Sunday, 13 March 2011

Unemployment is a scourge

The text of a speech I made at SNP Conference yesterday welcoming jobs to Glasgow.

Conference the cause of Independence brought me into the SNP but it wasn’t independence that first stoked my interest in politics, it was employment or rather unemployment.

I grew up in Greenock, a town heavily dependent on heavy industries. When I was in first year at High School, Thatcher had just come to power – as if adolescence wasn’t bad enough, mine had to coincide with the reign of Thatcher the milk snatcher.

But it wasn’t just milk she was snatching from Greenockians and Portonians, it was jobs. Every Monday morning at High School in 1979 someone else would come into class to tell us their dad had been made redundant from his job in the shipyards. Every Monday someone else, some other family looking to the future and not knowing what it held for them.

We became used to it and our parents became worn down by it. Because unemployment is a scourge, not just on the individual but on entire communities and on society as a whole.

Seeing what unemployment did to people’s self esteem, to their sense of who they were in the world, to their mental wellbeing and eventually their physical health, seeing that close up, experiencing it, feeling it, made me realise that there just HAD to be a better way and that I had a duty to help bring it about.

And that’s what eventually led to my joining the SNP. I always believed that with Independence we had a far better chance of protecting people’s jobs and that we’d treat people more humanely. And we will get there and I know I’m right.

The early indications are good because here we are coming to the end of the SNP’s first EVER term of office, we don’t yet have Independence so we’re operating with one hand tied behind our backs, we have a minority government, we have to contend with the most savage cuts to our budget imagineable and yet look at just some of the jobs announcements since the start of the year under the SNP government .
950 jobs at Amazon in locations in Fife and Inverclyde, 200 jobs with Ryan Air in Prestwick, 130 jobs at Gamesa Offshore Wind Technology centre in Glasgow,
and the announcement yesterday of 700 jobs for Glasgow which I’ll come onto,

A record 25,000 apprenticeships over the next year,

50,000 job placements for young people every year for the next four.

Our government ministers are working flat out to secure as many jobs as possible for our people because they care and because they know what it’s like to live through tough times, many will, like me, have grown up in towns and cities that were ravaged by Thatcher’s cuts and ignored by Labour’s complacency.

The SNP government is anything but complacent. It is creative and it is forward thinking. Take the Glasgow announcement yesterday. We’re not talking about unskilled low paid jobs here, we’re talking about 700 people to be recruited to a centre for Technology and Innovation. We all know that Scottish innovation helped to drive the industrial revolution and shape the world as we know it today. And Scottish innovation will continue to flourish because of this investment. Of course we should be proud of what Scotland has achieved in the past. But we should also be looking to the future and to what we have yet to invent, develop, improve. And that’s what the creation of this centre will ensure we do.

Conference we cannot underestimate the importance of work. It’s not just about the wages, it’s about who you are. It’s about having a reason to get up in the morning, it’s about having someone acknowledge that you’ve done something well, it’s about making that journey into work where you head into town with hundreds of others knowing that together, you’re all in some way helping to keep Scotland running.

Without it, what have you got? Who are you and what difference do you make to Scotland? That’s not me saying that because I know that everyone, job or no job, makes their contribution whether as a family member (just think of the army of unpaid carers saving us an absolute fortune) , as a volunteer or simply as a friend.

But that, unfortunately, is what every person who’s unemployed asks themselves whether consciously or not. I know because I’ve been there, perhaps I’m about to be there again. We all need to be able to stand up and say “this is my name and this is what I do”.

As children we are rarely asked “what do you want to DO when you grow up?”. Rather the question we hear over and over is “what do you want to BE when you grow up?”.

So it’s little wonder that most people define themselves by their jobs. The SNP government recognises this, that employment is not just about growing our economy, it’s about people, it’s about workers. And if this is what we can do for those workers with one hand tied behind our back, just think what we’ll do when we’re Independent.

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