We have to understand why more than a million Scots took the risk of a vote to leave the EU


Today in Edinburgh, Kezia made her first major speech since the EU referendum. She outlined three key priorities - working to keep Scotland in the EU, understanding why more than a million Scots voted to leave and making sure the SNP Government get on with the day job. You can read Kez's speech in full, below.

Friends, thank you.

It’s only been two weeks since people voted in the EU referendum, but already it feels a lifetime ago.

This time a fortnight ago, I was voting at the polling station in a church near my home in Lochend.

I fully expected that 24 hours later I would be watching a remain vote being declared across the UK.

Who could blame me? That was what the vast majority of politicians and a large amount of the media thought.

Even Nigel Farage said as polls closed that they’d put up a good fight, but it probably wasn’t enough.

The immediate consequences of the result were plain to see.

I watched David Cameron resign whilst standing in the newsroom at BBC Scotland having just come off the radio.

A Prime Minister resigning should feel like a big moment – and this did.

But looking back, it was more like the first ripple before the waves came crashing in over the following week.

I said that morning that we needed calm heads.

That we should use the time to take stock, to look at all the options and work out where we should go next.

That’s why I’ve waited two weeks before offering these reflections.

Because the truth is this.

Whether you’re David Cameron, Boris Johnson or Nicola Sturgeon the only thing you can be certain of is that there is no certainty.

We are in unchartered waters.

The political movements over the past two weeks will have a profound effect.

But they will be nothing compared to the impact on our politics, our economy and our society that will emerge from our new relationship with Europe and the world.

And, when it comes to that, we haven’t even started yet.

David Cameron resigning and Nicola Sturgeon meeting with EU bureaucrats may have sent shockwaves through the political establishment, but in living rooms and around kitchen tables in homes across Scotland it probably felt more like a tremor.

For families the length and breadth of this country, the real shock wave will come in their pockets in the years to come.

When the prices of everyday products start to increase, house prices go into reverse or jobs are moved across borders.

That is when the negative effects of Brexit will really be felt.

Just this week, some retailers described having to increase prices on imported products, Standard Life – one of Scotland’s largest companies – ceased withdrawals in its property investment fund and easyjet said they could be moving thousands of jobs out of the UK.

In the face of this, the very politicians who argued for the UK to leave the EU are running for the hills. 

Or, they are deep in a Tory leadership contest where the short term interest in crossing the winning line is overriding the need to make important decisions for the long term.

In effect, after holding the country to ransom with a referendum to placate the Tory backbenches, decisions on the future of our country are now being held at the mercy of who Tory MPs and members pick to be our next Prime Minister.

The debate about where our country goes from here can’t be reduced to a debate about the future of a political party – whether that’s the Conservative Party or indeed my own.

It’s bigger than that.

And let me say this – we can’t see an argument about the future of our country reduced to the sickening sight of Tory MPs arguing over whether EU migrants get to stay in our country.

They should and they must.

Not a single EU migrant in Scotland – or anywhere in the UK – should have to leave this country. And it is a disgrace that we should even have to make that clear.

People in Scotland – and across the UK – deserve better than the arguments they are getting right now.

Because giving simple answers to complex problems is part of the reason we have got to where we are today.

And that’s the core of what I want to address today.

My argument is that the political establishment – whether you’re yes or no, leave or remain, Labour, Conservative, Lib Dem or even SNP – they had this coming.

The leave vote across the UK two weeks ago was a result of years of growing distance between people with power, and the people who power is exercised upon.

The consequences were masked by rising prosperity, but as soon as the tide went out on sustained economic growth, insecurity and uncertainty was left behind.

The last two weeks may look like our politics is unstable, but the real political instability is the lack of a clear political consensus for the next generation.

My grandparents’ generation had 1945 and the establishment of the welfare state.

My parents’ generation had 1979 and economic liberalism.

For this generation, the 2008 financial crisis brought the curtain down on another chapter of political consensus.

