Sarwar pledges £1 homes, Amazon tax and EU deal
Anas Sarwar said that a Labour government at Holyrood would introduce an Amazon tax and a chance to buy a home for just £1 as he attacked the SNP’s failure to deliver on its promises.
In a range of policy pledges on housing, health and the economy, as well as “better relations” with the EU, Mr Sarwar told his party conference in Edinburgh that Scottish Labour is working on a plan to overhaul the way government operates.
That includes changes in the delivery of services, and in the way Holyrood and Westminster interact.
He said that under his leadership Labour was a pro-growth, pro-business party but he also wanted a better deal for working people as well as the consumer and the taxpayer.
His pledges came moments before publication of a survey that found that 29% of the electorate would vote SNP with Labour a close second with 27% and the Conservatives at 12%. The YouGov poll for the Scottish Election Study was undertaken before the First Minister announced her resignation.
The poll helped stir Mr Sarwar’s appeal to SNP voters to come back to Labour, though political analysts say his party’s support for Brexit remains a sticking point for nationalists.
Mr Sarwar told his conference that he wanted “better relations with our European partners”, while adding that Brexit has had a “negative impact on the UK economy.”
He said “Our relationship with the EU needs to change. Rather than picking fights, we should be working with our European partners in our national interest.
“We need to rebuild our relationships and restore trust. Where we align, we should look at the opportunities.”
On his wider ambitions he said he would allow first-time homebuyers to obtain vacant properties for £1 and renovate them with a government loan.
He was working on a Scottish arm of party leader Keir Starmer’s plan for a state-owned Great British Energy company.
It was part of a plan to provide the jobs and sources of supply that had been pledged by the SNP which “talked a good game”, he said.
“The next Labour government is committed to a publicly-owned, energy generation company to deliver good, secure, high-paid jobs, cut energy bills and champion clean energy.
“And unlike the SNP, a publicly-owned energy company is a promise we will deliver.
“But we also know that the skills, experience and resources we have here in Scotland means we should be leading the way when it comes to renewables and net zero energy.
“Which is why I can announce today that Scottish Labour is starting the work to develop a Scottish arm of Great British Energy, which includes hydrogen, carbon capture and wind.
“If we want to reach our clean power and net zero targets we need to maximise all that Scotland has to offer.
“So we will ensure that Labour’s promised green investment plans build up Scottish supply chains, partnering with the industry here to create Scottish jobs and reduce Scottish bills. Not a supply chain that benefits Denmark more than Scotland.”
While rubbishing the SNP’s record in office, Mr Sarwar took a moment to pay tribute to Nicola Sturgeon’s public service.
“Nicola Sturgeon has been at the forefront of public life in Scotland for more than 20 years. Despite our profound disagreements, that is an incredible achievement.”
But he took aim at the senior SNP figures tipped to succeed her, including Health Secretary Humza Yousaf, Constitution Secretary Angus Robertson, Justice Secretary Keith Brown and Finance Secretary Kate Forbes.
“Who do they now want you to believe can fix this mess? The Health Secretary who has delivered the longest waiting times in our history?
“The air-miles Culture Secretary jetting around the world while cutting services here at home?
“The Finance Secretary who has decimated local communities?
“The Justice Secretary who won’t give police officers the equipment they need?”
Turning to his other priorities he said economic growth and tackling the climate emergency go hand-in-hand.
“If we get this right – and we can with the right leadership – then we can deliver a jobs-first response that rewards aspiration. And we can only do that with the support of business.
“But right now, we have two governments which are anti-business. So to the business community listening today, I want to make something very clear.
“Under my leadership, Labour is a pro-business, pro-growth party,” he said.
He spoke about tackling the skills gap and the need for an education and skills system which fosters innovation.
“In our parents’ generation, people would have worked on average in three jobs in their adult lives.
“For this generation, it will be six or seven jobs. The next generation, it could be as many as 12 or 13 jobs.
“That changing economy requires better digital skills training in schools, but it also needs lifelong learning and training.
“So we want to build a partnership between business, trade unions, the education sector, government and communities to ensure our economy thrives.”
He said Scottish Labour would introduce an “Amazon tax” to rebalance the retail sector and help revive the high street.
“We want online retailers to pay their fair share and that can start now. Just over the Forth Bridge in Dunfermline is a massive Amazon warehouse, covering more than 950,000 square feet. It’s the size of 14 football pitches.
“But because it’s not classed as a retail space, it pays millions of pounds less in tax than it would if it was a shop on the high street.
“Why should small and medium-sized businesses pay exorbitant rates while giant online corporations like Amazon get away with paying less than their fair share? We can end this injustice.
“We have a plan that delivers growth and innovation, encourages good business, and no longer unfairly penalises our high streets.
“Today I can announce that we are committed to an Amazon Tax in Scotland which reflects today’s modern economy and make the system fairer.
“That’s how we rebuild our crumbling town centres and cities.”
SNP Depute Leader Keith Brown responded to the speech by saying: “Anas Sarwar is making it crystal clear that he is happy to ignore the needs and voice of people across Scotland by backing Keir Starmer’s pro-Brexit agenda, which makes Labour indistinguishable from the Tories.
“The gall of Sarwar claiming to be an alternative to the Tories whilst bragging about the dodgy deal his party has made with the Tories in Edinburgh is staggering – they even suspended members who refused to team up with the Tories.
“Not one iota of Sarwar’s speech demonstrates that he is capable of tackling the challenges facing people across Scotland right now – as a results of an economic catastrophe created by Westminster – or that he is willing to stand up for Scottish democracy which is facing its biggest threat in the history of devolution as a result of Westminster attacks.
“Fundamentally, Anas Sarwar is openly showing people across Scotland that it makes no odds whether its Labour or the Tories in number 10 – Under Westminster control, Scotland faces a bleak future underpinned by Brexit and a right wing agenda. Independence is the only way for Scotland to chart a better future.”