Day 1 of #ScotLab15 – The Sunshine of Socialism Hits Perth

DSC00068

This wee blog documents my time at the 2015 Scottish Labour Party Conference. It is an important conference for the Labour movement as it is the first since Kezia Dudgale and Jeremy Corbyn won their respective leadership roles, and it comes it a time when Labour’s vision for a fairer and more equal society is being reviewed after the party  was rejected at the poles.

The conference is also important for me as it is the first one I have attended since joining Scottish Labour in October 2014.

One week to go
My delegate pack has arrived. This is quite exciting, but there are two problems – no lanyard and no “How Conference Works” document.  Nonetheless, the key document in my pack appears to be the “Report of the Scottish Policy Forum 2015”. This document sets the broad context within which the Scottish Labour manifesto will be drafted. It contains few surprises,  but does bring together themes and ideas which reflect our values as a party. For example, this paragraph reflect something many people in the movement feel strongly about:
blog
The delegate pack contains one last surprise – there is it be a disco at the conference. What would Keir Hardie have to say about that?

Three days to go
I am quite keen to support my union, UCU, at conference, so I manage to get a wee badge from my branch… and they even throw in a mug.
DSC00087 DSC00010

Two days to go

All Scottish Labour CLPs were given the opportunity to submit a motion to conference. My CLP’s was quite concise: “The conference agrees that the proportion of social or affordable housing in new developments should be increased to help tackle the housing crisis and improve social cohesion.”

With two days to go I get confirmation that our motion has been accepted, but will be composited with similar motions from CLPs across Scotland. I have to meet with these CLPs on Friday evening to agree on the wording of the “composite” motion.

Friday – Conference begins

The train reaches Perth a little late (why did the SNP not agree to consider Labour’s proposal to bring ScotRail in to public ownership?), but I have time to dump my bag at my hotel before walking to the conference venue.

The conference itself is structured around the “Report of the Scottish Policy Forum” document, with resolutions proposed to strengthen the content. The first session dealt with “Public Services and Wealth Creation”, with resolutions to give extra support to shop workers, fairer procurement and the buy-back of PPP/PFI/NPD debt.

https://twitter.com/DrScottThinks/status/660042637194493952

During this debate two things were clear – there was some concern about the levels of abuse shop workers in Scotland are receiving and anger that the SNP’s unwillingness to support calls to give them more protection in law. Similarly, there was a feeling that the SNP were offering steel workers “warm words”, but had not supported the industry via their procurement strategy.  Indeed, it was noted that the SNP Government make no mention of the steel industry in their “Economic Strategy“.

The debate surrounding NPD/PFI/PPP debt was also interesting as many in Scotland think that PFI is a thing of the past. The reality is that Scotland is still servicing PFI debt and the SNP are allowing it to grow via their version of PFI which they call NPD – it makes “PFI a bit more politically acceptable without changing any of the economics“. The conference overwhelmingly agreed that a future Labour Government should use Holyrood’s borrowing powers to buy back this debt.

Friday – Lunchtime Fringe

With the morning session over, the lunchtime fringe begins. On the way out of the venue Nigel Griffiths (my old MP) is handing out “Labour Leave” leaflets – perhaps a sign of future battles.

 

DSC00088

I attended a fringe event hosted by the “Labour Movement for Europe“. The focus of this was the role Labour should play in the coming EU referendum. This was chaired by George Foulkes, with significant contributions from Catherine Stihler MEP and Community.  

Friday – Afternoon

After lunch we had a keynote address from Ian Murray MP, the core of this was his story and how he was able to move from one of the most deprived areas in Scotland and go on to start his own business . His conclusion was: “that is why we wake up every day, frustrated at our UK and Scottish Governments abdicating their responsibility to level the playing field – failing to make sure we really have equality of opportunity.

Like many other speakers, Ian Murray referred to the Trade Union Bill. However, his anger was directed at the SNP and the Tories: “While Labour have been fighting for the rights of workers and unions across the United Kingdom what have the SNP been doing? They have gone through the Trade Union Bill, opting Scotland out. Just Scotland. How’s that for solidarity? Live in England? Tough. Live in Wales? Tough. Live in Northern Ireland? Tough. Conference, Let me be absolutely clear. The Labour Party will oppose the Trade Union Bill for every worker, everywhere.” Ian won the first standing ovation of the day.