But the drip drip of austerity policies and a UK Government with no plan but cuts has provided no new consensus, no new governing principle.

That is what is at stake now.

It’s not just the details of a deal we can strike with Europe. It’s the very foundations of what needs to be a new political consensus to carry us through the next generation.

And to get there we have to ask some fundamental questions about how we ended up where we are today, and how we stitch back together our broken politics.


Let’s be in no doubt.

The EU referendum wasn’t a strategic decision, it wasn’t a debate David Cameron ever wanted.

It was a gamble.

And it is one that quite clearly hasn’t paid off.

An argument over Europe that divided their party has now divided the country at a time when we least need this instability.

But here’s the thing.

Laying the blame for Brexit squarely at the Tories’ door doesn’t do justice to the depth of our country’s problems.

We in the Labour Party, and across the Labour movement, need to recognise that it wasn’t just disenchantment with the Tory party that brought this Leave result home.

It was disdain for an entire political class who look out of touch, elitist, deaf to the concerns that people are raising and with no answers to the big challenges our country is facing.

We neither took on the points people were raising, or properly responded to them.

As a Labour Party, we too rarely made a full throated defence of immigration.

When it came to austerity, we were too cautious in saying that it was a bad approach and that it harmed not just the poorest, but the vast majority who the financial crisis made poorer.

We were too quick to follow public opinion instead of leading it.

And then we worried when that took us to uncomfortable places.

This result a fortnight ago is a reckoning for the political establishment and we all need to come to terms with it.

Here in Scotland, we are not immune.

Over a million people voted leave, but the public debate we’ve been having since the UK voted leave would make you think that we voted unanimously for remain.

Let me say this.

I don’t agree with the arguments made by leave campaigners.

They were deeply wrong and the campaign that they ran plumbed the depths of political campaigning.

But I can no more ignore the concerns of people who voted leave than I would ignore the concerns of someone who voted yes.

Yet here in Scotland there has been no attempt in the past two weeks to reach out to leave voters. There’s been no effort made to find out why they voted the way they did and ask them why they were willing to risk a leap in the dark.

The places where high leave votes were found in Scotland are some of the poorest communities in our country.

Many of them are also places that voted in large numbers for yes in the Scottish referendum.

For example, in the east end of Glasgow, 44% of people voted leave.

In Edinburgh Eastern, the seat I sought to represent, Niddrie voted to Leave whilst less than a mile along the road in leafy Joppa, over 80% of people voted to remain.

In total, over one million people in Scotland cast their vote for leave two weeks ago.

Politicians of every party in Scotland need to face up to the fact that we are not immune to the deep divisions that made people vote leave in England and Wales.

It’s a wakeup call to us in the Labour Party too.

We came into politics to fight against poverty and to create a more united society.

So we need to ask ourselves why people in the very communities we seek to represent weren’t convinced by our argument both at the independence referendum and at the EU referendum.

We need to understand why they felt the gamble of independence or the gamble of leaving the EU was a better prospect than fighting for change within the system we have.

In the same way as my party has sought to bridge the divide between people who voted yes and no, we need to heal the divisions between people who voted leave and remain.

If we fail to do that it will only confirm for people that politics is remote, distant and can achieve nothing for them at all.


For decades, the deal in this country was that if you worked hard, paid your fair share and played by the rules you would be rewarded.

You’d have a decent job, paying a decent wage and you could rely on an even better life for your children and your grandchildren.

The last ten years have seen that deal broken.

If you’re poor, the chance of getting a decent education at school and then going to university has declined.

Secure, well paid work has been replaced by insecure work that doesn’t always make ends meet. Too often one job isn’t enough, and household incomes need to be topped up with more hours in another job.

The toxic mix of insecure work and declining savings meant an increasing reliance on commercial credit with people using credit cards and store cards for day to day spending, then turning to legal loan sharks like Wonga when that ran out.

And as banks became less likely to lend and incomes declined, parents watched their children struggle to get their foot on the property ladder.

