Following a successful Party Conference in Perth Joe says Scottish Labour is undoubtedly the party of real change in Scotland.
Last week the Scottish Labour Party met in Perth for our party conference. Under new leadership here in Scotland, and across the UK, the conference slogan was a simple one – ‘Take a Fresh Look’.
Anyone who did would have saw a party which is changing. A party proud of our history but one putting its values into a 21st century setting to layout a positive vision for the future.
When they were elected as our new leadership team Kezia Dugdale and Alex Rowley promised to restore party conference as the main policy setting forum and open it up to debate. The result has been a raft of excellent policies which should shape next year’s party manifesto.
Our pledge to use the Scottish Parliament’s new powers to reverse, in full, the Tory’s tax credit cuts has changed the terms of the debate for next year's election. This election should be about how we use the new powers to deliver a fairer, more equal society and this pledge does that. 6600 families in Cunninghame South are due to lose, on average, £1300 per year from these cuts and Scottish Labour is the only party who has pledged to use the new powers to protect them. Unfortunately, the SNP voted with the Tory’s last week against our plans.
Other policies agreed over the course of the conference weekend included a pledge to build 60,000 affordable homes, support for rent controls in the private rented sector, reintroducing bus regulation, axing social care charges and outright opposition to TTIP.
There were two policy debates that stood out for me though because our local delegates played a key role.
First up was Robert Foster of Irvine who moved our local party’s motion calling on Scottish Labour to use the new borrowing powers coming to the Scottish Parliament to buy back PFI debt. Around £28bn is owed in PFI debt in Scotland and many of these contracts are on double digit interest rates. Robert highlighted the many local projects that Labour delivered in power, including state of the art schools, which have improved the life chances of local people but he also said that we must have an honest debate about how these were financed and set out a better way. PFI is discredited and expensive yet, despite promising a better funding model, the SNP are still using NPD, a form of PFI. By using our new powers to buy out PFI deals we can save around £12bn which can then be reinvested in our NHS, schools and public services. Robert delivered a great speech and I am delighted that conference backed the motion.
The other highlight was during the Trident debate. I have always opposed Trident and am therefore delighted that the conference overwhelmingly voted against renewal. However, the real highlight was the speech by 16 year old Christopher Rimicans of Kilwinning. Christopher’s passionate speech brought the conference to its feet and it has, rightly, received widespread coverage in the national media.
Our weekend in Perth was a huge success. We come out of it with a policy platform for next year which will genuinely make life better for people here and across Scotland and I am really positive about the direction we are heading.