Anas Sarwar: Scotland can’t afford another lost decade

Anas Sarwar campaigns during the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
Anas Sarwar campaigns during the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)
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Scottish Labour leadership candidate Anas Sarwar responds to criticism earlier this week from Scotsman columnist Darren McGarvey

After a lost decade in Scottish politics it is Labour that today offers hope to people across the country.

The SNP’s obsession with independence has blinded it to the workforce crisis in our NHS, the falling standards in our schools, and the rise in child poverty.

And across the UK, a cruel Tory government has inflicted misery on the most vulnerable in society and is now careering towards the cliff-edge with plans for a hard Brexit.

Scotland can’t afford another lost decade, which is why we need a Scottish Labour government. It is the prospect of a Labour government which offers hope to the next generation of Scots, not another decade of the SNP.

Earlier this week, Darren McGarvey questioned in the pages of this newspaper why I refuse to collaborate with the SNP.

I’m happy to respond: I believe in socialism, not nationalism.

The SNP adopted the slogan “Progress” at its annual conference in Glasgow this week, yet there is nothing progressive about a government that refuses to introduce progressive taxation, and has cut £1.5 billion from local services since 2011.

And there is nothing progressive about wanting to break apart the United Kingdom, which is why I was proud to lead Scottish Labour’s distinct, positive campaign to strengthen our place in the Union in 2014.

Darren is correct to state that I will never support independence, and we will have to disagree on the constitutional issue. I respect his position, and we both share a burning desire to tackle deprivation, but it is without doubt that independence would cause even further austerity in Scotland.

I do accept that many who voted Yes in 2014 believed that independence would bring change – and change which was desperately needed. Now, after a lost decade, we need change in Scotland more than ever and my offer to those voters is a promise to deliver change not through separation – but through socialism.

That’s what Jeremy Corbyn offers across the UK, and explains why so many SNP voters have come back to Labour, and it’s what a Scottish Labour government will also offer.

I do not agree with Darren’s claims it is the SNP which offers the message of “hope”.

I don’t believe in the illusion of hope; I believe in the realisation of hope.

It is unity and solidarity that gives hope; not the SNP’s division.

Across Scotland we have endured a lost decade where the recession has caused hardship for too many workers, with wages still lower than before the crash.

A lost decade where too many families are forced to rely on food banks just to put a meal on the table, with household debt up by two-thirds. A lost decade where too many young Scots can’t afford their own home, with ownership among young people down by a quarter since 2007.

The SNP cannot offer a message of hope when it is responsible for that lost decade. But as Scottish Labour leader I will offer real hope.

Real hope to families by introducing the most radical welfare policy in Holyrood’s history: a Scottish child tax credit, paying an extra £10 a week per child. Not a universal policy, but deliberately targeted at the poorest families in the country – instantly lifting 50,000 children out of poverty.

I will offer hope to the thousands of families who are on the housing waiting list by getting 35,000 empty homes back into use.

I will offer hope to the vulnerable people left behind by the Tories. I will use the parliament’s powers to reverse Tory cuts to Employment and Support Allowance, ensuring that 70,000 sick and disabled claimants do not lose their benefits.

I will offer hope to women who have been underpaid in the workplace by creating a commission to end the gender pay gap.

I will offer hope to hospital patients by rescuing our NHS through an action plan to deliver more training places and clamping down on spiralling private agency spend.

I will offer hope to school-leavers by introducing the innovative Scotland Guarantee – a guaranteed job, training place or education for every school-leaver. I will offer hope to older people as we face up to the reality of automation by opening up apprenticeships to all ages to retrain workers. I will offer hope to every worker because I understand the importance of the EU single market for jobs in Scotland.

That’s why I have announced that as Labour leader I will not just oppose a Tory hard Brexit, I will support permanent UK membership of the European single market.

That is what hope looks like, and it is simply not on offer from the SNP or the Tories.

Yesterday marked the anniversary of an influential figure in the Labour movement who offered our country hope: Donald Dewar. The Scottish Parliament is one of Labour’s greatest achievements in government, with Donald delivering on John Smith’s unfinished business.

I am part of the devolution generation and I’m restless to use the powers of our Scottish Parliament.

But Labour can only deliver the change people need if we win elections once again.

That’s why I’m standing in this contest, because I want to return the Labour Party to power and deliver hope to the people of Scotland.