Scottish Labour Women’s Conference speech
24 November 2018
Good afternoon sisters, thank you for inviting me here today.
Since becoming leader one year ago, I gave an undertaking that together we would deliver a Scottish Labour annual women’s conference with powers: not an advisory committee but a conference with powers over policy, elections and organisation.
So I am delighted to be making this address, because you are making history here today and for that this Party should be eternally grateful.
I am told that this conference is the first of its type In Scotland in over 30 years.
So I want to applaud the efforts of the interim committee for their commitment and their energy in bringing this to fruition.
The Women’s Conference in the Glasgow Women’s Library back in February was the first of its kind for some years. It had great contributions and illuminating discussions, but my leadership is about redistributing power.
And, so the establishment of a Scottish Labour Party women’s conference that has power that is making decisions is an important sign that our party needs women in the driving seat.
I can’t help standing here today, and thinking of Marie Macrae a Unison activist, latterly a champion for the pensioners movement and chair of this Constituency Labour Party who sadly died two weeks ago: she stood for everything which is good about this Labour movement and I for one will miss her.
I think of Jennie Lee, born just a few miles from where we stand today, in the mining village of Lochgelly. Elected in 1929 at the age of just 24, even though at that time only women over 30 could vote, Jennie Lee epitomised that pioneering spirit of women in our movement.
She fought tirelessly, for a better future.
She was instrumental in the establishment of our National Health Service and the welfare state, and later the Open University.
She never stopped fighting, for the radical principles of democratic socialism that define our movement.
She once said that what we need in the party is not idols but ideals: and she was right.
I think also of Mary Barbour, who never flinched in the face of greed and corruption, and who fought to make her community, and our society, a better place for all.
And yet influential and inspiring women in our labour movement, are not just part of our history.
You are part of our present and future as well.
That strength and passion lives on, you are both shaping and driving our party, with commitment, resolve and an unwavering belief, in the power of this party and this movement to change lives.
While much of that work will be done when we form the next Scottish and UK Labour governments, there are steps that we can take now.
So this week I made the case in Parliament for 50:50 representation on the board of the new Scottish National Investment Bank.
And we will lay amendments to the Bill when it is brought before Parliament next year, because of course we should demand equality in our politics, but we should demand equality in our economy as well.
It is that same unwavering principle that led me, to ensure that we have a 50:50 gender balance in our party’s shadow cabinet here in Scotland.
And that is why today, I am pleased to confirm that Scottish Labour will not just be consulting on all women short lists, we will be implementing all women shortlists in selections for Holyrood as well Westminster in the months ahead.
Because after 35 years membership of the Labour Party I am clear that all women shortlists are not the end, but they are the means to the end.
That is why on my election, in the teeth of opposition, I pushed for 14 of the 20 most marginal Westminster constituencies in Scotland to be selected under AWS.
So that when Jeremy Corbyn brings down Theresa May’s government and there is a General Election I know that Cara Hilton will be the next Member of Parliament for Dunfermline and West Fife.
Let me make clear too that we must look beyond parliamentary selections for positive action in our Party. The newest councillor in Scotland, The councillor for Coatbridge South, Geraldine Woods was selected from an all women shortlist.
And if the men in our Party haven’t learned a lesson from that we will learn nothing at all.
Before I was elected to Parliament, I had the great privilege of working for the Scottish trades union movement.
And, in all that time, my proudest moments, were not just helping women fight equal pay claims, but seeing them win equal pay claims.
Here in Fife at the dockyard in Rosyth.
At the Tulliallan Police College in Kincardine. At the power station at Longannet. And at the distillery and bottling halls at Leven.
And while we can celebrate victories such as these, we know that pay inequality remains stubborn and endemic.
At the women’s conference in February, I said that we, in this Party, owed those low paid women workers in Glasgow an apology and I will repeat that again today. We owe an apology to all of those women workers who were forced to strike for equal pay earlier this month.
Women who faced, and continue to face obstruction and legal obstacle: in an example of corporate management of the very worst kind.
They have our support and our solidarity. Because if we the Labour Party do not represent working class women’s interests on local councils they are not represented at all.
In the private sector I tell you that this inequality is all pervasive. So that across the Scottish economy, you are twice as likely to be paid below the Scottish Living Wage if you are a woman.
You are twice as likely to rely on benefits and tax credits if you are a woman.
We know that the ideologically driven polices of this callous Tory government stand only to make this situation worse.
Look at the conclusions published last week by Professor Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, on his visit to the UK.
He suggested that the Tories’ social security changes could have been dreamed up by a “group of misogynists”, and that ministers are “in denial” about how this is affecting women.
Let me be clear: it is the duty of all of us to fight, day in, day out, for the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister. And a UK Labour government, so we can end the scandal of the two-child cap and the rape clause at its root.
But we do have, here in Scotland, the power to make different choices too. The two-child cap and resulting rape clause are abhorrent and must be scrapped. Here in Scotland, we could do so with the stroke of a pen, and help protect women from the worst effects of a Tory government.
The entire purpose of the Scottish Parliament is to allow Scotland to make different choices. Scotland has the power to build a fairer social security system. The SNP government must use its budget to end this injustice in Scotland once and for all.
While we will never stop the fight against the Tories, we can protect working people, and working women, from the worst of their policies.
For the avoidance of doubt, Scottish Labour’s position is not that the SNP should do this, It is that the SNP must do this.
Austerity it is not an abstract idea. It is cuts to women’s refuge services, leaving women across this country, even more vulnerable to abuse.
Tomorrow is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and the start of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign.
So now is the time to organise action to end abuse against women and girls around the world.
And Scottish Labour will be out campaigning next Saturday for better women’s services, such as Fife’s Women’s Aid, who are here today.
So pick up your campaign leaflets before you go, and make a donation to Fife Women’s Aid before you go as well.
As a Party and a movement, we must all draw on the spirit of those pioneering women who came before us.
We must never stop, in the struggle for equality. We must never flinch, in challenging misogyny and hatred.
And we must never doubt, the justice and moral imperative of our cause.
We are right.
And together, we can deliver the real change women in Scotland need. Whilst never forgetting that this movement is international, our cause is worldwide: because an injury to one is an injury to all.
We know that struggle will not be easy.
But as Jennie Lee and Mary Barbour, and so many others hidden from history have shown: If we put our mind to it, if we get organised, if we march with the people, nothing and no one can stop us.