STUC Congress 2024: First Minister's speech - 16 April 2024

First Minister Humza Yousaf's speech at the annual STUC Congress in Caird Hall, Dundee.

Thank you, Mike, for such a kind introduction.

Many of you will know Mike as a true stalwart of the trade union movement for over 40 years,

And a tireless campaigner on issues like ending apartheid and opposing nuclear weapons. He is in my estimation the very personification of all that is good and important about our trade union movement – that is standing in solidarity with the most marginalised, speaking up in defence of social justice and against injustice whether that is at home or abroad.


It is wonderful to be with you today here in Dundee. I was being reminded by my colleagues, the last time I was in the Caird Hall I was forced by the Pakistani Consul General on the Independence Day of Pakistan to come and do Bhangra on the stage. I can promise there will be no repeat of that this time.

I cannot believe that twelve months have already passed since I last addressed you in this very hall, and I will come on to some of the highlights, and some of the challenges, of the last year later.  

That was of course my very first keynote speech as First Minister.

It has certainly been an eventful year - but every moment has been a privilege.

And if I have learned one thing from my friends and colleagues in the trade union movement, it is the importance of perseverance and commitment to what you believe in – to your principles

If I ever needed some inspiration to do just that, then I need look no further than the incredible award winners that we have just been hearing about.

In the aftermath of 9/11, when there was a flood of Islamophobia, it was the trade union movement who stood in solidarity with Muslims in Scotland.

On a personal level, I cannot thank you enough for the support and kindness that you have shown myself and Nadia when our family were trapped in the horrific events unfolding in Gaza.

Our family is of course just one of millions who have been affected by the conflict in Gaza.

The Scottish Government and the STUC have stood shoulder-to-shoulder in recent months,

Offering a moral clarity and vital political pressure when many others have all-too-often equivocated.

And with continued uncertainty in the Middle East, I know that the message leaving your conference this week is as strong as ever.

At its core, I believe that violence begets violence.

We have been unequivocal in our condemnation of the Hamas attack of  7 October on innocent Israeli citizens, and we call for all hostages to be released unconditionally.

We have been consistent in our condemnation of any regional escalation be that Iran’s attack on Israel on Saturday evening, or the attack on the Iranian Consulate, reportedly carried out by Israel earlier this month.

We don’t need politicians talking up war. We need those who truly believe in peace to be empowered to deliver it. Whether you are Palestinian or Israeli, it is working men and women who pay the price of war – and that is unacceptable.

That is why we stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the Trade Union movement calling for, demanding, an immediate ceasefire to end the killing of innocent men, women and children. We call for an end to occupation,

And let me be clear, we must see an end to arm sales to Israel while the atrocities in Gaza continue.


The STUC and the trade union movement has a long and proud history of opposing discrimination and bigotry in Scotland. You have stood up against anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia and every form of hatred unequivocally.

I have personally benefitted from that steadfast support in my own life, for which I will forever be grateful. 

Politicians of all political stripes will often tell us that they have a zero-tolerance approach to hatred.

I have to say, that has been sorely tested in the last few weeks with some of the deliberate misinformation we have witnessed in relation to the Hate Crime Act.

As Justice Secretary, I was proud to lead the Hate Crime Bill through Parliament, providing long-overdue protections to people based on their age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity, and variations in sex characteristics, just as those protections against stirring up offences for race have existed  for almost 40 years.

That Act has now come into effect and - despite the expectations, and perhaps even wishes, of some - it is taking its place within Scotland’s criminal justice system in a proportionate way.

For example, the statistics show that the number of daily complaints fell by 90% within the first week the Act was in force.

Frankly, we’ve heard a lot of deliberate downright disinformation.

The people who have not been given so much airtime are the everyday victims of hate crime – of which we know there are still far too many in our society.

And we’ve heard virtually nothing about the people who experience hate whilst at work - frontline workers who, just for doing their job, sometimes suffer the most disgraceful discrimination, abuse and threats.

They may not have the powerful connections to get their stories told – but friends, all of us here are listening to them.

And for me, that is the big strength of Scotland’s trade union movement- solidarity with the most marginalised.

That should be the message that comes from not just from this Congress, but from our country.

Regardless of who you are, whatever your background, if you are marginalised, if you are a victim of hatred, and you feel alone, know that the trade union movement, and all good and decent people stand with you, and that you are not alone.


The lesson on the Hate Crime Act is clear – stand by your principles, stand by your values and when you know you are doing the right thing, keep calm and carry on.

In my first year in the job, there are many issues on which I have strongly valued the input and support of Scotland’s trade union movement.

Twelve months ago, I told you of my desire to see more progressive taxation in Scotland.

Like you, I have watched in horror as the UK Government have put money in the pockets of the wealthy through tax cuts, all at the expense of the NHS and other public services.

I make a very different calculation, one based on my values, and what I believe are the priorities of the Scottish people.

If the choice is between tax cuts for the rich and investment in public services, then I choose public services.

If the choice is between tax cuts for the wealthy or progressive taxation, then I choose progressive taxation.

If the choice is austerity or investment in the NHS, then I choose each and every time investment in our NHS.

And that is my promise to you and the people of Scotland. That I will always be driven by my values, those values demand those who earn the most, people on the highest salaries, pay more to ensure we have sustainable public services.

We may not have been able to go as far as everyone would have liked in our Budget, but Scotland has the most progressive income tax system in the UK.

