Speech from Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity
Colin Smyth MSP to Scottish Labour Conference
Dundee, Saturday 10 March 2018
It’s a privilege to have been appointed by Richard to Scottish Labour’s Shadow Cabinet.
To be our spokesperson for the Rural Economy, Connectivity and Transport.
It’s a pretty wide remit.
I get to Shadow not one, but two Scottish Government Ministers.
Firstly, Fergus Ewing
That’s an experience.
Who would have thought when I was elected to the Scottish Parliament, I’d have to shadow a Tory Government Minister?
I also get to Shadow our Transport Minister Humza Yousaf –
who to be fair is someone I sometimes find myself agreeing with
– like the time he said he wasn’t a transport expert.
I think we can all agree with him when he said that.
But conference – there can be no better illustration
of our broken economic system
of market failure
Than in our rural communities, where we have wind farms on our doorsteps, but in some communities over 80% – yes 80% of pensioner households living in fuel poverty.
Or broadband and mobile phone connectivity, where whole sways of rural Scotland and those in some of our most deprived communities are being left behind by Scotland’s digital divide.
And in our transport system where our buses and trains are run,
not for passengers, but for profit – and the odd SNP donor.
It’s often said that the SNP pretend to be left but act right.
But when it comes to transport, they don’t even pretend.
I challenged Humza Yousaf in Parliament recently to accept that privatisation of our railways had come to the end of the track.
To support bringing our railways back under public ownership.
Straight from the Tory textbook –
it can’t be done ,
we can’t afford it,
and his punchline – nationalisation fails.
He couldn’t even bring himself to say he supports the public sector taking over the collapsed East Coast rail franchise.
A franchise that under public ownership delivered over £1billion to the UK Treasury, kept fares down, had record passenger satisfaction and engaged the workforce.
But when in private hands failed- not once, but twice.
Conference, if ever you wanted proof that the SNP were a bunch of apologists for failed Tory economics- look no further than transport.
We have a railway system where fares are rising above wages
Where passengers stand on a platform not knowing if their train will even stop
Where new trains are already running late, before they’ve even been built
And we have a bus network
Slowly being dismantled by the SNP, route by route
Where passenger numbers continue to fall, but bus fares rise…
and rise… and rise …….by 47% in the last decade.
A decade of decline on our buses under the SNP
But we know it doesn’t have to like that
Today’s debate has shown
– there is another way
The Labour way.
That’s why I say to you today Conference- it’s time for our railways to be run under public ownership.
Time to put passengers, not profits first.
So as each private franchise expires, Labour will return them to be run by the public, for the public.
And conference putting passengers first also means putting safety first.
So unlike the SNP, we will listen to those on the frontline and continue to lead the campaign against the Scottish Government’s
ill-thought out, ideologically driven obsession with scrapping our Transport Police.
But conference, it’s not just on our trains where public transport has increasingly become detached from public service and public ownership. It on our buses too.
That’s why Labour will fight tooth and nail to ensure that our plans for municipal ownership and radical re-regulation of our buses are at the heart of the forthcoming Transport Bill.
Labour’s proposals for re-regulation will call an end to the dismantling of lifeline bus routes by the SNP.
And if changes in any routes are proposed – they will only be allowed after proper consultation with passengers and agreement by the Traffic Commissioner.
Our re-regulation plans will also put a stop to rip-off fares – ending the postcode lottery that exists in particular when it comes to concessionary travel for young people and driving forward multi-operator ticketing.
And we will halt the race to the bottom in the way staff are treated too- by working towards a collective bargaining model that drives up, not down worker’s terms and conditions across the sector.
Conference, if you want to receive public money for delivering services – you should be paying your workers a decent wage.
And conference we will not only end the anomaly that stops local councils from setting up municipal bus companies- we will provide incentives for them to do so.
From UNITE’s Haud the Bus campaign to the Co-operative Party’s people’s bus campaign, it is the Labour movement who are fighting for real change in public transport.
And conference – it is the Labour movement who will not sit ideally by as the SNP try dismantle one of our proudest achievements- the free bus pass for older people.
That is the Labour way.
Conference, today Richard set out a vision for real change that will deliver that Labour way.
A vision – as it says on our membership cards – where power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few.
That vision isn’t a return to some 20th century model of nationalisation, but a modern 21st century vision of public, democratic ownership.
A vision where workforces will be the managers of change, not its casualties.
A vision where our public services serve the people, not the profiteers.
A vision where we have a joined transport system that helps our economy, not hinders it.
Conference, it’s a vision that only a Labour Government can- and will – deliver. Thank you.