“Scottish Labour will always be on your side” – Anas Sarwar’s conference speech

Anas Sarwar

Thank you conference and thank you Lynn for that very kind introduction. Lynn has worked at the heart of our NHS for more than 25 years and like all our frontline heroes she has supported people through the collective trauma of the Covid pandemic over the past two years.

We send condolences to all those who have lost a loved one, and we say a huge thank you to all those like Lynn who helped us get through it. Let that heartfelt “thank you” go from this conference to all our frontline heroes, many of whom are in this conference hall today.

Conference, let’s applaud all of those who made so many sacrifices on the front line of the pandemic. Our NHS staff – nurses, cleaners, doctors, porters, dentists. Our care workers. Our vaccinators, scientists and volunteers. Our British Armed Forces. Our police, fire and ambulance workers. Our postal workers. Our retail and food workers. Our teachers, journalists and civil servants. Our bus, train, tram and taxi drivers. Our cleansing workers. Our energy workers. Our charity workers.

Each and every one of you who kept our country going, looked out for one another, and pulled our communities and our country together. You are the very best of our country. On behalf of the Scottish Labour family, thank you.

In Scotland, we can be hopeful that we are through the worst of the immediate health crisis, but we can’t be complacent. The scars will take years to heal. And the global battle against Covid is far from over – with much more to do to achieve vaccination equality in our unequal world.

Of the billions of vaccines administered worldwide, the vast majority have been in the richest countries on the planet. Once again, as so often throughout modern times, the world should heed the words of Gordon Brown. The world must now come together to deliver vaccines for all. Because none of us are safe, until all of us are safe.

There is another challenge facing us today, and one that has presented us with Europe’s darkest days since the Second World War. A hard won and fragile peace in Europe has been shattered. Scottish Labour stands in solidarity with Ukraine. The Ukrainian people have shown, and continue to show, inspirational bravery in the face of the Russian invasion.

We unequivocally reject any – any – false attempts to justify Russian aggression, and we stand in solidarity with those fleeing war, and those who are staying to defend their homeland.

Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine is unprovoked and unjustifiable. Across the world today the message is clear – peace and democracy must prevail and we will not bend to Vladimir Putin’s imperial ambitions.

We must provide more humanitarian assistance to defeat the horrors of war – hunger, destitution and need. We must further tighten the economic measures taken against Vladimir Putin’s regime.

And we must, once and for all, root out the free flow of Russian money and influence and the Russian disinformation campaign from our public life, across the UK and here in Scotland.

Let’s be clear. Vladimir Putin will not win. He will pay a heavy price. Peace will prevail. And I am proud this morning that we sent our own strong message of solidarity. Conference, let’s show that our thoughts, our solidarity, and our resolve are with the Ukrainian people today. We stand with you.

Conference, this week I mark my first anniversary as leader of the Scottish Labour Party. But this is the first opportunity I’ve had to address our national conference. I wish I had the opportunity to say this earlier, but thank you to every single one of you in this hall.

Thank you to all our members across our country. This is the honour of my life. I love the Labour Party, and I love Scotland, and I am determined to change both. I promise that I will continue to put my heart, soul and all my energy into making that a reality.

Our Labour family – our trade unions, our members, our socialist societies, our parliamentarians, our councillors… It’s on all of us together to rebuild the Labour Party so we can build the future of our country together.

I honestly believe Scotland’s best days lie ahead of us. But that needs new ideas and new thinking. That’s why we must own the future and build the future together.

Conference, I’m delighted that we are meeting today in Glasgow. I am so proud to call this city my home. This is where I was born and it’s where I am bringing up my children. It’s the city where my father made his home and my mother moved to after growing up in Lossiemouth – another place close to my heart.

My grandfather arrived in Scotland in the 1940s in search of a better life for him and his family. Scotland gave my grandfather a chance at a better future. He arrived on a boat with nothing, working door-to-door selling clothes. He struggled to settle here until he chapped the door of a lady called May in Lossie. May would go on to offer him a home, call him son, and love him like her own. He always thought he would return home, but like so many others he fell in love with Scotland and brought his own family here.

