Speech by Iain Gray, Leader of Labour in the Scottish Parliament

Scottish Labour Party conference, Oban, 30th. October 2010


Thank you conference.

And thank you Lesley.

You know conference, we meet this week in troubled times.

But it is in troubled times that Labour people turn their face to the wind and put their shoulder to the wheel.

There is no better example to us than Lesley Hinds.

For twenty five years she has represented the people of Muirhouse and Drylaw through good times and through bad. She did not become a Labour councillor when it was easy, or fashionable or simple.

She stepped up to the plate in 1984 at the height of recession, in a community under attack from Tory policies in a city left nearly bankrupt by Tory incompetence.

For 18 years Lesley and her Labour councillors across Scotland were the only protection working people had against the assault on their living standards, their services and their very future.

Labour values, Labour principles and Labour people the only bulwark against the Tories and their fellow travelers as they are again today.

Now Lesley wants the chance to fight that fight again in Holyrood as MSP for Edinburgh Western.

Lesley, we will work every day from now until May to have you there with us.

So where stands Scotland now?

The global financial crash left our country with huge debts to pay.

The collapse of our two biggest Scottish banks shook our confidence and required a rescue package unlike any we had ever seen before.

The Labour government held our economy together with the kind of urgent and decisive action that only real leaders take. Our confidence in Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling was well founded.

They saved our economy from collapse and they started us back on the path to recovery.

It is deplorable now, an act of ideological folly, to put that recovery at risk with a spending review that attacks the poorest but protects the bankers who caused this crisis.

To call those decisions ‘fair’ is just a lie.

We should not, can not, will not tolerate the rewriting of history by the Tories and the Liberals.

Public spending in this country prior to the global financial collapse was not out of control as they would have the country believe.

That spending was a necessity to right the wrongs of decades of Tory mis-rule and rebuild our communities laid waste by Thatcherite dogma..

Our public finances were sustainable and our spending in-line with the needs and priorities of the people.

Inflation was low and so was unemployment.

You’d think by the way they are acting now that the Conservatives,

The Liberals and the SNP had counselled us against spending, but of course they actually demanded more spending at every turn.

Yes, the bailout of our banks has left us with a deficit that has to be paid down over time but we cannot let the great progress of the last thirteen years be undone.

There is always a space for progress.

There is always room for fairness.

A time for justice.

A moment for peace.

The place for equality.

Our politics were never built on the profits of banks in the easy times.

Ours is a cause steeled in the forge of community and solidarity when times are hard.

Our values have seen us through the toughest of times, through war and depression yet our movement has made the lives of millions better, given hope to the dispossessed and made the weak stronger.

A Tory government in Westminster putting hundreds of thousands on the dole and cutting the dole when they get there.

Putting up rents and cutting housing benefit.

Punishing the poor and caring nothing for our communities.

Look at RAF Kinloss.

The heart ripped out of a whole county at a stroke.

And now they threaten to come back for more with Lossiemouth under threat.

These are not strategic decisions.

These are cuts.

Next Sunday I will join the rally in Lossiemouth to save that base.

I will take your message of solidarity and support to those people fighting for their community.

But Conference.

Labour created the Scottish parliament for times like these.

There are tough decisions ahead.

Our budget has been cut faster and deeper than is safe or necessary.

But we must deal with the consequences of that.

And we will be honest with the people of Scotland.

No false prospectus of ever more lavish spending proposals.

If elected in May there will be decisions we do not wish to make. But we will rise to the challenge, with our values at the heart of every decision.

We cannot avoid the consequences of the collapse of our Scottish banks.

We cannot avoid the consequences of these Tory cuts.

But we can protect, we shall protect, the most vital of services our communities rely on.

And we can show the rest of Britain that there is another way, a better way.

We can be a beacon for progress, a light to those who might lose hope. Labour will show the way back.

First in Scotland and then across the United Kingdom when Ed Miliband is elected Prime Minister.

So where stands Scottish Labour now.

In good shape.

In good heart.

In good spirits.

Fresh from a general election where one million Scots put their trust in Labour.

Buoyed by a leadership election in which Labour recovered its purpose and found a leader who inspired this conference yesterday.

And ready.

Ready conference for an election to come.

Doors we will knock.

Leaflets we will deliver.

Arguments we will make.

An election we can win.

I say this to you not to boast.

Not to brag.

Not to bluster.

I leave that to others to whom it comes more naturally.

I say it to you because of the importance of the task ahead of us.

Do not doubt the scale of the challenge we face.

The SNP will not give up power in Holyrood easily.

They will have money to spend.

Full page ads in the press.

Glossy leaflets by the million.

Paid for calls and paid for delivery.

No doubt the SNP leader’s election helicopter is warming up on the tarmac right now.

In ancient times the Persian army’s arrows were so numerous that it was said the sky was blotted out.

The Spartan reply was "good – then we will fight in the shade,"

It is the SNP’s track record they are so desperate to blot out in a hail of glossy leaflets and shiny slogans.

The promises broken :

Student debt
First time buyer grants
Class sizes
Nursery teachers
Teacher numbers

The projects cancelled :

Edinburgh Airport Rail link
Glasgow Airport rail link
Our school building programme

The jobs cut – in the good times :

3000 teachers
1000 classroom assistants
4000 health service workers.

But this track record of failure will not be hidden.

We will make our case directly to the voters of Scotland.

This will be a doorstep election.

A word of mouth campaign.

The kind of campaign which won us by elections in Glenrothes and Glasgow and won us 41 seats in the general election.

Every day in Holyrood your MSPs are working to expose the failings of the SNP.

In the chamber and committees the Labour group has harried, hounded and hamstrung SNP ministers.

I want to thank every one of our Labour MSPs for their work over the past three years.

In particular I want to mention those colleagues who are retiring from Holyrood in May.

Margaret Curran and Cathy Jamieson.

We are proud of every Scottish Labour MP but when we see you two on those green benches we are just that little bit extra proud.

Trish Godman, Marlyn Glen, George Foulkes and Rhona Brankin.

Thank you all.

And of course Jack McConnell.

More teachers, more doctors more nurses.

Project Scotland changing young lives for the better.

Smoking banned from public places.

A new partnership with Malawi.

The scourge of sectarianism openly challenged for the first time ever.

Jack, your legacy as first minister is simple.

You left Scotland a better place than you found it.

But, Jack this is not yet your whole legacy.

In the past three years you have made your mark internationally in the field of conflict resolution, and your career in the House of Lords is just beginning.

We know you have so much more to do and you will do it brilliantly.

Thank you.


Ten years ago another Labour First Minister left us.

Donald Dewar died this month in the year 2000.

His legacy is the very parliament in which I am honoured to serve.

The tragedy is not that we have a nationalist first minister in that Parliament. Donald knew his political history.

He knew that all parliaments change hands sometimes – that is just democracy.

The tragedy is that for three years that parliament has been used and abused for the benefit of the SNP not the people of Scotland.

It is time to return our Scottish Parliament to the purpose Donald ascribed to it on its opening day, "the striving to do right by the people of Scotland; to respect their priorities; to better their lot; and to contribute to the commonweal".

That is what Labour First Ministers do.

Donald with the great Land Reform Act – the first bill of the first legislative programme.

Henry McLeish with the introduction of free personal care

Jack McConnell with the smoking ban

Labour first ministers do not just talk about doing things – they make them happen.

The people of Eigg and Knoydart and West Harris own and control the land on which they live and work for the first time in centuries.

Thousands of our older people are able to live at home where they want to be because they are receiving the care they need.

Every day Scots lives are saved because they do not have to breathe the smoke of others.

These were bold policies making a big difference.

Now we have a first minister who talks big. But what has he done.

Theodore Roosevelt. A republican, but a progressive one, when there was such a thing said,

"Rhetoric is a poor substitute for action, and we have trusted only to rhetoric. If we are really to be a great nation, we must not merely talk; we must act big."

Alex Salmond’s talk is of the celtic lion, but his actions are those of the wee sleekit cooering timorous beastie.

Now, more than ever, we need bold leadership, not bold words.

Two weeks after I announced Labour’s Living wage the SNP said they would too but only in some parts of the public service.

Why so timid?

Labour will introduce a living wage of at least £7.15 per hour in the whole of the public sector, including councils. And then we will use procurement contracts to ensure private sector suppliers are living wage employers too.

Yes there will have to be pay restraint but those at the bottom of the pay scales should not pay the highest price for a situation they did not create.

I said on television that we had to look at the number of police forces in Scotland.

Four days later Alex Salmond pops up with "bobbies before boundaries".

What does that mean?

Why so timid.

I believe that the time has come for a Scottish national police force, but with strengthened local accountability for local policing.

We can save Headquarter costs, protect frontline policing.

We should have a national Fire and rescue service too.

The SNP say they will cut the number of NHS managers.

Why so timid?

They increased the number of managers in the first place.

Labour will cut the number of Health boards to protect frontline services.

Scotland has 22 health boards.

That is too many.

They all have their own IT systems.

That is daft.

We will reduce the number of Health Boards, starting with the eight specialist boards.

