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Ruth Davidson Speech, Scottish Conservative Party Conference

24 Mar 2012

Ruth Davidson has delivered her first address to conference as Leader of the Scottish Conservative Party.

Ruth Davidson said:

“Hasn’t it been fantastic this weekend to see the support we have had from the 4 corners of our United Kingdom.

To see proper debate back at conference

To see so many MPs, ministers, cabinet ministers joining us here in Troon.

And of course, a man who is a true supporter of our party here in Scotland, our cause here in Scotland, our Prime Minister, our Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron.

But more than all of that, it is fantastic to see a party, renewed, reinvigorated and up for the fight ahead.

A party that’s changing – with its eyes firmly fixed on the future and all that that can bring.

And our mission is about more than simply restoring the electoral fortunes of the Scottish Conservatives, although that is our goal – but more fundamentally it is to reclaim our place as the voice … and party of choice … for mainstream Scotland.

A RENEWED PARTY

When you elected me leader of our party, I promised root and branch reform….

I promised reform of the way in which we operate…

I promised reform in how we communicate…

…that reform is now well underway.

Of the 88 recommendations put forward by the Sanderson Commission – and adopted by our party – 73 have been completed or are in the process of completion.

We’ve a new structure at the top – new ways of speaking with you, the members, and our recruitment drive is seeing results – in the last four months our numbers have gone from fewer than nine thousand paid up members to more than 11 thousand…

I pledged a greater role for our membership in the determination of policy and I promised to bring back proper debate within our ranks.

From the robust sessions we have enjoyed over these last two days it it’s clear there’s no shortage of a opinion! And that’s the way it should be…

But that is not enough

To further drive forward our policy review, I am today announcing the membership of our new Policy Board. Joining me on the Board will be the MEP, Struan Stevenson, former Scottish Office Minister Jamie Lindsay, John Lamont MSP, and one of our best-known and most committed campaigners, Edinburgh-based businessman Iain McGill.

As a party, we are conducting the broadest review of our policies since devolution, engaging not only with our own members and supporters ….but with the voluntary sector…. with groups representing the business community and rural interests ….with the trade unions, teachers and health professionals…. and with communities the length and breadth of Scotland.

This is no small body of work and it will feed into the board.

We will be there to listen …

To listen to you at conference

To listen to our policy reviews

To listen to expert opinion across Scottish public life

To learn from across the world what can work better here in Scotland.

and together we will build a set of policies that meet the challenges of our age and which reflect the aspirations of modern Scotland.

And there are several further reforms in which our members will play a central role, and that I want to share with you today.

As we map out a fresh, positive direction for the Scottish Conservatives, we must match that with a fresh, positive image for our party.

So this will be the last Scottish Conservative conference where we will use our existing branding – so no more tree – we will consult with you ….and with Conservative members throughout Scotland…. on proposals for a dynamic new logo and image.

Secondly, to ensure we are in the best possible shape to fight the full range of elections we now face ….council, European, Scottish and Westminster parliamentary… we will be consulting on the future structure of our grass roots organisation.

We must be a campaigning force – to better deliver our message and that need must be at the core of all we do and how we shape ourselves.

And thirdly, we must review our candidate selection, and our ranking process for Holyrood.

We must make sure that all the talented people in our ranks can play their full part as we take our party forward.

To help me in these three areas I can think of no-one who loves our party more, who more appreciates the strength we have and sees the opportunities of what we can be than our party’s deputy leader Jackson Carlaw. And I have asked him to take the lead on these issues.

Jackson – we are right behind you!

And on the issues that matter to Scotland, there will be debate – there must be debate. Robust debate. Because politics is not about a cosy consensus on every issue. It is about the clash of ideas.

So we will have our debate, we will take a lead.

Most importantly of all, I promised that we would reach out to reconnect with the thousands of people who share our values, but who have stopped voting for us, or who perhaps never have.

We won’t get their support from hiding our light under a bushel. From saying nothing to offend. For apologising for being Conservatives. No more shy Tories because there ARE dividing lines in politics and we must NEVER be afraid to speak out.

Friends, there are moments in history when it falls to a group of people to take a stand. To say what they believe in with conviction, with passion, with right on their side.

To know that however loud their detractors will try to shout them down, they will not be diverted from the course. Knowing that they speak for the silent majority of their fellow country men and women, and that they shall prevail.

Conference, this is our time, this is our moment, this is our duty, this is our calling. Let me repeat what I told this hall last night. The next thousand days will shape the very future of our country forever. This is a battle that we must win and that we will win. We will settle the separation question.

But conference, that separation question is the elephant in the room that is dominating Scottish politics, often to the exclusion of everything else. We have an SNP so obsessed with separation, it is abdicating its responsibilities to the job it was elected to do as the devolved government of Scotland.

On the day when youth unemployment figures crashed through the 100 thousand barrier, the highest Scotland has ever seen, where was the First minister? Not at his desk doing the job he has got, but down south at the London School of Economics agitating for the job he wants – President of a separate Scottish State.