In the post-war years, it was the Labour Party that helped him to fulfil his potential. And 25 years ago, less than two miles from here at the SECC, my father was elected as Britain’s first Muslim MP. He believed that Glasgow and Scotland would see past the colour of his skin. And he was right.

But at that time, not everyone believed him. Even the Labour Party of the 1990s didn’t believe him, and tried to shut him down. He had to take the Labour Party he loved to the High Court to stand as a candidate.

Who would have thought that 25 years later, his son would stand before you today as leader of Scotland’s Labour Party?

It’s also something that my grandfather would never have imagined when he arrived on that boat 80 years ago. That story is Scotland’s story. It says something remarkable, not about me or my family, but something remarkable about Scotland and its people.

But there are those who question my love of Scotland. Those who tell me to “go home”. “What, to the Southside of Glasgow?” Conference, this is my home. I am a proud Glaswegian and a proud Scot. My children are proud Glaswegians and proud Scots. And I will never, never, let anyone say we don’t belong here.

It’s because I love Scotland that I do this job. I believe Scotland is the best nation on earth, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. We can be both proud of our country and reject the exceptionalism that we witness far too often.

You can’t deliver a fairer Scotland if you don’t accept there are challenges to overcome. So I want to share a bit about what drives me and what drives my politics, and what I mean by pulling our country together to build the future.

In 2018, I took the decision to talk about the racism I have faced, and my family has faced. I felt a responsibility to all those across the country who face discrimination, but don’t have a voice, don’t have a platform. I also felt a responsibility to my children. So I spoke out in the hope that I could give a voice to others and play my part in preventing the politics of anger and division taking hold.

My earliest political memory is when I was 12 years old. I was leaving home to go to school and saw a strange looking envelope on our doorstep. I was naïve enough to pick it up and open it. Inside was a picture mocked up of my mum, with two guns pointed to her head with the words in cut out letters that read “bang, bang, that’s all it takes”’. It was a message from a far-right group.

That was because my father had the audacity to aspire to be Britain’s first Muslim MP and Scotland’s first ethnic minority MP. I remember growing up, people would follow our family car, make prank phone calls, and one time they even fired a rock through the front window, hitting my dad on the head.

I will never forget my mum’s words, which still drive me to this day. “We can’t give up. We can’t walk away. That’s what they want. We can’t let them win.” So I didn’t give up. I won’t walk away. And they won’t win.

Conference, this is what drives me to make Scotland a fairer place. It is the same drive to confront and root out inequality and injustice that drives Labour’s fight to make Scotland a better place.

So it isn’t talking Scotland down to admit that our country isn’t perfect. It’s why I talk about the racism faced by tens of thousands of our fellow Scots, or the other forms of prejudice like bigotry, misogyny, homophobia and all forms of discrimination that our fellow Scots face.

By acknowledging the challenges that our country faces, we can tackle them together. And then, together, build a better future for all of us.

And this is a fundamental issue for future generations. Because I fear that unless we change our politics, unless we change our country, my children – our children – will grow up in a more hate-filled and more divided world than we grew up in.

And I want to tell you why this matters so much to me. You see, people aren’t born seeing difference – society teaches them difference. In 2017, my wife and I saw a post on Facebook, and it was a test to do with your children.

So we tried it on our young son Adam who was just eight years-old at the time. We asked Adam if he was standing opposite his best friend, Zak, what would he say was the biggest difference between the two of them?

He said “Zak’s taller than me”. I said: “Anything else?” “Zak’s got brown hair, I’ve got black hair.” “Anything else?” “Zak’s Jewish, I am Muslim” “Anything else?” “Hmmmm, Zak’s better at football than me.” “Think colour”, I said. “Oh yeah… Zak’s got blue eyes, I’ve got brown eyes.”

