This report provides an overview of my time at conference. I have provided a fair bit of detail for Day 1 in order to give a feel for how the event was structured. For Days 2 and 3 I have linked to blogs I drafted.
The conference itself is structured around the “Report of the Scottish Policy Forum” document, with resolutions proposed to strengthen the content. For example, 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.
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“.
Before and after the main sessions each day there are fringe events. On the way out of the venue at lunchtime on the first day I spotted Nigel Griffiths (my old MP) handing out “Labour Leave” leaflets for a fringe event he is promoting – perhaps a sign of future battles. 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 a Community representative.
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.”
On Friday evening I then attended a meeting to agree the wording of our CLP’s composite motion. This proved to be a little painful, but very worthwhile. The agreed wording is at the end of this report.
Sunday was “Members’ Day” and the delegates decided to debate Housing, TTIP, Trident renewal and the Trade Union Bill. I have already written about the mood at the conference during the TTIP and Trident debates.
The conference was energising and I am very glad that I attended. This may, at least in part, be due to the fact that I and many others were attending for the first time. Nonetheless, I was quietly concerned about the lack of clarity prior to the event on what would be debated. Allowing delegates to select the topics for debate was overwhelmingly positive, but the debates have to be credible (the was 100% consensus on the Trade Union Bill debate) and open to all (only delegates could speak). Despite this, I think it was a very worthwhile event which gave Scottish Labour a chance to set the news agenda in Scotland.
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.