Linda Stewart
Chair, Scottish Labour Party

9 March 2018

Comrades, Guests

On behalf of the Scottish Executive Committee, a very warm welcome to the 2018 Scottish Labour Conference in Dundee.

When we met last March in Perth, I thought it was going to be quite a quiet year ahead – after all, the outgoing Chair, Jackie Martin, had presided over an eventful year, with a leadership election and Scottish Parliament election.

Surely, we could have a relatively peaceful year, with a bit of time for the SEC to reflect and contemplate before the next onslaught of selections, elections and campaigning?

How wrong was I?

Over the past 12 months, we have had local government elections, a snap General Election and a Scottish Leadership Election – and all with the continuing volatility and uncertainty over Brexit in the background.

In the May local government elections, although we did better than some predicted, we were sorry to lose control of West Dunbartonshire, South Lanarkshire and Glasgow Councils and we pay tribute to many excellent Councillors losing their seats, who had given many years of good service to the Party and their constituents.

However, the expected surge of support for the SNP failed to materialise and we were picking up more and more evidence of people feeling let down by the SNP at Holyrood.

Congratulations to the Labour Councillors who did win and we thank you for the good work you’re doing to protect local government jobs and services.

Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap General Election for June, expecting to increase her Commons majority and strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations – claiming that support for Labour was at a low.

We proved her wrong – on the day, she reduced the number of Tory seats by 13, losing her majority and ending up with a hung parliament.

Jeremy Corbyn ran an excellent grass roots campaign, resulting in an increase of 30 Labour MPs – 6 of them in Scotland.

We now have a first-rate Labour group of 7 Scottish MPs, ably lead by Lesley Laird MP, Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, and they are already making their mark in Westminster on a tired SNP Westminster group, whose numbers were reduced by 21 and who appear to have run out of ideas.

Again, a particular welcome to our new Scottish Labour MPs – keep up the good work!

However, Scottish Tories returned 13 MPs in their best result in Scotland since 1983 – so no danger of complacency in Scottish Labour!

In August, Kezia Dugdale MSP stood down as Leader of Scottish Labour and we thank her for all her work during her leadership.

There followed a leadership election, with two candidates coming forward – Richard Leonard and Anas Sarwar.

Both ran good campaigns and gave us some thoughtful and interesting debates at the hustings.

Congratulations to Richard Leonard, who was announced the winner in November and since then has been making an excellent job at Holyrood, taking Nicola Sturgeon to task on the budget and high levels of poverty.

We’ve also taken on the challenges of diversity and equality, as outlined in the interim report - my thanks to members of the SEC and others who have worked really hard on this.

As part of this work, I would like to make a personal commitment to addressing greater participation by members from across all of Scotland – not just those within an easy train journey of Glasgow or Edinburgh.

I’m delighted to see good numbers of delegates and visitors here this weekend from rural constituencies - but numbers from the more remote parts, like Shetland, Orkney, Inner and Outer Hebrides, are still very low.

To attend an event like this can take an extra day or more of travel either side and costs can be prohibitive.

And when we look at those able to participate actively in Policy Forum, one-day conferences, training sessions, etc – the representation is even lower. If we are to be the Party of all of Scotland, we need to look more imaginatively on how we can use technology to link up Labour members in all of Scotland – something I shall be working on over coming months.

I know it’s been a busy time for us all and thanks to all the activists, in this room and across Scotland, who have been out campaigning over the past 12 months – especially over the back-to-back local government and General elections last May/June.

As Chair, I’ve also seen first-hand the level of dedication we have from Brian and the team at Bath Street.

They work tirelessly on our behalf throughout the year, dealing with regular business, processes and communications.

However, throughout all the additional, major events this year – Council elections, General election, leadership elections – I’ve been so impressed with their commitment and unfaltering efforts – working incredibly hard to ensure that all that needs to be done gets done – whatever the time, day or night.

It’s not a big team – and we do expect them to be at the end of the phone with definitive advice and support whenever it’s needed.

We welcome the new additions to the team and look forward to working with them.

In the meantime, sincere thanks for all you do for the Party, Brian – and please pass on our thanks to the whole team.

Yes, it has been an extremely busy year for Scottish Labour and it has been an honour to be Chair of the Party over this time.

Looking forward, 2018 is likely to be just as busy.

Jeremy Corbyn has placed us on election alert in case of a further snap election at Westminster – more from him later today!

We’ve begun the process of selecting candidates in readiness for this and will see further work on our Scottish Policy Forum over coming months, encouraging members to be involved in the development of Labour Policy in Scotland.

I look forward to working with you all to build up our Party across all of Scotland, including the more remote and rural areas, under the excellent leadership team of Jeremy and Richard.

So, enjoy Conference and get ready for another busy year ahead!

Thank you.

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