He didn’t see race. He didn’t see colour. Fast forward six months and I come back home after a bruising day on the campaign trail – and there have been a fair few of those in recent years – I come home and Adam isn’t talking to anyone and has shut himself in his room.

Now, Adam won’t forgive me for saying this, but he is a sweet boy and that behaviour isn’t like him. Usually when I come home he’d rush to tell me stories, like the time when he was six and he was asked to write something in school about who his favourite guy was and he chose me. Quite sweet, right?

The only issue was that when the teacher asked him to describe me in one word, he wrote “clown”. That’s when I realised Adam could probably build more cross-party consensus than I ever could.

But back to this day, when I came back home, and he was clearly distressed, he’d started at a new football club that day. I lay in bed next to him and asked him what was wrong. He refused to answer.

I told him it was OK, he could tell me. He said he didn’t want to go back to that football club. I asked him why? He said that after the coaching routines, they played a game – and there were two kids in the team who refused to pass the ball to him.  When he asked why, they said because he was the only P*** in the team.

That was the day he discovered racism. That was the day he understood difference. And it absolutely broke my heart. I went to bed that night and I cried. And I learnt something that night.

Conference, when Adam is my age, and if he has a son or a daughter, and if they tell him that same story… this generation, our generation, will have failed. I’m not willing to let that happen. We cannot let that happen. Not to any child in Scotland.

Conference, this is a fight for all of us. We, the Labour Party, founded on the principle of equality, must be at the forefront of the battle for a more equal, a more diverse, a more tolerant, a more respectful and a more hopeful future for Scotland.

Silence is no longer an option. We can’t pick and choose. There is no hierarchy of prejudice.That’s why we can’t leave the fight against any form of prejudice to any individual community.

We can’t leave the fight against Islamophobia to the Muslim community. We can’t leave the fight against antisemitism to the Jewish community. We can’t leave the fight against sexism to women. We can’t leave the fight against homophobia and transphobia to the LGBT-plus community. We can’t leave the fight against disability discrimination to people with disabilities. We can’t leave the fight against racism to our diverse minority communities. Conference, it must be a fight for all of us.

But no political party, no organisation is immune to prejudice and hate, including the Labour Party. And the shameful scandal of antisemitism in our own party shows that.

But being the Labour Party, we must hold ourselves to a higher standard. So I repeat again, under my watch, there will be no hierarchy of prejudice. We won’t pick and choose. We won’t remain silent. We will defeat prejudice and hate, and build a more tolerant, more inclusive, more equal future.

Conference, on Tuesday we celebrate International Women’s Day. A chance to recognise the extraordinary contribution of women and girls around the world. Now, I’m often asked who is my political hero?

It’s someone who has never stood for election or held political office. Someone who came to Scotland when she was just four years old. Someone who is the rock in our family and who has always kept us going.

My mum. She now spends her time building women’s empowerment programmes in Pakistan. I am fortunate to have been brought up by a strong, principled, and courageous woman. And we are fortunate to have many strong, principled and courageous women around us.

One of them is our very own Jackie Baillie. Conference, in May last year, the cheer that went up in Clydebank Leisure Centre when Jackie won her seat – for the sixth time in a row – was echoed throughout Scotland.

Conference – Jackie Baillie six; SNP nil. I am proud to have Jackie by my side. We should all be proud to have her on our side. So conference, let’s hear it for our brilliant Deputy Leader, Jackie Baillie, and all our inspirational Labour women.

But conference, we all know there is a long way to go before women achieve equality in our society. Whether that’s in the workplace or in the community. The most common hate crime today is still misogyny. It’s not a coincidence that the most common victims of hate are women, and the most common perpetrators are men.

Last year the Scottish Parliament passed new hate crime laws. It failed to include gender-based violence and misogyny. A fundamental flaw which must be corrected. So as we mark International Women’s Day, let’s not wait a day longer. Let’s make misogyny a hate crime in Scotland now.

