Full Text of Richard Leonard's Keynote Speech

*Delivered in the Serenity Cafe 24/10/2017

Well it is good to find an oasis of serenity at last!

Of course we meet here today quite deliberately and I want to pay tribute to everyone involved in this enterprise, especially those who are turning things around in their lives.

Of course this enterprise is a social enterprise. And social enterprise is one of the traditions on the Left that we have too often ignored and that we should re-ignite.

Because it represents an alternative to the market.

It reflects the mutual ideal.

It is bottom up and it is transformative.

And that is exactly what this Scottish Labour leadership election is about. 

It is about transforming Scotland from the bottom up. 

Not relying on trickle-down economics.

And it is about transforming the lives of the people of Scotland because we cannot go on tolerating growing poverty and deepening inequality.

We cannot go on with a society where in Scotland today the richest one per cent own more personal wealth than the entire poorest fifty per cent put together.

We cannot go on with a society where in Scotland tonight children will go to bed hungry; where as winter approaches our pensioners - especially our older pensioners who fought for and defended the welfare state all of their days - are languishing in fuel poverty, waking up to choose between heating and eating.

We cannot go on with a housing system which is being cast once more under the shadow of private landlordism - with rents going up and real wages going down.

A new frontier of exploitation not seen since the days of Mary Barbour and John Wheatley.

We cannot go on with an economy that is built on precarious work, zero hours contracts, agency working and poverty pay - where if you are a woman working in Scotland you are twice as likely to be paid below the Scottish Living Wage of £8.45 an hour than if you are a man. 

Where you are twice as likely to be unemployed if you are from an ethnic minority than if you are white.

Where you are twice as likely to be unemployed if you have a disability than if you do not.

It is an economic system where too much power rests in too few hands. 

So this Scottish Labour leadership election is about seeking to win back the trust of the people of Scotland again.

And that means we must learn the lessons of the June General Election where we stood on a radical manifesto offering hope, led by a principled and consistent leader who embodied that sense of hope.

And that is what we must build on in the Scottish Labour Party:

-       by being confident Labour again;

-       by being clear about what we stand for again;

-       by rediscovering our sense of purpose; and yes our historical mission again

and doing it with a bit of fire in our bellies too.


I stand before you today with both immense pride but deep humility that I have received huge support, in strength and depth, from the Scottish Labour Party’s grass roots:

With forty-two Constituency Labour Party nominations for my leadership;

Support in strength and depth too from all of our socialist societies in Scotland who understand that we will never end health inequalities

never close the education attainment gap and never win environmental justice without ending poverty and inequality.


I am delighted to secure the nomination from our youth wing: Scottish Young Labour too because this campaign for real change is connecting with our young people again.

And from the Co-operative Party in Scotland, because we need to revive the radical co-operative tradition in our movement.

And from right across the trade union movement in Scotland as well, with eleven out of twelve Labour Party trade unions nominating me, because the working people of this country need a Labour Party they can believe in again. 

A Labour Party that is on their side. 

It is with pride and humility that I accept these nominations and with a renewed sense of determination to repay their faith in me as the candidate best-placed to reach out to win back those lost Labour votes:

-       to be a bridge not a barrier to those young voters;

-       and as the candidate best placed to bring renewed belief to those Labour voters who have stuck with us


But I also issue a warning: a warning against any complacency. Because as we meet today the real ballot in this leadership contest has not even opened yet. Not a single vote has yet been cast. So I take nothing for granted, and neither should anyone else. 

So let me say a few words about the challenge that lies ahead over the next few weeks and what drives me on.

I believe it is a source of strength not weakness that I have spent all of my adult life in Scotland. And for most of it with the singular privilege of serving the gallant working women and men in the Scottish trades union movement.

For all the talk of my school and university education, this is where my great education has been - inside the Scottish labour and trade union movement.

Winning equal pay – often for low paid women workers; fighting for justice – for blacklisted workers; defending jobs – in manufacturing industry and public services.

Advancing the interests of all working people through initiatives like the Scottish Campaign for a Living Wage, the Close the Gap campaign and the Show Racism the Red Card campaign.


I take my greatest inspiration from our Party’s founder James Keir Hardie, but also from socialist pioneers like William Morris. From towering intellectuals like RH Tawney. From powerful orators like Aneuran Bevan and Tony Benn. But also from the great women of our movement who got things done: from Eleanor Marx to Mary Barbour; from Jennie Lee to Barbara Castle and Jayaben Desai. 

But in the end it is the unsung heroes, hidden from history. Not the “loud men on platforms” to quote Alasdair Gray. But those toiling day-in-and-day-out in the struggle for justice in workplaces across Scotland. They are what drives me on to bring about real change.


I believe as well that it is a source of strength not weakness that I have campaigned for the Scottish Labour Party in every election campaign in Scotland – local, national and European since 1983. 

And let me say, that in nearly thirty-five years of campaigning I have knocked on thousands of doors and delivered tens of thousands of leaflets for candidates from the left, the centre and the right of the Scottish Labour Party.

Because in my eyes it is not about new Labour or old Labour: we are the Labour Party.

