- that they are willing to use the knowledge and experience of unions and their members to shape policy; and
- that they have a vison for Scotland that matches the ambition of its citizens for sustainable economic and social progress.
Monday, 18 April 2016
Scottish Parliament elections - Grahame Smith's speech to Congress
Congress, the election on 5 May is the most important to take place since the Scottish Parliament was re-established.
The next Scottish Government will wield new powers on tax, welfare, employment programmes and Tribunals - powers with the potential to make a substantial, positive difference to the lives of working people in Scotland.
These new powers broaden the canvas on which new, bold and progressive public policy can be written.
The new Government must break from the conservative mind-set that has afflicted successive Holyrood administrations. The next Scottish Government really has to aspire to more than just managerial competence.
Unfortunately, the campaign going on around us doesn’t yet reflect the possibilities offered by these new powers. In all the leaders’ debates, hustings and newspaper features there has been nothing of substance said about economic development in Scotland; no serious programme set out to reduce inequality; and the increasingly precarious nature of employment has hardly rated a mention.
It is as if the financial crisis, the consequent recession and the years of austerity and stagnation which followed weren’t sufficiently painful to provoke new and radical thinking.
The General Council statement before you today includes 10 key demands of the parties contesting this election. If acted upon, these demands will lead to a fairer, more resilient economy and a more equal and democratic society.
Let me focus on two of these.
The first is tax. Much political wind has already been expended on this issue.
Unfortunately, the proposals we have heard so far have been generally weak and, in some cases, they blatantly contradict the wider social and economic objectives they are apparently designed to achieve.
Tax policy needs to be bolder and more creative – particularly from the parties of a social democratic bent.
We haven’t, as yet, had an opportunity to study the SNP and Labour manifestos, but we have a good idea what they’re likely to say about income tax and local taxation.
To be fair, Labour and the Lib Dems have signalled their intention to increase income tax in an effort to mitigate the impact of public spending cuts, particularly those forced on local authorities.
The SNP’s position, especially the pathetic excuses for refusing to increase the marginal rate of tax on earnings over £150,000, is hugely disappointing.
I’ve said it before and will say it again: the Nordic style society the SNP continually say they aspire to, simply cannot be created and sustained on current levels of taxation.
The second of our demands I’d draw attention to is on inequality.
It is remarkable, and very encouraging, that reducing inequality has, over the last few years, become a mainstream issue and has been given such prominence by the current First Minister.
However, it is deeply disappointing that no Party has come close to presenting a credible, coherent plan for reducing inequalities of income, wealth and power in Scotland.
Too often a welcome focus on poverty reduction has been used as cover for refusing to take action on runaway incomes at the top. An effective strategy must tackle inequality from both ends.
We need bold, ambitious policies that addresses some hitherto intractable problems in the Scottish economy and society, policies based on the evidence of what works rather than their populist appeal or soundbite suitability.
In health, where you live should not determine how long you will live.
How well you do in school, college or university or in the world of work should be about your ability and how hard you work, not your social class.
Some of our communities have not recovered decades after the loss of traditional industries.
Addressing these longstanding issues should be the priority for our politicians.
We should expect nothing less of our political leaders.
All of them need to raise their game.
Current levels of inequality weaken the economy, reduce societal cohesion and undermine democracy.
The Panama Papers have pulled back the curtain on the lives and attitudes of the wealthy to reveal nothing but sneering contempt for their fellow citizens and the rules by which any decent society must adhere.
The rich can shift their wealth offshore and absolve themselves of any responsibility to contribute to the society that allowed them to accrue that wealth in the first place.
And then, of course, they invest that wealth in lobbying for a politics which is increasingly hostile to any substantial redistribution and the role of unions and collective bargaining in bringing that about.
Of course, we won’t hear any talk of offshored wealth from the Tories contesting the Scottish Parliament election – they’re too busy rebranding themselves as cuddly, progressive sorts who have the best interests of Scotland’s workers at heart. Aye right!
Ruth Davidson certainly presents a more convivial demeanour than George Osborne. Hardly a difficult task!
But by failing to seriously challenge austerity, welfare reform and the Trade Union Bill she is entirely complicit in the UK Government’s attack on society’s most vulnerable people, on workers and unions – and no amount of one-liners or photo opps will conceal this inconvenient truth.
Ultimately the Tories attempted transition to the non-nasty party is almost as funny as the malicious buffoons of UKIP in Scotland trying to masquerade as a serious political organisation.
During Congress we will hear from the leaders of our two main parties.
We expect to hear that they understand the real issues currently facing workers and their communities;
This election should be a marker in the development of Scotland’s democracy. The ability of the new Scottish Government to introduce policies in support of the people we represent is about to be considerably strengthened.
The demands the General Council has set out today provide the template for a new Scotland.
We need a Government with the courage and passion to grasp the opportunity.
Let’s hope such a Government is elected on 5 May.
Congress, I commend the General Council statement to you.