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Kezia Dugdale slams Cameron and Sturgeon in Labour conference speech

New Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale has pledged more cash to help the country's poorest pupils and to reverse tax credit cuts for working families north of the border.

In her first conference speech since being elected to the job, Ms Dugdale turned her fire on David Cameron's Conservatives and the SNP Government at Holyrood.

Labour in Scotland was virtually wiped out by Nicola Sturgeon's party in May, losing all but one of the seats they held to the nationalists.

With elections to the Scottish Parliament taking place next May, Ms Dugdale pledged she would set up a Fair Start Fund - which would provide some £78 million a year to help 72,000 youngsters eligible for free school meals - if her party returns to power at Holyrood.

She also vowed to protect Scots from UK Government cuts to tax credits by using new tax and welfare powers coming to MSPs from April 2017 to ensure families north of the border do not lose out.

Care workers will get a "real living wage" she said, and youngsters leaving care who go on to university will get a grant of £6,000 a year to help them.

Ms Dugdale told party activists in Perth: "N ext year's elections will be hard, but I have no intention of making it easy for the SNP either."

She added: "Y ou know what? The SNP are starting to make the kind of mistakes we did when we dominated Scottish politics. They see the reasons not to act rather than the way to make change."

She hit out at Ms Sturgeon, the SNP First Minister, and said: " If talking about a fairer Scotland was what made the difference then Nicola Sturgeon would have made Scotland the fairest country in the world by now.

"But talking about it isn't enough.

"You need to change. To act. To do things differently."

Ms Dugdale, whose parents were both teachers, insisted that "som ething has to be done about the achievement gap in our schools".

To tackle problems such as falling standards of literacy and numeracy, she said Scottish Labour would bring in a a Fair Start Fund - with this to be paid for by increasing the top rate of income tax to 50p, something Labour says could raise up to £110 million a year in Scotland.

Those youngsters who meet the eligibility criteria for free school meals would benefit, with the extra cash going direct to schools.

Ms Dugdale said: "L et's leave the decisions in a particular school to those who know that school best - the teachers.

"So we won't hand the money to local councils - we'll hand it to headteachers, g iving them the freedom to prepare with their staff a plan for how they will use this money."

This fund would be put in place not for a few years but "for good", the Scottish Labour leader added.

She told the conference "P oorer children will always face extra barriers to achievement.

"And Scottish Labour will always give them that leg up to overcome it, not for four years but forever."

She spoke of her "passion" for education, saying it could help "t o overcome inequality, to liberate people from a pre-determined destiny".

She added: " If there is a silver bullet to slay the monsters of poverty, inequality and ignorance, then it is education.

"If there is a magic key to a fuller and more fulfilling life, t hen it is education."

She told the SNP, which has been in power in Scotland for more than eight years: " I will judge you on your record. And I will judge you above all on your record on education.

"Every child you have left behind, well, that neglect offends this Labour movement."

A monument to former SNP first minister Alex Salmond's abolition of university tuition fees was put up at Edinburgh's Heriot-Watt University.

But there were cheers when Ms Dugdale said: "L et me tell you what I'll put in our universities - e very youngster from our poorest families who has the potential to get there.

"That's the legacy I want to leave in."

She also announced: "U nder Labour plans, every looked-after child in Scotland that wants to go on to higher education will get full grant support, worth £6,000 a year."

Ms Dugdale told the conference: " We will pay for this education plan by making different choices from the SNP and by asking those very top earners to pay a bit more tax.

"A tax rise on the richest, not because we are against aspiration but because we are for it - for every child in Scotland having a world class education."

Cuts to tax credits being brought in by the Conservatives will be "as unpopular" as the so-called Poll Tax was for a previous generation of Tories.

However, Ms Dugdale said L abour would use tax and welfare powers coming to Holyrood from 2017 to mitigate the impact of these reductions north of the border.

This would be paid for by making ''different choices'' on taxation from both the Conservatives and the SNP, the Scottish Labour leader said.

She was given a standing ovation by party members as she announced: "A Scottish Labour government will restore the much-needed tax credits."

A future Scottish Labour government would not increase the threshold at which people start to pay income tax at 40%, she said. As the Conservatives pledged to increase this from £42,385 to £50,000 in their general election manifesto, this would see some Scots paying more in income tax than those on the same wage south of the border.

Labour would also not go ahead with SNP plans to cut Air Passenger Duty (APD) by 50% before abolishing it altogether.

Changes in the Scotland Bill will mean that from April 2017 Holyrood will be have power over income tax rates and bands, new powers to top up benefits and responsibility for APD.

"'With the real powers that are coming to the Scottish Parliament comes a real chance to change things," Ms Dugdale said.

" 'That means real choices need to be made.''

She pledged: "'Scottish Labour will stand for the elections with a promise to restore the money Scottish families will lose from this Tory tax rise on working families.

''We will act as soon as the new powers make it possible.''

Ms Dugdale added: " Every Labour MSP who is elected will make sure that is what the Scottish government does.

''Voting Scottish Labour is a vote for a Scottish government that offers a break from Tory austerity, not a Scottish government that offers excuses.''

She added: " If talking about a fairer Scotland was what made the difference then Nicola Sturgeon would have made Scotland the fairest country in the world by now.

"But talking about it isn't enough. You need to change. To act. To do things differently."

Ms Dugdale said when choices had to be made her party would " stand with everyone who needs government to get by or to get on in life".

She said: " We want everyone to be able to aspire for something better but we will be, as Jeremy (Corbyn) says, straight-talking and honest.

"Because someone has to pay. And if it isn't those at the very top then it will be the rest of us, and our children, who will lose out."

Care workers delivering council-funded services would be guaranteed a "real living wage" Ms Dugdale also promised.

" It's Labour's mission that those post war babies, born to the NHS, will be cared for into their seventies and beyond with the dignity and respect they deserve, by people with time to care," she stated.

She added that " by improving care we will relieve the pressure on our frontline NHS".

Labour, she said, would " recapture the democratic spirit of the early days of devolution, reforming our parliament, renewing our Scottish democracy for a new generation of leadership".

With the SNP dominant in Scottish politics, she added: "T o those who want more accountable government, let me say this too.

"The only way to stop the SNP having it all their own way is to use both your votes for Scottish Labour in next May's election."

While she said the SNP existed only " to get to the next election, the next referendum", Ms Dugdale said for Labour "g overning is only ever a staging post, never a purpose".

She told the conference: " We want to govern because we believe in the possibilities that come with power. Because we know we can make life better than this."


From Belfast Telegraph