona [O’Donnell] for that introduction. I do believe that one year ago, although we did not win the general election – and what a price we are paying for that – here in Scotland through your efforts we sent some remarkable new MPs to Westminster.

They have already made their mark – they are to the fore in holding the Tories to account. They are fighting day in, day out for the communities they represent. And Fiona is one of them. East Lothian is proud of you Fiona. Labour is proud of you. And I am proud of you too.

I am proud too of Labour’s MSPs in Holyrood and their fight over the past four years to oppose the SNP there. In and out of that chamber they have stood alongside teachers and parents fighting cuts in their schools, the victims of crime fighting for justice, redundant apprentices fighting for a chance, kinship carers fighting for recognition, and workers fighting for protection at work. Labour, your MSPs have done you proud.

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A special thanks goes to those who are leaving Holyrood this week. Marlyn Glen, Trish Godman, Rhona Brankin, Wendy Alexander, Peter Peacock, George Foulkes, Margaret Curran, Cathy Jamieson. And of course Jack McConnell, the longest-serving first minister of Scotland.

And I see the new faces who, voters willing, will carry on the work of Labour and, I believe, can take us to new heights. Faces like Ewan Aitken, Lesley Hinds, Stephen Curran, Jenny Marra and Lawrence Fitzpatrick – I kid you not, Lawrence has knocked on more doors and rattled more letterboxes than Postman Pat.

And congratulations to Scotland’s newest councillor, Roy Glen, winning this Thursday past in Paisley with a remarkable 17 per cent increase in our share of the vote. Well done Roy.

It is always a pleasure to meet in this great city of Glasgow, with its proud history of socialist politics and its Labour council, led by Gordon Matheson, demonstrating the power of Labour values in tough times. This city needs Labour and the support of Glasgow for Labour endures and strengthens this party. You know what else this city really needs, though? A rail link to its airport. And we will make sure it gets one.

People I meet sometimes say being Scottish Labour leader must be a tough job, and sometimes it can be. But I will tell you what is really a tough job. Bringing up a family on your own. That’s tough. Working 12-hour shifts to make ends meet. That’s tough. Picking yourself up if you have been made redundant and trying to find a new job in your 40s or 50s. That’s tough. Trying to keep your house nice and your garden decent in a street where no one else cares – that’s a tough job.

Our politics should be about supporting those people doing tough jobs in tough times.

Make no mistake, this election is being fought in a time of anxiety. When in our memories was the world last in such tumult? Peoples around the world face the most daunting of challenges. Our hearts go out to the brave citizens of Japan struggling with the aftermath of earthquake and tsunami.

We send our solidarity to those struggling for the democratic rights we too often take for granted, not least in Libya. We have watched in awe as one man’s sacrifice of his own life in Tunisia has triggered a great new wave of democratisation.

To me, those brothers’ and sisters’ struggles are based in the need to feed and care for their families. And what those people are demanding is that their voices of change be heard. Too often we take that power for granted. This world can be shaped by the will of its people, and so it should. Let those voices be heard. Labour will support them every step of the way.

But here in Scotland, too, people are worried. They are worried about making ends meet and whether they can pay their bills at the end of the week or the end of the month. They are worried about cuts to services and whether the services they need will still be there when they need them. Worried about the NHS, in case they need to go to hospital. Worried about care services in case their elderly parents need them.

But above all, people are worried about jobs. Their own jobs and the future job opportunities for their sons and daughters and grandchildren.

So we will fight this election campaign on a programme which speaks to those anxieties. A National Care Service – national standards of care delivered locally so that people can count on them. Cutting the number of health boards, not the number of nurses in our NHS, and ensuring our hospitals are cleaner so that people can be sure that if they do need to go to hospital they will not get sicker because of hospital-acquired infections.

A literacy drive in our schools, so that parents who do the right thing, and get their kids to school, can be sure that they will learn the basic skills of reading and writing that they need to build all their other learning upon. The First Foot scheme to reduce deposits on new homes so that young Scots starting out in life can find their way onto the property ladder.

