Getting back in touch with Labour’s roots was the main theme of a speech by Richard Leonard MSP, Leader of the Labour Party in Scotland, when he addressed a well attended public meeting in Kirkwall, Orkney on Friday 25th of May.
Organised by the Orkney branch of the Labour Party Richard Leonard was introduced by local MSP Rhoda Grant. She described Richard Leonard as a principled, fair man who was passionate about his politics.
“An all round good guy” said Rhoda Grant.
This was Richard Leonard’s first visit to Orkney but he said it was not to be his last. He felt that there was increasing centralisation of decision making and that island proofing as featured in the Islands Bill will go some way towards addressing that issue.
Richard Leonard was endeavouring to recapture the radical spirit of the Labour party.
“It should be instantly recognisable as a party of Labour. Its roots lie in the trade union movement and in idealism.”
He wanted to talk openly about public ownership – founded on values of equality and collectivism. He wanted to see a progressive tax system – taxing the wealth of the rich.
Richard Leonard told the audience that he is working to get the Labour party back in touch through hope and transformational change.
He said: “Things could be so much better than they are.” The challenge for Labour he argued was how they can put forward a programme of change that would see a transfer of power and a transfer of wealth.
The Scottish Parliament is an arena where we can consider Scottish solutions to Scottish problems but it has “not fulfilled all of its potential….we have not seen sufficient change.”
Richard Leonard wants more radical and transformational change and described the SNP’s years as the Scottish Government as a “timid decade”.
The 3 key points for him were
- the extension of public ownership
- being anti austerity
- the redistribution of wealth and power.
Richard Leonard is meeting with Leader of Orkney Islands Council James Stockan on Saturday 26th May when he will be exploring how local councils can make a difference. He quoted Keir Hardie to the meeting on municipal socialism and would be exploring community ownership.
The Labour leader wants to return to a sense of vision in his party’s policies to “Think big and act radical.”
The SNP’s paper from the Growth Commission would result in another decade of austerity he said. Scotland being an independent nation is “politically not impossible but economically damaging.” To continue with sterling as a currency would mean you were “handing over to a foreign power” economic control. It would be “less independence”.
Richard Leonard stated that the politics of change would not be found in the message of nationalism and that we need to stop dividing people on the basis of nationality. Instead we should unite on the basis of class.
“We are a party of Labour.”
“We need to be rooted in the trade union movement.”
Hitting out at the SNP he said their Government over the last 5 years had quadrupled the cuts to local government. It was a massive shifting of the burden of austerity onto local government.
“Cuts are being heaped on those who are more vulnerable” which may seem like small cuts and reductions but these are “part of the glue that holds the fabric of society together.”
On the cuts to support for learning and for children with additional needs that are taking place in Orkney Richard Leonard said “Once these services are lost that’s a lost opportunity for those children.”
Replacement ferries should be built in Scottish shipyards using Scottish steel he stated resulting in a jobs dividend.
It was not until almost the end of Richard Leonard’s speech that he touched on Brexit which he believes will happen but that there will be a snap General Election before it takes place. This was why he believed in a broader movement which was international in its outlook. There will be a battle of ideas he said and “nationalism is an insufficient response.”
After his speech Jim Lawson, chairing the meeting, opened it up to questions from the audience. The event was also livestreamed to Facebook allowing people in the outer isles to view it too.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame