Iain Gray's Speech to Labour Party Conference

26 September 2011

Iain Gray- CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY -

 

Chair, conference.

On the day after the Scottish Parliament election in May I announced that I would step down as leader, because I take responsibility for our terrible result. That’s what leaders do. But I did not step down immediately, because I wanted Scottish Labour to have time to reflect, review and reform.

The truth is that Labour devolved the United Kingdom in 1999, but we did not devolve ourselves to match that new reality. In Scotland we focused all our energies on using our new parliament to make the lives of Scots better – and for eight years we did just that.

But over time our failure to match our reform of our country with reform of our party undermined our capacity to convince Scottish voters of our aspirations for a better Scotland, and our determination to deliver for them.

So now, in the most difficult of times, we have searched for, and found, the reserves of strength and self-confidence to open up and move forward rather than to retreat. A radical reorganisation of the Scottish party endorsed by this Conference, creating not just greater discipline in our campaigning but a profound unity of purpose and vision in our pursuit of a better Scotland. A Scotland shaped by Labour values of fairness, opportunity, equality and solidarity. All credit to Sarah Boyack and Jim Murphy. They have made our party review a measure not of our weakness, but of our strength. 

We have not wasted this crisis – and we will not waste the opportunity. We move now to elect a new Scottish Leader who will use the reformed and renewed Scottish Labour Party to convince the people of Scotland that we are ready. Ready to match their aspiration with our vision, to match their struggles with our solidarity and yes match their patriotism with our pride in Scotland.

Labour created the Scottish Parliament and we created it to be a powerful instrument of social progress – an expression of the pride, passion and unlimited potential of the people of my country. It was never meant to be an arena for constant constitutional grievance - a platform for posturing, preening and insufferable pomposity.

But it is the people who have decided that it should now debate the future of Scotland and whether it lies within the United Kingdom or not. I tell you, we are in that debate now and we must win it. Not because I think Scotland is too small to stand alone. But because I believe with all my heart that Scotland is big enough, smart enough and rich enough in talent to stand with our comrades, friends, neighbours, workmates and family all across these islands. I do not believe that a strong fair and equal Scotland in a strong fair and equal Britain is the only possible future for Scotland – but I am sure that it is the best possible future for Scotland. I believe, we believe, that we are stronger together.

In the meantime we will hold this SNP government to account. 

Some of you will have seen Alex Salmond on the Six O’Clock News talking about his Plan MacB.

Let me tell you the truth about Plan MacB.

The SNP haven’t grown Scotland out of recession – their record on growth is worse than George Osborne’s.

The SNP haven’t protected public services – they have cut 25,000 public sector jobs. Teachers, nurses, care workers.

The SNP haven’t invested in young people – they have slashed college budgets and started to close universities.

The SNP say they want the power to cut business taxes – but they have hiked them by 100% and 200% and now they are raising them further.

The SNP say they are investing in infrastructure to create jobs – but actually they have cut capital spending faster than David Cameron and George Osborne.

The truth about Plan MacB is that it’s nothing but MacBull.

You know, the SNP always measure their success against England. 

In the world of the SNP a marginal drop in unemployment is a triumph just because it’s still going up in England.

Well that isn’t Labour’s benchmark. If you only aspire to be marginally better than the Tories then you shouldn’t be in politics. We should measure our success in health, in education, in crime, against the aspirations of our people and the best that we can imagine for them – not against our friends and neighbours. 

- As long as there are 204,000 Scots out of work. 
- As long as 72,000 of them are young people whose life chances are ebbing by the day.
- As long as 83,000 of them are women, in the front line of families struggling to get by then we should not dare to crow that we are better than someone else. 

We are not good enough. 

Our vision should not be lower unemployment than England it should be no unemployment at all. 

Our vision should not be lower crime than England – it should be streets that are safe every night in every community of our nation. 

Our vision should not be hospital waiting times that are shorter than England’s – it should be longer better lives for all Scots.

Conference. Let no one underestimate the scale or the importance of the challenge we face in Scotland. Let no one underestimate how important Labour’s vision and values are for the future of Scotland. And let no one underestimate the determination of Scottish Labour to regroup, to reform and to fight-back.