A freeze in council tax to alleviate some of the pressure families face on their household budgets. Tough action on knife crime, so their streets will be safer, and new powers for communities to tackle antisocial behaviour, so that when their life is made a misery by bad neighbours and those who respect no ones rights, then they will be listened to and action will be taken.

But, conference, no party which goes into the election this May simply saying how they will stop Scotland going backwards will find favour with the electorate. Because even in these difficult times people want to know that things can get better too, that there is the hope of a Scotland where the economy is growing again, jobs are there, and opportunity is opening up for the next generation.

So our policies and programme will not only speak to the people’s concerns but to their aspiration as well. It is a programme to take Scotland forward.

We will guarantee an apprenticeship opportunity for every qualified school-leaver who seeks one. We will create 10,000 job opportunities for unemployed young people, replacing the future jobs fund which the Tories ended yesterday.

We will not put a price on higher education, so that no aspiring Scottish student need turn away from study because of the prospect of a £12,000 tuition fee debt. And I can announce today that we will introduce a new College Maintenance Allowance to replace the broken college bursary system which makes it impossible for so many to sustain their studies and leaves students pleading poverty to officials in order to get what support they need.

These and other measures we will announce in our manifesto amount to a comprehensive investment in the future of Scotland’s young people. Let us not pretend for a minute that making it all happen will be easy. But I tell you it is worth it.

Because together this amounts to a powerful pledge I make today on your behalf – that we will not stand by and see a generation lost to Tory ideology and SNP incompetence.

All of this matters because when we do get Scotland building again the construction industry will come looking for joiners and plumbers and brickies. We have to be sure our young people will be ready then.

All of this matters because when the new industries like renewable and life sciences come looking for graduates and technicians, we have to be sure that our young people are ready to take up those opportunities and grow the Scotland of the 21st century.

All of this matters to me. So much. Because I am a father. And an uncle. And a grandfather. Because it is my niece training to be a nurse for our NHS. My nephew going to university next year to study engineering. My granddaughter who will need the skills and the education to make her way not just in the 21st century, but God willing, right through to the 22nd.

All of this matters to me because I remember the last time. The last recession. The last cuts. The last Tory government.

You know, when I heard that Alex Salmond had said “Scotland didn’t mind Thatcher’s economics, it was just her social policy we didn’t like”, I wondered where the hell he had been in the 80s. Because, as I recall, Scotland minded Thatcher’s economics very much indeed.

And then I remembered. He was a banker in the oil department of the Royal Bank of Scotland. Maybe there they didn’t mind Thatcher’s economics. But where I was we did. I was teaching in a secondary school in Edinburgh. Where Thatcher’s economics drained all of the hope, and all of the energy and all of the life out of the kids. Where they were told that their unemployment was a price worth paying. Where they were taught society had no place for them.

That they would never work. That they had no future.

It took a generation to turn that round. Eighteen years to get rid of the Tories. A new deal to eradicate youth unemployment. It took Labour to rebuild that school inside and out.

First we rebuilt the school itself, to show the students we believed in their potential. Then we rebuilt their prospects, to show them they really had the potential. And then we created the jobs they could do to unleash their potential.

If you really think Scotland didn’t mind Thatcher’s economics, just her social policy, you don’t understand Thatcher, you don’t understand economics, and you don’t understand Scotland.

Thirty years on, the social pain caused by those Tory economic theories runs through 1,000 communities in Scotland. The scars of what they did to our mining industry run through every street, every house and every family of the mining towns in my constituency – to this day. Unused shipyards lie empty with the silence of discontinued industry, craft and creation – to this day. And the ghost of a once-great steel industry haunts the empty expanses of the Ravenscraig site – to this day.

Those Thatcher economics were the most dismal algorithms of the dismal science. And are they not written in the DNA of David Cameron and George Osborne to this very day?

When the crash came in 2008, the opportunists called it the end of progress. The twisted fiction of the right proclaimed the end to “easy money” and to “loose spending”. They called the social pact of the welfare state a failed experiment. Well, the society our movement built out of the tatters of the second world war was no theory, no academic test or fanciful experiment.

