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Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and let me welcome you back to your position in the House as I take up mine. Thank you for this opportunity to make my maiden speech in this very important debate. Unlike my taking of the oath, I hope I will have to make this speech only once.
I follow Jeff Smith, and I share his passion for football. It is a sport that I played as a young girl growing up, and I am still partial to a game of five-a-side. Perhaps if we cannot come to an agreement on the motions this evening, we can fight it out on the football field.
I have the honour to represent the constituency of Livingston in the county of West Lothian. I am proud to be the first woman to represent the constituency at Westminster, and I am also proud to be the third of three women parliamentary representatives for our county, following in the footsteps of Angela Constance MSP and Fiona Hyslop MSP, both of whom have given me great support. I have the honour to speak for my party on fair work and employment, and I want to leave this House in no doubt as to the weight of the issues at the heart of this brief. As I address those issues, I have my own family history, as well as the people and communities of my constituency, very much at the front of my mind. It is their and my expectation that the Scotland Bill should address those issues, with adequate powers to create a culture of dignity in work, tackle income inequality and thereby enhance economic growth in Scotland.
However, I wish first to pay tribute to my predecessor, Graeme Morrice, who served as MP for Livingston from 2010 and, before that, from 1987, gave many years of conscientious service as a councillor. Personally, I am particularly appreciative of his gracious comments to me on election night.
As with many constituency designations, the name Livingston does not convey the breadth and diversity of the many communities that lie within it. It encompasses the large new town of Livingston as well as many smaller villages boasting fine names, such as Fauldhouse, Pumpherston, Broxburn, Bents and Roman Camps, to name but a few. Those smaller communities fiercely defend their individual identities, even though the mining— coal and shale—railway and manufacturing industries that defined them have disappeared or changed beyond all recognition.
The constituency combines old and new, continuing a history of innovation and invention in ways that strive to look forward without losing the past. The oil industry began in my constituency with the first extraction of oil from coal and shale, and the town of Livingston has gone on to play its part in the development of, for example, sonar scanning, bionic prosthetic limbs by the company Touch Bionics and soft contact lenses. Mitsubishi is one of the biggest employers in my constituency, and its work to encourage young people into engineering and STEM—science, technology, engineering and maths—careers is to be commended. I am also delighted to be able to inform the House that, as confirmed during a meeting in New York with the First Minister, the manufacturing company Jabil is set to invest £12.5 million in its Livingston plant, creating 212 new jobs and safeguarding 147 existing manufacturing roles.
I also want to highlight the West Lothian Credit Union, which has done incredible work to give those on low wages the opportunity to save and borrow in a safe and ethical way. I would like to see such credit unions given greater powers to inject more investment into small and medium-sized businesses, which are the lifeblood of our communities.
My constituency also boasts many community projects, such as The Vennie in Knightsridge, which I visited recently, and Firefly Arts, which is giving young people great opportunities to develop valuable life skills. Two of many local charities in my constituency have been set up by families who lost their children way too early to cancer. Jak Trueman and Michelle Henderson both died tragically young, but their memories live on in the tremendous work their families are doing to raise awareness and funds. There is such inspiring ingenuity and determination in my constituency, despite the setbacks of deindustrialisation.
My brother and I were brought up in Craigshill, one of Livingston’s original and smaller areas, by a single mother who worked full time in an era when childcare cover was an afterthought and single-parent families were often demonised. In the little spare time my mother had, she fought tooth and nail for our local area. I feel fortunate to have been educated locally, to have had a free university education and to have had a career that has included working in the media, politics, international relations and, most recently, the oil and gas industry.
My brother and I were also fortunate in having the support of our grandparents for a good number of years. Both were from mining families, forced from school by poverty at age 14, but none the less extensively self-educated and widely read. My grandfather began his working life as a “pit fitter”, before going on to be an aircraft fitter in the RAF during the battle of Britain. He started one of the early small businesses in the new town of Livingston, his own precision engineering company. My grandmother was a time-served gents’ tailoress who then worked for Rolls-Royce during the second world war. My great grandmother on my grandfather’s side marched with the suffragettes. Political activism started many years ago in my family. Mr Deputy Speaker, you cannot know people like that and not be committed to the dignity of labour. Those were people who knew their own worth, believed in strong trade unions and were prepared, at the risk of the direst poverty, to walk away from work that assaulted their dignity, and they did so on numerous occasions.
I hope to use every opportunity to remind this House that our mission for our citizens is not just to wrangle over how many hours makes an acceptable contract, or how many pence we should add to or take off employers’ national insurance contributions, as important as those considerations undoubtedly are; our mission, in exerting our collective legislative skills, is to say to our citizens that we understand, we care about and we intend to promote and deliver on their right to secure, productive employment that contributes to this nation’s economic progress and, crucially, supports the kind of life that every citizen has a right to expect.
In my experience, most of our citizens are not looking for executive directorships to top up already large earned or unearned incomes. Our citizens want a sense of self- worth from a valued contribution in work, the camaraderie of shared effort, enough time and disposable income to spend rewarding time with their families and to offer decent opportunities for their children. It says much for the direction in which the UK is headed that we are having to argue so relentlessly for that, as if it were a privilege. Neither is this need to argue just a reflection of global forces or immigration. Other countries, not least our northern Nordic neighbours, have long since made it the fabric of their societies. Those are the questions that Scotland asked itself at the referendum: what kind of country do we the citizens want? I am in no doubt that that is why we got the level of engagement we did. I am also in no doubt that, at the heart of people’s aspiration—a much overworked but not much defined word—these are largely modest but enormously dignified desires.
Mr Deputy Speaker, you may understand, then, my desire to do all I can to try and influence this House to take seriously and address the urgent need for this country to declare its commitment to a culture of fairness and dignity in work, and to implement all necessary measures in pursuit of it. Scotland and my party are clear in their commitment to work to achieve that. My constituents and the overwhelming majority of Scotland’s electorate voted for it. We require legislation with the requisite powers to deliver it, and we require it now. The Scottish Government are already the first UK Government to become an accredited living wage employer, and I urge the UK Government to make a start on reducing the scourges of increasing income inequality and in-work poverty by following where Scotland has led.
We are, as politicians, also human beings, none of us infallible and none of us indispensable. On the day I had to repeat my oath, I spent a few moments reflecting on my mistake and what great expectation and scrutiny there is on all of us as parliamentarians. I was sitting outside by the Emmeline Pankhurst memorial, and I was reminded of her struggle and of what she did for all of us. Thank you.