NEW Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has put next year’s Holyrood elections at the top of his agenda, promising his party would “protect the poorest and most vulnerable people in Scotland”.
On a visit to the Scottish Parliament, he underlined his commitment to fighting austerity and opposing the UK government’s welfare cuts.
After Labour’s near wipeout in Scotland in May’s general election, he said the party was focusing on the Holyrood elections as it attempts to rebuild – although opinion polls suggest the SNP is on course for another sweeping victory.
Mr Corbyn described the situation in Scotland as “very promising”. He said: “The Labour Party membership in Scotland is the biggest it has been for many, many, many years. Members are joining all the time and every day.
“UK-wide, the party has recruited 60,000 members in the 16 days since I was elected leader of the party, we’re a growing, active, very energetic organisation, and I believe we’re going to grow and continue to gain that support, and we will do as well as we possibly can in the elections.
“I’m not going to make any wild predictions, but we’re going to do lot of campaigning and point out what really matters to people is housing, is education, jobs, opportunities, and opposing what the Tories are doing in the Welfare Reform Bill, and doing our best to get sufficient powers to the Scottish Parliament to try to reduce the impact of the disastrous welfare reform bill on the people of Scotland, that’s our function, that’s our purpose.”
He said he believed the party’s anti-austerity message would appeal to voters north of the Border.
“We’ve learned the lessons of the economic strategies of the past and the way they haven’t worked, it does mean rebalancing our economy, it does mean maintaining the 50p top rate of tax, it does mean not cutting the tax credits for the poorest people in our society.
“We want to invest in a growing, expanding economy across the UK and we fully support the powers in the Scotland Bill, and we are going to be working very closely with the Labour Party in Scotland to try and defend the people of Scotland from the worst effects of the Trade Union Bill and, of course, the Welfare Reform Bill.”
Mr Corbyn has insisted there is “no question” of him treating Scottish Labour as a “branch office” – an accusation levelled by former leader Johann Lamont against party bosses in London when she stepped down last year.
And he backed Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale’s plans to close the attainment gap between the rich and the rest in Scotland’s classrooms.
He said: “Investing in education is a no-brainer; it cuts poverty and grows the economy.”