The Labour movement built this country on the truth of values and on the pledge that their children would not live the hardships of their parents. And David Cameron is that twisted fiction made real. He says this recession wasn’t the fault of his banker friends, but the fault of the people who wanted decent schools and hospitals they could rely on.

Every day he prosecutes the case that unemployment is the cost we pay for daring to dream of something better for our country. Well, don’t believe him. These are no mere dreams. These are values that guide us and that can make those better tomorrows real.

Conference, in my last speech to you I quoted Albert Camus: “I love my country too much to be a nationalist.”

But here is a quote all of my own: I love the people of my country too much to be a Tory. I believe in enterprise, but I believe in fairness too. I believe in working hard, but I don’t believe that anyone works hard enough to earn a £6 million bonus when too many people are still working as hard as they can to make £5.93 an hour.

I believe in encouraging success and excellence, but I don’t believe in anyone just being left behind.

So, if elected as first minister I will put the economy at the heart of everything I do. I will create an economic cabinet, at the heart of government tasked with driving economic growth through policies across the span of government. They will draw on the experience and the expertise of the trade union and workforce side of industry, as well as management, and they will draw from the successful approaches of the cooperative and voluntary sector too.

And if I am elected first minister I will also set up a Fairer Scotland commission to draw the roadmap for the long term – that takes Scotland towards a more equitable society and thus a society more at ease with itself.

It simply cannot be right that life expectancy varies by as much as ten years according to which side of a street you are born on, or that we fund higher education from the public purse but we make little or no progress in opening up our universities to more students from our poorer communities. It cannot be right that the path of your life is set at birth more firmly now than it was 30 years ago.

Our task is a great one – it is to give form to hope and make real the dreams of better lives that in our best days we all have dreamt.

So we will set ourselves to building that better tomorrow. We know that being on the side of working people and being on the side of the businesses that drive our economy are one and the same thing. We believe in the right to work, we believe in decent wages and conditions. We believe that our country needs to be competitive to encourage growth.

A Labour government in Holyrood will work to grow our economy and create jobs as our single greatest priority. A government focused on what really matters. That’s what people want and it is what Scotland needs.

We will invest in the green and growth industries of the future, delivering jobs that are rooted in Scotland for the long term and meeting our environmental commitments.

I want to see us redouble the government’s commitment to the renewables sector, not just to renewable generation but to development and manufacturing as well. We will streamline and energise government support for this industry in order to make it deliver our potential.

The Tories of yesterday believed that manufacturing was disposable and whole industries could be left to die. I don’t believe that. We cannot go back to the past but we can build and manufacture our way into the future.

Earlier this week, I visited Alexander Dennis in Falkirk. That firm has been making buses for 50 years. And they still are. They are making the highest quality, most advanced hybrid buses in the world – and they are selling them all over the world. I saw skilled coachpainters working there in the paint shop and met the new apprentices.

My granddad was a coachpainter – an apprentice almost 100 years ago, and painted buses all his life. The buses I saw on the visit are modern, green and packed with high technology. But the skills and the hard work and the pride of those apprentices are just the same as my granddad’s. It has to be higher tech. It has to be higher value. It has to be packed with innovation, but I believe Scotland can still manufacture, engineer and innovate its way to the industries and jobs of the future.

For four years now, we have had a government that has been distracted from these issues, that have had their minds on other things.

Did you see the SNP party political the other week? It was based on Monty Python. The Life of Brian – “What have the Romans ever done for us?”

Good movie. Not my favourite line from, it though.

Alex Salmond. He’s not the messiah. He is just a very naughty boy.

He told parents he would reduce class sizes to 18 in p1, p2 and p3, but he didn’t. Naughty.

He told Scotland’s teachers he would ensure they all had jobs. But he didn’t. Naughty.

He said he would match our school-building programme brick-for-brick. But he didn’t. Naughty.

He told Scotland’s students he would replace student loans with grants and pay off all student debts.

But he didn’t. Very, very naughty. Even naughtier than naughty Nick Clegg.

Alex Salmond is no one’s idea of the messiah. Except maybe Alex Salmond’s.

