Lesley Laird: Time for Labour to rebuild Britain

In an exclusive column for The Red Robin Scottish Labour Deputy Leader, Lesley Laird, argues that it's time for Labour to set out how the party would rebuild the country after eight years of shambolic Tory governance. 

So this is it. Recess is over and we’re finally back at Westminster. At least for as long as Theresa May can hold her party together.

Because after a summer of false dawns on a Brexit deal and even an attempt at fancy footwork to distract from the Tories’ shambolic conference, the Prime Minister is essentially back to square one.

This week we had the second reading of the Agriculture Bill, designed to ease the transition for farmers from life under the Common Agricultural Policy to life in Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s bright sunlit Brexit uplands.

But even in an area where there is a clear consensus that we need common frameworks and counterpart legislation from Holyrood, it’s clear that for the SNP agriculture has simply become another vehicle for their politics of manufactured grievance.

We’ve seen the SNP administration’s Programme for Government, and in it there is no mention of an agriculture bill. Which, given that we are just 166 sleeps away from Brexit Day, is pretty reckless by any standard. And the real life consequences of this are of massive concern to farmers across Scotland.

Because without a Scottish bill, or at least proper, constructive negotiation towards inserting a Scottish schedule in the UK legislation, there is simply no mechanism for them receiving payments past March.

Scottish produce is world-renowned for its quality. To deliver it our farmers deserve clarity so they can plan for the year ahead. But they also deserve a government in Edinburgh which does not play politics with their livelihoods.

Looking forward, Scottish Labour supports a payments system that promotes social justice initiatives, enshrines food security and retains payments for remote or difficult-to-farm land.

It is clear from this battle – and the many others still rumbling on between David Mundell and Nicola Sturgeon – that we also need a formalised joint committee to resolve disputes between the UK Government and all of the devolved administrations to avoid the sort of impasse which the destructive symbiotic relationship between the Tories and the SNP has led us to.

It’s a negative note to begin this parliamentary session on, in stark contrast to the fizzing positivity which was on show at Labour Conference in Liverpool.

I’ve said before that if we don’t tell our own story well, nobody else is going to do it for us. And what a compelling story that was at Conference.

Of two governments in waiting, armed with a vision to rebuild Scotland and rebuild Britain.

Of two governments in waiting, determined to restore humanity and common sense to our welfare and immigration systems.

Of two governments in waiting with an industrial strategy and a vision to fully harness our renewable capabilities and recognition of the significant changes that we will need to make to deal with Climate Change – or as one of my Shadow colleagues called it this week –Climate Chaos.

And of course, two governments in waiting, ready to reverse the relentless Tory/SNP conveyor belt of failed austerity.

In Richard Leonard’s first speech to Conference as Scottish Labour Leader he demonstrated to the whole of the United Kingdom that Real Change is afoot north of the border.

The SNP continue to try and steal our socialist clothes, and I suppose at one level we should really be flattered; however their ideas are not cut from the same quality cloth, and it’s Scottish Labour driving the progressive agenda at Holyrood.

Whether it’s Monica Lennon’s work on eradicating period poverty or ensuring that Mark Griffin’s automatic split Universal Credit payments amendment to the Social Security Bill is delivered on, it’s Labour who once again showed they are the party of ideas and ideals.

And my Midlothian colleague, Danielle Rowley MP, this week ensured that split payments stayed on the agenda south of the border too. Her Westminster Hall debate on Wednesday highlighted Mark’s amendment and asked a question all socialists, as internationalists, should. If we can fix this in one part of the United Kingdom, why not in all?

The issue of victims in coercive relationships, usually women, being turned into financial dependents of their abusers by the clumsy implementation of Universal Credit is a UK-wide one. And when the DWP finally delivers a technical solution which allows the Scottish Government to deliver on this hard-won promise, it will be Labour MPs who ensure the solution does not stop at Gretna.

That’s what is really at stake, when all the SNP games and Tory intransigence is stripped away...

Do people have faith in a post-Brexit vision of a hollowed-out state, of continued reliance on foodbanks, of a rail network slowly grinding to a standstill and of an NHS starved of funds by Westminster and by Holyrood?

Or, once again, as Labour has shown is possible several times before, that the only party offering real hope is Labour. The only party that will deliver real change for the better, and for the many, is Labour. I know that across the country people are desperate for a Labour Government. I know too that we can deliver for the many and not the few and I can’t wait to get started.

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