Speech by the Ed Miliband, Leader of the Labour Party, to the Scottish Labour
29th. October 2010
Conference, it is a privilege to be here with you today in Oban.
Can I begin by thanking you for the support and unity you have shown since I
As we approach Remembrance Sunday let me start by paying tribute to all our
troops serving in Afghanistan including those from Scotland.
We owe them and their families an enormous debt of gratitude for their bravery
I consider it the most enormous privilege to be leading this party.
I worked here in Scotland in 1999 for the election of Donald Dewar as first
minister. Never did I believe I would come back here as leader of this great
And I know all of us will work together day, in day out to ensure a Labour
government returned to Westminster and victory at the Scottish parliament
Let me say how good it is to be working alongside Iain Gray.
Iain has led this party in Scotland with a sense of values and purpose.
He has helped rebuild Labour in Scotland and helped the party regain the trust
of the public.
I look forward to working with him and you to make sure he is the next First
Minister of Scotland.
And I want to thank you all for the tremendous result you achieved in Scotland
at the General Election.
Let us pay tribute to the great Scottish wins of 2010.
We won seats where the media had written us off.
Like Edinburgh South – and let us pay tribute to Ian Murray MP for his victory.
We won seats back from the SNP and Liberal Democrats.
Glasgow East – and let us applaud the absolute determination and relentless
campaigning of Margaret Curran MP.
And Dunfermline and West Fife--- let us congratulate Thomas Docherty MP for
taking that seat back.
We increased our majority in once marginal seats.
Like East Renfrewshire which has gone from being the safest Tory seat in
Scotland to a seat where Labour wins half the vote because of our brilliant
former Scottish Secretary, now the Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy.
And let me also say that I will be supporting the Scottish election campaign
with Jim’s excellent successor - a woman with grit and determination, Ann
In fact, we have a record number of women in the Shadow Cabinet.
And I can tell this Conference I won’t rest until we have true gender equality
in our party.
And let me pay tribute to the best fighter for gender equality and equality in
every sense that our party has---our fantastic deputy leader Harriet Harman.
Let me also thank our formidable Scottish General Secretary, Colin Smyth and his
team for the work they do and the dedication they show.
And I want to acknowledge the excellent work of our councillors all across this
We must make sure that as well as winning the Scottish elections in 2011, we
also win back control of councils across Scotland in 2012.
Coming back to Scotland reminds me of the many occasions I have come here with
the person I worked with for a number of years – Gordon Brown.
He taught me many things about Scotland and about politics.
It was my privilege to work with him to help win those first Scottish parliament
He has an incredible legacy: he improved the lives of millions of people here
and around the world.
I am proud to call him my friend. We should pay tribute today to Gordon Brown
for his leadership of our party and our country.
I remember visiting Gordon at his home in Fife and looking over the River Forth
where my father served in the Royal Navy during the war.
Along with my Mum, he came as a refugee from the Nazis and built a life here.
It was his values - it is my Mum’s values - that explain why I am standing on
this stage today.
They taught me some basic principles: most of all, a sense of optimism that
politics, that people can change our society and be a force for good.
Fundamentally this is an optimism about people acting together, and their
ability to change the society in which we live.
The belief that injustice, unfairness, inequality are not immovable facts.
Our world can be what we make of it not simply what we inherit.
That is what I was taught as I grew up.
That is my family’s experience; that is their story
That too is our story as a labour movement.
It is a story that echoes down the ages.
Keir Hardie believed that getting representation for workers in parliament could
make a difference to the lives of working people.
And it did.
Clement Attlee in the economic ruins of the Second World War had the optimism to
believe that we could build a National Health Service.
And he did.
And this month, we mark the 10th anniversary of the death of someone who fought
long and hard for a Scottish Parliament, for a voice for the people of Scotland
within the United Kingdom, and had the vision to believe it was possible.
And it was.
The man to whom the Scottish Parliament is a living memorial - Donald Dewar.
What ties together all of these struggles is a belief in human progress: that
the forces of optimism can defeat the forces of pessimism that would say things
What is the nature of this optimism?
It is about acting together so that we can change the world.
But it is about more than that.
