Last weekend saw the first Scottish Labour conference with our new leader Kezia Dugdale in charge. She set out our party’s priorities for making Scotland the fairest nation in the world with policies that will close the gap between the richest and the rest in our schools and make work pay by using the new powers coming to Scotland.

I know that my party faces big challenges but we are excited for the future. We are asking people to take a fresh look at Scottish Labour because we are changing. Under Kezia Dugdale’s leadership we are putting social justice and opportunity at the heart of our agenda.

That’s why education will be front and centre of our campaign in the run up to the Holyrood elections next year. Education is the best tool any government can use to tackle poverty and provide opportunity. The SNP has said that we should judge them on their record.

Well we should, and their record on education is not one of which the SNP should be proud. It is a disgrace that 6,000 children have left Scotland’s primary schools this year unable to read or write. That’s a scandalous waste of our children’s future. If I am re-elected next year I will fight for the introduction of a Fair Start Fund that follows every child from a poorer family to school. This would ensure that every school in West Dunbartonshire has the resources it needs, so that the ability of children to get on in life is determined by their potential and not by how much their parents earn.

The SNP is obsessed with demanding new powers but they are too scared to use them. For eight years now the SNP has been arguing over the constitution instead of taking the radical action needed to change Scotland for the better. They only seem interested in telling us about what they can’t do. I want to use the new powers coming to the Scottish Parliament to actually make a difference to people’s lives.

You only need to look at the issue of tax credits to see the difference between the SNP and the Labour approach to fighting austerity. I am proud that it was a Labour government that introduced tax credits to boost people’s earnings and lift hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty. These tax credits are now under threat from a Tory government that wants to balance the books on the backs of ordinary people. If David Cameron gets his way, the average local family will lose £100 a month from these cuts.

But with the new powers coming to Holyrood we can choose to do things differently in Scotland. At SNP conference John Swinney was asked if he would make a different choice on tax credits from the Tories. He said he couldn’t afford it. At our conference, Kezia Dugdale pledged that Scottish Labour will restore every single penny lost by local families from these Tory cuts. And we won’t need to raise taxes on ordinary Scots to do this. The choice is clear now. Voting Scottish Labour is a vote for a party that offers a break from Tory austerity, not an SNP government that offers only excuses.