Reflecting on Scottish Labour Conference 2023: Where Next for Scotland?

YF Scotland Co-Chair Matt Shiels explains how this year’s Scottish Labour Conference provided a new vision for governance in Scotland.

Very soon, we are likely to see a Labour government entering Westminster, with a bold policy agenda that will reform the UK constitution. This agenda will change the UK on a level that those of us too young to remember the last Labour government will never have seen before. Scotland was at the heart of Gordon Brown’s constitutional report, recognising and seeking to remedy an independence debate caught between no-change unionism and no-compromise independence. Regional authorities will be granted extra powers, and the House of Lords will be reformed into a council of regions and nations, tasked with protecting devolution. However, with the range of reserved powers Westminster possesses, it will take a Labour government both in Westminster and Holyrood to truly transform Scotland. 

As with the rest of the UK, Scotland’s NHS is in deep crisis. Waiting times for ambulances have skyrocketed up to 40 hours in some cases, 1 in 7 Scots are on a waiting list, and while our nurses had to go on strike for a pay-rise, managerial health boards impose from on-high, restricting our NHS staff even further. On day one of Conference, Deputy Leader of Scottish Labour, Jackie Bailie, delivered a promise that under a Scottish Labour administration, the number of these health boards would be cut to just 3, freeing up vital funds, and cutting red tape by removing excessive levels of bureaucracy.

While we are yet to see how this proposal will be received, I’m optimistic. The NHS is a frequent concern raised on the doorstep by Scots, with much disdain for Humza Yousaf’s mishandling of our vital service. Indeed, with Yousaf’s ambition to become our next First Minister, and attempting to sweep his failings under the rug along the way, this announcement demonstrated that our leader, Anas Sarwar, will be the First Minister who addresses this mess. 

The flagship policy of Conference, however, was a scheme to make homes available to buy for £1, delivered by Sarwar. These houses would be from an estimated stock of 27,000 unused or derelict homes, and sold for £1 to homeowners, alongside a loan to renovate the property. These homes will be sold under the condition that you have a low-income, are a first time buyer, and will live in the home for 5 years. Many young people feel the anxiety of missing out on home ownership, and this policy provides a hope to many who would have thought home ownership unachievable. Bold, ambitious, and workable, this is a vision for increasing home ownership the likes of which Scotland has not seen before. 

The Scottish Parliament election in 2026 may seem distant, and we may have a long time to wait before these policies can come to fruition. However, with Sturgeon’s resignation, the SNP losing successive by-elections, and a UK Labour government-in-waiting, ready to enact the largest ever decentralisation of power out of Westminster, we cannot start preparing too soon. This is only the beginning of Scottish Labour’s ambitious policy agenda, and one which will soon be emboldened by dramatic constitutional reform. Hope is returning to Scotland, with Anas Sarwar paving the way for Scottish Labour to lead the nation past nationalist politics, into a new era full of promise for Scotland. 

Matt Shiels is Co-Chair of the Young Scottish Fabians. Matt is also a Scottish Labour activist, and member of Unite. Studying politics at the University of Edinburgh, he has a keen interest in constitutional politics. Matt tweets @mattshiels02.

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