KEIR Starmer has praised Anas Sarwar and set out his vision for the future of the union in his keynote address.
The Labour leader told delegates in Brighton that his Scottish counterpart was doing a “fantastic” job, and his party was “the party of the union”.
During the speech he was heckled by a number of people in the audience, who shouted “shame” and called for him to rethink his stance on adopting a £15 an hour minimum wage level.
The issue has overshadowed the conference since Monday, when shadow employment secretary Andy McDonald resigned claiming he had been asked to oppose the proposals put forward by trade unions.
He hit back at hecklers, which was met with applause before continuing his speech.
When he was interrupted again, he said: “You can chant all day,” before being applauded.
On the final day of the party conference, Mr Starmer explained that not only was maintaining the union a benefit for the economy, but it was the “progressive” approach which provided greater benefits than if Scotland goes it alone.
He said: “Under the fantastic leadership of Anas Sarwar, Labour is the party of the union. Because it’s not just that divorce would be a costly disruption, though that is true. And it’s not just that our union is in all our economic interests though that is also true.
“It’s that we are more progressive together.
“We are more secure together. We are a bigger presence in the world together.
“We are greater as Britain than we would be apart.”
He also hit out at Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP’s record in government, telling delegates that Scotland had “two bad governments”.
He explained: “When Nicola Sturgeon took office she said she wanted to be judged on her record. These days, with the poorest in society less well-educated and less healthy and the tragedy of so many drug-related deaths we hear rather less about the SNP’s record.
“The SNP and the Tories walk in lock step. They both exploit the constitutional divide for their own ends.
“Labour is the party that wants to bring our nations together.”
Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown was praised in the keynote address, with Mr Starmer explaining he will be leading a new commission on the union.
He said: “As Gordon Brown said recently: ‘When a Welsh or a Scottish woman gives blood…she doesn’t demand an assurance it must not go to an English patient’.
“I am delighted that Gordon will lead our commission to settle the future of the union.
“And I know Gordon believes that if you look past the Tories’ pathetic attempts to divide us in a culture war you can glimpse a tolerant, progressive nation of which we can be proud.”
The Labour leader laid in to Boris Johnson and his handling of the current fuel crisis sweeping the country, saying: “If you go outside and walk along the seafront, it won’t be long before you come to a petrol station that has got no fuel.
“Level up? You can’t even fill up.
“Doesn’t that just tell you everything about this Government? Ignoring the problem, blaming someone else, then coming up with a half-baked solution.
“Why do we suddenly have a shortage of HGV drivers? Why is there no plan in place?”
Setting out his vision for the country under a Labour government, Starmer said he could “see the ways in which we can remake this nation and that’s what we get to do when we win.”
He told the conference attendees: “Yet, in a way the more we expose the inadequacy of this government the more it presses the question back on us.
“If they are so bad, what does it say about us? Because after all in 2019 we lost to them, and we lost badly. I know that hurts each and every one of you.
“So, let’s get totally serious about this – we can win the next election.
“This government can’t keep the fuel flowing, it can’t keep the shelves stocked and you’ve seen what happens when Boris Johnson wants more money – he goes straight for the wallets of working people.
“Labour is the party that is on the side of working people.”
He said that after the next general election Labour members could “start to write the next chapter in our nation’s history, bending it towards the values that bring us, year after year to this conference hall to seek a better way.”
The Labour leader praised key workers in his address, including those who have worked on the front line during the pandemic in the NHS.
He referred to his upbringing, and his time as head of the Crown Prosecution Service in England, saying he was “working for justice” in the role.
He also said his approach to politics was “down to earth” and he sought to fix problems facing working people.
He explained: “Family life taught me about the dignity of work and the nobility of care.
“But, even with a name like Keir, I was never one of those people reared for politics. I became the first person in my family to go to university, the first to go into the law.
“Every day as a lawyer, if you are a young radical as I was, you think of yourself as working for justice.
“You see people getting a raw deal and you want to help.
“Justice, for me, wasn’t a complicated idea. Justice, to me, was a practical achievement. It was about seeing a wrong and putting it right.
“That is my approach in politics too. Down to earth. Working out what’s wrong. Fixing it.”