All those building blocks of a safe, solid and secure family life have been chipped away at. It’s no wonder people feel more and more anxious about the future today than they ever have.

On to this background, many people turned and also said to politicians that they had concerns about immigration.

In the 2014 social attitudes survey, 62% of people in Scotland said they thought immigration should be reduced ‘a lot’ or ‘a little’.

Only 9% thought it should be increased at all.

But instead of listening and responding to these concerns, too often simple answers were given to very complex questions.

We neither attempted to vigorously defend immigration or really come up with the solutions that would have satisfied people.

Instead people were told that something could be done, and nothing changed. David Cameron’s pledge on immigration came and went and numbers kept increasing.

And, when it comes to Brexit, I’m sure we will quickly find out we need as many immigrants to make our economy function well then as we do today.

This kind of behaviour is corrosive to the public debate.

We can’t expect people to tell us what their concerns are, for politicians then to agree with them and then to do nothing,

…or even the exact opposite, as David Cameron did with his immigration cap.

That doesn’t address people’s concerns or engage them in any meaningful debate. It makes people who are already feeling distant and disenfranchised in society even more angry.

It makes them believe that the system really is rigged against them and that their representatives can’t or won’t address their concerns.

In short, it makes people who already feel powerless even more so.

It confirms their worst suspicions about the people who have power over them.

And it pushes reasonable debate to the margins – creating space in the centre for more extreme views that seem to address their concerns.

It’s a vicious cycle and in a world where the centre-ground of politics is in flux, where there is no real consensus, triangulating and fudging your response will win no friends.

Politics now more than ever demands a very simple quality that has been in short supply in some parts of the recent referendum debate – honesty.

I don’t believe that we can expect to win big arguments if we aren’t honest with people in advance and explain why we believe what we believe.

In the EU referendum, how could we really expect a convincing win when for decades Tory politicians told you immigration was a bad thing and then dismissed those fears during the referendum campaign?

How could people believe Labour politicians who wanted to tell you immigration was a good thing but didn’t spell that out until it was too late?

How could we expect people to vote for EU institutions that most of the political establishment believed in but for years spent their time distancing themselves from instead of defending?

The lesson of all of this is if you actually believe in something you need to argue for it consistently – not just when it looks like everything is going wrong or when a referendum or election is called.

It’s why I was pleased to see Gordon Brown argue for a national commission on making globalisation work for Britain.

We can’t wait for the next national crisis to respond to these concerns.

People across the country will have more respect for politicians who speak their minds and set a clear course than those who constantly fudge their responses and look for the easy answers to the most difficult questions.

It would be easy for me – as a party leader who is trying to turn around the fortunes of the Scottish Labour Party – to say what I think people want to hear.

But I’d rather say what I believe, what I know is right and what I am convinced will build a better and fairer society.

So, I’ll continue to argue for our place in Europe.

I’ll be a staunch advocate of immigration and all the benefits it brings to our country.

I’ll defend the benefits Scotland gets from being part of the UK and keep making the argument that we are stronger in a union with our biggest trading partner than we would be on our own.

I’ll continue to make the honest case for progressive taxation to fund our public services – because we can’t afford constant cuts to our schools and hospitals.

And I’ll support the Government when they’re right and make the case against them when they’re wrong.

I didn’t come into politics to pick fights for the sake of it and with a minority Government in Holyrood, it’s more important than ever that Scottish Labour is an effective and positive opposition to the SNP.


In the next few weeks and months we are going to have to make big decisions about the future of our country.

Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union, but we voted in even greater numbers to stay part of the United Kingdom.

These two democratic mandates must be respected.

I’ve said that we should keep all options on the table. That is the right thing to do when we are dealing with such great uncertainty about the future.

Both the First Minister and the new Prime Minister will need time to work through the problems created by the referendum result.

But it’s clear we have an impasse: the Conservatives want Scotland in the UK, but out of the EU. The SNP want us out of the UK, but in the EU.