Surely the greatest indictment of the SNP administration is this: Labour left them a Scotland where unemployment was lower that the rest of Britain. The SNP leave a Scotland where unemployment is higher than the rest of Britain.

That happened because they cancelled projects like the rail links to Edinburgh and Glasgow airport.

Stopped the school-building programme. Slashed the housing budget this year. It happened because they cut 3,000 teachers from our schools, and 1,500 nurses from our hospitals. And they did that in the good years when budgets were rising.

The Tories still believe that unemployment is a price worth paying. Thanks to the SNP, Scotland is paying a premium on that price – in construction workers sitting at home, teachers on supply and nurses heading abroad to use their skills.

Labour says unemployment is never a price worth paying and Scotland will not pay it.

I believe that when we train nurses, they should be deployed in our hospitals, when we turn out committed, enthusiastic, highly trained teachers, they should be inspiring youngsters in our schools, and I believe that our architects, builders, joiners, plumbers and electricians should be constructing schools and hospitals and homes for us.

I believe that Labour can make that happen again.

Conference, the last time I addressed you, I laid out our plans for a radical reforming agenda. Fewer health boards, a single police force, halving cancer waiting-times, a Scottish Future Jobs Fund, a Scottish Living Wage, an apprenticeship guarantee. Alex Salmond has done his best to follow in our wake.

Well – follow this: We will end automatic early release. Bringing transparency to sentencing.

We will set up a chronic pain centre for patients in our NHS, so Scots don’t have to travel to Wales to receive the quality of life-enhancing treatment they deserve.

We will establish our First Foot scheme to help first-time buyers get their first mortgage.

We will set a standard of zero-tolerance of drugs in prisons. Time spent in prison should be a time to change for the better. We will make sure that if you carry a knife you will go to jail.

We’ll keep coming up with the ideas to make Scotland fairer, safer, healthier, more prosperous. The SNP can keep chasing from behind. Let no one say that there is no difference between us and them.

Just look at the past four years: Labour wouldn’t have cancelled airport rail links in Edinburgh and Glasgow. We wouldn’t have cancelled £1 billion of schools and hospitals.

Wouldn’t have cut 3,000 teachers from our schools. Wouldn’t have cut 1,500 nurses from our hospitals. Labour wouldn’t have ended short jail sentences for perpetrators of domestic violence.

And, conference, I would not have released the Lockerbie bomber.

One thing Labour will never do is introduce the SNP’s unfair, unworkable, unwanted Local Income Tax to hammer Scotland’s families. Follow us on that, Alex Salmond. Drop your local income tax now.

We will fight for what matters, every day. They’ll keep plugging away at that same old separatist idea that distracts them from the concerns of working people.

Because this time is not like the last recession, the last time of cuts, the last Tory government. This time we have the Scottish parliament. And we created that parliament for this time.

I have the privilege of representing East Lothian, where John P Macintosh and East Lothian Labour Party campaigned, argued and evangelised for Scotland to have its parliament for years – when it was an unfashionable idea. It was the long Tory years and the advocacy of Labour politicians like Gordon Brown, Robin Cook, John Smith and Donald Dewar, who won the argument and made Scotland believe in that idea.

Labour created that parliament. Though the SNP mocked. Remember they said we could not deliver a pizza never mind a parliament. The truth is it is Alex Salmond who delivers plenty of promises but never delivers the goods.

Ed Miliband was right this morning: we created our parliament for the hard times, not the good times.

Conference, we created it for a time like this. It means we can say, with our hand on our heart, you see what the Tories are doing to the NHS in England? We won’t have that here.

You see what the Tories are doing to the universities in England? We won’t have that here. You see what the Tories are doing to council services in England? We won’t have that here.

This is what our parliament is for. Sometimes people say that Labour created the Scottish parliament thinking we would always be in charge. But that was never true. Donald Dewar knew his history and his democratic principles better than that.

The tragedy of the past four years is not that the SNP have run the parliament. It is that they have not used it for the things that really matter.

They have spent more time buying saltires than building schools. Given more attention to a referendum than to the regeneration of our communities. They are more interested in complaining about what they cannot do because they don’t have the power than doing what they can with the power they have to support Scottish families.

