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Monday, September 27, 1999 Published at 14:45 GMT 15:45 UK

UK Politics

Donald Dewar's speech

This is the full text of the speech by Scotland's First Minister Donald Dewar at the Labour Party conference:

On May 1st 1997 the New Labour government started building the new Britain - making Britain a modern democracy - putting devolution for Scotland at the forefront of the legislative programme. We started building the sort of Scotland we have always wanted - in the Britain we have always wanted.

An act of political courage rewarded by our resounding victory in the referendum and the Scottish General election. An act of a government determined to reconnect politics and people - to roll back the cynicism that all too often corrodes the political process.

Around this hall - men and women from all over Britain have worked together with us to make that promise real. The first Scottish General election was on the 6th of May, the new parliament took on its full powers on July first - it is real - and this party delivered it - all of this party.

In Scotland we never seem to stop having elections - last week it was Hamilton with a superb candidate in Bill Tynan - we won - again, just as we did in Wigan.

The Nationalists came to Hamilton promising victory. They have been promising victory for as long as I can remember - and now victory for them means coming second - again.

Having stepped through the looking glass they argue that Labour's tax policies, returning money to hard working families somehow attracts votes to them. But the one thing they try to hide is the stark reality that is their sole reason for existing - splitting the United Kingdom, breaking up Britain - Nationalism - is unacceptable to the more than 70% of Scots who will not vote for them.

It is not just their view of the world which is distorted. They have strange views on dissent. Their standing orders make clear that any unauthorised contact with the press is a hanging offence - well perhaps not hanging, but their Chief Whip has cheerfully gone on record saying that anyone who strays is liable to be dropped from the group. It is their form of deselection. I quote - "It is as if such a person went under a bus. The next one on the list would simply take his place".

It sure gives a certain sinister meaning to the phrase - "next please".

Then there is the puzzling case of the party's economic spokesman. Within the same week he argued that it was possible to be British, to be proud of it, yet vote against Britain for separatism. And then just as quickly changed tack, describing the Union Flag as offensive, - a relic of colonialism. They tell me he is a nice young man - he did eventually apologise - but would you put him in charge of your finances?

I can remember Free by '93. I thought then that it was straight from the great McGonigall school of politics - of dubious benefit but endlessly reusable. And they will use it decade after decade after decade.

Enough of the SNP - the politics of illusion are not for us.

Our politics are grounded in the reality of making devolution work for the people of Scotland.

What we must do is - turn the pledges we have given into promises delivered.

We are in the business of securing real and lasting change.

That's why we will raise standards in education

That's why we will appoint 5000 classroom assistants.

That's why we will deliver the biggest hospital building programme in the history of the Scottish Health Service.

For too long drugs have been the scourge of our communities bringing fear and crime and blighting the lives of our children. That's why we are introducing Scotland's Drug Enforcement Agency to take the war on drugs to the dealers. Drugs are no respecter of Borders - that's why when the Prime Minister visited Scotland we agreed that we would work together to build an effective national confiscation agency - to make sure that:

  • If you deal in drugs we will catch you.
  • When we catch you we will jail you.
  • And while you are in jail we will seize assets derived from drug dealing.

That's a practical programme - not a fantasy - but relevant, necessary, deliverable, real. Scottish solutions to Scottish problems. We will keep faith with the people who put their faith in us.

And to deliver these commitments and many more - we need a working, stable majority in the Parliament. That's why we built the coalition with the Lib Dems - A Partnership with Scotland - founded, as every honest coalition must be, on a common approach. We are determined to unlock opportunity and to deliver on the social justice agenda.

That is our priority, your priority and how we can best take that agenda forward.

And let us never forget that there are two coalitions in the Scottish Parliament - one for Scotland - and another - the SNP/Tory Alliance. A more unholy and unprincipled combination is hard to imagine. United only by a determination to make Scotland's Parliament fail.

And where there are difficult choices - as there always are in government - we will work to find common solutions - solutions for Scotland. Solutions to make the Parliament work for the people of Scotland.

That's why we took the decision, supported across the range of higher education, to look carefully at student support and tuition fees. Our one guiding principle is that we will widen access and opportunity - a system of student support that underpins expansion is fair and is equitable.

We will work with Britain and within Britain to progress our shared agenda.

Scotland is represented at Westminster by Labour colleagues of ability and proven worth. Their record is part of our armour for the political battles ahead. And Labour in Westminster has delivered for Scotland:

  • A platform of economic stability with
  • Unemployment - Interest rates - Mortgage rates AND inflation

ALL AT THEIR LOWEST LEVELS FOR A GENERATION - delivered by the first Labour government in a generation. An economic platform which is essential if social justice is to be delivered.

Let no one say that these do not matter to Scotland, that these achievements can be disparaged or ignored. While our opponents fight the battles of the past we keep our sights fixed on the future. Labour will never be afraid of change.

Today's Scotland already attracts the jobs of tomorrow. We are building the new Scotland on our greatest asset - the skills and talents of the Scottish people. Investment in our people will not just bring economic success and generate wealth - but is social justice in action.

The knowledge economy, software engineering, electronics, biotechnology and financial services - jobs for the 21st Century.

So I say to this, our centenary conference, that the Labour Party in Scotland remains of stout heart, remains committed to the essential values on which our party was founded. Remains committed to working together with the party the length and breadth of this land. Solidarity - a vital principle then and just as vital a principle now. We achieve more together than we do apart.

Shared beliefs shared values, a shared future. Making it work together.

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