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Jeremy Corbyn sets out vision for the UK and looks for 'sunshine of socialism'

Published 30/10/2015

Jeremy Corbyn spoke of his
Jeremy Corbyn spoke of his "vision for a more equal Scotland and a more equal Britain

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn set out his vision for Scotland and the UK as he called for the "sunshine of socialism" to break through against the "narrow, nasty" politics of David Cameron's Conservatives.

As he made his first speech to the Scottish Labour Party conference, he said the "radical tradition that has always been alive in Scotland" had inspired him throughout his political career.

With the conference to debate the controversial issue of Trident - something Labour's UK conference did not do - the veteran left-winger urged party members to decide what position to take "for the good of Scotland".

Mr Corbyn spoke of his "vision for a more equal Scotland and a more equal Britain".

With Holyrood elections due to take place in just over six months' time, he said winning in Scotland next May would be a "priority".

Those elections come after Scottish Labour was all but wiped out at Westminster in this year's general election as an SNP landslide struck north of the border.

Mr Corbyn told the conference in Perth: "It wasn't just people across Scotland who said that Labour needed to change in May. It was people across the length and breadth of Britain."

Labour lost some "great colleagues" in that defeat, he said.

The "stark message" from voters in Scotland contained a lesson for Labour across the UK, Mr Corbyn said, adding: "Our party needs to reach out more effectively to people who feel that politics is too distant, that's alien from their lives."

He said: "You don't need to be 500 miles away from Westminster to feel that.

"Many people in London or Liverpool or Leeds feel as alienated and distant from the political class as many people here in Scotland."

He cited Keir Hardie, his party's "great founder" who was born in Scotland, as being the "emblem of what our Labour Party is about".

He said: "Our mission now is the same as that which he laid out just 21 years into the Labour Party's life when he said that the movement would not rest until 'the sunshine of socialism and human freedom break forth upon our land'.

"'The sunshine of socialism, friends. I couldn't think of a better prescription for what our country needs to break through the narrow, nasty, divisive politics of the Conservatives."

Mr Corbyn continued: "Hardie's 'sunshine of socialism' was about providing people with decent housing, it was about promoting peace and defending jobs - and there is no contradiction between those last two points."

The Labour leader wants to end the UK's nuclear deterrent but acknowledged there are "skilled jobs in the defence industry", including jobs at the Faslane base on the Clyde where Trident is sited.

While Mr Corbyn said "we cannot be negligent about skills and jobs", he insisted: "Don't tell me we can't put those skills to better use: the innovators, the engineers, the technicians, the security staff and the civil servants too."

He said: "No-one should even consider allocating a penny saved on not renewing Trident until those skills and jobs are protected through a proper programme of diversification."

Scottish Labour will debate its position on the renewal of Trident on Sunday, although Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale wants to see the weapons maintained until other countries too opt to give up their nuclear deterrents.

Mr Corbyn told party members: "You will decide what position you must take on that - for the good of Scotland.

"Whatever you decide, it must be in solidarity with workers who may feel threatened and communities that may feel vulnerable."

He used his speech both to attack the Tories and defend Labour's decision for its members in the House of Lords to vote against changes to tax credits - a controversial move as the policy has already been backed by the Conservative majority in the Commons.

Labour would use "every mechanism at our disposal, every possible opportunity, to stop these unfair, unjust, punitive attacks on working people," he said.

"No-one will be left with any doubt about who the Labour Party stands for or who we stand with."

He also criticised the record of the SNP government in Edinburgh on education and the NHS - both areas which are devolved to Scotland.

He condemned an "education system where 6,000 children a year leave primary school unable to read properly and there are 4,000 fewer teachers in Scotland's classrooms".

He said public spending watchdogs at Audit Scotland had "warned only last week of the pressure there is on our cherished NHS", with "seven out of nine targets missed and a real-terms budget cut" in Scotland.

Mr Corbyn added: "Hardie's 'sunshine of socialism' was about allowing human freedom to break forth. But under this Scottish Government it is breaking down."

Labour is a "democratic socialist party in both our words and our deeds," Mr Corbyn said.

His message to Scots was: "If you want socialist change, if you want a left-wing alternative, you have to vote for it."

He also pledged the party north of the border would have more control over its policies, campaigns and management - an issue raised when former Scottish leader Johann Lamont claimed London bosses saw Scotland as a "branch office".

It comes after new Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale addressed Labour MPs at Westminster on the need for Scotland to have more autonomy.

But the UK leader insisted there would still be a "united Labour movement" working across Britain.

Mr Corbyn said: "Earlier this week in London, Kez and I signed a joint statement setting the direction of how we intend to devolve more power to the Scottish Labour Party.

"I am proud that we are a UK-wide democratic socialist party.

"I believe in the words that are written on all our membership cards - that we achieve more together than we can alone.

"But we have to recognise that the UK has changed and our party hasn't always kept up.

"When the Scotland Bill goes through the House of Commons, the UK will become one of the most devolved nations in the world.

"The Labour Party needs to change to respond to that and respond to the way politics we now do politics.

"That is why it is right that decisions about Scottish Labour will be taken by the members and activists of the Scottish Labour Party."

He told members north of the border: "Your campaigns, your policies, your candidates, will be determined by the party here in Scotland."

Mr Corbyn said there would be a "Scottish Labour Party where decisions about your policy, the management of your affairs and the selection of your candidates will be undertaken here in Scotland".

He added: "That is what I am committed to and what Kezia and I will deliver, with the UK and Scottish Labour parties co-operating in solidarity with one another."

But he stressed: "There will still be a united Labour movement. Working across Britain in the way we always have."

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