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Wednesday 1st
posted by Morning Star in Features

The Morning Star reprints here RICHARD LEONARD’s maiden speech to Parliament

I have come here to try and make a change, because I think that this Parliament is in danger of becoming complacent and indifferent.

Complacent and indifferent so that when it was revealed last week that we now have over 10,000 people on the unemployment claimant count in Central Scotland alone, the former cabinet secretary thinks it is 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 unacceptable level of unemployment isn’t just an injustice for those 21,500 families facing grinding poverty and growing inequality, and it leads to one in five children being born into poverty in Scotland today, it is a stain on our society which diminishes us all.

When James Keir Hardie, who was born 160 years ago in the area I now represent in this Parliament, gave his maiden parliamentary speech he also spoke of unemployment, which he described as “the moral degradation of enforced idleness.”

That is a phrase which I hope the new Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work will remember.

Keir Hardie also spoke in his maiden speech of “industrial distress.” And the truth is we still have industrial distress and I fear that this new Scottish government, like the old Scottish government, has no strategy for tackling it.

No industrial policy. No manufacturing strategy. And no joining together of public procurement with our industrial base. In short, no economic plan.

We have more than ever an economic system which 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.

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 to China.

It is a modern factory, with a skilled workforce, making a world-class product.

This is precisely why we need a government which is prepared to actively intervene 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.

So I call on the Scottish government to act decisively with the owner of Tannoy, and to act now.

That’s 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, that we should never accept the current levels of unemployment and that this needs to be tackled with a renewed sense of urgency.

Tinkering with these problems will not work. We need an industrial policy which relies on more than private enterprise and the free market. We need a vision of a renewed Scotland, with reindustrialisation and economic modernisation and the principled readoption of full employment as a goal of public policy.

And here are two final figures I’d also like the First Minister and the new Cabinet Secretary to consider when they are reviewing their priorities.

In Central Scotland alone, over 29,500 households are on the council house waiting list, many of them are families living in cramped, unsuitable accommodation.

How can we expect to “drive forward improvements in educational outcomes” when too many children are condemned to live like this?

We should put people back to work by building council houses and homes for social rent again.

And we know as well that half of our pensioners live in fuel poverty, a half of our pensioners cannot afford to keep warm.

So let us start looking in this new parliament at the new powers we have to see what we can do to improve the income of our pensioners who have served this society well.

But let us also start using the old powers to put people back to work on a warm homes programme which meets an outstanding social, environmental and economic need.

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 worldview is different. My priorities for Scotland’s people are different. This Parliament will be a battle of those different ideas.

It is a battle which the newly elected members from my party guided by our principles, determined in our values, with a renewed vision of the good society we want to build are relishing.

  • Richard Leonard is Labour MSP for Central Scotland.