It is a pleasure to be here and speak to you at the Unite Scotland’s first ever policy conference.
In October I actually had my first experience of being party leader during conference season, when I witnessed first-hand the tremendous amount of work and effort that goes on behind the scenes to organise an event like this.
So can I begin by commending the Unite Staff and activists who have clearly worked extremely hard to put this all together.
And I can I also take the opportunity to publicly offer my thanks to both Pat and Len, for taking the time and effort to meet with me shortly after I became Scottish Labour Leader.
In any new job one of the first things to do is speak with the union reps - so I thank them for their comradely advice at the beginning of my leadership.
And finally I wanted to recognise the role that you as activists have, in the workplace, in the community and in your union.
As Scotland’s biggest and most diverse trade union, what you as delegates debate and decide this weekend will have a great impact, and one which will reach far beyond your 150,000 members.
Because I’m sure that over the rest of today and tomorrow you will set an agenda for all your members to be proud of, but more importantly you will deliver the call to make Scotland a fairer and more prosperous country.
And that is a Scotland I want to help our movement win.
Changing the Party
In August, when I became Scottish Labour leader I told party members there would be 3 clear principles guiding my approach: Value driven politics; with a clear policy focus of delivering a prosperous future; built across the labour family.
In all 3 principles I believe Scottish Labour had to change from the party that stood in the general election last year.
But with regards to the labour family, I felt it was essential that the change we needed was to open up our democratic process.
To change from a set-up that too often viewed Labour’s affiliated trades unions as an industrial wing of a political party; so that Labour could once again be the political wing of its trades unions.
To change from a party that only seemed to offer a vote in a leadership election; to become a grass roots movement that says make your voice heard in the leader’s office.
And to change a message that failed to challenge the establishment; to be the messenger that hands Tory austerity its eviction notice.
That friends, is why in November at the first Party conference under my leadership Scottish Labour delegates had priority ballots to direct our debates and decision making.
Because a democratic socialist party can be neither democratic nor socialist until all sections of that party have the opportunity to shape and influence policy.
And what we saw as a result, was an overwhelming example of democratic debate and decision making.
Take for example the motion on TTIP which was moved by Jackson Cullinane, bringing your position of outright opposition to TTIP which was agreed at the Unite Policy Conference in July 2014.
That Anti - TTIP motion passed with 91% support across all sections of our conference.
And for Scottish Labour activists, campaigners and politicians the result of that process means much more than just a tweet, a press release or a line in a speech.
It gives us a policy that says to NHS patients and staff – Scottish Labour is completely opposed to the privatisation of our health service.
It says to the families of people killed or injured at work – Scottish Labour will fight against a plan which could see health and safety standards slashed.
It says to every single person in Scotland – Scottish Labour stands against giving international corporations the opportunity to sue future Labour governments who want to take assets in to public ownership.
And it says to other political parties still sitting on the fence that they are not going far enough in opposing a plan which is driven by sheer profiteering.
But TTIP is only one of the issues which we must demand that others step up.
Because as you know better than most, there are practices which have already been going on far too long that have not yet been eliminated, or justice delivered.
We are still seeing public contracts being signed here in Scotland with companies that have blacklisted trade unionists.
Tax payer’s money being given to companies who have ruined the lives of people who just want to work, and in the 21st century that is simply scandalous.
In Holyrood, my colleague Neil Findlay has persistently pursued the Scottish Government on this issue – working with Unite, the Blacklist Support Group and others for an end to the practice, and justice for those affected.
We know that this abuse of Human Rights disproportionately affected Scottish workers more than any other country in the UK.
Yet when the SNP Government were challenged by Labour in the Scottish Parliament to launch an Inquiry into Scottish cases, that call was rejected.
So let me make this clear, under a Scottish Labour Government there would be a full inquiry into the practice of blacklisting of trade unionists in Scotland.
But an inquiry in itself is not enough.
And here is why.
The Scottish Government say companies that have blacklisted within the last 3 years will not win future public contracts – that’s no use when thousands of cases were revealed in 2009 and are already outwith the 3 year cut off period.
In fact, there’s no word from the Scottish Government on what that means for the 500 Scottish cases which came from the 2009 revelations.
What’s worse is that the guidance from the government still does not put responsibility on these companies to show that they are now behaving appropriately.
How do these workers prove that blacklisting continues, when so many are hired through agencies or in bogus self-employment schemes which erode their employment rights?
Well friends, there is one pretty important test that a Scottish Labour government would use – and that is to make sure these companies are hiring people who have previously been blacklisted.
It’s quite simple, if you are not hiring these workers again then that in its self is still blacklisting, and it must stop.
Now conference, I know that you will be seeing a presentation from the Unite Community organisers later in the afternoon, and I’m glad I’m on before that, because I know the work that Jamie Caldwell and others have been doing is extremely impressive, and it would be pretty tough act to follow.
I met Jamie recently in Holyrood when he came to speak with Unite Labour MSPs to give an update on the Fight for 5 campaign.
And its fantastic example of how organising can really capture the imagination and harness the talents and passion of trade unionists.
By dropping the same old routine of chasing people to simply sign a petition and actually engaging with people, and having them sign up to help take part in organised action, this campaign is building new activists all the time.
The five goals of: a wage you can live on; safe, secure work; guaranteed hours each week; training and career opportunities and a collective voice with trade union representation, simply should not be too much to ask for.
And you only have to look at the changes supposedly promised at Sports Direct to see what can be achieved. I say ‘supposedly promised’ because I think any company which tries to avoid paying the minimum wage has a long way to go to earn any sort of trust.
And where you are helping young activists learn how to take on the shameful employment practices of the likes of Mike Ashley, I want our parliament to be taking on the shameful situation of the gap that exists in our education and trainings systems and is failing too many children and young people.
