Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf’s speech to SNP conference

Below is Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf’s speech to SNP conference in Glasgow. Check against delivery.

Conference! What an incredible opening from our Lord Provost Eva  Bolander.

What a stark contrast – while the Tories continue to scapegoat EU nationals and use them as bargaining chips during their disastrous EU negotiations, while we in the SNP are unequivocal: To every EU National in Scotland, know this, Scotland values you and your families, we want you to stay – we will continue to fight for your rights, Scotland is your home!

Delegates, what a conference we are going to have. Especially in contrast to the disastrous conferences of the opposition parties. While we are in the midst of the worst, most chaotic negotiations, led by a weak PM, her big headline while addressing the nation is to dance on stage to ABBA. And I use dance very loosely, with those moves she isn’t winning Strictly any time soon, Robot Wars maybe, but not strictly come dancing.

And then there’s the Labour Party. Where to begin?! Even ferrets in a sack are distancing themselves from Scottish Labour.

Conference, it has been a huge honour to be appointed as your Justice Secretary. I enjoyed my time as Transport Minister, but I won’t lie Conference, as we approach winter I miss it less and less…it will be nice to have a winter where I can see snow without having palpitations!

In its own right it is a role that is humbling and one that comes with heavy responsibility. It also demonstrates how progressive our party is, we are the party that elected the first Ethnic Minority to the Scottish Parliament, the first to appoint a Govt Minister from an ethnic minority background and now the first party to have appointed Scotland’s first Cabinet Secretary from a minority background, we are truly a progressive movement for all Scots.

Delegates, our unique approach to tackling crime is being noticed, and replicated in many parts of the world.

We have come a long way since 2005, when the United Nations declared Scotland the most violent country in the developed world. The same year, a World Health Organization study of crime figures in 21 European countries, showed that Glasgow was the “murder capital” of Europe.

I know, as a young Asian male growing up in Glasgow in the 90s, there were some places I just would not venture. How times have changed and this is certainly no longer the case, with the incredible work Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit has and continues to do, we have seen a dramatic drop in violence right across Glasgow and across Scotland.

There is of course much work still to do conference, violence remains at too high levels.

In 2016, my predecessor Michael  ,   increased the maximum penalties for possession of a knife from four to five years, and the average length of custodial sentences imposed for knife crimes has almost doubled over the last decade. People who are convicted of a crime of violence in Scottish courts, are now more likely to receive a custodial sentence than they were 10 years ago.

Whilst these are important interventions to stop violent crime, we also know we have to take a radically different approach.

The Violence Reduction Unit was formed by Strathclyde Police with a specific focus on Glasgow and soon after became Scotland’s national centre of expertise. The Unit used analysis which showed that Glasgow’s most problematically violent areas were also its poorest, with the highest rates of addiction, domestic abuse, teenage pregnancy and suicide.

Violence was recast as a disease, where we have to diagnose the problem, analyse the causes, fight the root cause of the disease and ensure we find solutions that tackle the underlying reasons for it.

This was the foundation of our public health approach to reducing violence reduction in Scotland. We come from the understanding that violence is preventable, not inevitable.

Since 2008, we have provided the Violence Reduction Unit with an unprecedented £12 million.

They have tackled the root causes of violence rather than just treating the symptoms.

As a result – crimes of handling offensive weapons fell by 73 per cent in the City of  Glasgow since 2007. Violence in Scotland has fallen dramatically over the last decade. Homicides drastically fallen.

Conference, our approach to reducing violence in Glasgow is being advocated by the World Economic Forum, and is drawing interest from across the world; including Canada, Australia, America, Japan, South Africa, Sweden, Denmark, Lithuania and Estonia, many of whom are now looking to Scotland for answers.

Just last month, I was pleased to see the Major of London, Sadiq Khan announce that the city will have its very own Violence Reduction Unit. This would be based on our model and viewed as a public health approach. Conference, I hope you will join with me in wishing the Mayor of London well as he looks to Scotland for ideas when it comes to tackling violent crime in London.

Conference, as politicians we will all be defined and judged by our priorities. I’ve been in this role for just over 100 days and I want to give you a flavour of some of my, and the Government’s priorities .

Delegates, I know every single one of us will want to record our thanks to those brave men and women who keep us safe and away from harm day in and day out – from Police Scotland to Scottish Fire and Rescue service to Scotland’s Mountain Rescue – they are all heroes who deserve our thanks for the incredible job they do.

But you know what? They deserve to be treated properly too. That is why I am proud that we recently agreed a 6.5 per cent pay rise for our police officers. And we are hopefully close to a deal with our police staff too who also work tirelessly to keep us safe.

