Security in work, safety in work, dignity in work

Speech delivered to Scottish Labour Party conference during the ‘Prosper’ policy debate on 7 March 2015:

Good afternoon, colleagues. I want to talk to you today about the issue of justice and its importance in allowing our country and its people to prosper.

Without justice, we cannot hope to have a fair and equal society; without fairness and equality, there is no justice. This is at the heart of the Labour Party’s mission.

A topic of such breadth and importance would require more time than I have today to say all that needs to be said. I will therefore restrict my remarks to one area that will mean a lot to everyone in this room and the wider Labour movement: workers’ rights.

Too often in my work as a lawyer, I see clients whose rights have been trampled on by unscrupulous employers and, increasingly, clients whose rights have been abolished by this Conservative and Liberal Democrat Government.

Zero hour contracts give workers no security in work and no protection in law.  They have no entitlement to sick pay should they fall ill or suffer injury. Only a Labour government will ban this abhorrent practice.

The Coalition increased the minimum period for employee rights to two years service. Workers are left more vulnerable to dismissal without any legal recourse.

And dramatic increases in tribunal fees mean that even when workers have gained their rights, there are barriers to defending them. Claims to tribunals have already fallen by 60%.

In 2013, the Coalition abolished workers’ rights to hold employers responsible for breaches of health and safety regulations through civil court actions. Between 1990 and last year, the number of fatal accidents at work fell from 368 to 133. This is still 133 too many and if employers are able to casually or deliberately disregard the safety of their employees without consequence, this number will only increase.

The Labour movement spent over one hundred years advancing and promoting the rights of workers in this country. We have seen how quickly they can be dismantled. The most vulnerable in our country have been made even more vulnerable. I dread to think what the Tories could do with another five years of power.

Business, the economy and our country will prosper when workers have security in work, safety in work and dignity in work. Good employers recognise this.

Only by returning a Labour government in May can we repair the work done by the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats and advance the cause of fairness, equality and justice in the workplace across the United Kingdom.


Independence isn’t the answer

Speech given at Undecided Women’s Debate in Leith on 20 August 2014

Ladies, it is a pleasure to be here tonight and take part in a discussion with you about the future of our country.

Firstly, I want to say something that I think often gets lost in the heat and noise of the referendum debate: we all want the best for Scotland and for the people that live here – we just have different views on how best to achieve that. I don’t doubt the passion and commitment that Nicola and Lari have for this country and I would hope they don’t doubt the passion and commitment that Kezia and I have either.

But we are here because we do have very different ideas about independence for Scotland and on 18 September we will make different choices in the ballot box.

This is what the referendum is about: choice.

Why am I voting No? Simply, because I see no reason to vote Yes. I truly believe that Scotland is better and stronger as part of the UK and the problems we do have are not answered by independence. The problems we have are answered by better governments with better policies and the political will to act on their priorities. Independence is not needed for that nor can guarantee it.

The SNP is the driving force of the Yes campaign and has had independence as its defining goal for 80 years. They have wanted independence in times of war and times of peace; in times of prosperity and times of austerity; before and after oil was discovered in the North Sea; whether there was a labour, conservative or coalition government. They have wanted independence no matter what. To every problem, independence has been the answer.

But now the SNP and the broader Yes campaign have to explain what independence would mean for Scotland and they don’t have credible answers on some of the most important questions:

1. How would we join the EU, how long would it take and on what basis?
2. What would happen to cross border pensions, savings and mortgages?
3. What would happen to the 360,000 jobs with companies based in the rest of the UK?
4. What would happen to the 65% of Scottish exports which currently go to the rUK without trade barriers and the 250,000 jobs that rely on them?
5. What happens when the oil runs out?
6. What currency will we have?

These are serious questions and they deserve serious answers. They effect every part of our lives and the future of the country.

On the question of currency, in just the last three days we have had a currency union, sterlingisation and sterlingisation as a transition to another as yet unnamed currency all mentioned.

When we ask for serious answers and clarification, all we get in response from the SNP and Yes campaign is accusations of ‘scaremongering’.

But I suspect the truth is that for most people in the Yes campaign, they would want independence no matter what the answers were to any of the questions I just listed. They want independence because they always have.

Voting Yes is a choice. Very few choices in life don’t have pros and cons. The Yes campaign would have you believe that every person in Scotland would get to keep the things they like about the UK, get rid of the things they don’t and there would be no teething problems or down sides to independence. Who really buys that? The referendum is just a choice over where decisions that effect this country are made. It does not guarantee anything else.

In June, I read a newspaper article which had interviews with a number of Yes voters from across the political spectrum. It included a farmer, a billionaire, a woman from the radical independence campaign, a young man from Easterhouse and an Edinburgh financier.

They all had their own bold vision for an independent Scotland, but it was very much their own. When the Edinburgh financier’s vision of a ‘right-leaning country’ was put the woman from the radical independence campaign, she said “that’s just not going to happen”. When the radical independence campaign’s vision was put to the financier, he rolled his eyes and described them as “the mad fringe left”. Even in an independent Scotland there will be arguments about the choices we make and not everyone will be happy. I’m sure that even in Norway there are people who are unhappy about the choices their politicians make.

I think that for many voting Yes, independence is a blank canvas to project all of their hopes and dreams upon. Either they do not consider the down sides or they don’t care because independence is worth any down side.

I don’t think the majority of people in this country think that way. From my months on the doorstep, people want to know about how the independence would affect them and their loved ones. They want to make an informed choice.

I don’t believe that Scotland needs to take a leap in the dark to be better. We can and do prosper as part of the UK.

With the further devolution coming next year and more promised by all of the unionist parties, we can have more control over the decisions that effect us with a strong, devolved parliament at Holyrood.

We can have influence on the world stage by virtue of the UK’s leading role in the EU, UN and Nato.

We can have unfettered access to a jobs and trade market ten times our own.

We can have strength and security for our public services by pooling and sharing resources with the rest of the UK.

Next month, some in this country will vote Yes because they believe in independence come what may, with all the pros and cons, no matter the consequences. Although I disagree, I can respect that.

However, don’t chose Yes on the basis that everything you like will stay, everything you don’t will go, that it will be all pros with no cons. Life isn’t like that and independence wouldn’t be like that either.

I believe that Scots and Scotland have a bright future in the United Kingdom; our journey as a nation is not over. We are constantly evolving together and finding new answers to our problems. For me independence is not an answer to our problems, this is why next month, I’ll be voting No.