Speech from Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Justice
Daniel Johnson MSP to Scottish Labour Conference
Dundee, Friday 9 March 2018
Friends, thank you, and it gives me great pleasure to open our debate on public services.
Let us begin by paying our gratitude to public servants – who do great work all year round, but recently it has been brought into sharp focus by the challenging weather in recent days and weeks:
• The Nurses, Doctors & Hospital staff who walked miles in the snow to make sure they didn’t cancel on their patients.
• The train, bus and tram drivers who kept our country moving.
• The council staff who gritted the roads and kept life line serves going through the snow.
• The teachers, class room assistants and janitors who joined parents to clear the playgrounds so the schools could reopen.
• The workers who kept shelters open for those with nowhere else to go.
And to our emergency services, fire, ambulance and police:
• Who help us at our most challenging moments
• Who walk towards danger to keep us safe
• Who protect us day in, day out.
They serve us with pride, and we thank them for their service.
Conference, I know we will hear from our fantastic councillors, who put our party’s values into practice in villages, towns and cities throughout Scotland.
Since we met last March, some great stalwarts of our local council chambers have either retired or sadly lost their seats. May’s elections also saw many new faces elected to councils across the country, and it is great to welcome them to conference today.
But it is not just in Local Government, where Labour can put our values into action. I hope I and others in the parliamentary group make the same case at Holyrood.
If I may, I would like to outline how I am aiming to uphold our cherished labour values through my members bill.
Conference, against a background of the casualization of work including the increase of zero-hours contracts, there has been another pernicious development:
For too many workers, violence and abuse have become ‘just part of the job’.
That’s particularly true for hospitality and retail workers.
Indeed, just this week, new research shows that violence leading to injury has doubled in the last year.
Scottish Labour has a response. I have proposed a Bill which would change the law and give new, legal protections for workers.
It is currently being consulted on, and I need your help – visit www.notpartofthejob.com, click ‘Fill out the Consultation’, to show your support.
The bill is supported by both workers and businesses, and I am proud to say I have been working with colleagues at USDAW on this proposal.
The Labour Party has a strong record of standing up for working people in government. Together, even in opposition, we can build on that record.
Since becoming Scottish Labour’s Shadow Justice Secretary, a key focus has been the SNP’s handling of the police.
The SNP Government – it shouldn’t surprise you, Conference – are both complacent and centralising, on policing.
When Glasgow and Edinburgh became the first cities in the world to create professional police forces in the early nineteenth century, two important principles were also established: police should be local; and police should be independent of government.
The independence of the police is vital because it acts a limit on the power of politicians. Policing by consent depends on this separation between the power of government and the vital role of the police.
But now we know that Ministers in this Scottish Government have, with complacency, trodden over that principle. The justice secretary overstepped his authority – by-passing Parliament and overturning operational decisions.
They plunged Police Scotland – already beset by problems with its leadership – deeper into crisis.
But Conference, government interference isn’t the only place where the SNP’s complacency and dogmatic centralisation is causing problems.
Local accountability is weak.
Local input is cursory at best.
Priorities are being set from the top-down – one-size-fits-all.
Conference, that has got to change, and I want Scottish Labour to be leading the charge for that change.
Because, as those in this room know, Labour is the party of devolution. We believe in power being given to communities. Who better to set local priorities for policing than local people themselves.
That’s why in the coming weeks, I will be announcing a commission, formed of experts and independently chaired to develop proposals to restore local accountability to our Police – because that is how we make policing local again.
That commission’s findings will help shape Labour’s thinking going forward, but our priority is clear: creating a police force which is responsive and accountable to local communities across Scotland.
Conference, Scottish Labour is the party of devolution. We believe in local accountability, local voices being heard, and local action in every community. Because that what devolution really means – giving power to people – and that is why it is Scottish Labour that is the party of devolution.
I am delighted to open this important debate, and I look forward to a lively discussion on issues that not only we care deeply about – but define us as a party and a movement.