That was bad enough. But it gets worse.

All around Scotland, he is letting people down.

Yesterday in this hall, we heard from Emily Lamb, a great example of the bright, young entrepreneurial talent every country needs. She told us she was frustrated and let down by our devolved government. As she put it “the way the SNP are running things up here is simply not working for those small and medium sized enterprises that the United Kingdom is so keen to nurture.”

She’s been let down, she’s not alone – Alex, get back to your desk, get on with the job you were elected to do.

But its not just Scottish business that is being ignored, abandoned and neglected. It’s the people of Scotland and the public services they rely on.

This week, I spoke to a young man who emailed me about the desperate need for a cancer drugs fund in Scotland.

Let us listen to his words.

“I lost my mum back in October 2010 to cancer. Watching something so full of life die was so painful to watch. Her death has had a profound effect upon me and that is why I joined Cancer Research UK so I can make sure no-one ever again has to go through what my mum did and their families don’t have to watch what I have had to watch. I fully believe with the greater availability of cancer drugs my mum would be here today. Scotland has a poor record when it comes to cancer and we need radical change. I believe that this change can come from a cancer drugs fund.”

Those are the words of 17 year old, who is desperately hurting and working to make a difference.

He’s been let down.

We can’t allow others to put the future of their country on hold whilst they pursue their own agenda.

Alex, get back to your desk, get on with the job you were elected to do.

I wish these were isolated cases, but they are not – the SNP’s eye is off the ball. It’s as if they don’t want to use the powers they’ve got because it would prove they’ve got far more powers to use.

Take Justice

Yes, there’s been some progress – largely thanks to the thousand extra police WE delivered – but there is still so much more to do.

Look at the facts – Five years after coming to power and still no action from the SNP on ending the automatic early release scheme which under the nationalists has freed nearly 35,000 convicts from Scotland’s jails after serving just half their sentences.

That’s 35,000 criminals freed and able to commit more crimes …create more needless victims… when they should still be locked up for the public’s safety.

But surely the SNP have taken a more robust approach to community sentencing?

Let me tell you the facts

Nearly a third of the SNP’s flagship Community Payback Orders are imposed with no work requirement whatsoever.

And a third of Community Service Orders, and a half of Supervised Attendance Orders, are breached by those serving them.

So that’s the SNP’s approach to sentencing. If you’re convicted, you’ll only serve half your sentence inside.

If you’re given a non-custodial sentence, there’s every chance you’ll never have to do a day’s work to pay back society.

And if you breach the terms of your community service, don’t worry. The SNP have abolished short-term prison sentences.

Conference, the SNP stand charged with the criminal neglect of our justice system. GUILTY AS CHARGED

It’s time for sentences to mean what they say.

Five years must mean five years.

Ten years must mean ten years.

And, yes, we need a Whole Life Order because sometimes life should mean exactly that.

Life in prison with no chance of ever being released.

That’s what I mean about dividing lines in politics.

And let’s look at childcare. The SNP say they want provision to rise to 600 hours a year. Fine words, but let’s look at their actions.

We’ve heard it all before. Five years ago, they promised a fifty per cent rise in childcare and have spent those five years failing to deliver.

During that time, the number of pre-school places has dropped each and every year.

A quarter of registered creche’s have closed in the last two years alone.

In Scotland’s classrooms there are nearly four thousand fewer teachers than when the SNP came to power and one in five newly qualified teachers finds themselves without a job.

Alex – get back to your desk, get back to work. Do the job you were elected to do.

Because one thing is now abundantly clear – for the separatists there is only one game in town.

As we look forward to May’s elections – we know what that game is. We’ve seen it before.

Oh yes, they’ll pretend it’s all about local issues, for local people in these local elections. This from the Nationalist party that wants to centralise everything.

But as soon as the votes are counted they will claim – as they have before – that every ballot is a cast iron vote for separation. Because the Nationalists only have their eyes on one prize. They don’t want a better Scotland, just a separate Scotland.

So to our local council candidates, I say this – go forward confident that we will settle the separation question and that we are the true party of localism and REAL devolution.

Devolving power FROM Holyrood to people and communities across Scotland.

This is another fundamental dividing line between the Scottish conservatives and our opponents. They want to gather more power into the hands of the few – we want to deliver power into the hands of the many.

So whilst we seek to deliver devolution at a local level – it is us the Conservatives who are delivering further devolution now for the people of Scotland.

The Scotland Bill will soon bring the biggest transfer of fiscal powers to Scotland since the creation of the United Kingdom itself.

New powers over stamp duty, landfill tax and the rate of income tax in Scotland. We must focus our attention on using the powers we have, and the new powers that are coming to build a better Scotland.

While the new tax powers are still some time away, now is the time to think how they can and should be used. As Conservatives our view is clear – to cut the tax burden faced by individuals and businesses.

