Johann Lamont – 2013 Speech to Labour Party Conference

Below is the text of the speech made by Johann Lamont, the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, to the 2013 Labour Party conference.

Conference, I am delighted to be here and honoured to address you as Scottish Labour Leader in these challenging times for people in Scotland and across the UK.

I am a proud Scot. And it because I am a proud Scot, not despite it, that I want us to stay strong in the United Kingdom.

That is why I am determined to campaign with every bit of energy I can muster to ensure that on 18 September 2014, the people of Scotland will not just reject separation, but reaffirm their commitment to the United Kingdom.

Scotland is known for its proud industries – shipbuilding, oil and gas, whisky. But in the last few months you could be forgiven for thinking we have a new boom industry – the creation of historic days.

It seems the Scottish Government just need to call a press conference for the day to become historic.

Well I look forward to coming back to conference after the historic day next year when Scotland renews its embrace of the United Kingdom – and makes the politics of narrow nationalism a thing of history.

There are those who in the next year will want to perpetuate some myths about Scotland and the rest of the UK.

We are told that somehow Scotland is another place, with different values and concerns. But we know the reality. That across the UK families are worrying about the future.

About their children’s education, about the care of their elderly loved ones, about whether they will keep their jobs and how to make the world a safer place.

The nationalists claim that we as Scots are denied our rights, refused our potential, held back by the rest of the UK.

But the truth is that we Scots were part of shaping the United Kingdom through time. And it is the Labour movement united across the country which shaped it for the better – and will again.

That is why not only do we play our part in Better Together, the cross party campaign, but with the energy and talent of my deputy Anas Sarwar, we have established United With Labour, making Labour’s own case for staying in the UK and recasting the values that shaped labour’s legacy – that we are stronger together.

The nationalists’ central deceit is that inequality in Scotland was created in 1707 and can be eradicated by the re-establishment of an independent Scotland.

They believe that Scotland is, by its nature, more progressive. They create the impression that this debate is somehow Scotland versus the Tories. It is not.

Scotland does not agree with Alex Salmond – and if we work hard over the next year it will become increasingly clear this is Scotland versus Salmond and Scotland is going to win.

The struggle in Scotland is between truth and deceit, between a Scottish Government content to sloganize rather the address the real problems in our communities.

For above all we are fired by the determination that politics is about the real world, that identifies the challenges and creates the solutions that make a difference to people’s lives – and insists that the real world experience of the trade unionist, the agricultural worker, the mum, the carer should shape our politics, our policy and ultimately our lives.

And that is the test that others fail.

The Tories tell us things are getting better, in denial about the lives most people live, without security, but with increasing uncertainty, and increasing bills and stress.

And the Lib Dems, with empty policy offer to demonstrate they care, yet collude with and embrace the argument that this economic crisis is because Labour’s investment in schools, hospitals and our children.

And as a consequence of that betrayal, they are content to see the most vulnerable bear the brunt of the reckless decisions of a banking system that nearly brought the country to its knees.

And the nationalists? When they see the policies driven by the coalition – of austerity, of the bedroom tax, what do they say? Do they see the affront to families across the UK? No, they see they see a political opportunity.

For the Nationalists the misery of the people isn’t a wrong to be corrected – it is a chance to be exploited. For them grievance is not to be addressed it is to be nurtured.

And that cynicism, that calculation which leaves families suffering now is a price worth paying if it translates into votes next September.

It is a cynicism which corrodes our politics. It should create in us a revulsion that demands a Labour campaign of truth, passion and hope in the months ahead.

A cynical SNP that in private questions the affordability of the state pension and in public says what it thinks it needs to say to get over the line.

And when confronted with the real world:

With the health refugee to England seeking the cancer drugs not available in Scotland.

With the person with a free bus pass but no bus.

With the care worker distressed by their care for an elderly person reduced to less than 15 minutes and with an instruction to ‘task and go’.

With the student denied a place a college to learn the skills to access the unfulfilled jobs in oil and gas, what do they say?

They hunt the alibi – Westminster, local government, anyone except themselves.

Opposition is frustrating and in these tough times unity and focus to secure power will never be at a greater premium.

But how much more frustrating is it in Scotland when the Government behaves like a reckless opposition, refusing to take responsibility, happy to take the credit and energetic in blaming others. And above all, this truth – content to ensure that all those who could be protected are not helped.

For that would be to show devolution working. Devolution protecting. And if they allowed devolution to do what it was meant to do, how then they would achieve their own and only real ambition – for Scotland to be separate from the rest of the UK.

The SNP are fond of saying that Scotland should complete its home rule journey. Pity they didn’t join us on the first two legs of that journey. They stood outside the Constitutional Convention which shaped the Parliament. They wouldn’t be part of the Calman Commission which delivered real change to devolution. Yet they shamelessly rewrite Scotland’s history.

They deceive because it was the Labour Party which delivered the Scottish Parliament, it was we who started the journey to enhanced powers. And it is the Labour Party who will do so again – the party which delivered home rule for Scotland – who will enhance home rule and defend it. A strong Scotland within a strong United Kingdom.

So the prize next year is a huge one – to defeat the politics of nationalism.

Because the politics of identity is not the politics of justice. It wasn’t Scots, or the English or the Welsh or the Irish who fought for women’s votes, it was women and men who believed in justice.

We didn’t join the fight against Apartheid because we were South African, we joined that battle because it was our duty, whatever our identity, race or gender to fight against injustice.

And I believe that Scotland is too big a country to hide behind Hadrian’s Wall and not play our part in fighting injustice in all its forms throughout these islands, and through partnership with our friends and neighbours across the world.

And we will deliver hope and change at home. To the elderly person who needs help, and who wonders what it means when their government trumpets free personal care, but who only sees a carer for a few minutes a day, who gets tucked up in bed by six o’clock because that is all a pressured carer can do, I tell them Labour will deliver hope and Labour will deliver change.

To the men and women, denied the opportunity to better themselves by this Scottish government, to learn the skills which could lead to a career not just a job, I say Labour will deliver hope and deliver change.

And to those people in Scotland who do not believe that politics can change lives because they have been fed on a diet of smart slogans not real policies to change lives, I promise to restore integrity to our politics.

Reality. The truth about how real people live real lives will be at the heart of our politics. We will be honest about what we can do and we cannot do in an era of scarcity.

But there will be no limit to our vision and our thirst for justice. The limits of today should not limit our vision of a better tomorrow.

We know in this movement, in all its forms, that when we stand together there is nothing we cannot achieve.

Division is the greatest bar to our progress.

But we will stand together. Labour in all its forms, in every corner of the country, to fight the case that the nations on these islands will stand together. That is how we achieve justice at home and abroad.

Yes, conference. The next year is about defeating the politics of nationalism, a virus that has affected so many nations and done so much harm. An ideology that never achieved anything.

But it is about more than that. It is about Scotland and all our nations embracing the ideal of the United Kingdom.

It is about being a beacon to the world about how people can preserve their identity, share their values and live together and bind together to form a stronger community.

It is about embracing a new United Kingdom. One of justice. One of fairness. One of opportunity.

And conference, I promise you, I will be back next year to tell you how Scotland will play its part in building a new United Kingdom.