It is about a view of human nature which says that we do care about ourselves
and our families, but we also recognise that the interests of each of us is
served by the flourishing of all of us.
And that politics at its best can unlock new possibilities for our world.
And what about those forces of pessimism?
They tell us that a belief that our world can change is a flight of fancy:
unfairness, inequality are facts of life.
That people are best left on their own, and that government is normally the
problem not the solution.
And the best thing politics can do, they say is get out of the way
I’m afraid that is today’s Conservative Party. That is David Cameron.
The fundamental difference between the optimists and the pessimists is that they
believe that the greatness of a country lies merely in individual acts.
Whereas we understand that greatness lies in what we achieve as individuals and
what we achieve together.
Each generation is called to this fight.
And so as we think about how we rebuild as a party after what was a bad general
election defeat, let us be true to who we are.
What is the character of the party I intend to lead?
Let it be true to our values of fairness, prosperity, aspiration and
justice---the values that brought me into this party---and you.
As Donald Dewar said of John Smith: "He knew politics was the art of the
possible, but on the great principles he would not give ground."
Let us understand the reasons we lost power across the United Kingdom and show
humility: because we lost touch and because people lost a sense of what we stood
for and whose side we were on.
Let us always remember that we had great leaders who held power but too many
great leaders who never did: there is no role for this party as one of protest;
we must be a party of government again.
Let us ensure that the new generation embraces and responds to the new issues
that people face in their lives: from ageing to immigration to climate change.
And let us be a movement not a fan club: debating issues, reaching out to the
community beyond our own party, linked to the trade unions and all of civil
society and above all, a party that people want to join because of our ideals.
In this way, let us fight for optimism in our time.
This task starts with our economy and the financial crisis and the lessons we
draw from it.
The pessimists want to tell you that the problem of the financial crisis was
That somehow a crisis that began with financial markets out of control should be
seen as a crisis of government’s making.
That is why they have spent the last five months telling you that all the
problems we now face are Labour’s fault.
Conference, we must stand up for the truth.
We know the story and we must tell it like it is.
There was a global financial crisis affecting every country and every country is
having to cope with the consequences.
Remember, our government paid down the debt before the crisis hit.
At the same time we were investing in the schools, the hospitals, the
infrastructure which had suffered chronic under-investment under the previous
I remember it – I went to school in the 1980s.
Conference, we didn’t just fix the roof, we built the schools.
And we didn’t just cut the waiting lists, we built the hospitals.
And we didn’t just do it when the sun was shining either, we did it all year
My partner is due to have our second child... any minute now actually.
She will do so in a brand new NHS hospital.
It was us, the optimists, that won the argument for the investment in that
hospital and made it possible.
Conference, we should all be proud of this record and we should stand up for it
- because it made Britain stronger and fairer.
But why did the deficit go up so much?
Not because of this investment.
But because we lost 6% of our economy due to the global financial crisis.
Because Alistair and Gordon used the power of government to stop recession
becoming depression and stopped people losing their jobs, homes and savings.
That’s why the deficit rose and we should fight back against the Tory deceit.
The pessimists are trying to rewrite history.
Why? Because they don’t believe in the role of government.
They’re hoping that if they win the argument about the past, they can win the
argument about the future.
What is our responsibility as the optimists?
To learn the right lessons of history.
That markets unchecked and unfettered in finance can spiral out of control and
must instead be regulated.
That we can’t have an economy based on one type of industry. We need to lead in
all of the industries of tomorrow---from bio-tech to creative industries to
And we must learn the lesson that a more unequal economy is a more unstable
If we don’t properly reward lower and middle-income families, they will rely on
ever-increasing personal debt.
And if those at the top feel there are one-way bets worth millions, tens of
millions, hundreds of millions of pounds, they will gamble without
We should never let that happen again and have ordinary families paying the
The flaw in their plan is this, if we reduce our economic policy simply to
deficit reduction, we will not build the strong economy of the future.
Of course we need to reduce the deficit.
Everybody in this room agrees about that and we would have halved it over four
years if we had been in government.
We would have made some tough decisions and no doubt some unpopular ones too.
But I have to tell you this: I believe they’ve got it wrong in the pace and
scale of deficit reduction.
