Labour revives anti-austerity agenda as Richard Leonard says party offers ‘vision of hope’

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Jeremy Corbyn will seek to revive the anti-austerity agenda that thrust him into the Labour leadership as he addresses delegates in Scotland today as new polling shows the party has fallen almost ten points behind the Tories in third place north of the Border.

Scottish leader Richard Leonard has insisted the party offers a “vision of hope” compared with the “turbo-charged austerity” of the SNP.

Scottish Labour Leader Richard Leonard. Picture: John Devlin

Scottish Labour Leader Richard Leonard. Picture: John Devlin

The pledge comes after a turbulent period for the party, which has seen it riven by ongoing rows over antisemitism, defections and splits over Brexit.

A Panelbase poll published yesterday saw the party drop three points in Holyrood voting intentions to 19 per cent. This is eight points behind the Tories on 27 per cent. The SNP is on 41 per cent.

Mr Leonard has been accused of seeking to “shut down” debate on Brexit at this weekend’s conference. But the Scottish leader will seek to shift the focus on to the party’s “radical policies” to end austerity, and tackle poverty, inequality and homelessness.

New figures released by Labour indicate SNP plans to bring down Scotland’s £13 billion deficit in the early years of independence could mean £7.5bn worth of cuts.

Mr Leonard said last night: “It is clearer now than ever that the real choice is either more cuts and division with the Tories and SNP or hope and investment under Labour.

“While the SNP plan turbo-charged austerity for Scotland, Labour offers a decade of transformational investment.

“We will bring an end to austerity and we will shift the balance of wealth and power in Scotland, ensuring the wealthiest pay more to fund our NHS, our schools and the services we all rely on.

“We will end low pay and the exploitation of workers, reverse the rise in poverty, homelessness, inequality and food banks, and invest in our communities and our industries.”

Labour has released analysis from the House of Commons Library showing the SNP’s plan to halve the deficit in five years could mean an additional £7.5bn worth of cuts, with public spending being 8 per cent lower than it is now within five years of Scotland leaving the UK.

The Scottish leader indicated last weekend that a future UK Labour government would not provide a Section 30 order that would allow Holyrood the authority to stage a second referendum on Scottish independence.

Mr Corbyn will be the main draw for delegates at Dundee’s Caird Hall this afternoon. He will set out plans for £70bn in additional investment in Scotland under Labour. This will include £30bn of Barnett ­consequentials, a National Investment Bank with £20bn of lending power and a £20bn National Transformation Fund to rebuild the country’s infrastructure.

Mr Leonard will address delegates tomorrow, while shadow chancellor John McDonnell will speak on Sunday.

Shadow Scottish secretary Lesley Laird will hit out at the growing use of food banks during an address to conference today.

“Here in Dundee, 8,000 children are growing up below the poverty line,” she will say.

“In my own constituency, Kirkcaldy food bank has seen a 64 per cent increase in the past year since the roll out of Universal Credit – a statistic that should shame every one of us.

“We now live in a country where poverty is predicted to reach record levels. Across the country as a whole, 59 per cent of those who are living in relative poverty live in households where at least one person is in work. Think about that just for just a moment. That is the harsh reality of life in Scotland in 2019. That is the reality of austerity.

“Only Labour is committed to tacking the fundamental inequality in our society. We will do this by investing in our people and in our communities.”

A £10 per hour national living wage and a ban on zero-hours contracts are at the heart of the party’s plans.

“The reality is that the real division in our country is not between those who voted to remain or leave, or those who voted yes and those who voted no,” Ms Laird will say.

“Constitutional politics is the scourge of our times, but ultimately if we are to break free from this impasse we must remember one thing.

“That whether you are from Benarty or Broxburn, Kelty or Kilmarnock, Lochgelly or Lesmahagow, it is irrelevant.

“If you are up against it, you are up against it, but you are not against each other.”

SNP MSP George Adam insisted Mr Leonard’s leadership was in the mire after recent problems. “Richard Leonard has faced one of the worst weeks of his leadership,” Mr Adam said.

“He’s shutting down debate over Brexit and the option of remaining in the EU, showing he’s willing to cast Scottish jobs on the scrapheap and damage our NHS.

“He’s been described by the boss of one of Scotland’s major unions as a failure – taking his party backwards, not forwards. And the polls bear testament to that fact, showing that Labour continues to trail in a distant third place in Scottish politics.

“Previous leaders of Scottish Labour have been given the heave-ho for far less.

“Richard Leonard has no authority, no clue and, frankly, stands no chance of rescuing a failing Labour Party.”