ON THURSDAY night I was back in the East End of Glasgow for what must have been one of the most compelling European footballing nights. I was in that part of the city again yesterday. This time it was to host a “Changing Scotland” event with people who had given opposite answers to Scotland’s referendum question.
My sense was that we disagreed on one thing for one day last September. During our discussions yesterday we didn’t try to persuade one another about last year’s vote. Instead, it was this May’s election that was front and centre.
We agreed that carrying on with business as usual is not an option, of course. That’s another five years of failed Tory policies that are punitive against those who have the least. My constituency surgeries this weekend again highlighted the unfairness of current Tory welfare policy.
The bedroom tax is just one example. Fresh analysis by Scottish Labour shows that five more years of the bedroom tax will cost the most vulnerable Scots £3,000. That’s around £214 million for Scotland as a whole.
That’s the kind of road that will lead to greater inequality, the kind that not only holds back so many kids from working class households but is bad for our economy.
There is a different way of doing things. Scottish Labour has an alternative and genuinely radical plan. Our economic plan will make sure families in Scotland who go out to work can earn a decent living, get affordable and flexible childcare and know that the future prospects for their kids are bright.
We will ban zero hour contracts which exploit workers and we will increase the minimum wage to £8. We will increase taxes on those earning more than £150,000 a year to help kids from the poorest backgrounds get a better start in life.
In a speech I gave last week, I talked about class. A principle that has guided me since I first entered politics is that I want working-class parents to have the chance to have middle-class kids. To me that’s just the common sense politics of aspiration.
Some said it was wrong to bring class into our political debate. It’s a strange criticism in a country where social class can be such a determinant of life outcomes.
Too many futures are influenced by the history of a family tree. Not talking about it doesn’t make the issue go away.
There’s also a hard-nosed economic national self-interest to have a zero tolerance approach to poverty.
Today the top 10 per cent now earn nearly ten times what the bottom 10 per cent earn, which has knocked nearly ten percentage points off economic growth over the last 25 years. This scale of inequality is unfair, inefficient and harms our economy.
A generation ago, when I went to a school in a scheme in the south side of Glasgow, the idea of going to university didn’t really come up very often. That’s still true for too many Scots.
We can’t accept the level of what is often inherited disadvantage we see in Scotland today.
The youngsters with the potential to be the next Adam Smith, Alexander Fleming or JK Rowling may be living in communities like Pollok, Coatbridge and Craigmillar – they just don’t know their potential yet. It’s our job to help them realise it.
But another five years of failed Tory economics will make that job much more difficult. It will further entrench already established inequality.
All of this was the focus of our “Changing Scotland” event yesterday. We also discussed the electoral maths. In every election since the Second World War the largest party has gone on to form the government. That makes the choice in May pretty stark – it’s either Labour or Tory. Any seat the SNP take is one less for Labour’s total across the UK, which could let the Tories back into Downing Street by accident as the largest party.
Our vote in just 74 days is a matter of life chances. Stick with the government we have and the poor will get poorer still.
I’m confident that as we get closer to the election, Scotland will increasingly know that there’s only one vote that takes us closer to making Scotland the fairest nation on earth, and that’s for Scottish Labour and our renewed plan for fairness. «
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