Why workers in Scotland should vote No
Anas Sarwar MP speech to Clydebank TUC independence debate
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A hundred years ago the politics of Britain changed forever as a result of the election of Labour MPs.
Labour MPs who set out to give proper social rights to widows and pensioners,
worked to build houses and healthcare
so that people in Glasgow, in Scotland and indeed across the whole of the United Kingdom had a decent standard of living.
They had a vision which was that we should pool and share our resources of the whole of the United Kingdom for the benefit of everyone in the United Kingdom.
That the pooling and sharing of resources should provide security and opportunity for all,
where there is equal political, social and economic rights for all citizens
whether they are from Scotland, England, Wales or Northern Ireland.
That was their vision put forward then and that vision is just as relevant today.
These values are not remnants of the past but are forces for good in the future.
An idea of pooling and sharing resources that is much bigger than the idea of independence.
When the Clydesiders of the 1920’s set out a vision of workers rights,
or of healthcare or pensioners rights
they didn’t just say rights for pensioners or workers in Glasgow.
They wanted rights for pensioners and workers right across the United Kingdom.
Never, NEVER, did any one of them say:
Let us campaign for better housing but just on the Clyde
We need better schools, but just in Glasgow.
We must deliver a healthcare system based on need, but only in Scotland.
That is why the great causes of the Labour movement aren’t just causes for Glasgow or Scotland but are causes we must fight and win for workers right across the UK
Ours is a partnership where we pool and share resources so that we have equal rights for pensioners irrespective of which part of the United Kingdom you live in.
Ours is a union where we pool and share resources so that we fund health care free at the point of need,
And the funding of it through National Insurance, is done by having the widest, biggest, deepest pool of resources so that we share the risks in such a way that we can do far more to promote the health care of all people.
And ours is also a partnership where we pool and share resources so that if one area of the United Kingdom,
whether it be Scotland, the North East or Wales or Northern Ireland, is in difficulty – we will come to their aid.
In the rest of Europe, they have what’s called a single market,
so Germany and Greece are linked together in a single market but everybody knows from the experience of the recent months that Germany and Greece don’t have the same social rights,
they don’t have the same economic rights,
the people of Germany and Greece have different levels of pensions,
different levels of benefits,
different levels of welfare
But we in Britain have managed to achieve something that they have not.
We have not just a single market but a social market
where there are equal rights for pensioners,
for working people and for people who are in need of health care or in need of support for jobs.
Not rights based on nationality but rights based on need!
On this our early Labour leaders
– Maxton, Wheatley, Tom Johnston,
they were not wrong,
were not misled,
were not naïve,
were not seduced,
were not stupid
in thinking that the best way to secure the best social and economic rights for Scottish people was to be part of a bigger union where we pooled and shared resources.
Because let’s be honest about this.
What the Nationalists are saying is that all these Labour leaders,
all these great trade unionists,
all these giants of our movement,
right through from Alexander Macdonald to Alec Kitson
– that they were all wrong when they believed that it makes sense to pool and share our resources for the benefits of all.
Throughout our history the Labour movement has had many causes.
You might have come here tonight as a determined campaigner for better healthcare or better schools,
better rights for workers and better paid jobs
and we all want better support for our pensioners in retirement.
The key difference between the nationalists and the labour movement is that they have just one cause. Independence.
There cause ends if they get their way on the 18th September 2014
But our cause never ends.
The pursuit of our values, of community, of fairness, of equality, of solidarity, of social justice.
Those battles will always go on.
That’s a strength, not a weakness.
And because of their obsession with securing constitutional change the SNP will say whatever it takes to get your vote on polling day.
Tonight, I have no doubt that Linda Fabiani will try to make a compelling case for independence from the Left.
But that’s because the SNP will come at the argument from wherever you want. They have a different argument for a different audience.
Two weeks ago when I debated Independence in front of an audience of business people with SNP treasury spokesman Stewart Hosie he made the case for tax competition within the UK. In the language of a worker - he wants to cut the tax of big business.
That’s the difference between me and them. They make the case depending on who they are speaking to.
Whereas, I will always make the case from the left whether I’m speaking to trade unions, businesses, or anyone else.
Whatever else Linda says tonight, I guarantee you she will not try to make the case for Independence based business tax competition within the UK.
Yet the SNP have a clear commitment to cut Corporation Tax to levels well below that of the rest of the UK.