But there’s a more fundamental issue here. Every single day, there are women across our country who have to think twice when they walk down certain streets, who have to look over their shoulder on a night out, and have to double check the charge on their phone.

To those that think the answer is to ask women to change their behaviour, I’m sorry, frankly you’re wrong. It is men who need to change their behaviour.

Conference, the pursuit of greater equality is why we belong to the Labour Party.  It’s why we choose to focus on what unites us; not what divides us. But choosing unity over division doesn’t mean we can’t disagree on things. That we can’t have arguments.

Of course we can. We should. It’s fundamental to our democracy.  We are a country, after all, that can argue passionately about everything from football to politics, or even the politics of football.

But our political debate in Scotland in recent years has become too narrow. Our politics is broken. Around the kitchen table, in the coffee shop, in the pub, people aren’t just talking about one issue. They’re talking about their energy bills increasing, why they can’t get a GP appointment, what’s going on with their kids’ exams this year, and so much more.

But our political debate is so often out of touch with that reality. So we need to take a hard look at our politics. Because it has been degraded. I shouldn’t have to say this, but sadly I do. Honesty matters. Integrity matters. Decency matters.

Words which are alien to today’s occupants of Downing Street. And words which are at risk of being forgotten in Scottish politics too.

That’s why we must reject the old politics – the politics of the past favoured by our opponents – and choose the politics of the future. I want Scottish Labour to be the party that changes our broken politics so that we can change our country for the future.

And if you’re not convinced that our political system is broken, let me give you an example. The Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. The failings at this hospital are a human tragedy on an unimaginable scale.

Three water reports that flagged the risk of infections as high; staff bullied and silenced; patients getting preventable infections; children dying. A health board that has been subject to an independent review, a case note review, and now a public inquiry and criminal investigations.

Families, despite all the revelations, still having to fight the system to get the truth – and having to tell their tragic stories in the media in an attempt to get answers from the government and the health board.

In any other country in the world, there would have been resignations and sackings. And yet, here in Scotland, not a single person has been held to account. Not one. That’s why politics matters. That’s why it has to change.

It’s important to recognise that we would still not know about the tragic circumstances that have faced too many families if it wasn’t for the bravery of NHS staff.

Doctors, nurses, clinicians and NHS staff who have been willing to put their jobs on the line so that we could learn the truth. That’s leadership. So to the families, and to the brave NHS staff, our nation owes you a thank you. Thank you.

But conference, our broken politics is failing individual families too. And there is no greater example than the tragic story of Milly Main. Milly was just ten years old when she died in 2017. She was in remission from leukaemia and had her whole life ahead of her.

But she contracted an infection in the children’s cancer ward and her life was tragically cut short. Her mother Kimberly was never told the true cause of Milly’s death. She only found out after whistleblowers uncovered the truth.

Kimberly and her family chose to relive the most painful moments of their lives in the hope that others never have to go through the hurt that they have been through. So I want to repeat the promise I made to Kimberly and her family – I will not rest until they get the answers and the justice they deserve.

This must be a watershed moment in our politics – where we recognise that for far too many people – when they need help the most – their government and their institutions work against them, not for them. Who seek to protect themselves, not families.

The duty of candour may exist in principle in Scotland’s NHS, but that is not the lived experience for too many. Learning from the families who’ve fought for justice at Hillsborough, and from cases here in Scotland like the C-diff scandal and the Clutha tragedy…

We will change the law to fundamentally reset the balance – and create a system that is on the side of families, not institutions, and that delivers justice, not cover-ups. In recognition of Kimberly’s fight for justice, we will call this new law ‘Milly’s Law’.

It will put bereaved families at the heart of the response to disasters and public scandals. So that never again – never again – does a grieving parent have to beg for the truth to come to light.

Now there are some who will tell us that we are talking Scotland down if we challenge these failings in our health system and expose our broken politics. Conference, they couldn’t be more wrong.