And the new Advanced band – which came into effect earlier this month – builds on that progressive approach,

The revenue we raise is being put to good use in our Budget.

Not just for investing in public services.

But investing in the just transition to Net Zero, which leaves no worker behind.

And maintaining vital social policies such as free prescriptions and an improved childcare policy to support working families. Getting more women in particular back into employment.

And while UK Government actions are pushing children into poverty, Scottish Government policies – like our game-changing Scottish Child Payment - are estimated to keep 100,000 children out of relative poverty in the coming year.

I know that there is much more to do.

In my first year in office, I am proud to have delivered progressive taxation in Scotland – a direct ask of the STUC.

I am proud to have increased the Scottish Child Payment.

And I have been unequivocal in my support for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, and continue to demand an end to UK arms sales to Israel.

We need to start reversing the damage of 14 years of UK Government austerity, replicate the Scottish Child Payment across the UK,

Because I know that people in this country want to see politicians put aside differences where we can and work in the interests of households across Scotland, and the UK.

You can be absolutely clear what I stand for.

We will support increased investment in public services – not a continuation of current UK Government tax and spending plans.

We will support measures to strengthen workers’ rights – and oppose any attempt to water down commitments made.

We will support measures to tackle poverty, and want to see a child payment rolled out across the UK. And we will continue to lead opposition to the two-child cap and the abhorrent rape clause.

And let me say loudly and clearly that we will never abandon the WASPI women – we demand justice and compensation for them.

And we will always oppose the wasting of hundreds of billions of pounds on weapons of mass destruction – money which could be invested in our people and our public services.

Today, let me also set out a bit more of the Scottish Government’s priorities for the year ahead.

Last year I told you of my positive working relationship with trade unions in each of my roles in government.

I pledged to you that I would continue with the approach that I’ve always taken –

That is to engage meaningfully and productively with trade unions in the spirit of compromise and mutual progress.

I reiterate that commitment today.

We know that we won’t always agree on everything, and STUC will rightly push us to go further, but we will continue to work constructively.

It’s why I continue to stand alongside STUC in resolutely opposing the UK’s Government’s appalling Minimum Service Levels Act.

The Act is an attack on workers’ rights and completely ignores the devolution settlement.

And as the secondary legislation continues to emerge, the government I lead will continue to do everything it can to keep opposing this unwanted, unnecessary, and ineffective anti-trade union, anti-worker law.

It’s one of the reasons why it’s so vital that employment powers are devolved in their entirety to the Scottish Parliament 

So that trade union and employment rights can be strengthened.

Here in Scotland, we are already taking a different path to Westminster – but I know that with more powers, we could go even further.

In the coming weeks, I will deliver a speech setting out precisely what can be done with full control of employment law.

I know that there are differing views on the question of independence for Scotland.

But I also know there is a lot of interest in what we could with employment powers – and I know that you are keen to be part of that discussion.

Of course, I believe that with the full powers of independence we could do so much more.

As the Brexit-based UK economy falls ever further behind, a range of independent European countries of Scotland’s size continue to point the way towards a fairer, more equal future as an independent nation.

But I know we need to do more to support workers and their families in the here and now.

My ambition is of course for Scotland to be a leading Fair Work Nation by 2025,

Because tackling poverty, improving equality and cementing Fair Work in the very core of our economy is at the heart of the ambition for Scotland that we share.

In government, we’re taking actions that make a real difference.

From our Fair Work Action Plan and Anti-Racist Employment Strategy, which focus on the barriers women, disabled people and racial minorities continue to face in the labour market,

To making it a requirement for recipients of public sector grants to pay at least the real Living Wage and provide an effective voice for their workers,

And as a result of the action we’ve taken, we’ve also seen the number of accredited Real Living Wage employers increase from just 14 a decade ago, to over 3,500 in 2023,

And our support helps ensure nearly 90% of employees in Scotland today are receiving at least the real Living Wage. We want that number to go even higher.

Scotland’s gender pay gap is the lowest on record, and we have led the way in annual increases in wages.  

That includes fair and sustainable pay deals, and the highest starting salaries for newly qualified teachers, nurses and police constables than their counterparts in the   UK.

We’ve achieved a lot over the last few years – but there is more to do.

And by the time I stand before you at next year’s Congress, I intend to be able to report on even more progress.

Another area where we will be focusing our efforts is in tackling the climate emergency.

There can be no underestimating the scale of this challenge.

But Scotland is ideally placed to be a leader in delivering a just transition away from fossil fuels and towards a zero-carbon economy.

We have an incredible workforce with unrivalled skills and experience.

And business leaders from many sectors in Scotland are looking at how their technology and innovation can be applied in the Race to Net Zero.

We are currently developing the first set of Just Transition Plans to ensure we achieve a fair and sustainable path to a net zero and climate resilient Scotland.

These Plans –

focussed on energy, land use and agriculture, the built environment and construction, transport and Grangemouth –

Delivering a Just Transition – taking workers with us - and the other priorities I’ve outlined today – are central to the three key missions of my government.

Delivering equality through tackling poverty and protecting people from harm.

Ensuring opportunity through a fair, green and growing economy.

And supporting community by prioritising our public services.

The trade union movement has been instrumental in so many key achievements in our nation’s history.

So,  my government is committed to working with you, Tackling discrimination and ensuring that workers’ rights are at the very heart of society.

I look forward to continuing our work together as we make Scotland the best place it can possibly be for working people,

And I echo that STUC message that workers do indeed win together.

Congress, thank you for all you do for Scotland.

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