They’ve got it wrong because they have no plan for jobs and growth
And they have no plan for fairness either.
Their cuts will mean half a million jobs lost in the public sector over the
A similar number in the private sector.
One million jobs lost—that’s their plan.
And how will they replace them? By hoping that things turn out OK and that the
private sector fills the gap.
The Tories say we want recession or indeed that we are predicting it.
We’re not and it’s nonsense for them to pretend we are.
But there’s no plan to make growth happen and no plan if things go wrong.
And what do they offer those people who have lost their jobs?
They say wait and see, fingers crossed.
We remember conference the effects of unemployment which scarred communities for
generations here in Scotland and all over the UK.
We have a fundamentally different view about what our economy can achieve for
people and how to make it so.
We need to reform our financial system.
We need to invest in the industries of the future. We need to use the power of
govt procurement to promote British businesses and we need to provide people
with the skills they need.
And we say unemployment is never a price worth paying.
We say never again.
And we have a different view about society as well.
The Tories used to say that there’s no such thing as society
Now they claim they’ve wised up… now they offer something you may have heard of
…. the big society.
They praise the special constable, the parent/teacher council, the tenants
association, the local charity.
They say they want more of it.
But Conference, what does it really amount to?
They think if government gets out of the way, the big society will miraculously
They fail to learn the lessons of history.
Today we have more voluntary organisations than ever before in Britain; more
people working in the sector than ever before; and the sector’s income is double
what it was when we came to office.
Not because government got out of the way but because it supported and
encouraged this important part of civil society.
I saw as minister for charities the amazing work that is being done by the
voluntary sector but it was based on a vital partnership between the state and
And what happens now when budgets are being so savagely cut?
When the local day centre closes, it destroys the services on which elderly
When the local library reduces its hours, it destroys the place at which people
And when people are worried sick about losing the roof over their head and
moving their children to another school, how they can be active in the
And do you know what has been revealed about this government since the Spending
review last week:
it’s not just economically wrong,
it’s not just unfair,
It is grossly incompetent.
And we all know it is families and children who will pay the price.
They announced a child benefit policy which is unfair and now apparently
It’s a complete shambles.
Next came a housing benefit policy that their own Mayor of London detests.
Why is it fair for someone who has been doing the right thing… who’s been
looking for work for a year… to lose 10% of the help with their rent?
Don’t they get it? If you drive up homelessness, families end up in bed and
breakfasts, and that costs more.
Why are they showing this incompetence?
Because of ideology- they came into politics to make these cuts;
Because they’re out of touch – they don’t understand the lives and experiences
of ordinary people
And because they’ve made bad decisions in haste and stubbornly refuse to change.
A week from Tuesday we will force a vote in the House of Commons on housing
Our appeal is to all MPs of conscience:
Join us, vote against these unfair and unworkable changes and force the
government to think again.
And there will be no better person to lead our attack than my friend of nearly
20 years, someone who really did come into politics to help the poorest in
society, Our Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Douglas Alexander.
The Big Society is one big figleaf for an old pessimistic idea: that people do
better on their own.
The optimists have a different view of society and the state.
We know – and this is a hard lesson - that government can be overbearing. We
know the importance, particularly in the years ahead, of getting more for the
money the state spends.
But we also know that the right and the best kind of government can support
people to take control of their own lives.
When I visited the Wellhouse project in Easterhouse with Margaret Curran, I saw
the difference that it was making to people: improving the health of young and
old people, helping tenants have a real say in housing decisions and a fantastic
We understand that the good children’s centre enables families to go out to work
and form bonds with others.
Good neighbourhood policing provides the reassurance and the security that is
the foundation for communities to thrive.
And many of the best voluntary organisations have a mix of paid staff and
Ours is a view about the good society where we support each other.
Let me tell you also what we understand: the good society depends on the fair
If you are holding down two jobs, working fourteen hour days, worrying about
childcare, anxious about elderly relatives, how can you find the time for
That’s why we need an economy which lifts people out of poverty and supports not
just a minimum wage but a decent living wage.
Until we address the conditions that mean that people’s lives are dominated by
long hours, then the big society will always remain a fiction.