Only a party that thinks our nation can’t be better, and our people don’t deserve better, would say that. They’re the ones talking Scotland down because they don’t recognise the ambition we have for the future of our country.

An ambition where we don’t focus on dividing people on binary choices… But we come up with the big ideas for the future. An ambition where we don’t ignore the problems in our public services… But we commit to better public services fit for the future.

An ambition where we don’t squander people’s opportunities simply to make a constitutional argument… But we roll up our sleeves right now, and build the future together. Conference, I believe in the potential of the people of Scotland and every community, and that’s why we must be a party rooted in the future.

Because you can’t have ambition for Scotland if you only want to speak to half of Scotland. That’s why the SNP is holding Scotland back. You can’t be a First Minister for all of Scotland if you are only interested in representing half of Scotland.

Ultimately, we have two governments – the SNP and the Tories – that want to force you to pick a side. Well, the Labour Party I lead will always be on your side. We need to stop doing politics the way our opponents do it – pitting Scot against Scot, Yes against No, Remain against Leave, Holyrood against Westminster.

An obsession with the politics of the past, with no real answers for the future. That approach is out of touch, and they are out of ideas. The best hope… the only hope… of building the future Scotland deserves is the Labour Party.

But to do that we must start winning again. I’ll tell you the culture I want to change in the Labour Party. It is the culture of defeatism. Conference, winning matters. We aren’t a debating society. We don’t come to events like this just to talk about the issues we care about. We don’t change people’s lives by just debating the big issues. We only actually get to deliver on our values, only get to implement our ideas, and only get to change people’s lives if we win.

And we won’t win by talking to ourselves, about ourselves, or living off our past. I was 14-years-old when we won in 1997. Our children’s generation are not going to ask us why we created the NHS. They will ask how we saved it and made it fit for the future. They won’t praise us for halving child poverty. They will ask what we did to eradicate it.

So to win again we must embrace and own the future, not the past. We must focus on what we will achieve when we return to government. To win again, we must change again.

Now I know that changing a logo, as we have done today, doesn’t change the way a single person votes. But changing our mindset, and changing the culture of our party, does.

It’s not enough that the Tories deserve to lose. It’s not enough that the SNP deserve to lose. We have to prove to the people of Scotland that we deserve to win.

That’s why we need new ideas and new thinking. That starts within our party. That’s why we are attracting young talent to our party to deliver a digital transformation and establish a digital academy.

And why we’re launching a future leadership programme to attract people from all walks of life, who I am determined will go on to represent our party in government. 22 years into the 21st century, we have finally caught up and have an organisation fit for this century and fit for the future.

But I want to make a direct appeal to people across Scotland. I don’t care how you voted in the past. If you have a good idea on how to change our country, share it with us. If you know someone who you would be proud to support and would be a great community champion, tell us.

Change is not going to come from the top down, it’s going to come from the grassroots up. So let’s show that the Scottish Labour Party is changing and is fit for the future.

Our first opportunity to demonstrate that is at May’s council elections. On May 5th, in every community in Scotland, we can elect local champions by voting for Scottish Labour candidates.

People who will stand up for you, your family, and your local community. Look at the difference Labour is making right now where we are in power in councils across Scotland.

In North Lanarkshire where we are delivering Club 365 – a programme to end holiday hunger. In East Lothian where we are delivering hundreds of new affordable homes. In North Ayrshire where we have a pioneering strategy to support local businesses, deliver apprenticeships and create good local jobs.

Just a few of the many examples where Labour is making a difference. Just imagine how much more we can do with more Labour councillors and more Labour councils. Councils have an immense potential to improve our lives, but they have been continually undermined and underfunded by the SNP.

They have repeatedly eroded local people’s decision-making power. It shouldn’t be the case that when central government budgets go up, local government budgets go down.

Conference, we are the party of devolution. We are the party that puts power, wealth and opportunity into people’s hands. Because, unlike others, we recognise that Scotland is a series of diverse communities with distinct local identities and geographies. Each with its own strengths and needs.