The SNP say they would like to restrain pay at the top of the public sector.

Why so timid First Minister?

Show some leadership.

If I am elected First Minister next May I will cut all ministerial salaries by 5%, including my own.

We all know Alex Salmond fancies himself as a gambler.

He says he is going to bet the whole house -Bute House -on independence next may.

But Bute house is not his to gamble.

Every Scot should understand – it is your house and your job and your children’s future he is gambling with.

Jimmy Reid died earlier this year.

His famous rectorial address at Glasgow university is most often remembered for the passage on the "rat race" but it also included the line "The untapped resources of the North Sea are as nothing compared to the untapped resources of our people."

You know, the resources of the North Sea have diminished somewhat since he made the speech.

But the untapped resources of our people are as great as ever.

What holds this country back is not its constitutional status.

It is every child growing up in a family made dysfunctional by drugs or alcohol.

It is every pupil who leaves a school unable to read write or count properly.

It is every youngster who drifts into unemployment and an empty future.

It is every apprentice made redundant before they have served their time.

It is every trained teacher or qualified nurse leaving for England or Canada or the Middle East to find a job.

Thirty years ago I was a teacher, in Gracemount in Edinburgh.

Some of the kids had difficult backgrounds, but they were full of life and energy and hope.

In 1982 I left to teach in Africa.

When I returned the atmosphere had changed.

The youngsters believed they had no future.

No chance of a job.

That society did not want them.

Even the best of them believed that there was no point even trying.

All that they could be had been crushed.

That’s what happens when you have a government who believes unemployment is a price worth paying.

That is why the failure for which the SNP cannot be forgiven is that they have allowed unemployment in Scotland to overtake the rest of Britain.

Cancelled capital projects, the schools pipeline choked off.

Cuts in teacher numbers, cuts in nursing posts.

These are SNP cuts not Tory cuts.

Between the economic vandalism of Cameron and Clegg and the economic incompetence of Salmond and Swinney Scotland stands on the brink of losing another generation to unemployment.

Labour will not let that happen.

So let me make two guarantees to Scotlands young people, and their parents.

Firstly we will guarantee every 16 – 18 year old a place in education, training, volunteering or work.

To help with that we will restart the Project Scotland programme to harness the energy and enthusiasm of our young people and give them a start in life.

Secondly we will guarantee an apprenticeship place to every qualified school leaver who wants one.

That will be hard, and it will not happen overnight.

But we will do what is hard because it is right.

And we will find a way.

Because I will not stand by and see a generation lost again.

But Labour’s literacy commission discovered that one in five of our young people leave school hugely disadvantaged by functional illiteracy.

Their future chances are blighted from the very start.

We know how to fix this.

But we have to have the will to do it.

It is not enough just to try harder.

I give this third guarantee to the parents of Scotland.

We will establish zero tolerance of illiteracy in this country.

I want to show that we mean business – the SNP have thrown 2900 newly qualified teachers on the scrapheap.

So we will offer as many of them as possible the chance of training and a contract to join our national literacy and numeracy drive.

We will send them into our schools, where they should be.

We will take them off the scrapheap to deliver one to one tuition and specialist programmes that will lift the life chances of many and improve the education of all. Judge us on our track record.

I demanded that the SNP fund 20,000 apprenticeship places – and we made them do it. Judge us on our track record.

I demanded that the SNP guarantee redundant apprentices completion of their training – and we made them do that. Judge us on our track record.

I demanded that Alex Salmond get off his backside and join me and the Trade unions to make the case for Scottish shipbuilding on the Clyde and the Forth – and we made them do that.

And we won.

We saved the carrier contracts.

But we did more than save a couple of contracts.

If you go, as I have and stand on the deck of that carrier under construction you will be awestruck, not by the scale of the vessel.

Not by the tonnage of steel.

But by the skill and the science and the artistry and the sheer pride of the men and women who bend and shape that steel to their will.

This is not just how we build aircraft carriers.

This is how we build Scotland.

This is how we build the future.

By turning these skills to new industries like renewable energy.

By turning that science to the new frontiers of knowledge in life sciences and communication.

By turning that artistry to the new technologies in design and energy efficiency and new techniques in building construction.

This is how we build Scotland – with pride and passion.

Yesterday Ed Miliband and I visited Cruachan.

A power station carved out of the very heart of a mountain.

If we could literally move mountains to create jobs and power our economy fifty years ago, then how much more should we be able to build offshore windfarms and clean coal power stations today in order to create jobs and power our economy.

But you need political leadership.

When the great Labour Scottish Secretary Tom Johnston promised "power from the glens" it was no soundbite.

