Deputy Leader of Labour in the Scottish Parliament with special responsibility for Equalities
Speech to the conference
Working together – driven by our common desire to deliver a fairer society driven by equality, justice and opportunity for all.
Tough times past year.
Particularly defeat in Glasgow East despite Margaret Curran at her formidable best.
I have every confidence she will win that seat back for Labour at the next election.
Colin Smyth was right.
Glenrothes marked fightback.
Fight taken by Labour Party members to the SNP forcing them to take responsbility for their actions in government.
But it did seem that the message which came from electorate in Glasgow East was that while we sought power, we sought power for its own sake.
We need to reassert our determination that we seek power for a purpose.
That government at every level can and must make use of the power at its disposal to make a difference for individuals, families and communities. In these difficult times we need to be clear.
Equalities is not an add on for when the times are good.
Tackling discrimination is not just for when the sun shines.
And ensuring safe working conditions, fair pay and equal pay are not a bonus but are at the core of our economic strategy.
Across all levels of government we need:• action to support vulnerable children, • action to support carers• action to reach out to women facing violence in their own homes• action to create safer communities free from anti social behaviour and the bullying and intimidation that goes with it.
All these and many more remain critical to government action in tacking poverty, disadvantage and discrimination and are part of our strategy as much tackling the banks.
We do not think as Alex Salmond does that you can separate economic policy from social policy.
That you can as he does, support Thatcher’s economic policy but have a problem with its social consequences.
As if you can support an economic strategy that closed the pits but wring your hands at the consequences for mining villages across Scotland.
There can be danger in these tough economic times that we can be overwhelmed by the technicalities of tackling the recession.
We know that our Labour government is grasping and understanding these technicalities.
But we as a party and in government will never forget who could be the greatest casualties of this recession.
The UK government is addressing issues of regulation, global change and providing huge commitment to supporting the economy.
But it is also a government which understands the needs of communities at these times.
25 years ago Thatcher unleashed the power of the state against mining commmunities.
Today I’m proud that a Labour government uses its powers to support those facing the consequences of recession, to protect families, not destroy them.
We need to work in partnership with business to address issues of apprenticeships and training, but not as the SNP has done and hand a bonus to businesses without even a dialogue about providing opportunities for people in the communities they serve.
And while in northern Ireland and in Wales, there is energy and creativity in looking at what can be done to support economic activity, the SNP wavers between silence and gimmick – and it took Labour to force through its budget discussions the SNP to act on apprenticeships and providing certainty for young people at times of great uncertainty.
Of course in addressing need and disadvantage the Scottish Parliament has a critical role.
And it’s a role almost entirely ignored by the SNP in government.
As we watch the SNP ditch its manifesto promises one by one, it has been remarked at how untroubled the SNP leadership is and how silent their backbenchers.
But we made a simple mistake.
We thought they might have meant it.
The reality is that the SNP manifesto was how the SNP secured power, not about what the SNP planned to do in power.
The promise making and the promise breaking were simply a cynical necessity to secure power and it is that cynicism which underpins its failures now.
For while the decks are cleared of the promises, the core drive for separation remains.
The SNP ignores issues of equality, has through the Concordat abandoned responsibility for ensuring equal access to services across Scotland, does not track and monitor how money is spent and has the audacity to claim that their core decisions on prescription charges, hospital parking, school meals and tax cuts make up an anti poverty strategy.
The fact is that commitment to equality should not just shape your electoral rhetoric but shape your budgets too.
When people fought for a Scottish Parliament and when Labour in power had the courage to decentralise and create the Scottish Parliament we did not imagine that a parliament which was created to support people in difficult times should be expected to stand as a spectator while SNP ministers exercise power in their own party interest.
We could not have imagined that rather than use the powers of the parliament to address need, the parliament would be used as a platform for separatism.
For the truth is, the SNP will never strain every sinew and use every power at its disposal in the interests of the people of Scotland for its purpose is to create the conditions for separation.
It will not make the Scottish Parliament as part of the United Kingdom work now for the people of Scotland because it does not want it to work. Full stop.
And when facing a choice between acting to improve the chances of people in Scotland or to improve the SNP’s political chances
To choose between a fix and a fight for the SNP there is no contest.
But we too have a challenge.
As a campaigning party and a thinking party we need to work with those in our communities who are living with the failures of the SNP government to expose and oppose their deceit in claiming they are a progessive party and to do all we can to force the Scottish Government to address those needs and that is what we strive to do in the Scottish Parliament.
But we must also work with these individuals, groups and communities in shaping our policies for the future.
For an active party, working with those who understand and experience disadvantage in their daily lives and know what needs to change to improve their lives, we begin to shape our plans for the next Scottish Parliament elections and for what in government we need to do.