And when a Labour candidate is selected we get behind them one hundred per cent.

That has always been my philosophy. And that’s why I believe I am the candidate who can reach out and unify the Scottish Labour Party. 

I have never joined a faction inside the Labour Party; indeed some of my formative experiences were forged on the anvil of tackling the Militant Tendency.

I have never been beholden to any group or faction or any one and I don’t intend to start now, and as Jennie Lee once shrewdly observed, what the Labour Party needs is “not idols but ideals.”


So this afternoon I want to make it abundantly clear. The mandate I am seeking in the campaign over the next four weeks is a mandate from members of the Scottish Labour Party. 

It is to those members I would be accountable. The Scottish Labour Party would not be subordinate to me: I would be answerable to it. Because in the end the power of the leader is borrowed power.

Borrowed from the members of the Scottish Labour Party.

From no-one else. From nowhere else.

And let me say this as well. It has been said that leading the Scottish Labour Party is the toughest job in Scottish politics. I tell you that for me it is the most important job in Scottish politics because it is only the Labour Party that has the vision of the different kind of society we can build together.

And down the years it is only the Labour Party, supported by the wider Labour Movement, that has brought about transformational change to people’s lives: in primary and secondary education; in further and higher education, including the Open University; in health and the National Health Service – Labour’s greatest achievement; in housing and the creation of a welfare state from the cradle to the grave; in building a full employment economy and tackling the fundamental inequalities at the root of our society

We are the Party which delivered the Scottish Parliament.

And these, our democratic socialist ideas, have not only defined our past, they will mould our future too.

But let me deal head on with something which has come up during this campaign: Brexit.

I did not just vote to Remain inside the European Union; I campaigned for us to Remain inside the European Union. And I have not changed my mind.


But we have to respect the outcome of the referendum. For me that is a matter of principle. It is a matter of democratic principle.

So the key test for me now is how tough and uncompromising are we on the deal. And let me be clear I will personally be tough, uncompromising and principled on the deal.

The Tories’ approach under David Davis, Boris Johnson and Theresa May has been a diplomatic and negotiating disaster. And if it continues in this vein - and if this Tory Brexit deal is a detrimental deal for jobs and the Scottish economy, for our manufacturing base, for workers’ rights, equal rights and the protection of our environment; and if the rights of EU citizens living and working here are not safeguarded - then we should without question reject the Tory Brexit deal when it is brought before the UK Parliament.

These are the red lines for me.

And that puts me right in the mainstream of the Labour Party in line with Party policy. In line with Keir Starmer and Jeremy Corbyn, and in line with the trades union movement as well. 

I have said in this campaign that my over-riding mission as First Minister will be to end poverty and inequality. That is a real change.

And I make no bones about it; that means ending the brutal impact of the benefit cap on families which alone plunges over 21,000 children in Scotland below the poverty line.

It means increasing child benefit so that all of those children who need it - the vast majority of them in households with an adult at work - see that money reach them automatically, every time without the means test.

And so that we invest in a universal system for all not a residual relief scheme for the poor.

But it also means tackling low pay and promoting trade unions

so that we end the welfare state sponsored wage subsidy for bad employers.


Real change means a new Rent Restrictions Act – a Mary Barbour Law to limit the powers of landlords over tenants, and the introduction of new minimum quality housing standards for all of Scotland’s homes.

And it means innovative ways of financing the building of social housing again. 

Real change means re-empowered local government, properly financed with more powers decentralised to promote municipal ownership and better local services, including new democratic local services like renewable energy and public transport. 

Real change means that we take forward new plans for public ownership of the railways too - but de-privatising and so removing the profit motive from PFI and NPD infrastructure projects too. 

And so a renaissance of public ownership in Scotland, including new rights for workers to buy out the business they work for, and a flourishing co-operative development sector too, as part of a new industrial strategy.

Investing once again in manufacturing; using automation to improve work, not undermine workers as part of a planned approach to economic development and to full employment.

 It means tackling health inequalities and giving maximum support to NHS staff, establishing parity of esteem for mental health services and tackling the growing social care crisis. 

And that means a National Health Service which remains publicly funded publicly controlled and publicly accountable.

 To achieve this we need to have a once in a generation national debate about the levels and type of taxation and how we use the redistributive powers we now possess to build by consent the kind of future we want.

But above all else to achieve these real changes demands principled, authentic consistent leadership. Not just because we need to think big and act radically rather than tinker and try and manage our way out of it but because that is the only way we will be able to seize this moment:  to build on the platform we have started to create.

This is the route to winning again.

And so this is the route to power again. Not power for its own sake but power for a purpose. Not power for our sake but power for the sake of all of those people, in all of those communities,  who need Labour in Government in Scotland.

I hope that in the days to come members of the Scottish Labour Party will seize the moment to write our own history. To vote for me as the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party and so that we build again, we win again.

And so that I will be the next Labour First Minister.


Be the first to comment

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.

Promoted by Danielle Rowley on behalf of Richard Leonard, both at 180 Hope Street, Glasgow, G2 2UE