Connecting Scotland

Scottish Labour Party conference speech


February 2017

We know we are stronger together.

To be able to work together we need to be able to communicate with each other.

We need to have affordable and accessible transport,

and we have to make the most of the new connections the digital age supplies.
How can we be stronger and more resilient if we can’t even reach each other?

My team are looking at how we make our transport and digital connections resilient and accessible to all.

Because, in these ‘interesting times’ we are living through, there are increasing challenges as to how we do that.

Challenges with regard to Brexit and its impact on funding for rural communities, agriculture and fishing.

The challenges in our transport system and in getting Scotland digitally connected.

That is why we have a challenge paper – We want your thoughts and ideas.

Brexit will take time to work through depending on the manner of our leaving.

We in the Scottish Labour Party have not used Brexit as a political football.

Kezia has genuinely sought to find ways of meeting the Scottish people’s aspirations, while accepting the outcome of the referendum.

While the SNP Government revels in constitutional wrangling they mismanage our services and economy.

We will not let them off with that. We have policies and proposals to grow and connect Scotland and will continue to campaign for these ideals.

We need your help. Together we can make them stand up and listen.

With your help, and a little publicity from the Daily Record – David Stewart doggedly fought the privatisation of the Western Isles ferry service and now the Scottish Government has been forced into a U Turn.

Hopefully we will never have to go through such a wasteful tender exercise again.

Neil Bibby is doing the same with Scotrail – and he will succeed too – with your help

In this session we are also debating ASLEF’s motion “Protecting Scotland’s Rail Services”.

Remember it doesn’t have to be like this, cancelled trains, overcrowding, station skipping and longer journeys.

There is no part of the system that escapes.

Trains on the North Highland line take half an hour longer to get to Wick than they did at the turn of the century, and the latest figures tell us only a quarter of journeys arrive on time.

The journey is double the time it takes by car, how on earth can we move from road to rail on that basis?

When the Scotrail contract was let we proposed public ownership – this was ignored and the impact is now being witnessed.

Abellio Scotrail receives £293m of public money.

Huge amounts of public money in return for a very poor service.

It makes £1m profit a month- imagine if we had an extra £1m a month to reinvest in our Rail services.

Therefore, conference I urge support of ASLEF’s motion.

I am proud to be a member of the Co-operative Party and of their work building co-operative initiatives.

Their Campaign “Hold the People’s Bus” is just one example. It provides a real alternative to how we deliver bus services.

Community led and operated bus services serve many of our rural areas, in the form of community transport.

When the market fails, people look for alternatives.

However, if we had more customer involvement in all our bus services then I believe that would improve them and allow profits to be reinvested.

Iain Gray proposed bus regulation – the SNP Government refused.

The last Scottish Labour Government introduced free bus passes for people over 60.

This revolutionary policy not only kept people independent for longer, it also encouraged them to leave their cars at home.

It helped independent living and also helped to reduced carbon emissions.

Instead of supporting environmentally friendly policies like concessionary travel the SNP cut the bus pass budget this year.

Perversely this was aided and abetted by the Greens.

The future of the scheme now hangs in the balance as the SNP look for ways to cut it even further.

We want to see public transport work for all our citizens, publicly owned and publicly run – delivering a services we can be proud of.

We want this for everybody, regardless of where you live, and how much you earn.

But age old barriers exist and it is sad that access to digital infrastructure is following this pattern too.

The Scottish Government has promised universal access but has no plan on how to deliver high speed Broadband to all.

Over and over again we, the public, have funded fibre roll out.

But the infrastructure that still belongs to the companies that laid it.

Imagine if this happened with roads?

We fund a road. We pay someone to build it. Then we let them keep it. They decide who can use it and at what price.
This has happened time and time again in Scotland, with much of our fibre lying unused - while we pay other companies to lay more fibre over the top.

We use communities for the roll out of Broadband where the commercial companies are not interested, but communities without the wherewithal to do this are left behind.

This has to change.

It is high time everyone had access to Broadband.

Where commercial companies are not interested it could be delivered by a social enterprise or government owned subsidiary.

If we take control of our lifeline transport and connectivity systems we can provide better quality, services that are responsive to our communities.

We also keep the profits to reinvest in Scotland’s Rail services, to reinvest in Scotland’s bus service and to reinvest in Scotland’s Broadband services.

Conference, we will fight to connect our communities – because we know together we are stronger together .