The parliament we want to see is not a platform for party posturing and a government of grudge and grievance, but a place where Scotland can be brought together to make the future we want for our people.

Donald Dewar knew that, when he talked of a parliament which was about “more than our politics and our laws”. “A Parliament which is about who we are, how we carry ourselves.”

Do you remember the excitement of that first day in 1999, of what we could achieve; the sense of pride and hope, the emotion that spread through the streets of Edinburgh when people joined in with Sheena Wellington to sing A Man’s a Man? Remember the old man interviewed by BBC in Princes Street Gardens crying, because he was part of a day he never thought he would see in his country?

The pride we felt because we had done it. Labour had delivered for him and now we must deliver for him again.

The vision of what Scottish Labour politics should be runs through the history of our party. In 1924 a great socialist son of this great Scottish city, James Maxton, described a Scottish parliament he would never see but which we now have, and a purpose he could only dream of but which we can now make real.

“Give us our parliament in Scotland. We will start with no traditions. We will start with ideals. We will start with purpose, with courage. We will start with the aim and object that there will be 134 men and women, pledged to 134 Scottish constituencies, to spend their whole brain power, their whole courage and their whole soul in making Scotland into a country in which we can take people from all the nations of the earth and say: this is our land, this is our Scotland, these are our people, these are our men, our works, our women and children: can you beat it?”

That is the parliament Labour created and that is the vision to which we must aspire, the opportunity to make it real, the outcome for which we must campaign day and night from now until 5 May.

Because it is today as it always has been – Labour who will stand up for the working people of Scotland in this time of recession, in this time of cuts, in this time of the Tories.

Just like our parliament, our Labour movement and our Labour party were not created for the easy times, but for the hard.

Our roots lie in struggle, our strength lies in solidarity, our values lie in justice. But our determination comes from the hope and the certainty that even in the most difficult of times we can and we will find ways to raise up our people, lift up our communities and build up our country again. These are our beliefs. This is our socialism.

Now is the time for the Scottish parliament to step up. To be what it was meant to be. A powerful instrument of social progress. Fighting for the things that really matter.

Now is the time for Labour in Scotland to step up.

In Oban, I declared this a doorstep election and since then you have knocked on 500,000 doors and made the Labour case. Time to step up. In the next six weeks we will knock on 500,000 more and make that case again and again and again.

Now is the time for Labour in Scotland to step up.

We know the things that really matter. Jobs, opportunity, fairness. A strong NHS, safe streets and the best schools we can possibly provide.

Now is the time to step up and fight for the things that really matter. Conference, now is the time for you to step up for Labour.

And for Labour to step up – for Scotland.

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King Cnut: Adopting a vigorous debating style

King Cnut: Adopting a vigorous debating style

There was controversy over the tootsies of King Cnut in the Scottish Parliament yesterday. But that wasn’t the oddest thing. The oddest thing was the consensus.

True, the subject under advisement was the need to tackle illiteracy. But, even so, the hardliners on the Labour and SNP benches usually couldn’t attend a church social without attempting to brain each other.

Labour had called the debate on a report it had commissioned about illiteracy. You can imagine how many times that report was run through the spell-checker.

Deliberately, I missed the opening remarks by Des McNulty (Lab), as I find his dullness too much first thing in the morning. But I caught some of Michael Russell, the education secretary, whose presence had a curiously absent aspect. His mind was maybe elsewhere, as that morning’s Herald had reported another serious development in his spat with a blogger.

Still, I heard waspish Elizabeth Smith (Con) praise “rigorous spelling tests” in Clackmannanshire. Frankly, if you can spell Clackmannanshire without looking up how many n’s (and where), that should guarantee top marks.

“Unbelievably,” said Elizabeth, “some people argue that we don’t need tests at all.” I know. Imagine if there were tests to be an MSP. Instead of 129, we’d only have about seven, She also criticised the trend to let pupils give bullet-point answers, rather than encouraging them to be more expansive. Trust a politician to call for more waffle.