And I tell you this also: we know the divided society cannot be the good
We know that from the 1980s: the last big experiment in the retreat of
We know that every major city across the country lost out: economically
weakened, socially divided and here in Scotland it took almost twenty years to
Two decades on, we know that economic regeneration and social improvement have
And we know the dangers of going backwards.
Mr Cameron by your deeds not your words shall we know you.
There’s no point in saying you believe in the big society, if by your actions
you undermine and weaken the very fabric of our communities.
But let us be the party who always stand for giving our citizens greater control
over their own lives
And what greater example is there of us giving people more control than
The Scottish parliament is one of our proudest achievements.
When Scottish Labour led the government, it pioneered historic firsts:
Free bus travel for the elderly
The smoking ban
And again at these elections ahead of us in May, as Iain will set out tomorrow,
it will be Scottish Labour leading the way.
Let me say something about Iain’s leadership.
He learnt the lessons of why we lost power in Scotland.
He’s shown how to reconnect with people’s lives and hopes.
He has shown that values must drive everything we do
That is why his campaigns on school standards, safer streets and apprenticeships
speak to who we are and who we represent.
And what is the alternative?
If there is one lesson that the economic crisis teaches us, it is that we are
stronger together and weaker apart.
The collective resources of Britain, the tens of billions of pounds that we
invested to protect people’s savings and homes was only possible because we are
one United Kingdom.
Where would each of us have been on our own? Scotland, Wales, England, Northern
Let’s face it: across the world, the debate has changed since the financial
And who is left behind? The Scottish National Party.
As problems become more global, the solutions need to be global too.
As the climate change secretary, I saw the impact that Britain could have when
we worked together.
We may be 2% of global emissions but we punch above our weight.
Does anyone really think any one of us would have more influence on the climate
change debate if we went our separate ways?
Narrow nationalism has nothing to offer the challenges of the 21st century.
While we’re fighting for jobs and hope, they are fighting to break up Britain.
They claim that an independence referendum is a referendum on jobs.
Let us make next May’s election a referendum on the job they have done for the
people of Scotland.
Never has a party promised so much and delivered so little…
Like their broken promises on class sizes, student debt and support for first
They have let down the people of Scotland. And Scotland deserves better.
And what about the Lib Dems?
What did they used to say?
The progressive alternative to Labour
It has taken Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander just five short months to undermine
150 years of the Liberal tradition.
Remember what they said: Vote for us to keep the Tories out.
Have they no shame?
Now they have become the cheerleaders for the worst things the Tory government
The VAT rise? Send out a Lib Dem
Child benefit cut? Put up a Lib Dem
Housing benefit slashed? Get me a Lib Dem
No wonder Nick Clegg is choosing his desert island discs
And let’s make sure that coming soon to an election near you is a new hit
I’m a Liberal Democrat, get me out of here.
And as they face the prospect of electoral meltdown, what do they do?
They try to rig our electoral boundaries
Get this….the government that claims to care about localism is now saying local
identity doesn’t matter when it comes to boundaries - - Unless you happen to be
Charles Kennedy whose constituency gets a special opt-out.
We all care about endangered species in the Highlands and Islands… But we draw
the line at Lib Dems.
Talking about endangered species, what about the Scottish Tories. What about
So we are the optimists, we are the only credible alternative to the pessimists
who would damage our economy and divide our society.
But this election won’t be won simply by Iain, myself and other MP and MSP
Everything we know from our history tells us that it is people that change the
This will be a doorstep election, won or lost by us.
It is the hard graft, the dedication, the hours we put in that will decide this
It is our chance to show we are back on people’s side - optimists with the right
values to change our country.
This election is critical to the people of Scotland.
Four more years of broken SNP promises or a new start under Iain Gray.
And it is a vital moment in Labour’s rebuilding across the United Kingdom.
Britain cannot afford this to be anything other than a one-term coalition.
So let the message go out.
We are ready to take our case to the people of Scotland.
We are ready to take on the pessimists.
There is an alternative.
Based on our values - an optimistic future for Scotland.
Labour’s fight back has begun.
We are ready for the fight.
Lets’ fight for the people we came into politics to serve
Let’s stand up for Scotland.
Let’s fight to win.