What Johann Lamont meant to say…

“Get back in line Scottish Labour” – Alan Bissett

After their Summer holidays, Labour in Scotland decided to differentiate themselves from the SNP. They wrote two speeches. The coin toss landed on heads so Johann Lamont read the speech ‘Turn Right’. Below is the discarded second speech entitled ‘Turn Left’.

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“Friends, colleagues, comrades,

The next two years are the most important in the history of Scottish Labour. We face the impacts of austerity and the referendum on Independence. It is my strong conviction that we – as a party – will rise to these challenges. We must do so, however, not only with the cynicisms of opposition, but with the credibility of a positive alternative. To achieve this we must reclaim the ideals of a real Scottish Labour Party. That is why today I announce our progressive vision for Scotland.

The United Kingdom is more divided than at any point in its recent past. The previous Summer we witnessed riots across England. In Scotland trust in Westminster has sunk to a mere 18%. These are the consequences of an divided and unequal society. The concentration of wealth within the UK has reached unprecedented levels within the past 30 years, and so too, in consequence, has the concentration of power in the hands of the few. It is no surprise that ordinary people across our nations are alienated by this. Labour cannot be exempt from guilt. We take collective responsibility for the failure of New Labour: on inequality, on banking regulation, on taxation, on privitisation and – yes – on Trident and Iraq. Today I set in motion a process of reform to rejuvenate our party, but most importantly to reconnect ourselves with the values of the people of Scotland.

Funding Our Future

Firstly, Scotland’s public services. I recognise the distinct and treasured service settlement that devolution has secured. We accept the principles of free tuition fees, prescriptions, care for the elderly and other unique benefits safe-guarded by Holyrood. Yet these are not ‘free’. We, as citizens, fund our services in taxation. Our services are only secure as long as they are funded comprehensively.

The current taxation settlement places these public services in jeopardy. This is the unspoken truth of Scottish public life. The SNP cannot hope to maintain a Scandinavian social-democracy on George Osborne’s budget settlements. “To govern is to choose”, Mr Salmond often quotes. The Scottish Parliament will be cut by 11% during the length of this session. The funding settlement is unsustainable: less money is coming in and there are few comprehensive mechanisms to raise revenue. Therefore we must choose to increase taxation and Scotland’s tax powers or face the long-term depletion of public services at the whim of a Tory Chancellor.

As Scottish Labour leader I will not shirk these tough calls. The substantial devolution of tax powers – income tax, national insurance, property taxes and further borrowing powers – is required to fund our future. Only with this new tax settlement can those with the broadest shoulders bear the greatest burden in tough economic times. This will mean higher taxes on those who can afford to pay. That taxation is the price we pay for a civilised society.

The Re-birth of Scottish Labour

Some have referred to this as ‘Devo Max’.  Labour members within ‘The Red Paper’ group, who advocate this position, demonstrate that this is far more important than that label suggests. This is about Labour fulfilling the devolution process we began. This is about finding a lasting balance between Westminster and Holyrood. This is about asserting the authority of an autonomous Scottish Labour Party – dictated to by no one and accountable only to the electorate and our principles.

When Keir Hardie founded the Independent Labour Party he sought Scottish Home Rule. This legacy matters; and we renew that claim of right today. Most importantly the legacy of that Labour movement was to speak for the powerless, to protect the vulnerable and empower working people in solidarity. The Scottish Labour Party renews that declaration today.

To renew this declaration requires a commitment to equality, democracy and peace. I commit myself as leader to these values. We face in public debate those who seek to divide Scot against Scot, worker against worker, class against class by stating: What price free tuition fees when your neighbour can’t get a place at college’? To them I say that universal public services benefit us all and you strip them down and sell them off at our peril. This message is for our party too.

Our ideological commitment in Holyrood cannot exist in isolation to the wider politics and future of a federal UK. The Scottish Labour Party must set out its own Independent platform.

Today I seek to lead that agenda and announce two policy positions.

Scottish Labour will oppose the renewal of Trident nuclear missiles. We do so convinced by the case and consequences set out in the reports of John Ainslie. Our movement cannot support the squandering of wealth on weapons, cannot support the regressive role of nuclear states, and cannot support the threat to our own security posed by nuclear weapons. This is a natural conclusion for any party which places the needs of the people before the desires of the powerful. As UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon stated recently – we look to development not weapons of war for peace and stability.

In this stance, we renew Labour’s declaration.

Scottish Labour calls for a UK Constitutional Convention to construct a federal settlement and reform the current Westminster system. We seek to propose reform at this point of constitutional flux. The status quo holds no public support in Scotland. All those yet to advocate Independence have a duty to make our alternative clear. This is in our electoral self-interest as well as in the wider public interest.

Any Convention will be restrained by the need for cooperation and support from Westminster. Scottish Labour, and the Scottish people, will expect a mature and substantial response. The devolution of tax and welfare powers requires detailed planning and has knock-on consequences for the rest of the UK and the new regional structures which will emerge within England. That is why we must begin now. The failure to do so will only exacerbate the perception that the Palace of Westminster – with it’s voting system, its unelected House of Lords, archaic rituals and expense abuse – is out of touch with the people of Scotland. Westminster must demonstrate that it is not a democratic system broken beyond repair; it must demonstrate that it is a Parliament worth saving. A Constitutional Convention, therefore, is the need of this hour.

In this stance, we renew Labour’s declaration.

Conclusion

Our movement faces great challenges. It is my appeal to you today that these are not insurmountable. Our positive alternative argues for a devolution settlement to fund our future. It renews our declaration: from each according to their strength, to each according to their need. This strengthens devolution. This task will embolden us in the months and years ahead. It is our progressive vision for the people of Scotland.”

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