We found out only recently that of 25,000 new starts of Modern Apprenticeships in the last year:
Only 103 were disabled, and only 361 were from an ethnic minority background.
Worse still, Parliamentary Questions that we lodged show that the SNP Government held no records for care leavers new starts in the programme.
There is no better investment Scotland can make in developing better careers and opportunities for our young people than a Modern Apprenticeship.
The route to a good job and the chance to have a fair go in life is not, and should never be, one size fits all.
But these Modern Apprenticeships should be open to every young Scot regardless of background, and the least that our government should do is monitor the progress of supporting marginalised groups.
And conference, the failings on our young people is not only in training.
It’s deplorable that in Scotland 6,000 children leave primary school unable to read properly, that children from richer families are twice as likely to go to university as those from poorer homes and that 152,000 fewer people are going to college each year than when the SNP first came to power.
This has to change.
We know that education is the most important economic policy. Because our people are the best and more valuable natural resource we have. Ensuring that each and every one has the opportunity to fulfil their potential is at the very heart of what Labour stands for.
If we can give every child and young person a world class education then they, and Scotland, will be able to take advantage of the amazing opportunities the future will bring.
We in Scottish Labour have a radical plan to ensure that every child, no matter what their background gets an education to prepare them for the opportunities of the future.
Using the new powers coming to Holyrood we would implement progressive taxes, targeting the top earners to give every primary pupil from a poorer background £1000 which their school can invest in their education.
But conference, we cannot begin to build a fairer, more prosperous country for those children while local services across the country are being starved of the resources they need.
We cannot build a better life for those children when their parents are amongst the thousands of local government workers who have lost their jobs or the 15,000 more who COSLA say could go as a result of John Swinney’s £500m cut to our councils.
We should be cutting the gap between the richest and the rest, not the budget for our schools, and the workers from our services.
I’ve joined Unite members and local government workers who have been lobbying the Scottish Parliament week after week on the cuts to local government.
I am calling on all trade unionists to join Scottish Labour and speak with one voice to say these SNP cuts to local councils responsible for our schools and social care just aren’t acceptable.
We will fight these cuts in Parliament and we need trade unionists to fight them in town halls, in their workplaces and out in the community.
Indeed from being outside Parliament at those rallies that I have met with Peter Lawson Unite Convenor at Edinburgh City Council to discuss the Union’s local government debt amnesty plans.
In particular we have looked at the servicing of debt owed to the Public Works Loans Board within the UK Treasury, and the rates being paid to service pre-devolution debt are extraordinary.
Take for example Dundee City where the equivalent of 55p from every pound raised through council tax is being spent on servicing pre-devolution debt.
This is a council which has just offered thousands of voluntary redundancies, and scrapping the pre-devo debt could save as much as £36m over the next 3 years.
Devolution was to be a fresh start, a new beginning and yet this historic interest is still a millstone around the neck of councils who are facing Scottish Government cuts.
If the Scottish Government were serious about ending austerity they’d make the case right now for the interest on this debt to be dropped.
Conference I know that later on today there will be debates on Employment and Trade Union Rights in Scotland.
And there has never been a more crucial point in my lifetime for our movement.
With the anti-trade union bill we find ourselves under an ideological attack from a government that seems to detest the victories that our shared principle of solidarity has won.
In September in my first parliamentary speech as Labour leader I made clear to the First Minister that I would go as far as possible to fight this bill.
We have worked with all our affiliates to produce campaign packs and materials.
Scottish Labour took to the streets to build public awareness of the vicious intentions of the bill and organised public meetings.
Scottish Labour councils led the way by declaring positions of non-compliance – insisting that they will continue to ensure facility time and check off remain, should this bill be passed.
The very fact that they have done so shows that there are clear devolved responsibilities and as such the Scottish parliament should have it’s say on those areas.
That is why we offered to work with the Scottish Government, to secure a Legislative Consent Motion which could allow Holyrood to block key parts from reaching Scotland.
But when the Presiding Officer blocked that route, we did not stop.
Instead Scottish Labour MSPs took direct action –every Labour MSP lodged topical questions, to guarantee one was taken.
Questions which challenged the Presiding Officer’s ruling, and at that sitting, Labour MSP after Labour MSP made Points of Order challenging that ruling.
And while one Labour MSP was eventually suspended from the chamber, not one single SNP member spoke up.
Now conference I will work with anyone in Holyrood to stop this bill, but that is not a sentiment that is being shared by the governing party who have the parliamentary majority.
All Labour MSPs have now signed a motion calling for cross party support to change the rules of our parliament to block this bill.
Not one of the member of the SNP group has joined us.
I may be of a new generation in the Scottish parliament, but I have been around long enough to recognise when people are being to sit on their hands.
And I find it a disgrace that Labour, Greens and Independents are cooperating and SNP MSPs are being told to stay out of it.
I give you this guarantee, there is no question of what Scottish Labour stands for, or who we stand with, we stand shoulder to shoulder with you in opposing this outrageous attack on our right to organise.
We will continue to use the powers already in Holyrood to fight this tooth and nail.
We have come forward this week seeking new rule changes that could block key parts of this bill, the Scottish Government can use its majority and back us in a show of solidarity.
Or they can refuse to work together. It’s their choice.
We must all unite in the struggle against these proposals.
We know it is part of a wider Tory agenda - to curtail rights and quell dissent; an agenda which encapsulates the charities gagging bill, fees for employment tribunals, the dilution of individual rights, the undermining of collective rights.
All those who believe in democratic rights and sound industrial relations have a duty to oppose it.
I will continue to do that every single day, you have my word.