That’s why we must deliver a new settlement for local government. One that strengthens local democracy, and pushes power out from Holyrood, and into the regions of Scotland. Guaranteeing fairer funding for local councils. More resources for local schools. Economic regeneration powers to create more local jobs. And it means integrated, more affordable, publicly-owned public transport.

Conference, the events of the last few months have demonstrated what we already know. That we have a corrupt, uncaring, out-of-touch Tory government led by a lying charlatan in Boris Johnson.

Boris Johnson is not fit to be Prime Minister. Every day he stays in power he further degrades that office. The United Kingdom deserves better. Next year, or the year after, we will have a general election across the UK.

The choice at that election can’t be about who is best placed to oppose the Tories… It must be about replacing the Tories. And only the Labour Party can do that.

So I say directly to people who may not have voted for us in the last three general elections – maybe you voted for the SNP to send the Tories a message. When the next election comes, if you want to get rid of the Tories, the only way – the only way – to do that is by voting Labour.

I know that Keir Starmer believes, as I do, that the best days for our country lie ahead. So if you want to bring honesty back to Downing Street. Integrity back to Downing Street. Decency back to Downing Street.

Then we must elect Keir Starmer as our Prime Minister. And conference, let’s make Ian Murray not the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, but the Secretary of State for Scotland.

So conference, we will stand in the next general election on a platform of radically reforming and renewing our United Kingdom for the future. I have already set out examples of how the SNP is failing Scotland.

But every time the SNP fail, they point to the Tories and say at least we’re not as bad as that lot over there. Frankly Scotland deserves better than a government which aspires to be a wee bit better than Boris Johnson’s Tories.

The truth is that Boris Johnson and the Tories are a gift to the SNP. That’s what they are the biggest threat to the future of the United Kingdom.

So I say directly to people who may have held their nose and voted Tory because you thought it was the best way to preserve the UK.

Boris Johnson has let you down. He has let the United Kingdom down. On May 5th, don’t reward him with your vote. Help Labour kick him and the SNP out.

Conference, we will not win if we only seek to speak to those who already vote for us. We have to speak to those who may be thinking about voting SNP, Tory, LibDem or Green, and show them that we have changed. And prove to them that we are worthy of their support. That’s how we build the future and win again.

Conference, the price of two bad governments can be seen in the cost-of-living crisis. Families across Scotland and the UK are feeling a squeeze on their budgets. There has never been a more vital time for government to take action. But both governments have failed to use the powers available to help households. They just don’t get it.

There is no greater example of our failed energy market than this. Household energy bills are going up by almost £700. At the same time the energy giants are posting record profits. Shell – £14bn in profit this year; BP – £9.5bn in profit this year. That’s over £44,000 a minute.

Labour would introduce a windfall tax on the energy giants and put that money directly into consumer’s pockets, not millions into shareholders’ bank accounts. But unbelievably, both the SNP and the Tories failed to back a windfall tax, choosing to take the side of corporate giants, not families struggling to pay the bills.

Only Labour has the ambition to tackle the cost-of-living crisis. That’s why we have set out plans to help households with up to £600 off their energy bills.

We have also published detailed and costed plans on how to use our powers in Scotland for a Scottish fuel payment of £400 for households struggling to make ends meet.

We must also reform our energy market for the future, prioritising affordability, jobs and security. We must reverse the SNP’s decision to increase water charges and their decision to hike rail fares.

While our opponents stand aside, Labour will always be on your side – and never accept families going hungry or cold in their own homes.

Conference, the price of two failed governments isn’t just measured in people’s bills. It’s measured in wasted opportunities. When we think about the future, we want the young people of Scotland to have opportunities and choices ahead of them. And that means we must set our children and young people up with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed.

We don’t allow our children to thrive if you starve our schools of resources, and leave it to teachers to spend their own money to bring resources into the classroom. We must have an education system that matches the world in which we and our children live – one that is fit for the digital age.