Leaving more money in the pockets of Scots, encouraging more businesses to expand and to create more, and better paid jobs in every corner of our country. Clearly the scope for cutting income tax will depend on the economic climate and the future state of public finances. But let there be no doubt – lowering the overall tax burden is our ambition.

A dividing line between Conservatives who trust people to spend more of their own money, to grow the economy. And the others who don’t.

So no, Alex, it’s not a penny for Scotland – it’s not a new tax on business – it’s pounds in people’s pockets….That’s the Conservative way.

We are building a party brimming with new talent and fresh ideas. We are ready, willing and able to tackle the big issues confronting Scotland. So whilst WE will never lose sight of the here and now, we know there is no more important issue than Scotland’s continued place within the United Kingdom.

Our position is clear. We are foursquare for the Union. Scotland is better off in Britain and you don’t defend Scotland’s place in the United Kingdom by compromising with the forces of separatism.

So no rigged ballots and no second questions. A clear choice for the Scottish people. Scotland – in or out of the Union?

A United Kingdom, or a separate Scotland? And it’s a choice that the Scottish people must be given as quickly as possible.

Delay creates uncertainty

Delay damages business.

More and more people are asking the question – why the thousand day delay Alex?

What’s going on?

I’ll tell you what I think.

Ego before Party. Party before country.

There’s a growing army – even in the ranks of the SNP – who don’t understand either. Why would a Party whose stated aim, whose only agenda is to break up Britain, be working so hard to avoid putting a single straight question to the country?

But that’s not the Conservative way – a legal, fair, decisive referendum for Scotland. We must settle the separation question.

The Treaty of Union bound our nations together and set them on a shared path which has endured for more than three centuries.

The United Kingdom is a shining example to the world of a state that gathers together an array of nationalities and peoples.

Ours is an optimistic message….

We support the Union because Scotland’s strengths bolster those of the other nations within it.

It is about progress through co-operation rather than division. It is about the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

We celebrate the fact that our Union, and indeed our British identity, is not rigid or prescriptive, but open for all to share in.

The diversity of the United Kingdom, and the strength and cultural enrichment that we draw from it are what makes it unique and to be prized.

Far from broadening Scotland’s horizons, breaking up the Union would serve only to narrow them.

Embracing a British identity does not rob us of one ounce of our proud Scottishness; it simply adds a further dimension to it…

…Our Union is a partnership.

We are a family of nations and, like the members of any family, our outlooks are not always identical; we sometimes argue and we recognise the necessity of compromise if disagreements are to be overcome.

But we know we get more from sticking together than we would from splitting apart.

The ties that draw our nations together are many… and they have developed over time.

For some they are deeply cultural, for others they are a respect for the institutions of our state… our monarchy… our armed forces.

For others they are economic; access to international markets gained by membership of the UK – the doors this opens around the world.

But if we are rightly proud of the history of the Union, it is to the future we must raise our eyes.

Scotland in Britain is not an exercise in nostalgia. It is positive and forward-looking – together for good.

It’s about the way we interact with the rest of the world, about punching above our weight. Together for good.

It’s about the advantages that come from an integrated economy, the solidarity we have through the welfare state and the pooling of risks and rewards. Together for good.

To believe in the Union of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland is not an exercise in timidity.

It is a statement of confidence that as a nation Scotland can …and should… continue to play a role in the world beyond our size and the number of our people.

It is a belief that our progress as a society and our mutual interests are best served through continued partnership with our family of nations.

That will be our message over the coming months. Together for good – Scotland is better off in Britain.

To those who want to break apart our United Kingdom, I say; we respect your view, but you are wrong.

To supporters of other political parties who share our view, I say this… join us in defence of our Union.

As a Scot… and as a Conservative… I have a positive view of our future

Positive about Scotland.

Positive about the United Kingdom.

Positive that our destinies are best served together.

Together for good – A strong Scotland… in a strong Britain.

Pride in our past…

…faith in our future.

An unshakable conviction that our best days still lie ahead.

Friends,

I promise you that in our council chambers, at Holyrood, in Westminster, and at the European Parliament…

We will keep our eye on the ball of Scotland’s needs – fighting for a fairer deal, standing up and being counted on the issues that matter day to day.

But equally, this is my vow.

When it comes to the very future of the country I love, I will not falter.

As Conservatives, where we need to lead, we will lead. Where we need to join, we will join and where we need to fight, we will not be found wanting.

There are dividing lines in politics but there are absolutes which can unite us too.

And this cause, Scotland’s cause, is bigger than any one person or any one political party.

So I say to Johann Lamont and to Margaret Curran, to Willie Rennie and to Michael Moore, Scotland expects us to work together and we are. Scotland expects us to lead and we will. Scotland expects us to put aside our differences and pull together for the common cause – to give a voice to the silent majority, to build a chorus across our nation.

Today we stand on the brink of history. The world is watching. This is our cause and we will not be found wanting. We will add our sound to the millions of voices declaring as one.

A strong Scotland in a strong Britain. Together for Good.

Conference – let’s get to work.”