Leader Lamont tells Labour faithful to stop saying sorry

Johann Lamont at the Scottish Labour conference Johann Lamont calls SNP leader Alex Salmond a "conman"

Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont has told her party to stop saying sorry for past mistakes and start fighting.

She told her party's conference Labour "got the kind of beating we deserved" at last May's Holyrood election.

Ms Lamont also launched a sustained attack on First Minister Alex Salmond, branding him a "conman" and "deluded".

She also offered to play a key role in a cross-party campaign to keep the union, ahead of the independence referendum, expected in autumn 2014.

Making her first speech as leader, Ms Lamont painted her party as one of social justice, attacking the Scottish National Party as one which backed low tax and low spending.

Ms Lamont told party supporters in Dundee: "It is time for us to stop apologizing for the mistakes of the past and to start fighting for Scotland.

"We know what happened last May - we looked tired and complacent and we got the kind of beating we deserved.

"But now, we need to start building the kind of Scottish Labour Party which Scotland deserves and which Scotland needs."

Start Quote

Let me tell Alex Salmond one thing - putting Saltires round his fireplace is no proof that he is putting Scotland's interests first, and there is one thing we in this country are good at - spotting a conman when we see one”

End Quote Johann Lamont Scottish Labour leader

The Labour MSP said: "We lost an election. We did not lose our sense of right and wrong. We did not lose our values.

"And we will not lose the fight to make Scotland a fairer, more open, more just place to live in, because that is why we exist."

Ms Lamont devoted a significant part of her speech to attacking Mr Salmond and Scottish government policy.

In reference to the often-used SNP criticism of its opponents, the Labour leader said: "I will not talk Scotland down.

"But I will not be silent while, under Alex Salmond, children suffer in poverty and he does nothing about it.

"I will not be silent while he does Scotland down - while he uses the powers of devolution, not to protect from a Tory government, but to amplify every cut they make."

She said Scotland, under an SNP government, had seen jobless rates rise to nudge 250,000 and youth unemployment "out of control".

And she said ministers had allowed £790m of work on the new Forth road bridge to go to China, Poland and Spain, with only £20m of contracts for home-grown firms.

At the same time, Ms Lamont also said big Scottish firms, like power giant SSE and engineering firm Weir's, had raised concern that delay over the referendum was causing uncertainty.

Fireplace saltires

She said: "Let me tell Alex Salmond one thing - putting saltires round his fireplace is no proof that he is putting Scotland's interests first, and there is one thing we in this country are good at - spotting a conman when we see one."

There were relatively few gags in Johann Lamont's conference speech - serious times, serious speech. But there were a couple - and one in particular generated raucous laughter from at least half the hall.

Ms Lamont said that people occasionally questioned why the top names in the party tended to drift to Westminster, rather than Holyrood. She was speaking, she said, about "the big beasts - or men as I call them".

Maybe it loses something in translation to the printed page but, delivered with a wry smirk, it worked. Then again, Ms Lamont is about to call in aid two of the biggest beasts of all, Alistair Darling and Gordon Brown.

This is for a campaign - which she will lead - to make the Labour case for preserving the Union. The former Chancellor will play a "leading role" and the former PM and Chancellor will "play his part too".

A Labour campaign, note. Not at this stage a cross-party campaign. However, Ms Lamont envisages that the "skills of the Labour campaign" would be offered on loan to a multi-party effort "when they are needed."

Ms Lamont also accused the first minister, who recently delivered a series of speeches in England, of subjecting people to the "Alex Salmond roadshow".

"Going round the lecture halls and TV studios, he is dusting off his old favourites - an oil fund, a currency union and a mobile defence brigade - its like a greatest hits set.

"Many of us have long been tired of Alex Salmond's fantasy assertions and deluded deflection, but it is proving quite the novelty for his new English audience."

Turning to the forthcoming referendum and criticism of the lack of a "No" campaign, Ms Lamont said the SNP made the case for the union "almost every day".

She said: "They do it when they say that Scotland needs to keep sterling.

"They do it when they say our shipyards would need Royal Navy contracts to stay open."

The Labour leader said: "My question is this - even if the SNP acknowledge that Scotland needs the UK for a stable currency, a growing energy market and to keep our defence industries - why would we contemplate leaving it?"

Ms Lamont also said Scotland benefited economically from being in the union, like UK government action to save the Royal Bank of Scotland from collapse.

She told the conference: "When the Royal Bank of Scotland goes down, Scotland didn't have to negotiate with foreign governments.

"We didn't have to endure years negotiations, as the Greeks are going through. The help was automatic - given within hours.

"We didn't have to suffer the indignity which some of our neighbours had, seeking bailouts from foreign governments.

"What happened with the RBS bailout wasn't about Scotland's weakness - it was about the union's strength."

Ms Lamont said she wanted the campaign for the union to be a "collective leadership", which would feature figures including former chancellor Alistair Darling and ex-prime minister Gordon Brown.

She added: "We will also work with others who want to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom - people from all parties and none.

"The skills of the Labour campaign will be leant to an all-party campaign, when they are needed."

With discussion on more powers for Holyrood, short of independence, riding high on the agenda, Ms Lamont said she would lead a new devolution commission.

But she warned: "Devolution can't just mean powers going from London to Edinburgh.

"That means a radical look at not just what powers should the Scottish government have, but what powers does local government need, and which should be devolved further to local communities."

Ms Lamont said her reforms to Scottish Labour over the coming year would sweep away old ways which "stifled" talent in the party.

In appeal to voters across Scotland, Ms Lamont urged people: "Come with me, to celebrate Scottish values and make them real.

"In a Scotland which is a land of fairness, of equality, of solidarity - a Scotland of innovation, invention and opportunity.

"We will renew our party, to rebuild our land - and we will do it by being a better Labour, real Labour, Scottish Labour."

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