The pandemic showed us the importance of tackling digital inequality, so everyone could be connected and access learning and services online. But the work and opportunities of the future will also be digital, so we need an education system that has digital learning embedded throughout.

Digital skills – coding, content generation, software design and development, and digital security – all should be compulsory subjects throughout our school curriculum. And we should also teach practical entrepreneurial skills so that today’s generation can build the next great digital innovation. Giving young people the skills to meet the challenges of the future.

If there’s one challenge that young people today understand more than anything, it’s the climate emergency. We can’t talk about the future if we ignore the future of our planet. More than 100 days have now passed since COP26 was held in this city.

The Glasgow Climate Pact must be more than just words from politicians – it must be a routemap to a greener future. That means, here at home, a Green Industrial Strategy to deliver clean, affordable energy for communities across Scotland. And creating thousands of good, sustainable jobs.

It means cutting our emissions, helping us to reach our target of net zero by 2045 at the latest. But it also means learning from the mistakes of the past and delivering a jobs-first transition for workers in the oil and gas industry.

We have precious little time to act, so we must ensure an economic future for the north-east and a greener future for us all. Because nothing – nothing –is more important than the future of our planet.

A long-term solution for our planet also goes hand-in-hand with a long-term solution for our economy. And yet again we currently have two governments that are holding back our potential.

We will only ever enable our young people to thrive if we drive Scotland’s economy and properly plan for the future.

It means strengthening our supply chains here. It means strengthening our industries here. It means using Scotland’s natural human and social potential to create jobs here. It doesn’t mean building bridges here in Scotland with imported steel from China.

It doesn’t mean letting down island communities and Scottish shipbuilders by building ferries in Romania, Poland and Turkey. It doesn’t mean building the wind turbines for Scotland’s seas in Denmark and Indonesia. And it doesn’t mean selling off our seabed to publicly-owned companies in Sweden, rather than creating a publicly-owned energy company here. All at the cost of thousands of jobs here in Scotland.

After 15 years of SNP government, it seems that the only thing they are good at manufacturing is grievance. We need to push power out of Edinburgh and strengthen regional economic development.

A plan for prosperity that brings together trade unions, employers and all levels of government to shape the future of work in 21st century Scotland. That’s how we literally build Scotland’s future.

Conference, for too long we have had an economics-free debate in Scotland. Our parliament has to be, yes, about delivering social policy and strengthening our public services, but it also has to be about building and driving Scotland’s economy too.

Labour has always been – and always will be – the party of workers. But the future of work will look dramatically different to the jobs of the past. That’s why we need a revamped and future-proofed education system that reflects the needs of our children so they are ready for tomorrow’s world.

Scotland has so much talent and untapped potential, but we must make sure it is properly developed. We must change the culture of our economy, drive innovation and renewal, and help create a new generation of entrepreneurs.


That’s why one of the first things I did after being elected leader was to restart the Scottish Labour Business Network. It’s why, over the past year, I have toured the country – getting out of parliament – and meeting workers and employers on a weekly basis.

So let me state this loud and clear: under my leadership, Scottish Labour will be an unashamedly pro-business, pro-growth and pro-jobs party. We need to create an environment where good businesses can thrive, pay their fair share in taxes, and help to unlock the potential of all the people in Scotland.

Conference, the reason why I am so focused on building economic growth for the future isn’t just because of the jobs and opportunities that this will deliver. But because the fairer society we want to create can only be built on the foundations of a strong economy.

I want us to be remembered in the 21st century not just as the party that created the NHS, not just as the party that then saved the NHS, but as the party that rebuilt and renewed the NHS to make it fit for the future.

Because, without action, our NHS in Scotland is under threat. The warning signs were there for years before the pandemic – staff shortages, longer waiting times, GP surgeries closing, beds cut, delayed discharge rising…

So don’t let anyone claim that today’s challenges are all because of Covid – they were already there. The truth is our NHS wasn’t properly prepared for the pandemic, and its problems have only been exacerbated by the crisis we have faced in the last two years.

