Orkney Labour

Richard Leonard
First speech as MSP
25 May 2016
This is my maiden speech, so I begin by thanking the people of Central Scotland, who have put their faith in me and who kept their faith in my party in this month’s election.
I also take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of my predecessors, Siobhan McMahon and Margaret McCulloch, who are no longer members of this Parliament but who gave five years of distinguished public service to the people of Central Scotland.
I have come here to try to make a change because I think that this Parliament is in danger of becoming complacent and indifferent.
When it was revealed last week that we now have more than 10,000 people on the unemployment claimant count in Central Scotland alone, the former cabinet secretary thought that it was good enough to issue a press release opining that “our employment rate ... is the second highest in the four ... nations”.
What good is that, what comfort is that, to the 21,500 women and men in Central Scotland—for that is the real number, according to the labour force survey—who are now out of work?
That is an unacceptable level of unemployment, which is not just an injustice for those 21,500 in families facing grinding poverty and growing inequality.
It leads to one in five children being born into poverty in Scotland today.
It is a stain on our society that diminishes us all.
When James Keir Hardie, who was born 160 years ago in the area that I now represent in this Parliament, gave his maiden parliamentary speech, he also spoke of the unemployment question, which he described as “the moral degradation of enforced idleness”.
That is a phrase that I hope the new Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work will remember.
In his maiden speech, Keir Hardie also spoke of “industrial distress”.
The truth is that we still have industrial distress today: just ask the 450 workers at Shell’s Aberdeen headquarters who were served notice of redundancy this morning.
I fear that the new Scottish Government, like the old Scottish Government, has no strategy for tackling it, with no industrial policy, no manufacturing strategy and no joining together of public procurement with our industrial base—in short, no economic plan.
We have, now more than ever, an economic system that works for those who own the wealth rather than for those who, through their hard work and endeavour, create the wealth, or could create it given half the chance.
Let me give you an example.
Just this week, I visited the Tannoy factory in Coatbridge.
It has been there for 40 years, yet a man called Uli Behringer, who bought it just one year ago, wants to close it down and move the work to Kidderminster and China.
It is a modern factory with a skilled workforce making a world-class product.
That is precisely why we need a Government that is prepared to act: not merely to send in a partnership action for continuing employment team, but to intervene actively on the side of those gallant working women and men who, with their union, are in the fight of their lives to keep the work and the jobs here.
This afternoon, I call on the Scottish Government to act decisively with the owner of Tannoy, and to act now.
That is why I will make it my job to remind the new Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work that democracy should be a central aim of economic policy; we should never accept the current level of unemployment, and it must be tackled with a renewed sense of urgency.
Tinkering with those problems will not work; we need an industrial policy that relies on more than private enterprise and the free market.
We need a vision of a renewed Scotland, with reindustrialisation and economic modernisation, investment in education and—yes—the principled readoption of full employment as a goal of public policy.
Here are two final figures that I would like the First Minister and the new cabinet secretary to consider when they review their priorities.
In Central Scotland, more than 29,500 households are on council house waiting lists. Many of them are families living in cramped, unsuitable accommodation. How can we expect to “drive forward improvements in educational outcomes” when too many school-age children are condemned to live like that?
We should put people back to work by building council houses and homes for social rent again.
We know, too, that half of our pensioners are living in fuel poverty and cannot afford to keep warm.
Let us start looking, in this new session of Parliament, at the new powers that we have in order to see what we can do to improve the income of our pensioners, who have served this society well.
Let us also start using the old powers to put people back to work on a warm homes programme.
There are democrats in this Parliament who answer to the call of the nationalist bugle, and there are rather more of them than there are of us.
But I am a democratic socialist: my world view is different, and my priorities for Scotland are different.
This Parliament will be a battle of those different ideas.
It is a battle that we—the newly elected members from my party, guided by our principles that are determined by our values, and with a renewed vision of the good society that we want to build—are relishing.

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