Ed Miliband ‘gets’ Scotland, says Scottish Labour leader
Severin Carrell, The Guardian
Iain Gray, the Scottish Labour leader, closely allied himself with the relatively leftwing agenda of Ed Miliband today and further distanced the party from previous New Labour policies.
Gray enthusiastically endorsed the new national Labour leader, telling delegates at the party’s conference in Manchester that Ed Miliband "gets" Scotland and understood its distinctive politics. "This week a new chapter in Labour history began," he said.
He told delegates that if Labour won next May’s Scottish parliament elections it would introduce a "Scottish living wage" of more than £7 an hour for all public employees, and campaign for the same pay rights in the private sector.
The proposal will be central to Gray’s election campaign next year, when Labour will attempt to reposition itself firmly to the left of the Scottish National party by trying to portray Alex Salmond’s government as the enemy of public sector workers.
Gray and his advisers believe Ed Miliband’s narrow victory in the party leadership campaign will help Scottish Labour win power in May.
Although most Scottish MPs and MEPs backed his older brother David, by 21 to 15, most Labour members of the Scottish parliament are thought to have supported Ed Miliband.
Scottish voters are regarded as more left of centre than those in England, and the SNP has skilfully capitalised on disenchantment with the Blair and Brown governments in London. But after more than three years in power, Salmond has recently struggled to maintain his lead in the opinion polls.
Labour did well at the general election, winning more than a million votes, holding every seat and regaining the two lost in byelections.
Recent polls suggest Labour, even before it had elected a new UK leader, was up to 10 points ahead of the SNP and is on course to regain power at Holyrood.
Jim Murphy, the shadow Scottish secretary and campaign director for David Miliband’s unsuccessful leadership campaign, told conference delegates that Labour’s results in Scotland last May "were nothing less than stunning".
While Murphy was more muted in his endorsement of Ed Miliband’s leadership this morning, Gray set out an agenda deliberately appealing to trade unionists and activists.
The party would champion public employees, Gray said. He accused Salmond of letting down the country’s teachers, nurses and construction workers by failing to invest enough in services and major building projects, such as rail links to Edinburgh and Glasgow airports.
Unemployment in Scotland was still rising, poverty increasing and economic growth lagging. "That is Alex Salmond’s legacy of failure," he said. "Ending it is our challenge, Labour’s obligation. Because when unemployment rises and poverty flourishes and opportunity disappears, people will look to Labour. They will look to us. And we must not let them down."
He added: "I say to every Scot: Labour will be by your side when no one else will dare to care. That is our mission. That will be the hallmark of my leadership in Scotland."
Labour officials said the living wage would cost £20m for about 20,000 public sector workers in Scotland earning less than £7 an hour, while another 10,000 ancillary workers employed by government departments could also benefit. Gray will now face questions in Holyrood about what spending will be cut to pay for it.
A £7-an-hour minimum wage has already been introduced in Glasgow for city council workers. The scheme is similar to the London "living wage" endorsed by the city’s mayor, Boris Johnson. It costs about £1.2m a year, but Labour claims it has "paid for itself" by heavily cutting absenteeism and staff turnover among council staff.