Next came an address from Jeremy Corbyn. His speech focussed on Labour as an internationalist movement and its links with the human rights campaigning. He used this narrative to make the case for Labour being the only true left-wing alternative to the Conservatives – “Friends, if you want socialist change, if you want a left wing alternative, you have to vote for it. If you’re satisfied that nearly a million people in Scotland are in fuel poverty or that half of all housing in Scotland falls short of official quality standards, then Labour isn’t for you. But if you’re not content, if you won’t walk by on the other side, then vote for a party next May that is a democratic socialist party in both our words and our deeds. Vote Labour.

During the speech the enemies of Jeremy Corbyn’s arguments were quick to try to undermine him by questioning Labour’s left-wing credentials. David Torrance summed up the hypocrisy at the core of these criticisms:

Friday – Evening
I skipped the EU session to check into my hotel, but retuned in time to attend a evening fringe on the attainment gap. The discussion was good, but there was an appreciation that this is not a simple problem and there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

I then attended a meeting to agree the wording of my CLP’s composite motion. This proved to be a little painful, but very worthwhile. The agreed wording was:

Conference believes that everyone deserves a warm, secure home where individuals, families and communities can thrive and that a decent standard of housing is crucial to the development and well-being of children, the health of the nation and an efficient workforce.

Conference recognises the acute shortage of affordable housing across Scotland; that it is currently estimated by Shelter Scotland that there are over 150,000 households on local authority housing waiting lists; that the primary tenure for households in Scotland is still owner occupation, however 13% of households now live in the private rented sector which has more than doubled in the last ten years and notes the increase in the cost of rents; that according to the Scottish Government’s latest figures by the end of March 2015 there were 10,488 households in temporary accommodation in Scotland and there were more than 35,000 homeless applications in 2013/14; overall house building levels in Scotland are currently well below their 2007 peak levels and social housing completions have fallen by 44% from 2010 to 2014. Conference understands that of Scotland’s housing stock over 1 in 10 households in Scotland are affected by dampness, condensation or both, 940,000 are in fuel poverty and roughly 75,000 households are overcrowded.

Conference believes that this points to the clear failure of the Scottish Government to tackle Scotland’s housing crisis.

Conference calls on an incoming Scottish Labour Government to commit to backing Shelter Scotland’s for a radical programme to build more affordable and social rent homes, including co-operation as a model, council and third sector building; calls for a fair deal for private sector tenants through rent controls and adequate housing standards with enforcement powers.

After this, I attended the conference reception (overcrowded and stuffy), went for a meal with the Edinburgh South CLP (overcrowded and stuffy) and then attended the Conference Quiz (overcrowded and stuffy). On the way out, I had a minor brush with an online celebrity – BuzzFeed’s Jamie Ross:

Advertisements

In support of the housing motion at #ScotLab15 tomorrow.

JC House

In support of the housing motion at #ScotLab15 tomorrow.

I lived in a council house in Kirkcaldy until I was 18, when I left home to go to university. Looking back, I can see now that the state provided us with a safe and warm home at a fair and predictable rent. For a family that was always skint, social housing gave us dignity.

Although there were problems with the system even then, now the demand for social housing in Scotland has become completely unacceptable.

150,000 people are on council waiting lists.

Tens of thousands of people have applied to be considered as homeless.

50,000 people are living in overcrowded accommodation.

Over ten thousand people are living in temporary accommodation.

The last Labour government built 4,500 homes for social housing per year. We should be proud of this, but we should have done more.

Jeremy Corbyn told our UK conference that nationalism does not build homes.

This was not an empty slogan.

The SNP have built just 3,500 homes per year since 2011.

That’s 1000 homes fewer than Labour. That’s a thousand families let down. That’s 1000 fewer homes built when the SNP government has been sitting on hundreds of millions of pounds of unspent money.

I support this motion, but it will mean delivering over 10,000 homes per year if we are to meet Shelter’s aspiration. It will not be easy.

It will mean investing in apprenticeship to build the homes.

It will mean investing in our colleges to educate these apprentices.

It will mean giving people an education and training that means they can demand a fair wage and embark on a career that enables them to also live in dignity.

That’s why I support this motion. It will give people homes and help as grow our economy.

Policing in Edinburgh – Scotlands Crime Capital.

This post is a short version of my Labour Hame blog.

People in Edinburgh that follow the news, attend their Community Council meetings or who have spoken to a police officer will not be surprised to learn that Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, has the nation’s highest crime rate – 53% above the national average.

The HMICS report comes within the context of year-on-year cuts to Police Scotland’s budget, £64million this year alone, which have resulted in the loss of around 800 police staff. The only way Sir Stephen House, the outgoing Chief Constable, could deliver the further cuts asked by the SNP Government is via what he termed “extreme measures”.

