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Johann Lamont delivers keynote at inaugural Scottish Conference

Thanks to the 120 people who attended our inaugural Scottish Conference and contributed so enthusiastically to the workshops and debates throughout the day. This is just the start for the Scottish Fabians with a new crop of local policy groups and...


Thanks to the 120 people who attended our inaugural Scottish Conference and contributed so enthusiastically to the workshops and debates throughout the day.

This is just the start for the Scottish Fabians with a new crop of local policy groups and potential future events and publications. Please check and @scottishfabians for the latest information, or contact if you’d like to get involved.

Below is Johann Lamont’s keynote address to the Scottish Fabian Conference.

Conference, it is a pleasure to be here today, and be afforded this opportunity to address you at your inaugural conference.

A few weeks ago, I looked ahead to this event and when thinking what I would say today, it was clear that it would be coloured by what happened at the local government elections last week.

Just a fortnight ago, it seemed daunting. We were coming off the back of a disastrous result last year and all the momentum seemed to be with the nationalists.

The commentators and experts predicted another Labour meltdown, indeed many of us in the party feared the worst.

Instead, we achieved fantastic results all over the country.

Overall majorities in Glasgow, North Lanarkshire, and now West Dunbartonshire and Renfrewshire.

Labour control across the country, here  in Edinburgh, in Aberdeen, Fife, Stirling, West and East Lothian, Dumfries and Galloway, and many others.

And gains in places we didn’t expect, in the Western Isles, in Aberdeenshire and in Moray.

So I am delighted to be addressing you today with Speech B!

In all seriousness, Labour enjoyed a fantastic result on Friday.

It was great for our members and activists to enjoy that winning feeling again, and helped draw a line under the devastating result we had last year.

It sent a message to Scotland that Labour is far from finished, that we are back on the park and Alex Salmond wasn’t quite so invincible, and independence was far from inevitable.

We were right to enjoy it, but we must keep it in context.

Because the reality is, whether we stormed this election or the tide ran against us, edged the SNP or were edged out ourselves, my message today would have been the same.

Conference, Scotland is changing, politics is changing and if we are going to remain relevant in both, colleagues, we must change aswell.

I hope that the result last week reflected that the people of Scotland had recognised that Labour was listening, Labour was changing and Labour is striving to be once again the party that gives voice to their hopes and concerns.

Last week was a start, a first step on a path of renewal that will hopefully end in us once again being entrusted with the privilege of serving the people of Scotland.

It’s easy to talk about change, actually changing is another story, but we must change, and at every level.

And I mean every level, from organisation to member recruitment, campaigning to communication.

Part of that is change will be showing that Labour is thinking again, and is prepared to engage in and win the battle of ideas.

In a time of scarce resources and falling budgets, coming up with those fresh ideas, that new way of thinking, is all important and necessary.

With less money, how are we going to tackle the big challenges of the day?

How are we going to create opportunities and jobs for our young people?

How are we going to create prosperity in Scotland that we can all share in?

How do we ensure elderly people are given the care and dignity they deserve in later life?

How do we protect hard-working families being buffeted by the rising costs in living?

How do we keep the lights on in Scotland, while meeting our emission targets, making the most of our natural potential in energy but protecting people from rising bills?

How do we get people from A to B, whether by bus, train or car, and keep it affordable?

We have our challenges in Scotland, of that there is no doubt, but I want Labour to stand up and make the hard decisions, and I want Labour to come up with the ideas and policies that make all of this happen.

No longer can policy be viewed as an opportunity at a political buy-off, a way of targeting parts of the electorate by giving them something for free in reward for their vote.

That is the wrong approach and one we simply can no longer afford.

We need to think creatively, and imaginatively, about how we use what resources we have to make people’s lives better.

We must target our policies at the people who need it, the people who deserve a helping hand, not just those who shout the loudest.

And too often, policy starts with a slogan and works its way back from there, the detail bolted on at the end to fit a neat line for a manifesto launch, and too often without bringing the success we would hope for.

Instead, our approach must meet the test of first principles, be based on evidence and deliver for people on the ground.

Only then do we take on the challenge of communicating these ideas to the public, to ensure people recognise they are grounded in fairness, and that they are for the good of the country.

No longer will we put the cart before the horse. Anything else is dishonest, and doomed to failure.