It was a vision which he made reality and from which we benefit to this day.

Contrast that with Alex Salmond’s arc of prosperity.

A soundbite without substance which dogs him to this day.

And so it should.

Everyone knows our economic recovery has to be driven by exports, by tapping into new and growing markets, by connecting Scotland to the world.

But Alex Salmond wants to separate us from our greatest market in the rest of the united kingdom.

Everyone knows after last week how important defence jobs are to Scotland, but Alex Salmond wants a separate Scotland which would have no aircraft carriers, no air force and no submarines.

Everyone knows that in the separate Scotland Alex Salmond wants, RBS and the Bank of Scotland would have gone and forty thousand jobs would have gone with them.

But conference.

There are some people who agree with the SNP.

Dan Macdonald, the property developer agrees.

He says we should have fiscal autonomy so that Scotland could turn itself into a tax haven for rich people like him. Not Iceland or Ireland, no.

We could aspire to be like the Channel Islands.

That’s the vision of Scotland’s future the SNP line themselves up with.

A brass plate tax haven.

That is not my Scotland.

I am too proud of my country for that. I believe too much in the skill and ingenuity of my countrymen and women for that.

I know too much about the history of my country and all that it has created and invented and achieved in the past for that. I care too much for the future of my country to see it risked for separation.

Conference. I love my country too much to be a nationalist.

Scotland deserves better.

Remember the Scottish futures trust

It was going to issue patriotic bonds to build patriotic bridges.

After three and a half years.

No bonds.

No bridges.

Just a bill for £27 and half million.

No schools, no hospitals, no roads, no railways.

Don’t ask me, ask the construction industry.

They say it has cost 40,000 jobs in projects lost.

They say it could cost 40,000 more.

The Scottish futures Trust.

It has to go.

Remember the Council of economic advisors.

They were going to give the SNP nobel prize winning advice on how to make the economy work.

I’ll be honest.

I thought this might be a good idea.

For goodness sake, somebody should tell them how to make the economy work.

But after three and a half years our economy is still trailing and unemployment in Scotland has overtaken pretty well every other part of the country.

I cannot identify a single piece of advice the Scottish government have taken from them.

It turns out the council of economic advisers was just a dining club for Alex Salmond.

They’ve been to Edinburgh castle, they’ve been to Dundas Castle, they’ve been to Dumfries House.

If there was a nobel prize for having dinner with nobel prizewinners Salmond would be on his way to Stockholm.

We can replace it with an effective economic cabinet drawing on economic, business and, of course, Trade Union experience.

Their council of economic advisers.

It has cost us £223,000.

It has to go.


Remember Alex Salmond.

He inherited a Scotland where unemployment was lower than the rest of the country, employment was higher and youth unemployment had all but disappeared.

Poverty was falling faster than any other part of Britain.

He has thrown all of that away.

He called me the invisible man. But Scotland sees right through you, Alex Salmond.

You are the banker who got it wrong on the banks.
You are the economist who got it wrong on the economy.
You are the first minister who gets it wrong for Scotland.

At a time like this we can’t afford a first minister for funny hats and launching shortbread tins and celebrating world porridge day.

Scotland deserves better.

Alex Salmond.

He has to go.


It is one of the clichés of the coalition that we face the worst deficit since the second world war.

I say even if that were true, in 1945 a Labour government seized that moment to create the welfare state not destroy it.

A Labour government seized that moment to launch the biggest house building programme ever, not the biggest cut in housing ever.

A Labour government seized that moment to create work for hundreds of thousands not throw a million workers on the dole.

And the proudest achievement of that great reforming Labour government was our NHS.

The NHS was created to allay the greatest fear of ordinary working people in 1948.

That if they or their family were struck by disease or injured that they would not be able to afford the healthcare they needed.

That anxiety echoes down sixty years and it obliges us to protect the trust our people have in the NHS with all the persistence and political power we can muster.

That is why we have campaigned with the C.Diff families for cleaner hospitals.

And last week’s statistics showed that cancer still casts a dark shadow of fear across Scotland.

That is why Scottish Labour will introduce a new right halving the time from one month to two weeks to see a cancer specialist and get results.

But if the great common, collective fear in the forties was that we would need acute healthcare or surgery or medicines and it would not be there, then the great common fear of today is that we will need social or nursing care and it will not be there.

Over the next 20 years the number of people aged over 75 will increase by 75%.

Diseases like dementia are increasing exponentially.

How many families represented here in this hall have not had to face the test of finding enough support for an elderly parent, or the agonising decision between homecare and residential care?

