The Economy

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 2:55 pm on 4th June 2015.

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Photo of Chris Stephens Chris Stephens Scottish National Party, Glasgow South West 2:55 pm, 4th June 2015

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to participate in this debate and to make my maiden speech. I congratulate you on your re-election and praise the maiden speeches we have heard so far today from Huw Merriman and Lucy Frazer, despite our political and, as has been outlined, historical differences.

I hope that you will be patient with new Members, Mr Deputy Speaker, as we get used to our new surroundings. As a trade unionist, I am getting used to the rules not just of this House but of this great city. That fact was underlined to me when I was on the London underground and my hon. Friends told me that I had to stand to the right at all times. I retorted, “Never.” However, I have been assured by many experts that that is to do with health and safety and regulation, so I can assure the House that I will comply with that request—on the tube, not in this place.

I thank the voters of Glasgow South West for giving me the honour and privilege of representing them in this Parliament. I pay a genuine and gracious tribute to my immediate predecessor, Ian Davidson. Ian Davidson served this House for 23 years, latterly as Chair of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs. He was a strong champion for workers’ rights, including his work on blacklisting, and I pledge to take on that work during my time in this place. He was a robust debater and he was always civil and respectful to me although, as they say in Glasgow, there was always a fair bit of banter. Indeed, in his maiden speech, he said of his immediate predecessor, Jim Sillars:

“I think my predecessor made a contribution to Scottish politics which should not be underestimated or overlooked even by those who disagree with his content or style, or both.”—[Hansard, 19 October 1992; Vol. 212, c. 264.]

Let me gently but firmly associate myself with the words of my immediate predecessor, about my immediate predecessor. I wish Ian well in whatever he decides to do next.

Glasgow South West is an area rooted in the history of the struggles of the working class, with a long tradition of representatives who fought for the underdog and gave voice to the voiceless. The constituency stretches from Govan to Pollok, featuring Ibrox Stadium, the home of Rangers football club. As a proud Partick Thistle supporter—a pleasure I share with my hon. Friend Ms Black—I recognise what Rangers football club means to its supporters around the world as well as in Glasgow.

The constituency also includes Bellahouston Park, with the beautiful House for an Art Lover, designed by the world-famous Charles Rennie Mackintosh. It is a site where not one but two Popes have celebrated mass, which I was privileged to attend on both occasions. The Govan shipyards are iconic and serve as a reminder that heavy industry and manufacturing should have a place in our economy.

My constituency is rich in history, but I want to highlight just one more point. Over the next three years, all the nations of the UK will commemorate the sacrifices our forebears made in the first world war. It is my belief that all aspects of that period should be taught and remembered. In Govan, the great Mary Barbour led rent strikes fighting against unscrupulous landlords who increased rents on the home front during that time of sacrifice on the western front. That might have been a century ago, but we have come full circle as the exploitation of one of the most basic human needs, shelter and a place to raise a family, is once more a key issue in this Parliament. The Remember Mary Barbour Association does fantastic work.

There is not enough time for me to tell all the stories and outline all the hopes of the people in my constituency, but I was struck by the fact that they all want the message delivered loud and clear that they and their families deserve better. We have heard much about the importance of fostering aspiration and celebrating wealth creators. I believe that everyone has aspiration, and it concerns me when the welfare debate is reduced to judging who is deserving and undeserving, seeking the politics of grievance and envy, sowing the seeds of division within our communities.

Welfare sanctions are dragging people to the point of despair, food banks are the only growth industry in too many communities, and the daily grind of low-paid workers on insecure but highly flexible contracts is a world away from the privileged workplace I now find myself in.

I was elected to speak truth to power in this place and to stand up for the real wealth creators—the low-paid, long-hours, insecure workers who keep the economic wheels turning despite the poor treatment too many receive at the hands of their employers.

I come to this House after 25 years working in public services, and almost 20 serving as a Unison activist, representing working people on a daily basis. The trade union movement gave me a political education and the confidence to stand for election, and I know that this experience is shared with other Members who did not have a privileged start in life.

We live in a global world, and I believe that a different approach needs to be taken in the 21st century. We need to step away from the 19th century world of work and the devil-take-the-hindmost approach to social security. That is an economic illiteracy that is not only immoral but ends up costing more in the long run in damage to individuals, families and communities.

We in the SNP come to this House to argue that social justice must be at the heart of the economic debate—that we should put people before profits and bairns before bombs—and, as the STUC puts it, that a better way is possible.