It is a national scandal that 220,000 children across Scotland are living in poverty.

Like every Labour politician, I entered politics to do everything in my power to improve the lives of people who struggle every day to make ends meet.

That’s what Labour governments do: under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown we lifted 120,000 children in Scotland out of poverty.

But after we lost power at Westminster in 2010, that progress was halted by a callous Tory government.

While David Cameron governed, with help from the LibDems, the proportion of children living in families below the poverty line reached one in five.

That shows just how important it is that Labour is a party in power – something I wake up every single day to fight for.

In Scotland, the impact of Tory austerity has had a devastating effect. That’s why I opposed Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to simply pass on Conservative austerity in her budget.

This year alone – with the help of the Scottish Greens – the SNP will cut £170million from local services such as education and care for the elderly. The very services that people in poverty rely on the most.

Since 2011, the SNP has cut a staggering £1.5billion from local services. I didn’t get into politics to simply pass on Tory cuts, and it astonishes me that Nicola Sturgeon is content to do so.

There is an alternative. Following the independence referendum in 2014 there was a cross-party drive to introduce new powers for the Scottish Parliament – a drive led by Gordon Brown.

The vow was delivered and sweeping new powers are coming to Holyrood, including the ability to top up benefits.

At the weekend, I was delighted to announce a Scottish Labour policy to increase Child Benefit, using these new welfare powers.

Our plan would see child benefit increase by £240 per year by the end of this Parliament, increasing by £13 a month next year, before rising to £20 per month in 2020.

We will urge the SNP to include the plan in the Child Poverty Bill that is currently making its way through Holyrood. If that is rejected, then my party will find other parliamentary mechanisms to bring the policy into effect.

Based on calculations by the Child Poverty Action Group, it is estimated the proposal to top-up Child Benefit could lift 18,000 children out of poverty in the first year alone.

Our policy is in the great traditions of the Labour Party.

In 1946, we introduced family allowance because we believed that everyone – regardless of their income – deserved support from the government when they had children.

It demonstrated Labour’s commitment to giving every child the best start, and giving every family something back from the money they paid in.

Decades on, we are continuing to put forward proposals to improve the lives of children.

With the Tories pursuing a hard Brexit that will damage our economy, and the SNP passing on massive cuts to local communities, it is Labour that has a plan to help families that are living in poverty.

AT the Scottish Labour conference in Perth, I was proud to stand under the banner ‘Together We’re Stronger’.

I do not want another referendum on breaking up the UK.

Our country still bears the scars of the last one, and – like most Scots – I don’t want to go through that again any time soon.

That’s why Labour will not support the SNP’s plans for another divisive referendum.

At the conference I launched the website and asked everyone who shares Labour’s vision, of a strong Scotland inside a reformed UK, to sign up.

If you share our values, if you believe our country is already divided enough, and if you believe the First Minister should shelve her plans for a second independence referendum, then sign the pledge.

Instead of exploiting division, I want people across Scotland to share Labour’s vision of an open, tolerant and outward looking Scotland.

At conference, Scottish Labour formally adopted a policy of federalism for the United Kingdom.

We are opposed to independence, but we are also opposed to the status quo.

Next month, I will meet with former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Labour representatives from the UK party, Wales and the regions of England to set out plans for a People’s Constitutional Convention.

We know that together we are stronger when the nations of our United Kingdom work together rather than split apart.

Only Labour has a positive plan to reform our nation and invest in our valued public services.

Our most precious institution is the National Health Service.

But under the SNP there has been a decade of failure, with increased pressure on staff in every part of our NHS - from nurses who say their workload is getting worse, to GPs who say their surgeries are understaffed.

The chair of the British Medical Association in Scotland has warned that our NHS workforce is ‘stretched pretty much to breaking point’.

When Nicola Sturgeon was Health Secretary she slashed training places for nursing and midwives in Scotland.

The SNP government also cut funding for medical students in Scotland from between 2008 and 2015.

But with thousands of posts lying vacant, it is painfully clear that the SNP’s failure to properly workforce plan has left our NHS staff over-worked, under-valued and under-resourced.

That’s why my colleague Anas Sarwar has launched plans to have a workforce commission up and running within ten weeks.

Working with colleagues across the NHS we will bring forward solutions to the workforce crisis.

It will consider increasing the number of training places for nurses and midwives, and consider ways to attract more nurses and reduce drop-out rates.

And, to improve staff morale and increase retention, it will consider how we can finally scrap the 1 per cent pay cap for NHS staff.

I didn’t get to watch the Scotland v Wales rugby match as I was busy working at the Scottish Labour conference.

So it was fantastic when I found out about the result.

After nine defeats to the Welsh over ten years, this current Scotland team is going from strength to strength.

I’m meeting my Labour colleague Carwyn Jones, the First Minister of Wales, next month and I’m confident I’ll be able to boast that we finished above the Welsh in the final table.

The Academy Award for best drama goes to the Oscar envelope organisers, who made a blunder when the top award of the night was announced.

I’m delighted there was no mistake, however, when Emma Stone was awarded best actress for La La Land. It was a mesmerising performance that will delight audiences for generations to come.

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