We’ve had as clear an indication last week as we could possibly need of the necessity for change in our society.
Humanity can solve the incredibly complicated problem of landing a spaceship on a lump of rock 30 million miles away. Yet ensuring that people on earth can earn a living at socially productive work, which pays enough money to house them and feed their family is seemingly beyond them.
If anyone needed an indication that politics as usual isn’t working – that surely was it.
I say that not to disparage the skills and talents of the engineers and scientists involved in space programmes – nor to say that space exploration shouldn’t be funded. Merely that the same determination, and energy and focus needs to be put to solving issues closer to home.
Scotland isn’t short of warm words. The Scottish Government make a speciality of them. They talk the language of social justice but their policies increase inequality and run down public services. We’ve reached the point where it is being seriously proposed that children won’t start school until they are six. Not as some sort of educational innovation, but simply to cut costs. Yet still the SNP insist on a council tax freeze and say its fully funded. And the council cuts don’t stop at education.
We can’t go on like this. It’s not a case of simply increasing the council tax though. It’s a question of having a grown up discussion about the nature of services and their fair funding.
Partly that will involve more devolution and a stronger parliament. That’s what we’ve promised that’s what we should do. I’ve argued for stronger devolution – but I’ve never made the mistake the nationalists make of confusing constitutional change and social change. It’s not devolving powers that makes a difference – its using those powers to change people lives that will make a difference. I’m determined that Labour will do just that.
If we want Scotland to succeed we will need to invest to achieve. Invest in our young people by making sure that they can get access to college places (shamefully cut by the Scottish Government) and decent apprenticeships. As a former bricklayer I know the value that learning a trade has – and it goes far beyond better wages.
We also need to invest in our social fabric. There’s no issue closer to home than whether or not someone has one, and a disgraceful number of people don’t. The number of people on waiting lists for social housing is greater than the population of Dundee. The scarcity of affordable homes in Edinburgh is not one that readers of this paper will need me to tell them about.
I believe we can and should commit to building 50,000 homes for rent over the course of a term in government. This needn’t be particularly expensive, or expensive at all. Registered Social Landlords (RSL), such as Housing Associations, need stable long-term finance, ideally over 25 years, but increasingly banks are reluctant to do this. This has contributed to our housing problem as RSLs struggle to raise funds for new buildings. Public sector pension funds on the other hand are looking for stable , long-term investments. Which rented Social housing provides.
Therein lies a method that can go a long way to solving our housing shortage. It goes without saying this would have a knock-on effect creating jobs and injecting demand into local economies.
It’s to carry forward ideas like this that I want to lead Labour, so that we can take Scotland forward, building a more prosperous and equal society. I’ve nothing against reaching for the stars – but we need to keep a focus on what should be within our grasp – a home and a job for every citizen for starters – and you don’t need rocket science to know people shouldn’t have to rely on food banks. These are problems we can solve. Under my leadership we will.