Shame on the UK Government for the indefensible treatment of Police Officers south of the border. The Home Secretary should be ashamed of offering them a derisory   per cent – after all they do to keep us safe, from the threat of terrorism to domestic crime, they deserve so much better than an uncaring, heartless UK Government not willing to reward their efforts .

If the Home Secretary is watching, take a leaf out of Scotland’s book, take your hands out of your pockets, don’t just pay lip service to hardworking police officers but actually do the right thing and give your officers the pay they deserve!

Conference, it has been immensely moving and humbling meeting victims of crime and their families, to hear about their experiences of the justice system. Many have told me that there are improvements that can be made to strengthen their rights. I want to demonstrate that this Government is always willing to listen to the people we represent.

Conference that is why I am announcing I will now establish and chair a new Victims Task Force , to provide leadership to guide and shape the development of this victim-centred approach.

Beginning its work this year, the Task Force will focus on delivery of the ‘victims package’ commitments in Programme for Government.

This will provide the necessary oversight and momentum to ensure progress and achieve better outcomes for all victims of crime.  We will ensure that our work to place victims at the centre includes specific actions to improve the experience of victims of rape and sexual assault.

The Task Force will consist of senior decision makers from each of the criminal justice agencies and a number of victim support organisations.  Discussions will be directly informed by the input of those who have experience as victims and witnesses of crime.

Let me make it absolutely clear, if you have been a victim of crime, our Justice system will strengthen your rights, put you at its core and I promise you that it will treat you compassion and care.

Conference, I hope one of the reasons the SNP continues to be trusted by the people of Scotland is because they see their Government is full of people just like them.

For me, tackling hate crime in Scotland is a personal mission as much as it is a Government priority. Scotland is a wonderfully multicultural and we should never be ashamed to celebrate our diversity. Immigrants have contributed so much to our country; economically, academically, through their culture and art and even through their cuisine – and thank God for it!

But let’s not kid ourselves either. Ask any woman who has had to walk past a group of young men when she is on her own whether she expects some misogynistic comment to be thrown her way or not. Ask the gay couple holding hands minding their own business whether they have experienced hate in Scotland. Ask the young man with Down Syndrome what he has had to put up with throughout his life.

I know this from my own experience, I have always been comfortable with being both Scottish and also having Pakistani heritage – call me a PunjabWeegie if you will. For me I’m as comfortable with a chapati or a poke of chips, I’ve never felt the need to choose one identity over the other. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been the victim of hate – including from elected Councillors. I face it on a weekly basis, in one way shape or another.

Unfortunately, there comes moments when we witness just how ingrained and systemic some of that hatred is.

Andy Kerr’s anti-Catholic comment from Labour Party Conference were appalling.

Anti-Catholicism is an extremely serious issue and it is important that Labour treats it as such.

The Catholic community is an integral and valued part of Scottish life.

Everyone who stands for a Scotland where bigotry and sectarianism have no place, and where we positively embrace diversity, must unite to condemn actions like that – regardless of party. Labour will be judged by their actions – which so far have been found to be wanting.

Whether it is anti-Catholicism, anti-Protestantism, anti-Semitism, Islamaphobia or any other hatred – it has no place in Scotland .

Hatred isn’t directed only to minorities –ask any woman that. To my fellow men in the audience, we have to stand up and be counted in the fight against misogyny, it is undoubtedly a fight for all of us. If we are simply passive then we are part of the problem – and I very much hope to be a part of the solution as Justice Secretary.

Misogyny is so ingrained, so normalised within our society, so structural within our institutions it needs some radical action to tackle it. Conference, I can therefore confirm that in our consultation on Hate Crime I will ask a specific question on whether to make hate motivated by misogynistic harassment an offence, just as hate based on religion and race is. We will send a signal that Scotland has zero tolerance for hatred directed to women.

Conference, in over 11 years in Government we have delivered so much for the people of Scotland. This is what we are capable of within the limitations of devolution. Imagine what we could do with the full powers of independence, not just at home but overseas. I want Scotland to be outward looking, to be a global influencer and leader in tackling some of the biggest global challenges we face, from Climate Change to eradicating disease and yes for the benefit of Luke Graham MP and any other Tories that think like him – to provide aid to those suffering the impacts of humanitarian disasters. Because that is who we are Conference.

Conference, today’s polls make great reading, support for independence up, support for the SNP up. Why, because despite the opposition’s best efforts, the people of Scotland know we deliver for them. They know we will stand up for them.  And we know independence is within our grasp, it is tantalisingly close.

And conference if we continue to deliver and work tirelessly for the people, then we will realise our dream of independence for Scotland.