For example, we have a government that boasts about free education. Those of us who have scratched below the surface know it is nothing of the sort, that there are real consequences to populist slogans.

In a country where life chances are often decided by the time you are three, for the SNP to claim that we have a level playing field in education and opportunity is an affront.

At a time when colleges – the great incubator at times of spiralling unemployment – are being filleted to fund higher education, opportunities for people to re-train or re-skill are being closed down.

And when universities are forced to recruit more and more from outwith Scotland just to balance the books, it is inevitable that doors are being slammed shut on some of our brightest talent.

Colleagues, the rocks will melt with the sun before the SNP are prepared to have an honest debate about education in Scotland.

In childcare, we have a false argument about how many hours we can provide parents, the only test being whether it is better or worse than in England.

That debate has a complete disconnect from working families trying to balance the complex responsibilities of everyday life. They need flexibility that can work round their lives, not a macho debate about who can offer the most hours.

Conference, we have a government whose priorities don’t match ours.

That is our frustration.

We want to debate how best we create opportunities for young people, to ensure dignity in old age for our elderly, and in bring relief to working families being battered with rises in the costs of living.

Sadly, our opponents do not want to have that debate. Their politics is the politics of identity and grievance, where it seems nothing good can happen in Scotland until we re-order the constitution.

I it is my belief that devolution should be refreshed and enhanced.

That was implicit from the moment the Scottish Parliament opened.

But this is not Tam Dalyell’s motorway to independence without exit.

It is a road to a better Scotland with a better relationship with the rest of the UK.

But I believe that the debate about where we take devolution will at best be defensive and at worst will be distorted and stifled if it is part of the debate about Scotland leaving the UK.

Devolution and independence are two separate concepts not to be muddied together.

That is why – and this may shock you – I agree with Nicola Sturgeon when she stands firm that the referendum should have one question.

If that is not shocking enough I agree with Alex Salmond when he says there should be just one question.

Anything else is a recipe for incoherence when the dynamism of the debate about devolution is suffocated by the argument on separation.

Scots will see through any attempt to give the First Minister a consolation prize in a referendum he will not win, by a fudge of a second question.

He would be betraying his party, and perhaps himself, if in the light of last week’s results, the First Minister who lives by the day, blinks in the face of public opinion and seeks a second question.

This referendum should be clearly about Scotland’s future in the United Kingdom.

It should not have a sub clause aimed solely at saving Alex Salmond’s career.

Even he surely sees that Scotland is bigger than him.

The Salmond show has lost its forward momentum.

Any move to an ill defined second question will be seen as the First Minister fumbling for a reverse gear.”

We face two years of constitutional debate.

I recognise their right to have that debate but it should not be allowed to distract from what really matters.

I believe Scotland is better working in co-operation with the rest of the United Kingdom, and I believe that we can and we will win that debate.

But the real prize of ending the constitutional question may be the promise of a return to normality in Scottish politics, where we debate about how we can improve people’s lives, not where to build borders or if we need to change people’s passports.

An opportunity to be ambitious for Scotland, to test our progress and our aspirations against brightest and best in the world, against India, China and Brazil, rather than just aiming to be better than England and Wales to prove a political point.

We have our challenges but I am optimistic that we on the left have the capacity and the will to meet them.

And we will meet them. Colleagues, before our very eyes, Scotland is changing, and our politics is changing.

That change is being mirrored across the world. We see it across the UK and in Europe, in the last few weeks in France, in Greece, in Holland and across the Eurozone.

We see fundamental changes it in the Arab world, the rapid growth in an unstable Africa, the economic rise of China, and a fierce political debate across the Atlantic against a backdrop of decline.

No matter where we are in the world, people are unhappy with their politics, with their leaders and with the world order.

They are looking for something different, something better.

I believe that we on the left, the common values we share of fairness, equality and social justice, can offer some solutions to the challenges we face in Scotland, and in our politics across the globe.

I can’t pretend to have all the answers. If I did the Labour party would not be where it is right now.

But I am confident that by working together, by having faith in our traditional values but opening our minds to fresh ideas, we can make Scotland a better place.

So I welcome the contribution of the Scottish Fabians to our political discourse. The wider the debate, the wider the engagement, the more chance we have of arriving on solutions we so dearly need to our politics.

I look forward to working with you as Labour rebuilds, and the left rebuilds, so that Scotland looks to us to chart a better future for our nation.


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