Who has not had to field the dreaded call when a carer does not turn up or your relative takes a terrifying turn for the worse?

How many of you have tried to get respite for a disabled brother or sister and found nothing to help with the caring responsibilities that secretly stretch your love to its limits.

We have come so far with this.

Free personal care.

Direct payments.

Great voluntary organisations like the food train in Dumfries, started by Jean Mundell, a Labour Party activist.

They provide shopping and do odd jobs so that the elderly can manage in their own homes.

I owe them a personal debt because they helped sustain my father in law in a remote cottage in Galloway.

One of my proudest moments as a minister was not opening a hospital but shutting one.

As a health minister I got to close Gogarburn Hospital when we liberated, and I do mean liberated, people with learning disabilities to live their own lives in their own homes in their own communities.

We have come a long way.

But families still wait months on assessments.

Respite services are still inadequate.

Applications for direct payments are still delayed and discouraged.

Services are too often tendered out in a process dominated by price.

Too many carer visits have been cut to fifteen minutes – not even long enough to get someone up and dressed with any degree of dignity.

People still get caught too often in the crossfire between the NHS and councils.

And far too often we expect the most vulnerable of our citizens at the most difficult time in their lives to negotiate a maze of benefit, health and social care bureaucracies just to get the care everyone knows they need.

The time has come for Labour to create an integrated National Care Service to stand alongside the National Health Service.

To meet the care challenge of this century , as our predecessors rose to the health challenge of the last.

An end to the postcode lottery of care.

National standards.

Delivered locally and tailored personally.

A new national institution for a new age.

I started this ten years ago when I was a health minister.

I set up joint futures committees to pool health and social care budgets.

Ten years on, the committees are still there.

And so are the separate budgets. It’s gone on long enough.

Later today Jackie Baillie will say more about how we do this, but in the lifetime of the next Parliament Scotland will have a National Care Service on which our people can depend.

And one of those national standards will be an end to the fifteen minute care visit.

That is not care it is contempt.

There is no dignity in it for the service user or for the dedicated careworker.

We will not have it because Scotland deserves better..

So. Where stands Scottish Labour now.

We stand alongside the carers of Scotland – and promise them the national care service their elderly parents and disabled children need.

We stand alongside the C diff families demanding cleaner hospitals

We stand alongside the youngsters of today – we promise them the training they need and a chance in life.

We stand alongside the knife crime campaigners and promise them that given the chance we will legislate in the first year of the next Parliament to jail knife carriers.

This is about more than election promises and protecting services.

It is about more than party politics and fighting the cuts.

As Donald Dewar said on the first day of the Scottish parliament.

This is about more than our politics and our laws.

This is about who we are and how we carry ourselves.

We hear a lot about the big society these days. But Bobby Kennedy saw David Cameron coming over forty years ago.

He said :

"It is not more bigness that should be our goal. We must attempt rather to bring people back to …..the warmth of community, to the worth of individual effort and responsibility….and of individuals working together as a community to better their lives and their children’s future."

Stronger together.

Weaker apart.

This is about who we are and how we carry ourselves.

I don’t need Donald or Bobby Kennedy to tell me this.

I have spent my whole life with individuals working together to better their lives and and their children’s futures.

As a community activist in Wester Hailes, campaigning for better maintenance and lower rents.

Where I learned that the worst of housing often makes the best of people.

As a teacher in Mozambique in a school in the middle of a civil war where the pupils came to learn even though they had to be guarded from attack and work in the field to grow their own food.

Where I learned that even in war and famine education is the thing people hunger for most.

As a campaigner for Oxfam.

I was in Santiago, Chile three days after Pinochet stood down, while the city held its breath – and the army stayed in the barracks.

I have been to the killing fields of Cambodia and watched the de-miners clear a minefield with their bare hands.

I was in Rwanda six weeks after the genocide and saw a dead and empty country begin to stir itself.

I learned that there is no oppression so strong, no disaster so great, no conflict so deep that the human spirit cannot be lifted up to find a way to carve a better future out of a terrible past.

This is who I am and how I have carried myself.

I know that the warmth of community is not a fuzzy glow.

It is the flame in which the links that bind us together are forged.

You don’t need me to tell you that because you are Labour.

You are the trade unionists and community activists and campaigners.

You know that we are stronger together.

You know that the potential for a better Scotland lies in your community, your street and your family.

You know we can harness that potential and free it from all that holds it back.

Where stands Scottish Labour now.

We stand where we always have.

Foursquare with the people of Scotland.

Focused on the better Scotland they deserve.

Fearless in our pursuit of the Scotland they can have.

Ready to work

Ready to fight

And ready to serve.


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