Today as we meet at this conference, we have more than 680,000 patients languishing on waiting lists, and an amazing workforce that is on its knees. And despite the pandemic, cancer remains Scotland’s biggest killer. As we rebuild and renew our NHS, we must ensure we never again choose between treating a virus or treating cancer.

That’s why we need a catch-up plan worthy of its name. The challenges ahead of us are immense. We have the scandal of Europe’s highest drug deaths rate. We must address that and treat it as a public health emergency. And we know that the next pandemic will be in mental health.

That’s why we need to build our workforce and have mental health counsellors in GP practices, schools, workplaces and colleges and university campuses across the country.

But conference, we can’t rebuild our NHS without a functioning and strong care service. That is the key to renewing our NHS for the future. Social care and healthcare cannot be treated in isolation.

The social care system in Scotland today leaves people stuck in hospital when they should be cared for in the community, and thousands of our older citizens face having to use their life savings and sell their homes to pay for care.

We have campaigned for over a decade for the creation of a National Care Service, but it just cannot become an empty slogan for further delay until 2026.


Care needs are intrinsically linked with health needs, so it is time we started treating health and care like one system. To anyone who questions that, I pose this question:

How is it right that people can rely on the NHS for cancer treatment but face having to pay thousands of pounds every year for the care they need if they have dementia in old age?

So today, conference, I am proud to announce that Scottish Labour will put forward a plan to provide residential care to everyone over the age of 65 who needs it – free at the point of need.

This will be the single greatest reform of the care service since the introduction of free personal care. But we don’t have to wait until 2026. We can take steps right now to set us on track for all care in Scotland to be free at the point of need, delivering a health and care system which people can rely on their whole lives.

A social care service based on NHS principles. That’s our politics. Labour politics. Building the health and social care system of the future. Conference, we live in a Scotland where one in four children are growing up in poverty.

More and more families forced to turn to foodbanks to put meals on their plates. There are more foodbanks than branches of McDonald’s. Homelessness and rough sleeping is on the rise. This is a scandal in any country, but particularly in a country as rich as ours. This should shame both our governments.

Conference, we have spoken about how we build the future together. But that future must include eradicating poverty and ending homelessness. These are the timeless values which go to the very core of what it means to be Labour.

That everyone has somewhere safe, warm and affordable to live. That nobody has to rely on foodbanks to feed their families. That no winter is so cold that households have to choose between heating and eating.

With the support you need to get a decent job. With the support for businesses to create those jobs. With an NHS and care system there when you need it.

The right to live with respect and without prejudice and hate. Where our politics is respectful and works for you. Where power is closer to you. Where your children have the skills to fulfil their ambitions. Where we come together to save our planet. Where justice is always on your side. And where poverty and inequality are a thing of the past.

Conference, when my grandfather arrived here eight decades ago, searching for a better future, it was Scotland that gave him the opportunity he needed. It was the people in his community in Lossiemouth who encouraged him to achieve his aspirations.

In every corner of this country today there are millions of people with that same potential, that same aspiration, and thinking about their future. Just as my grandfather was able to build a better life in Scotland, I want that for every person in Scotland today.

I know our people have the talent and the ability. I know our country has the talent and the ability. What we lack is the political will to recognise that potential.

That’s why Scottish Labour is focused on the future. That’s why Scottish Labour is committed to bringing our country together. That’s why Scottish Labour will always be on your side. That’s why Scottish Labour will tackle the big challenges – and we’ll do that with new energy and new ideas.

Because I know that Scotland’s best days lie ahead of us. So let’s go out and build that future together. Thank you.

More from LabourList


We provide our content free, but providing daily Labour news, comment and analysis costs money. Small monthly donations from readers like you keep us going. To those already donating: thank you.

If you can afford it, can you join our supporters giving £10 a month?

And if you’re not already reading the best daily round-up of Labour news, analysis and comment…