Scottish Labour leadership candidate RICHARD LEONARD outlines his vision of hope and real change for society north of the border
THIS Scottish Labour leadership election comes at a critical turning point in the history of the Scottish Labour Party. Two years ago Labour in Scotland was being written off, but after the June general election it is quite clear that Labour is being revitalised in Scotland.
The reasons for the recovery are straightforward. The Labour manifesto, under the principled leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, presented a refreshing programme for government that offered real change and a break from a discredited economic and political orthodoxy.
So at last Labour is once again challenging the root causes of a system that does not share the fruits of our economy equitably. A system that has provided the impetus for relentless attacks on working people and the undermining of our welfare state; has resulted in far too many people living in poverty; has created an increasingly inhumane social security system; has led to foodbanks shamefully normalised with low pay and insecurity at work; and has starved our wider economy of investment and fuelled the decline of our public services, including our greatest socialist achievement, the NHS.
We need an authentic and credible voice that working people can believe in again. If Scottish Labour is to build on the political recovery started in June then we need to do more.
We need to do more to convince people to come back to us and if we do that Labour can win again: not winning for its own sake but to win power for a purpose.
This week’s latest revelations from the Paradise Papers demonstrate once again the inherent inequality of the heart of the current economic system.
Every pound of tax avoided is a pound less to spend on our hard pressed public services. That’s why I strongly welcome the demand for a public inquiry into tax avoidance and evasion proposed by shadow chancellor John McDonnell.
It is also why I will ensure a values-led public procurement strategy, only awarding public contracts to companies that meet minimum standards.
We will award public contracts only to organisations that meet standards like no blacklisters and no zero-hours contracts, instead favouring those that are Fair Tax Mark holders, with commitments to apprenticeships, pay ratios, tackling occupational segregation, paying at least the living wage and which recognise trade unions.
Our society is deeply divided. Poverty and inequality are rife, with the richest 1 per cent in Scotland today owning more personal wealth than the whole of the bottom 50 per cent.
To tackle this I am committed to introducing a wealth tax, that keeps the money in Scotland rather than in offshore tax havens, and which then redistributes wealth and invests that money in our wider economy, our people, communities, industries and public services.
This radical policy idea reflects the public’s hunger for real change that seeks to fundamentally alter the power and wealth imbalance in our society. We can no longer tinker around the edges or believe that we can simply manage our way out of it.
My overriding mission as Scottish Labour leader and Labour’s next first minister will be to end poverty and inequality. In Scotland today over one million people are living in poverty. Half of our pensioners are living in fuel poverty as we approach winter, foodbank use is on the increase and child poverty is on the rise.
An increasing number of children, up by 40,000 to 260,000 — more than a quarter of our children — are living in poverty in Scotland in 2017; 70 per cent are living in families where at least one adult works. That’s over a quarter of a million of our young people who are growing up without the proper means to live a fulfilling life and who are having their life chances diminished because of the economic circumstances they find themselves in.
It is little wonder that educational attainment levels are so starkly different between those children who come from richer and poorer backgrounds.
My leadership manifesto (www.richardforrealchange.scot/my_manifesto) sets out clearly how I plan to make Scotland a more equal society.
It shows how I will re-empower and invest in local government and how I intend to confront the real causes of poverty and inequality, such as investing in social housing, ending high and exploitative rents in the private rented sector, driving up wages and security at work, including through the promotion of trade union membership, investing in communities, developing an industrial strategy that shares the fruits of our wealth more fairly, initiating a renaissance of public ownership in transport, which includes, among other things, the creation of a national energy corporation — that goes way beyond the SNP proposal by generating and transmitting energy — and working with councils to develop municipal ownership for example in buses and local energy schemes.
This week is National Living Wage Week. In Scotland over 400,000 people earn less than the real living wage. We need to do much more to tackle this injustice. I will commit to ensuring the living wage is paid by any company in receipt of Scottish government contracts, grants and subsidies.
Scotland desperately needs a vibrant and reenergised Scottish Labour Party. We need a party that reaches out to people young and old who lost faith in us. That means we have to make clear that we will challenge rather than manage the current economic structures and that we offer a vision of hope and optimism and the promise of real change.
Achieving that means we must elect and sustain a Scottish leadership that is in tune with the UK leadership and is seen as credible, consistent and authentic.
That is what I am offering in this leadership contest: not just to the Scottish Labour Party membership but to all of the people of Scotland.