They have based their whole economic case on the Laffer Curve economic model. The belief in trickle down style Reaganomics.
They want to reduce tax for big business and for the working class that means sharing more of the burden.
That wasn’t in the vision of the Labour movement 100 years ago and it’s not part of our vision now.
But it’s not just on Corporation tax where there would be implications for workers.
When the Minimum Wage was proposed did Labour think it was in the best interests of Scottish Workers to have just a Scottish National Minimum Wage. – NO.
When Labour Government proposed Working Tax Credits did they think it was in the best interests of Scottish people just to introduce Scottish Tax Credits – NO.
Because the labour movement knew that if we didn’t have a UK minimum wage,
or a UK tax credit system
that there would be a race to the bottom – just as there would be on Corporation tax.
First the North East and then the North West and then Wales would all want to lower their rates of tax or minimum wage to compete against Scotland, and then Scotland would have do the same.
Different rates of minimum wage in different parts of the country.
The good undercut by the bad, the bad undercut by the worst.
At the time of the introduction of the minimum wage only the Tories argued for regional differences.
What on earth do the SNP think independence means if it’s not differences between one country and another?
Under present conditions, if Scotland does become independent, its workers will immediately enter a race to the bottom against their counterparts in the rest of the United Kingdom.
And who will pay the price.
If business is the one who benefits its workers who will pay the cost.
We have seen it already.
This year the SNP government gave 7 million pounds of tax-payers money to Hewlitt Packard so that they could sack, yes sack, workers in an English plant and move to Scotland.
Linda Fabiani should be standing here tonight apologising for that – the sacking of workers in England using Scottish taxpayers money.
Workers paying the price for the regressive right wing agenda of the SNP.
Instead, it is the unity of the British working class that has driven progressive politics, in Scotland just as in England and Wales, over the past century.
Indeed, I argue that having UK and not Scottish levels of minimum wage,
or business tax,
or tax credits
is the means by which through solidarity with other workers and by working together
we ensure there are EQUAL social AND economic rights for workers.
And what’s worse for Scottish workers under SNP plans, is the levers of powers which will remain with the rest of the UK Government but without any influence or representation.
The SNP propose to allow the Rest of the UK to set interest rates,
to allow monetary policy in an independent Scotland to rest with another country.
So whether it’s Scottish mortgages or the cost of borrowing for business,
another country will determine the costs but without any influence or input from Scots.
Quite frankly, they are putting the control of hundreds of thousands of Scottish jobs,
the mortgage payments of millions of Scots,
the cost of investment of billions of pounds worth of capital projects into the hands of another country but without any Scottish representation.
That’s the real democratic deficit that is on offer.
While tonight I have made the case against independence and for staying part of the UK, I think we all must accept that the status quo is not acceptable.
It was the late Mick McGahey who said: “We are a movement, not a monument”.
And he was right.
We must also accept that the big issues facing Scotland,
and in fact the entire UK,
isn’t which politician has which power in which building.
What matters most is that those powers are used for a purpose,
with the right values,
the values of the labour movement.
The values of Community,
and of social justice.
What we need is not a battle between one parliament and another or one group of politicians versus another.
What we need is a battle of ideas,
a determination and a resolve to recognise that our social and economic model is not working equally for people at the top as it is for people at the bottom.
That is why Labour is determined to have a genuine constitutional, social and economic offer that reflects your priorities.
Labour’s Devolution Commission is already looking in detail at what powers over tax or welfare or workers rights could and should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament and going further down to Local Authorities and local communities.
But let’s be clear, the real crisis in Britain is not the constitution but the cost of living, the shortage of proper jobs, the high levels of youth unemployment.
Labour are the ones facing up to the cost of living crisis and that’s why we have proposed price controls
and a stronger regulatory framework for energy companies,
we are the ones who will end the scandalous misuse of zero hours contracts and blacklisting,
we are the ones who will strengthen the minimum wage and extend the living wage through local authorities and through the use of procurement
and we will face up to tax inequalities by stopping the cuts in Corporation Tax and instead support small and medium sized enterprises.
Over the next hour or so tonight and over the next 12 months we will have lots of debate.
We will have lots of debates about tax and spending.
We will have debates about procedures and process.
We are even this week having a debate about having a debate!
But there is only really one debate that matters – and that is how you can best meet the aspirations of the Scottish people.
I strongly believe we do that through the pooling and sharing of resources from right across the UK for the benefit of everyone in the UK.