This afternoon I responded directly to the First Minister in her debate entitled “Supporting Public Services, Tackling Inequality and Growing Scotland’s Economy”, you can read my full speech below:

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Presiding Officer I wish you and all members a very Happy New Year
 
Can I also take this opportunity to congratulate Sir Paul Grice on his well-deserved recognition? I know he will accept on behalf of all those who work so hard behind the scene to keep our democracy working.  

The voters should know that any frustration they feel at our political process is the blame of the parliamentarians, never the parliament. 

I look forward to 2016 with both hope and ambition. As elected representatives of the people we can have the potential to achieve more change in one day’s work than many can achieve in a lifetime. 

The power held in this parliament places a special responsibility on us - and that responsibility will only grow. To make the most of the opportunity we have to change people’s lives for the better.  

Because we do have an incredible opportunity to use the power of this Parliament to break from austerity, to restore aspiration for the generation that has been left behind in the last few years… 

To tackle the poverty and inequality that holds too many Scots back. We can close the education gap, pay carers the living wage, secure our NHS for the future, help people to own their home. That’s what I resolve to work for at the start of this new year. 

So it is the first day back and does the First Minister come to parliament to propose measures to deal with the decline in our schools? 

Does she come to explain why they haven’t abolished delayed discharge in the NHS? 

Do they come to talk about the future of our economy, how to prepare for the jobs of the future, how to meet the challenge of an ageing society? 

Do they come to talk about the jobs crisis in our North Sea Oil industry? 

Of course not.  

No. The First Minister returns instead with a statement launching her election campaign. It’s politics first, the possibilities of power second.  

When I saw her adverts in the paper asking for people to trust her, after nearly a decade in office, to give her another chance to deliver the change she promised at the last election, and the one before that. When I saw the adverts I was reminded of their sales pitch last time. 

The slogan Record. Team. Vision.
 
Let’s turn to that Record:

• Elected on a promise of cutting class sizes… they instead cut teacher numbers, and now they will cut local schools budgets again.

• Elected on a promise to protect NHS spending… but their own auditors confirmed that instead they cut NHS spending.

• Elected on a promise to abolish student debt… they have doubled it and cut student support.

• Elected on a promise to create an opportunity economy… 6 out of 10 new jobs are low wage and insecure. Meanwhile they’ve slashed college numbers. 

So what about her Team?

• We have an Education Secretary who can’t even answer basic questions from childcare campaigners on how she plans to deliver the last childcare promise that the First Minister made – let alone this one.

• We have a Justice Minister who didn’t even bother to meet the Chief Constable whilst Police Scotland were engulfed by crisis after crisis.

• We have a Health Secretary who has now failed on her personal promise to eliminate delayed discharge by the end of last year and instead has managed to turn the annual NHS winter crisis in to an all year round NHS crisis.

• And we have a finance secretary, who rather than ending austerity has delivered a budget welcomed only from the Tory benches

The nationalist front bench are making faces but I tell you a team who refuse to accept responsibility, responsibility for the power they have, simply cannot unlock the potential of the powers that are coming. 

And Vision?
 
Well - They stand for independence. We know that. We respect that. But what else?
 
Who in Scotland do they stand with? What do they stand for? Who do they stand up to?
 
On the bedroom tax, on the living wage, on the education gap…
 
On the social care crisis, on living rents, on fairer taxes…
 
Every time we have pressed them, pushed them..
 
Pleaded with them to deliver the change Scotland needs they have had to be dragged there kicking and screaming.
 
Every time they choose the easy politics of grievance over the hard choices of radical change. 

Looking at her pitch for re-election in the newspaper adverts this week, it isn’t team, record and vision this time. This time the offer is just more of the same. 

But Scotland can’t keep waiting for change we are crying out for.
 
If she hasn’t delivered after nearly a decade in charge, if she hasn’t delivered that change with all her power, with a majority in this Parliament, why should people wait another 5 years?
 
We can do so much more if we have a government that looks beyond the politics at what is possible.
 
We have, to borrow a phrase from the First Minister, a once in a lifetime opportunity to change Scottish politics and in doing so to change Scotland for the better.
 
To leave behind the arguments of the past, to use the opportunity real power brings to deliver real change, to break from Tory austerity. That is what we need.
 
That future is in our hands. We just need a party in government that has the ambition to seize it.
When the First Minister was first elected to this parliament, when she stood where I do now in my first term in this parliament…
 
When she looked at those in power and held them to account, she would never have been satisfied by the excuses she makes in this chamber.
 
So when she responds with the usual - SNP Bad, Talking Scotland Down - when she blames Westminster. She knows those are just excuses. A way of evading responsibility for the power she holds.
 
It’s time for real change. Not excuses.
 
Because we can do so much better for the people who are counting on us.
 
Rather than adding to austerity by giving a tax cut worth hundreds of millions of pounds to an airline industry that’s already booming, an inexcusable tax cut in an age when climate change wreaks such havoc around the world.
 
She could offer an alternative and help people from my generation for whom the aspiration of owning their own home has passed them by.
 
Rather than managing Tory austerity with a one year budget that will see the children in our schools facing cuts, we could set a three year budget…
Grasp the new tax powers to ask the wealthier to pay more to ensure that children, regardless of what their parents earn, regardless of where they live, get an education that they deserve, that allows them to aspire to anything – that liberates them from any pre-determined destiny.
 
Rather than another winter where emergency teams are hurriedly dispatched to crisis hit A&E departments in our NHS we can deal with delayed discharge by investing in social care, and we can pay a living wage for care workers across Scotland.  

This is the radical change Labour will make. And if people vote for Labour, with both votes, they will be voting for leadership that is in a hurry to change things, not for 5 more years of excuses.

One phrase in her adverts did ring true. They “will never stop campaigning.” 

Nearly a decade into government. It’s time she stops campaigning and start truly governing.

It’s time to use the power of the Scottish Government. 

In this election, Labour will offer the real change that Scotland wants and needs now.

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