NOTE: Iain Gray didn’t say this – but he should have …
The speech to Scottish Conference that Iain Gray MSP, Leader of Labour in the Scottish Parliament should have made.
Thank you, conference …
You know conference, we meet this week in troubled times, troubled mainly because of what New Labour did over thirteen wasted years. But it is in troubled times that Labour people turn their face to the wall and put their bums oot the windae – not an easy feat, even for me, conference.
For 13 years, Labour councillors, MSPs and MPs across Scotland were the only protection working people had at UK level against the assault on their living standards, their services and their very future – and they failed them, monumentally and disgracefully. (Only the SNP were able to limit the damage, but I’ll swiftly move on past that inconvenient point …)
Labour values, Labour principles and Labour people the only bulwark against the Tories and their fellow travellers - and the bulwark collapsed as New Labour turned into Tories Lite under Blair, Brown, Mandelson and Campbell, with Scottish Labour acting out the role of supine cheerleaders.
So where stands Scotland now? Well, I looked at map, and it seems to be wee country somewhere north of England, in fact, I think I live in it …
The global financial crash - for which the Labour Government were woefully unprepared - left our country with huge debts to pay. The collapse of our two biggest Scottish banks shook our confidence and required a rescue package that has almost bankrupted the nation. The Labour government held our economy together with the kind of panic stricken action that only Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling were capable of, demonstrating that confidence of Labour supporters in them was woefully misplaced. They hung a millstone of debt round the nations neck, and ensured that only the poor and vulnerable would pay it off, and the likes of Tony Blair and his wife, who had become extremely rich (estimated fortune £60m) and who got the hell out in good time before the bubble burst, would escape unscathed.
We are past masters at the rewriting of history, and we deliberately sabotaged the chances of a Rainbow Coalition because we were terrified to clear up our own mess.
Public spending in this country prior to the global financial collapse was not just out of control under our stewardship, it was totally corrupted by large scale rip-offs on expenses by Labour MPs and ministers under the protection of their shop steward, Michael Martin, now the noble Lord Martin of Something or Other, and by a combination of incompetence on defence procurement at the MOD, and obscenely fat profits for armament companies, which contributed significantly to the fortunes of former members of our government who were also directors of such armament companies, or consultants to them. Meanwhile, our brave soldiers died because of equipment failures.
That misspending was a necessity to ensure substantial private wealth for those who had toed the party line, and to support the wars, invasions and general mayhem launched by our greatest electoral vote winner and richest former Labourite, Tony Blair. Our public finances were unsustainable, and our spending had little relevance to the needs and priorities of the people – well, the poor people, anyway. Inflation was low and so was unemployment as we waited to jump ship before a bow wave sank the economy. You’d think by the way they are acting now that the Conservatives and the Liberals had counselled us against spending, but of course they didn’t, because they were up to their necks in it at every turn – they knew a good thing when they saw it!
Yes, the bailout of our banks has left us with a deficit that has to be paid down over time, but hey, we’re safe –and rich – on the side lines for the moment, having had a collective lobotomy to forget what we did to the people and the Labour Party.
There is always a space for progress. There is always room for fairness. A time for justice. A moment for peace. The place for equality. But we never found any of them. Our values had vanished like snaw aff a dyke in the toughest of times, through war and depression that we caused with our bosom friend, George W. Bush - our movement has destroyed the lives of millions, impoverished even more, and destroyed hope for the dispossessed and made the weak even weaker.
A Tory government in Westminster putting hundreds of thousands on the dole and cutting the dole when they get there. Putting up rents and cutting housing benefit. Punishing the poor and caring nothing for our communities, continuing the work that we started, and compounding our folly while in office.
Look at RAF Kinloss – where is that again, Conference? Up north somewhere? The heart ripped out of a whole county at a stroke, but a county safely distanced from Westminster - so we can safely ignore it. And now they threaten to come back for more with Lossiemouth under threat.
These are not strategic decisions. These are doctrinaire cuts, of the kind we would have made, being devoid of any concept of the defence of Scotland except WMDs.
Next Sunday I will join the rally in Lossiemouth to save that base, incognito, wearing a mask and protective clothing in case the good people up there understand what Labour did to them. I will take your message of solidarity and support to those people fighting for their community, and do my best to duck when the rotten apples come at me.
But Conference, Labour created the Scottish Parliament in the hope that it would defuse the fight for independence and cover up the theft of Scottish Oil by Westminster – we sure as hell didn’t create it for times like these.
There are tough decisions ahead. Our budget has been cut faster and deeper than is safe or necessary. But we must deal with the consequences of that. And we will have to be honest with the people of Scotland, which won’t be easy, because we never have been before. No false prospectus of ever more lavish spending proposals – there’s nae money left, as our outgoing guy jokingly told his successor.
If elected in May there will be decisions we do not wish to make, like telling the truth, or doing things for the people of Scotland instead of ourselves. But we will stoop to the challenge, with our vacuum of values and principles at the heart of every decision.
We cannot avoid the consequences of the collapse of our Scottish banks, although we’ve done our level best to try, by sabotaging the Rainbow Coalition. We cannot avoid the consequences of these Tory cuts. But we can protect ourselves – the Labour apparatchiks, that is and we shall convince the trades unions who bankroll us, and who put us in government that we are on their side, against the massive weight of evidence to the contrary.
But under no circumstance must we show the people of Scotland that there is another way, a better way. We can set a new standard for blaming everything on everybody else, and douse the final glimmerings of light to those who are losing hope. Labour will, with luck, stagger onto the Holyrood bridge and further impoverish the lives of the people of Scotland, something we have done for generations.
First Scotland and then the United Kingdom, when Ed Miliband is elected Prime Minister.
So where stands Scottish Labour now?
In good shape. In good heart. In good spirits. Taking comfort from a general election where one million Scots put their trust in Labour, against all common sense, because of a combination of blind loyalty to a failed party and hatred of the Tories. Buoyed by a leadership election in which Labour temporarily and expediently acknowledged its worse sin – Iraq - we found a leader who inspired this conference yesterday. We would have been just as happy with his Big Brother David, or even our beloved Tony, but that’s another story, conference …
And ready. Ready conference for an election to come. Doors we will knock. Leaflets we will deliver. Arguments we will make. Lies we will tell. Wool we will pull over eyes. Syntax we will mangle … An election we can win if the Scottish people don’t wake up suddenly. Promises of patronage we will dispense. Residual principles we will dump.
I say this to you not to boast. Not to brag. I have little to boast or brag about, frankly – but I will bluster. I leave political analysis, economic competence and common humanity to those to whom it comes more naturally, such as the SNP.
And remember, above all, I love Scotland too much to support it in its fight for the one thing that could transform the lives of the people of Scotland and make our nation great again – full fiscal autonomy, followed in time by full independence. I know which side my bread is buttered on, and who supplies it. I didnae come up the Thames oan a bike, comrade capitalists.