Labour has 'real' commitment in austerity fight, Jeremy Corbyn says
New Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said his party, unlike the SNP, has a "real" commitment to fighting austerity.
The veteran left-winger made his first visit to Scotland since being elected to the job and said it was his party that would "protect the poorest and most vulnerable people in Scotland".
Labour was virtually wiped out in Scotland in May's general election, with just one MP elected north of the border compared to 41 in 2010.
With opinion polls showing Nicola Sturgeon's SNP well ahead in the run-up to next year's Holyrood elections, he said the party was focusing on that vote as it attempts to rebuild.
Mr Corbyn would not say how well Labour could do in that vote - but he said his anti-austerity stance should appeal to voters.
He told Press Association Scotland that things are " very promising", adding: "The Labour Party membership in Scotland is the biggest it has been for many, many, many years. Members are joining all the time and every day.
"UK-wide, the party has recruited 60,000 members in the 16 days since I was elected leader of the party, we're a growing, active, very energetic organisation, and I believe we're going to grow and continue to gain that support, and we will do as well as we possibly can in the elections.
"I'm not going to make any wild predictions, but we're going to do lot of campaigning and point out what really matters to people is housing, is education, jobs, opportunities, and opposing what the Tories are doing in the Welfare Reform Bill, and doing our best to get sufficient powers to the Scottish Parliament to try to reduce the impact of the disastrous welfare reform bill on the people of Scotland, that's our function, that's our purpose."
While the SNP won an unprecedented 56 of the 59 Scottish seats in the recent Westminster election after campaigning on an anti-austerity ticket, Mr Corbyn insisted: " We mean it, we're doing it because we mean it.
"We've learned the lessons of the economic strategies of the past and the way they haven't worked, it does mean rebalancing our economy, it does mean maintaining the 50p top rate of tax, it does mean not cutting the tax credits for the poorest people in our society.
"We want to invest in a growing, expanding economy across the UK and we fully support the powers in the Scotland Bill, and we are going to be working very closely with the Labour Party in Scotland to try and defend the people of Scotland from the worst effects of the Trade Union Bill and, of course, the Welfare Reform Bill."
He stated: " Our party has a great past and a great tradition and great values. None of that tradition, none of those values have gone away, the demands of the current century are about protecting people who are in insecure work, often self-employed, often working for small businesses. All of them deserve equal protection.
"The Tories are not offering any of that , no Tory government is offering that. We are offering that, we are a party that wants to support people in those situations."
Mr Corbyn spoke out after having talks at Holyrood with new Scottish Labour leader, Kezia Dugdale and party MSPs.
He told journalists outside the Scottish Parliament: " We're doing great, party membership is going up after my first conference as leader and things are going really well."
He has already insisted there is "no question" of him treating Scottish Labour as a "branch office" - an accusation levelled by former leader Johann Lamont against party bosses in London.
Prior to his arrival in Edinburgh, he stated: " Kezia Dugdale is leader of our party in Scotland and I will be working alongside her to win back support for Labour."
Mr Corbyn said a "hangover" from Labour's working with the Tories in Better Together in the run-up to last September's independence referendum had damaged the party north of the border.
He conceded: "There was some hangover from the conduct of the Better Together campaign which was jointly done by the parties.
"Labour has a Labour voice, Labour has a Labour tradition, it has an attitude and a vision which is about reducing inequality in our society, which is about providing real hope and opportunity for the poorest and young people within our society."
He also said that across the UK Labour had offered voters" a policy of austerity light", adding: "W hilst there was good stuff in our manifesto undoubtedly, the problem was that overall we were looking at cuts in central government expenditure and they would be particularly damaging to all parts of the UK."
With John McDonnell as his shadow chancellor, he said Labour would now have "a very different approach", stating: "We are an anti-austerity party, we're a party that is wanting to invest in expanding and growing the economy."
He said he had come to Scotland immediately after his party's Brighton conference to " support Kezia and our team in campaigning for and preparing for the Holyrood elections next year".
He pledged: "I'm going to be here a lot supporting and campaigning with our team in Scotland, as a Labour Party in Scotland with Kezia as its leader.
"Our campaign for the Scottish election is going to be heavily emphasising the need for education, the best opportunities for education and college places and more teachers."
However, he failed to say if he agreed with Ms Dugdale that Labour members who believe in independence can campaign for this if there is another referendum.
When asked for his position, Mr Corbyn said: " There's two big ifs here - one is if there is a second referendum.
"There was a referendum a year ago, there was a pretty clear decision at the end of that referendum at the end of a very long, very exhaustive campaign. I wonder if it's time to say 'well, that was supposed to be a generation decision'."
He added: " Obviously, if another referendum takes place then people will decide what they want to do.
"But my focus, our focus, our party's focus, is on the Holyrood elections next year, is on changing the economic policies of the party across the UK, is about campaigning about education and opportunities in Scotland, is about trying as far as we can to protect the poorest and most vulnerable people in Scotland - many in work as well as out of work - from the appalling effects of both the tax credit cuts but the Welfare Reform Bill itself. That's our function."
Ms Dugdale said: " It's great to have Jeremy Corbyn back our plans to build a stronger country and a fairer Scotland.
"Jeremy has connected with people across the country because he puts fairness first. That's not just about giving everybody a fair chance in life but investing in our economy too.
"The gap between the richest and the rest in our schools is holding our communities back. If every child in Scotland has the best possible start in life, then the opportunities in front of them will be limitless.
"That's why I want to cut the gap between the rich and the rest in our schools, and I'll use fair taxes to do it."