“Defeat the politics of despair with the politics of hope” – Anas Sarwar’s speech

Anas Sarwar

Below is the full text of the speech delivered by Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar to the UK party annual conference in Brighton this afternoon.

Conference, It is a privilege to address you for the first time as leader of the Scottish Labour Party. I don’t underestimate the scale of the challenge. My deputy leader Jackie Baillie, the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland Ian Murray, and our team are working day and night to give the people of Scotland the Labour party they deserve. So, we can help give our country the UK Labour government it deserves, and the Prime Minister it deserves in Keir Starmer.

We hear a lot about the ‘Red Wall’. The first red wall to fall was Scotland. And unless we rebuild there we won’t get a UK Labour government. But to do that we need to present a different, more positive vision of Scotland and Britain. One that is outward looking, diverse and tolerant. Because despite what Nicola Sturgeon and the Tories want us to believe, Boris isn’t Britain.

Our vaccinators, our NHS staff, our social care staff, our postal workers, our retail workers, our key workers and all who pulled us through this pandemic – they are Britain. Don’t allow the SNP and the Tories to define Englishness. England isn’t Jacob Rees-Mogg, Priti Patel and Nigel Farage. England is Marcus Rashford, Gareth Southgate and Emma Raducanu.

And don’t believe that the political values of Scotland are those of Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP – of division and grievance. The values which drive Scotland – Hope, opportunity, solidarity. Our values. Labour values. The values which drove a Scottish Labour Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, to halve child poverty, not just for children in Scotland, but for children across the United Kingdom. And Let’s not pretend the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon are our progressive allies.

The SNP are not progressive and they are not our allies. Trade unionists in their workplaces. Activists in their communities. Every person in this hall today. We already have a progressive alliance – it is called the Labour Party. And let’s judge the SNP on their record. Attainment gap – widening. Child poverty – growing. Waiting times – getting longer. And the heartbreaking scandal of the highest drugs death rate in Europe. A progressive party would roll up its sleeves. Instead, the SNP blame Westminster, and carrying on campaigning for the only thing that matters to them – independence.

While the SNP revel in an ‘us v them’ politics in Scotland, across the UK we also have an “us v them” Tory government. A government with one rule for them, another for everyone else. Taking £20 away from the poorest families in the UK, while handing millions of pound deals to their friends. And we cannot defeat the ‘us vs them’ politics with our own version of ‘us vs them’. Instead we’ve got to build a campaign that is about all of us.

An all of us to keep our country together. An all of us to rebuild our NHS. An all of us to end child poverty. An all of us to end division, prejudice and hatred. And an all of us to rebuild this country we all love. Now of course we must oppose these two governments. But it is not enough to just oppose this Tory government, I want us to replace this Tory government. And it is not enough to just oppose the SNP government, I want us to replace this SNP government.

We have heard from this stage this afternoon the difference Labour makes in power. Tracey Brabin, Sadiq Khan, Mark Drakeford, Andy Burnham. Labour leaders not just talking Labour values. Delivering Labour values in power. And that’s why winning matters. In November, the eyes of the world will be on my home city of Glasgow for COP 26. We want the world to see a country united in the fight against climate change. But as Labour, we must be clear – there is no just transition if it decimates entire communities and sacrifices tens of thousands of jobs.

We can’t allow a repeat of the end of mining, where communities were hollowed out, workers were stripped of their dignity and our industrial base was destroyed. That is the path that the SNP and the Tories currently have us on. The only way to avoid that injustice is to demand a Jobs First Transition. That is why today I am announcing an energy transition commission – led by former energy minister Brian Wilson, to help create a greener, fairer and more prosperous future.

And yes we need to reform the energy sector to meet the challenges ahead, but as energy prices increases we need to take urgent action now. In Scotland, 150,000 pensioners live in poverty. The Scottish Parliament has the power to increase winter fuel payments for those pensioners. Rather than hand that power back to a Tory government, we should use it to increase payments by £70 to the lowest income pensioners to help them in the winter months.

Where the SNP obsess over mandates and white papers, the powers of the Scottish Parliament must be used to end the choice between heating and eating this winter. That is why Labour created the Scottish parliament, that is why power matters and that is what I mean by ‘building the alternative’. It’s on us, the Labour Party to defeat the politics of anger, with the politics of empathy. It’s on us the Labour Party to defeat the politics of division with the politics of unity. And it’s on us the Labour Party to defeat the politics of despair with the politics of hope.

So, I say directly to people in Scotland. I recognise the scale of the task ahead. I will always be on your side. I will always focus on what unites as a country, not what divides us. So, Join us on this journey, help us build the alternative, bring our country together and create a better future for Scotland. Thank you.

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