Speech from Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affairs
Claire Baker MSP to Scottish Labour Conference
Dundee, Sunday 11 March 2018
Our movement, our party is founded on our aim of justice and equality for all, not just here in Scotland and the UK but across the world.
Internationalism, solidarity and the rights of working people wherever they are in the world, are the principles which drove the founders of our party. Keir Hardie fought not just for socialism here; for him it was just as important to attend the Socialist International Congress or the Pan-European Congress on Women’s suffrage as it was to build the labour movement here at home. And fostering these international relationships helped bring about radical change as this year we celebrate 100 years of women’s suffrage.
Our movement has always been outward looking. We know that as long as there is poverty and need anywhere in the world our work is not done. And we can’t achieve the fairer, just society we aspire to in Scotland in a world of growing inequality and insecurity.
Today we live in a world where countries are turning inwards, where internationalism and co-operation is being rejected, where migrants and refugees are viewed with fear. We have seen these reactions before when people feel disenfranchised and betrayed by the establishment in the wake of a financial crisis. They have been left struggling through no fault of their own while those very people who are responsible for their hardship are already once again getting richer and richer on the backs of the poor.
Conference, what this tells us is that turning inward – working people turning on one another – will never bring anything but more injustice, more hardship. The growth of nationalism has only left the same old hierarchies in place. Brexit is being embraced by the worst right-wing elements in Theresa May’s broken government. Labour has a responsibility to be the alternative, to not allow a Tory Brexit to wreck economic damage across our communities and make people poorer with a race to the bottom on worker’s rights and wages, while all the time, the cost of living rises. This is a crucial time in our history.
When it comes to Brexit, Scotland’s voice will be heard. We need a deal that works for our economy and recognises our values. And Conference, Scotland’s voice is not the voice of the SNP, currently presenting themselves as the saviours of devolution whilst seeking every opportunity to rip the whole process up and take Scotland out of the UK. And it is most definitely not the voice of Ruth Davidson’s Scottish Tories, who we were told would stand up for Scotland at Holyrood and stand up for Scotland at Westminster.
Yet, with Devolution facing its biggest threat since the independence referendum, the Scottish Conservatives are nothing more than Theresa May’s and David Davies’ lapdogs. They are silent and subservient in the face of a Tory Brexit which is against the interests of Scotland.
It will fall once again to the Labour Party, the party that throughout our whole existence has been fighting for workers and their rights, who has been fighting for devolution and returning power to people and who has been fighting against nationalists and right wing forces in this country. And Conference that is the role you play today.
Only internationalism and socialism can offer the way to a fairer society, a safer and better world. Robert Burns knew this, and his embrace of common humanity inspires Scottish artists as they reach out across the world today, in literature, in music, in art. And it is a disgrace that cuts to the Scottish Youth Theatre will limit these opportunities for the next generation.
Our aid agencies have rightly been under huge scrutiny in recent weeks. There can be no excuse for protecting abusers or covering up their offences. But the actions of a few cannot be allowed to obscure Scotland’s proud tradition of reaching out across the world to help those less fortunate than ourselves. From Mary Esslemont in 1900s, to young Scots today who take part in aid and peace work across the globe, we are at our best when we are outward looking, reaching out, focussed on the contribution we can make.
Because conference, we can’t beat tax dodging and the abuse of workers’ rights in Scotland or Britain alone. That can only be achieved by collective effort across the world. We can’t beat the pernicious slave trade and human trafficking on our own. We can’t end violence against women and children on our own. We can’t make this a safer or fairer world if we withdraw from it.
What we can do, here today, is recognise the opportunity we have because people are listening to the positive message from Labour. They are hungry for real change and radical action. People want a more equal society, fairer distribution of wealth, public services which protect the most vulnerable. We have a real opportunity to say that only socialism, only Scottish Labour offers the policies, the principles, the possibility of bringing that fairer society to fruition, and if they support us, if they work with us, if we work together, we can make it happen.