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The Labour Party Needs to Be More Explicitly Anti-Austerity

07/08/2015 10:05 BST | Updated 06/08/2016 10:59 BST

The austerity economics at the heart of this Conservative Government are about far more than welfare cuts. They reflect a socially divisive and economically damaging. attempt to drastically reduce public services and to reshape the relationship between the citizen and the state.

I believe Labour should speak up for the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society, but I want us to do more. I want us to champion a clear, credible and robust economic alternative. I want us to present a different vision of what our country can be.

We could start by challenging the inaccurate assertion that our economic difficulties were caused by high levels of public spending. Our party seems to have become trapped in the arguments around deficit reduction and yet again, we are being defined by what we are against.

It is indefensible to be enforcing cuts on public spending whilst approving eye-watering sums to support quantitative easing. This is not just a moral argument, but one of economic effectiveness. Government interventions should be guided by our desire to shape an economy that works in the interest of the many, not the few.

I want to hear the anti-austerity message explicitly in the language and the actions of all our leadership candidates. It is not enough to position yourself to the left or right of another economic viewpoint in the hope of winning support. We need to be clear about what we stand for.

We need to be proud modern day Keynesians and not sound like a watered down version of the Conservatives. I want the Labour Party to talk about a more sustainable economy; a government that supports investment in infrastructure; that prioritises manufacturing and puts as much emphasis on employment as it does on financial trading. We need to be a pro-business party whilst not confusing business, prosperity and the celebration of success with right wing economics. This doesn't mean being reckless with the public finances, but it allows us to shift the emphasis on to what really matters: work, pay, sustainable commerce and public accountability.

Housing is one of the best illustrations of our alternative approach; meeting a pressing social need, investing in jobs and apprentices and growing the economy. Directing resources towards small to medium sized house-builders will have a far more beneficial impact on local economies around Scotland than subsidising multi-nationals who don't pay their taxes.

Under my leadership, Labour will build tens of thousands of new homes helping to tackle poverty, create jobs, put money in people's pockets and fulfil their dreams and ambitions.

I want to promote vocational education. Free university tuition has been rightly lauded, but college places have been lost hand over fist. This has been doubly damaging, reducing the number of Scots in Further Education whilst reinforcing the damaging message that everyone should aspire to an academic qualification. I want a country which makes, builds and manufactures once more and that means providing a highly skilled workforce. That is why I would create 100,000 new college places, providing access to education for every Scot aged eighteen to eighty.

The minimum wage for apprentices currently sits at £2.73 an hour. Again, this undervalues the importance of skilled trades to our economy. I will recognise the educational status of apprenticeships by offering the same access to bursaries and loans as would be available to students in academic education.

Despite the widely recognised success of the last UK Labour Government's Future Jobs Fund, a six month subsidy to employers to take on a young unemployed person, the Conservatives scrapped the project in order - you guessed it - to reduce the deficit. I will restore our commitment to investing in the next generation by expanding the Community Jobs scheme and establishing a Future Jobs Fund Scotland.

On welfare reform, we need to be clearer about what being anti-austerity means. We need to defend the poor whilst not being portrayed as the party of benefits. During the Deputy Leadership hustings, my colleague Alex Rowley put it well when he reminded members that the Jarrow campaigners were not marching for benefits, they were marching for jobs. Yes we need to promote the living wage and end zero hours contracts but that should not be the only message people hear from the Labour Party.

I want people to stand on their own two feet, to earn enough to support themselves and those they care about. I want people to know Labour is on the side of those who work hard and do well.

Such an approach will give us the coherence to support entrepreneurial drive whilst defending those in need. It will allow us to oppose the Conservatives without being oppositionist, to defend the democratic rights of the people of Greece whilst standing up for small businesses here in Scotland. No more abstentions, no more positioning. Under my leadership, Scottish Labour will be clearly and explicitly anti-austerity.