It really is only the Labour Party that wants what the vast majority of people across Scotland want – in the EU and in the UK.

I believe there are three things we need to do now.

First, Nicola Sturgeon needs to play a part of the UK’s negotiating team, along with Sadiq Khan, Carwyn Jones and Arlene Foster.

These negotiations cannot be a Westminster Tory show.

They need to represent all parties of Government across the UK.

I voted to give the First Minister a mandate to speak directly to Brussels and I was happy to do that.

But I also want her playing a full part in the team that will represent all 65 million people across the UK.

Because – as the EU has already said – their only negotiation will be with the UK, and Scotland’s interests need to be fully represented in that.

That is why today, I have written to the Prime Minister and to all the candidates for the Conservative Party leadership and emphasised that it is my view that the Scottish Government should be part of all negotiations on the UK’s exit from the EU.

I have also written to the First Minister explaining why I believe she should play a full part in those talks and asking her what discussions she and her officials have had so far with the new Cabinet Office unit.

I have also encouraged her to appoint officials - or ideally create a unit within the Scottish Government - to coordinate work between the Scottish and UK Governments on those negotiations.

In addition, in response to the reports of increases in hate crime, I’ve asked her to give serious consideration to a nationwide advertising campaign along similar lines to ‘One Scotland, Many Cultures’ to emphasise to all people that they are welcome here and that hate crime will not be tolerated.

Second, we need to reach out to leave voters and reassure remain voters that we can bring the country back together again.

Almost forty per cent of my fellow Scots voted to leave the EU behind – just seven per cent lower than the number that voted to leave the UK behind in 2014.

Of the leave voters, a third were SNP voters, a fifth were Scottish Labour voters and many more were Conservatives.

I want to say this to them directly today.

If you voted leave, I want to hear why you took this decision. I want to understand why you were willing to take a leap into the unknown.

Scotland and the UK is likely to change immeasurably because of the decision you made – I want to understand your hopes and fears for how this decision might change our country.

You can do that by emailing us on scotland@labour.org.uk.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP Government cannot ignore their day to day responsibility to govern.

It is only nine weeks since Scotland went to the polls to elect a new Scottish Parliament.

Nicola Sturgeon’s minority Government was sent into office with plans for our schools, hospitals and public services. This has to continue to be the priority.

Vast and wide ranging new powers are coming to the Scottish Parliament over tax and welfare.

They must be properly prepared for and the Government must set out how they will use them.

Brexit may have shocked people across Scotland, but the shock to our economy and our politics cannot be compounded by our Government taking its eye off the ball when it comes to our vital public services.

Beginning next week, each week of this summer break we will highlight one major policy problem facing Scotland and how Scottish Labour would tackle it.

Scotland voted for a minority SNP Government, but the country needs an effective opposition.

My Shadow Cabinet will spend the summer holding the Government to account every week of recess on the problems facing our schools, our hospitals, our police service and our public finances.



Our country faces uncertain and challenging times ahead.

It demands calm thinking and reasonable arguments.

It demands honesty and difficult debates that many of us might find uncomfortable.

Now more than ever we need to develop a plan to build a fairer Scotland and a fairer United Kingdom.

We need to fix our broken politics, build an economy that can work for working people and a society where the majority don’t feel like the system is rigged against them.

I don’t believe that the future demands the solutions on offer either from right wing parties or nationalist parties.

Meeting division in our country with more division won’t build the society we need.

Friends, the Labour Party is the only force for change that wants to work from the most northern point of Scotland to the southern tip of England.

That has at our core – in our DNA – the desire to bring people together with a common purpose for the benefit of working people.

And that can reach back into a rich seam of history and hold as our own,

the pioneers, the radicals and the visionaries who dreamt of a better society

…then went out and built it.

And that’s what we need to do again.

With faith in our values, our eyes fixed on the future and strength in our convictions, we can build a better society for all.

Thank you.