Jenny Marra The Living Wage  Speech in the Scottish Parliament debate     

5 November 2014

Labour is delighted to hold this debate in living wage week.

I say to the cabinet secretary that she makes her first mistake today—one that she makes in her whole political career and her deputy leadership campaign—by confusing power with political will to make change happen.

All her colleagues today have confused the two, believing that, if power is vested in one place, change—and change for the better—will happen.

I want to correct the cabinet secretary on that.

There needs to be political will and economic and social analysis, which her party does not have, to raise wages and make social change. Power is not exactly a direct answer to that.

Joan McAlpine: Will the member give way?

Jim Eadie (Edinburgh Southern) (SNP): Will the member give way? [Interruption.]

Jenny Marra: I will take interventions later.

James Kelly had three asks in his opening speech.

The first was that the Scottish Government uses the power that it has in its hands and uses its procurement to give the living wage to contractors.

His second ask was for a living wage unit in Government—an easy thing for Angela Constance to commit to this afternoon.

His third ask was for—

Angela Constance: Will the member give way?

Jenny Marra: I will give way in a minute.

James Kelly’s third ask was for the Government to put together a living wage strategy.

[Interruption.] I will give way later.

On the first point about procurement and a living wage for contractors, the SNP has said that it does not have the legal power.

That is simply not true.

It becomes clearer by the day and by the hour that the SNP does have the power in its hands.

We came to the chamber for a debate six months ago and I said to Nicola Sturgeon that she had the power.

She said that she did not but that Alex Salmond was going off to Brussels that Monday to ask for it.

Well, he went to Brussels and he was told by the EU that there was no European law in place—[Interruption.].

He cited European law.

Alex Salmond was told that there was no European law in place that would prevent the Scottish Government from going ahead with its proposal to give the living wage to contractors—there was no reason at all.

That was reported in the press. [Interruption.] I will give way in a minute.

Then, just this week—[Interruption.] I will give way later.

Just this week, the Department of Energy and Climate Change gave the living wage to all employees, including third-party contractors.

Will the cabinet secretary accept that cleaners down in Westminster, in DECC, will get the living wage but the cleaners for our Government down in Atlantic Quay will not get the living wage?

Angela Constance: I wonder whether Ms Marra would find it in her hard heart to welcome the announcement made by the First Minister last week about a fair work convention, which is about how we can move forward together on many of the issues raised by Mr Kelly.

Will Jenny Marra also accept some facts? The correspondence from Commissioner Barnier, the Posting of Workers Directive and the European Court of Justice case law all identify the problem as being that our national minimum wage is set in law and is lower than the living wage. Surely to goodness she can accept that the real issue is the need for this Parliament to have power over the national minimum wage. How do we effect change if we do not have the power to do so?

Jenny Marra: I do not accept what the cabinet secretary just said.

Of course we welcome the fair work convention—that is a very good thing.

However, the ECJ’s decision was not about contractors or mandatory legislation but about collective agreement—a completely different issue.

The Deputy First Minister cited the decision in a debate six months ago, but it is not relevant to the point. If it was, why would the Department of Energy and Climate Change go ahead and award the living wage to its contractors?

Mark McDonald: Will Jenny Marra accept that the agreement that was reached by the Department of Energy and Climate Change, like the agreement that the Scottish Government reached on the ScotRail contract, was not about procurement? The point has been made to her repeatedly during the debate that the agreement was not part of the procurement process.

Jenny Marra: The Department of Energy and Climate Change is awarding the living wage to all its employees, including third-party contractors.

If DECC can do that, the Scottish Government can do it too—[Interruption.]

The SNP members keep on shouting for more powers, but they will not use the powers in their own hands.

Just last week, I argued that the Scottish Government should award contracts to sheltered workplaces in Scotland using the precious procurement powers in its hands.

It refused to do so, and simply issued guidance.

Again, the cabinet secretary says today that she is prepared to go only as far as issuing guidance to contractors that they should pay the living wage.

She is not prepared, in the face of legal evidence, to actually go ahead and make it happen.

I want to clarify some points for the Scottish Parliament record.

Much has been said this afternoon about the Labour Party’s record on the issue.

In 1997 the Labour Party won a majority across this United Kingdom.

In the face of opposition from the Conservatives, business—including the Confederation of British Industry—and many other quarters, we marched through the lobbies of the House of Commons that night to support the minimum wage.

Where was the SNP?

That night—[Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer (Tricia Marwick): Order.

Jenny Marra: That night, when we voted on the most ground-breaking anti-poverty wage-related legislation that we have seen in this country in decades, the SNP members of Parliament were asleep in their beds. I will take no lessons from the cabinet secretary or any of her back benchers on our record on the issue.

For nine years—[Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer: Order.

Jenny Marra: For nine years—

Mark McDonald: Will the member give way?

Jenny Marra: Yes.

Mark McDonald: Can Jenny Marra advise members in the chamber whether Tony Blair voted in that very same division? I seem to recall that he was absent from it.

Jenny Marra: If that is the best that the member can come up with, I am very disappointed, given the amount of votes that Mr Salmond is not present for.

Here we are again: the legal case on the matter is absolutely clear, and it became even clearer following the actions of the Department of Energy and Climate Change this week.

Despite that, the SNP still refuses to use the generous powers that it has on procurement to raise wages in this country for people who are cleaning the SNP’s own offices in Edinburgh.

The SNP says that it needs more powers, but it is not even using the powers that it has to address the important issue of poverty wages in this country. That is an absolute disgrace, and I think that SNP members should vote for the Labour motion this evening.

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