Scottish Labour Conference Round Up - Saturday
A quick round-up of the second day of Scottish Labour Conference 2018 - and a look ahead.
Richard Leonard’s Keynote Address to Conference
In a 50-minute address to the Conference floor, Richard Leonard set out the core of his political vision.
Beginning with a joke at the expense of the Scottish Conservatives for cancelling their conference, after seeing a map of Scotland “covered in red” during the beast from the east, Richard thanked Kezia Dugdale for leading the Scottish Labour party through ‘turbulent times, before turning to his 'real change' policy agenda.
Channeling the rhetoric of Bernie Sanders, Mr. Leonard attacked the ‘one percent’, arguing that ‘the rich are only so rich because the poor are so poor’. Leonard also hailed the review by the Scottish Government of rough sleeping, including a total ban on winter evictions, secured by the Scottish Labour party.
Leonard introduced the Mary Barbour Law as a solution to rocketing rents, as pledged in his leadership campaign. Arguing that nobody should have to pay rents that force them into poverty, the he called access to good quality habitation ‘a basic human right’. The Scottish Labour leader also set out an ambitious home building program, through the use of housing co-operatives, and restoring powers to local authorities to build more council houses.
Leonard announced that under a Scottish Labour government, the provision for sheltered housing for the elderly would be expanded and brought under the control of local authorities, rather than private care providers. Promising ‘to each according to their needs’, he highlighted a higher rate of income tax and land value tax was ways to pay for an end to austerity, and a heavily interventionist economic program, with redistribution of wealth and power at it’s core.
Leonard argued that “If it comes down to the sovereignty of the market and the sovereignty of the people - I choose the people every time”, and therefore Scottish Labour must respect the democratic outcome of the Brexit referendum. Nevertheless, Richard Leonard reiterated that Labour would vote down any deal which did not live up to Keir Starmer’s six Brexit tests.
Outlining Scottish Labour’s raft of current legislative proposals, from issues such as second jobbing to period poverty, the Scottish Labour leader argued that Scottish Labour could not afford to wait till 2021 to implement ‘real change’, instead arguing that Scottish Labour could drive the legislative agenda from the opposition benches in Holyrood.
2018 Party Rulebook Changes
The key rule changes proposed this year are the creation of two new female positions on the SEC, with the election procedures decided by the Scottish Labour Women’s Committee, the establishment of Scottish Labour Women’s Conference as an annual delegate based event, and the establishment of a procedure for Conference to refer parts of policy documents drafted by the Scottish Policy Forum back to the Forum. This latter point is important for improving party democracy - prior to this motions presented had to be accepted or rejected in full, now they can be broken down in to parts.
All motions discussed today passed unanimously. These included support for the UCU strike, measures to end homelessness, public ownership of student housing, energy policy, the role of procurement, the British Transport Police/Police Scotland merger, and public contracts.
This year Unite Scotland teamed up with Campaign for Socialism to hold a joint event based around increasing membership participation in the Scottish party structures. Chaired by Neil Findlay MSP, the meeting was standing room only, with emphasis on campaign and policy ideas from the floor. The issue of Scottish Labour’s lack of proper engagement with modern social media tools was raised, with the example of Momentum’s successes online as a possible model that Scottish Labour could emulate by Mr. Findlay. Concrete ideas from the floor also included defending the international development budget, investigating ideas for council tax alternatives, and exploring how to overhaul the Scottish Policy Forum, using new technology to increase member led policy development.
Tomorrow brings the key debate concerning Scotland in the World, and will no doubt mostly focus on Brexit. Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell will be delivering his keynote speech at 11:20am.