Scotland politics

Kezia Dugdale accuses Nicola Sturgeon of 'arrogance'

Kezia Dugdale Image copyright Getty Images

The Scottish Labour leader has accused Nicola Sturgeon of being "utterly arrogant" by "declaring victory" in the Holyrood election before a vote has been cast.

Kezia Dugdale said the election was the "most interesting, exciting and important we have ever faced".

And she said new powers coming to Holyrood meant voters would "see who our leaders really are".

Ms Dugdale was addressing delegates at the party's conference in Glasgow.

She said Scottish Labour would be standing for the election on its "most radical manifesto ever", and pledged to end austerity by introducing a fiscal rule that would dictate there could be no tax cuts at the same time as public spending is being reduced.

And she said a Scottish Labour government would invest £500m into primary care health services over the next five years, and that everyone in Scotland would be guaranteed a GP appointment within 48 hours.

She also promised that everyone waiting for assistance in hospital would get an assessment and a care package within a week.

Ms Dugdale claimed Ms Sturgeon, the Scottish first minister and SNP leader, had positioned herself as the "great anti-austerity alternative" in England, only to see her come home to force through the Tories' cuts in Scotland".

She added: "Nicola Sturgeon keeps confidently announcing that Labour is only fighting for second place.

"Just think about what that means - she's already declared victory before any of us have cast a single vote. How utterly arrogant of her.

"We're here to tell the first minister that there are no foregone conclusions in a democracy."

Analysis by Brian Taylor, BBC Scotland political editor

Image caption Super Labour Man - also known as Argyll and Bute candidate Mick Rice - was an early hit with delegates

Ms Dugdale was setting out - plainly, bluntly and directly - the fundamental offer which will dominate these coming elections.

Labour, she said, would use tax powers to counter cuts. Labour would "use the real powers we have to deliver real change". By contrast, she accused the SNP of timidity.

We will learn Nicola Sturgeon's detailed thoughts on tax next week. But she will not sanction an increase in the standard rate of income tax, condemning that again today as "tax hikes on low-earning households." The SNP insist their package will involve the defence of vital services.

And there we have it. Other parties will play a very significant role. The Tories say Scotland should pay no more tax than elsewhere in the UK - and they offer to form a bulwark to that effect. The Lib Dems offer a penny for education. The Greens, UKIP, others will have their say.

But today Labour's Kezia Dugdale sought to set out a key dynamic in this election in direct contradistinction to Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP. Indeed, she personalised the contest on occasion in her speech.

Read more from Brian

Polls have suggested the SNP holds a commanding lead ahead of the election on 5 May, with Labour facing a strong challenge from the Conservatives for second place.

Ms Dugdale told the BBC's Daily Politics programme last month that she thought her party would finish second.

Speaking at the conference, she admitted that last year's general election, which saw Labour left with just one MP in Scotland as the SNP won 56 of the 59 seats, was the most painful in her party's history.

But she said Scottish Labour had renewed itself since then, with a new leadership team, new candidates, "thousands of new members" and a "new vision" which the party would be taking to the country.

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Media captionScottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale says there are "no foregone conclusions" in May's Holyrood election
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Media captionBBC Scotland political editor Brian Taylor puts your questions to Ms Dugdale ahead of the conference in Glasgow

She added: "This is the most interesting, exciting, important election we have ever faced. We are having new debates, unfamiliar to politicians in parties who have only answered the easy questions of how you spend money, and never the hard questions of how we raise it.

"People say this election is a foregone conclusion, that there is no interest in this campaign. They couldn't be more wrong.

"This is the election where we will see who our leaders really are. Who will stop the cuts? Who will care more for the vulnerable? Who will invest in the future of our economy? Who will be bold, and who will just settle for more of the same?"

Ms Dugdale said the debate over new powers for Holyrood was over, with the question now over how those powers should be used.

'Real plan'

She said Labour would use them to create a better NHS, more opportunities for young people, better housing, decent jobs and a "fair day's pay for a fair day's work".

The party has previously proposed a 1p rise in income tax rates in Scotland to help pay for local services.

And she told party activists that Labour would increase funding for the NHS each year of the next parliament in real terms.

She added: "Labour will use our powers to offer a real plan for the future of our NHS.

"Our Labour Party, that established the NHS in the 1940s, will be there to ensure that our health service is fit for the challenges of the 2040s.

"Because the NHS isn't just another policy agenda for Labour - it is part of who we are as a party, our pride in its creation inspires everything else we do."

Ms Dugdale also declared: "I am a socialist" as she set out her vision of a Scotland where "we can choose to be better as a society" and where "people aren't fated to be rich or poor".

Image caption Eireann McAuley was given a standing ovation by delegates after she told of her struggle to escape poverty

Earlier, a student teacher who said she was facing homelessness when her loan funding comes to an end urged Scots to vote Labour "because I need someone who is going to care for me, not neglect me".

Eireann McAuley, 18, was given a standing ovation by activists after she told of her struggle to escape poverty and create a better life for herself.

Ms McAuley, who is studying at Stirling University, told the audience that when her student loan funding comes to an end next month she may have to apply for temporary accommodation.

The teenager said: "I was predicted to fail my exams, I was predicted to make friends with my drug-dealer neighbour."

She sat her school exams while living in temporary accommodation in a homeless flat, she said, studying to get to university "though many thought this ambition was unrealistic".

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