Neil Findlay today launched his campaign to become Scottish Labour leader, setting out a vision of “timeless” values and arguing Holyrood must use its powers to change Scotland.
The Lothian MSP said if he became leader a national strategy to end poverty would be at the heart of Labour’s manifesto for the 2016 Holyrood elections.
“Central to that will be a pledge to put an end to youth unemployment – and in education I will ensure that vocational education has the same priority as academic education,” said the former teacher and bricklayer.
Mr Findlay said he would also pledge to replace the national minimum wage with a living wage, tackle zero-hours contracts and the “scandal” of social care and deliver an NHS “fit to meet the demands of the 21st century”.
He chose his home village of Fauldhouse – where he still lives – as the launchpad for his campaign in the three-cornered contest with fellow Lothian MSP Sarah Boyack and former Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy.
He said he wanted a Scotland based on the “timeless Labour values of community, solidarity, fairness and justice” he had learned as he grew up in West Lothian.
And he told his audience he was not a career politician. He worked as a bricklayer, then went to college and university before becoming a housing officer and then a teacher.
He said: “I left school at 16 with not too many qualifications. I started my working life as a YTS trainee, then did an apprenticeship with my dad.
“I know the problems people face because I’ve lived them.”
Mr Findlay, who is firmly on the left of the party and has won the backing of several trade unions for his leadership bid, said: “I know that Labour – the party of the NHS, the party of devolution and the party of fairness at work – has made a difference for Scotland and can do so again.
“We have to use the powers we have and the powers we will get to make a difference in every community to transform Scotland and improve the lives of all our people.
“And to achieve that we must put tackling poverty, tackling health and wealth inequality at the heart of all we do.”
He quoted Nelson Mandela, saying that “poverty is not an accident, it is man-made” and could be eradicated by the action of human beings.
Mr Findlay continued: “The most equal societies are the most successful societies so it will be my aim to end exploitation and insecurity in the workplace.
“It is not acceptable that in 2014 over 400,000 Scots earn under £7.85 per hour. Tackling poverty pay is a political choice and it is one that I will make.”
He spoke of his support for further devolution. But he said: “Unlike the Nationalists, I have never confused constitutional change with social change. It’s not devolving more powers that makes a difference, its having the political will to use them that matters.
“Under my leadership Labour will use the new powers that come to change Scotland.”