To maintain police numbers and balance the budget, Police Scotland must cut administrative posts and have police officers take on more paperwork. The impact of this has not been trivial. In Edinburgh, station closures and the abandonment of anti-burglary teams has coincided with a massive spike in house break-ins.

My nearest police station (Oxgangs) has been replaced with a weekly one hour session in a local library – this serves tens of thousands of people in Colinton, Bonaly, Oxgangs, Firrhill, Swanston, Buckstone, Fairmilehead and a substantial part of the Pentland Hills Regional Park.

Responding to public concern, both Ian Murray MP and Kezia Dugdale MSP have made repeated calls for a return to locally accountable policing in Edinburgh. Indeed, HMICS recognise that a return to local policing is the solution as they have asked Police Scotland to ensure there are “sufficient officers and community policing roles” across Edinburgh.

I am hopeful the HMICS report will put real pressure on the SNP Government to review the organisation and funding of policing in Scotland. Their aim must be to return to locally accountable policing, and to begin the work of rebuilding morale in the force and increasing public confidence.

I may be wrong, but I think Stu Campbell is talking crap (again).

image

The other day I wrote a blog which exposed a leading cybernat, Stu Campbell, as being a bit of a liar (5295 views). Three days later he concocted a response. My quite cynical eyes spotted a few small problems with what he had written, but there was a substantial point which attracted my attention. These are his words concerning a £1.3b rise in the SNP’s budget for “Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth”:

“Andrew Neil is telling us that’s extra cash for the Scottish Government to spend. But really it’s just money which used to be paid directly to [Police and Firefighter pension] recipients by the DWP, but has now been given to the SPPA to pay out instead. Not a single extra penny will come into Scotland. All that’s changed is the postmark on the envelope.”

He is suggesting that the DWP previously paid Police and Firefighter pensions, but this has been transferred from Westminster to Holyrood as AME funding and this corresponded with a similar cut in DEL resources. I was a little surprised by that as I understood that DWP only covered the State Pension & Pension Credit.

I checked the Scottish Public Pensions Agency (SPPA) website:

“In September 2013 the Scottish Ministers announced that following the creation of a unitary Scottish Fire and Rescue Services for Scotland with effect from 1st April 2013, the administration of all the current and new 2015 Schemes for the Fire Pension Schemes in Scotland would transfer from the current regional administrators to the Scottish Public Pensions Agency (SPPA) by 1st April 2015.”

This suggests the pensions were transferred from Local Authorities (not DWP) to SPPA.  I checked the Scottish Government website (the White Paper!) – they say that in 2013 Police and Firefighters had an “Unfunded scheme supported by Scottish DEL” and managed by Local Authorities (not DWP).

It therefore appears that the rise AME and fall in DEL may, at least in part, be due to the actions of the SNP and has nothing to do with the DWP. If I am correct, this is quite awkward for the lying cybernat.

PS: The DWP website is a positive thing. A key priority of Ian Duncan Smith’s department is “helping to reduce poverty and improve social justice” and “enabling disabled people to fulfil their potential” (no irony there).

 

Andrew Neil has Angus Robertson for Breakfast and Stu Campbell for Lunch.

AN*

Just as the SNP conference in Aberdeen was packing up yesterday morning the party’s Angus Robertson MP was interviewed by Andrew Neil on the BBC’s Sunday Politics show. In this interview Mr Robertson tried to blame the SNP’s underfunding of the NHS on the Tory government’s “austerity” agenda and the resultant cuts to the block grant. Andrew Neil rejected this, noting that “in real terms there has been no cut”:

This is interesting as we are used to the SNP claiming that Scotland’s block grant is being cut year-on-year that, for many people, it has become a fact. Indeed, the SNP’s chief cheerleader, Stu Campbell, immediately claimed that Andrew Neil was “telling an outright lie“, and went as far as to challenge him on Twitter an hour or two later. This is where the Bath based cybernat came undone as Mr Neil took the time to reply:

wos1

wos2

Bizarrely, Mr Campbell is still claiming on his website that “We’ve asked the BBC man for clarification. We’re not holding our breath.”. Mr Neil answered and he was very clear.

The reality is that Mr Campbell had no need to ask the “BBC man” to begin with, he could have just checked the SNP Government’s own data:

Scot Gov Budget

Despite this hard evidence, Mr Campbell repeats his lie on his website “since the Tories came to power the Holyrood budget HAS been cut in real terms every single year, and has now dropped in total by a very substantial 10%, giving the Scottish Government over £3 billion a year less to spend now than it had in 2010-11.”.

*Image via Mr Brian Spanpong