Bitter Rhona Brankin (Lab) said one million adults in Scotland were now functionally illiterate. Yes, and most of them seem to be leaving comments on websites.

Thuggish Kenny Gibson (SNP) commended a scheme in which, upon the sound of a school bell, “everyone from the janitor to the head” had to drop what they were doing and start reading a book. You can imagine that going down well with the jannie. Picture him sitting there with a steaming mug of tea “reading” the latest edition of Humungous Hooters behind his coffee-table edition of Hamlet.

Karen Whitefield (Lab), who sounds like she’ll be four next birthday, made the usual parochial noises praising a school in her constituency – it’s either instinctive parochialism or calculated vote-grubbing – while Christina McKelvie (SNP) expressed delight at Labour’s unusually constructive approach to the debate. She even hoped the Tories might join “the collective effort”. I don’t think collectivism is really their thing, Christina.

Aileen Campbell (SNP) noted the modern, somewhat sick-making habit of substituting the word “challenges” for “problems”, adding: “There is no doubt that illiteracy is a problem.” Thankfully, no one problemed her on that.

The education secretary got back up on his hind legs to comment on a jokey comment someone had made earlier about crime writer Ian Rankin being self-interested in getting people to read. “As an author myself, I am also self-interested,” said Mike. Ooh, hark at him. “Aym ai writer, don’t you know, ken?”

A Lib Dem heckled him, and Mike noted: “I didn’t hear the sedentary intervention by Jamie Stone, but I always regard that as an advantage.” See? He’s like Oscar bleedin’ Wilde, our Michael.

Mr Spock look-alike Ken McIntosh (Lab) praised the consensus, before putting a Vulcan neck-pinch on the Tories for their “grammar school” image and obsession with testing.

Funnily enough, Labour leader Elmer Fudd opted to raise the same subject of illiteracy at First Minister’s Questions and, despite the usual undertow of impending mayhem, the consensus continued, making matters tepid for all who love a rammy.

Fudd asked First Minister Eck Salmond if he would support a “zero tolerance” approach. Controversially, Eck said “Yes”, then added: “I’m glad that Mr Fudd welcomes the constructive approach of the education secretary.”

Elmer came back with a curious suggestion that the Government should come out of the concordat with local authorities so that it could get things done. But the First Eck said gently that this idea was mince. And that was that.

As so often, it was up to the Tories to introduce a note of disagreement but, alas, Annabel Goldie – democratic duchess, spinster to the nation, doyen of the doilie set – cocked things up for the second week in a row. After trotting out the usual soundbite about “Labour’s recession”, the Tory leader asked Eck if he would cut the costs of parliament.

Before Eck could answer, the presiding orifice intervened, saying: “That’s not the responsibility of the First Minister.”

Annabel: “To clarify, First Minister, the Scottish Government, of course, allocates budget for the running of this parliament.”

Mr Orifice: “That is actually incorrect, Miss Goldie. The Scottish Government does not allocate the budget.”

Annabel (bowing): “I apologise for the confusion, presiding orifice.” Oh dear. And her a lawyer, tae, someone who should have total command of such boring cack.

She then went on to accuse Eck of being in denial about the need to make cuts, adding: “He is the King Cnut of Scottish politics, presumably hoping his wee tartan tootsies won’t get wet.”

Oh Lordie, now it was Eck’s turn to correct Annabel: “Actually, it was King Canute who was arguing the opposite case.”

As any fule kno, King C was trying to prove to his advisers that he couldn’t’ control the tides. Eck observed: “Obviously, my knowledge of English history is somewhat stronger than Annabel’s.”

Oh, the shame for Annabel: to be deemed historically illiterate about her beloved England – by a Scots Nat.

Further sketchings
In last week’s Sketchings, I alluded to that wee wumman who always sits behind Lib Dem leader Tavish Scott, her face aglow with besotted admiration. Well, this week, for the first time ever, she wasn’t there. She was replaced by two guys, including Jeremy “Skullsplitter” Purvis. What was more peculiar this week was that Jeremy and Tavish both wore matching pink ties. It all seemed so very Lib Dem somehow.