19 Apr 2012
“I wanted to be here today…
…one day after the Scotland Bill got unanimous support in the Scottish Parliament…
…with all four main parties backing devolution for Scotland, a real mile-stone in Scotland’s constitutional history…
…in order to say, in front of a Conservative audience…
…that this party has kept its promise to the Scottish people.
We promised to engage with the Calman Commission – we engaged.
We promised to put it in the Coalition Agreement – we did so.
We promised to legislate in Westminster – we legislated.
We promised the biggest transfer of fiscal powers in three hundred years…
…and today we can proudly look the Scottish people in the eye and say we’ve kept that promise.
Now, in the wake of this great change, let’s be clear why the Scotland Bill matters so much to us as Conservatives…
…what it says about our plans for Scotland…
…and how it fits into our whole approach of governing the UK.
First, why this Scotland Bill matters to us as Conservatives.
I know there’s been a vast range of opinion on the Scottish Parliament.
Some said it wouldn’t work.
Some said it would be a shadow Parliament.
My view is that it has worked – and worked well.
Holyrood has proved itself beyond doubt.
But for all the success we’ve seen, for all that the Scottish Parliament is now a fixture in the UK…
…as deeply rooted as Arthur’s Seat…
…there has been one big question hanging over it.
That is the question of power and accountability.
It goes right to the heart of something we should believe as Conservatives.
If someone has the ability to spend money then they should have significant responsibility for raising that money.
If they have the power to make decisions…
…they should be truly accountable for those decisions.
This link between power and responsibility has not been strong enough in the Scottish Parliament – and this Scotland Bill helps resolve that.
They’re getting major new tax-raising powers.
Stamp duty – moving North of the border.
Landfill tax – moving North of the border.
A new, groundbreaking power to set a Scottish rate of income tax.
New borrowing powers.
And let’s be clear what this all adds up to.
Before this Bill the Scottish Parliament was responsible for raising less than 15 per cent of the money it spent.
After the Bill – if they want to maintain the same level of resources – they’ll be responsible for raising more than double that…
… around a third of the money they spend.
This is why everyone here – every Conservative in Scotland and the UK – should be right behind this Bill.
Because it strengthens devolution.
It strengthens Scotland’s place in our United Kingdom.
And at its heart are sound Conservative principles.
Responsibility with taxpayers’ money. Real accountability.
Of course there are always arguments for going further and devolution is a process not an event.
But let me make this point.
Part of the strength of our United Kingdom is the concept of solidarity.
If one part of our economy suffers the whole United Kingdom pulls together and stands behind that part.
This solidarity is a key and precious part of our United Kingdom.
It was tested again by the banking crisis…
…and as we look across Europe we can see the importance of the solidarity we have in our United Kingdom.
So this Bill matters to us as Conservatives.
But for us, devolution isn’t something that stops at Parliaments and First Ministers.
It chimes with a more fundamental belief we have, about pushing power out as far as it can go – to communities, to families to individuals.
With this campaign, Ruth is saying something very simple and very important…
…’Yes, we’ve delivered devolution to Scotland…
…now it’s time to deliver devolution within Scotland.’
The manifesto she’s put together is about smashing through the old-school, centralising, power-hoarding establishment that has had its grip on Scottish life for too long.
It pushes for a massive shift of power…
…from the corridors of Holyrood to the town halls of Scotland – and beyond, to the people of Scotland…
…giving them more freedom and control over the taxes they raise, the houses they build, the developments they allow, the initiatives they take.
In other parts of the UK we’ve seen a great revolution in education in recent years.
We saw independent schools soaring ahead.
We said we want that for all our children.
So we asked what those independent schools had going for them.
Head-teachers who can hire their own staff. Shape their own curriculum. Set their own discipline. Captain their own ship.
Yes, they’ve got more money – that’s why we have the pupil premium so schools with the poorest pupils get the most money.
But the real golden thread of success isn’t just money, it’s freedom…
…and that’s what we’re bringing to our education system – in free schools, in Academies.
These are truly independent schools in our state system – and they are working miracles in some of the most deprived parts of our country.
Mossbourne Academy in Hackney has 36 per cent of pupils on free school meals –more than double the national average.
It’s the kind of school that people used to write off.
Not any more.
Today 82 per cent of pupils at Mossbourne get five good GCSEs – stratospherically above the national average.
And last year, in the first Mossbourne year group to apply for university, 11 pupils were offered places at Oxbridge.
This is extraordinary – but at the same time so simple.
Give head-teachers and their staff the freedom to teach and run their schools ….
….. give parents greater choice and transparency about schools….
….and you see fantastic results…
…children who stand up when their teacher walks in the room. Real discipline. Rigorous standards. Hard subjects. Sports where children can learn what it is to succeed and fail.
These things happen if you trust in schools, believe in choice and give parents more information.
That’s what Ruth and the Scottish Conservatives are determined to do in Scotland.
To look at different examples from around the world and to see what works best in the Scottish context. To release schools from local authority control. To allow communities to set up their own schools if they wish. To say to every head-teacher – ‘you know best how to run your school and the needs of your children, we trust you to get on with it.’
It’s the same approach across the manifesto.
No – we shouldn’t be plonking wind farms all over communities that don’t want them.
The people who live in a community know what’s best for their community and we should give them a greater say.
No – we shouldn’t insist that councils have a monopoly over providing services.
If there are community organisations who can do a better job, and the sums add up, Scottish Conservatives say ‘bring them in’.
No – we shouldn’t stop patients from choosing who provides their social care.
They know best what meets their needs – let them decide.
This manifesto is all about blasting away the old notion that only politicians should hold all the power and make all the decisions…
…and that’s always been the Conservative way.
So friends – all of our principles we’re putting into action.
Responsibility. Accountability. People power. Real localism.
But there is one Conservative principle – above any other – which defines this government.
Doing what’s right for the long-term…
…no matter the cost in the short-term, no matter the headlines, no matter what looks good for your party.
We came into office and met an eye-watering, unprecedented deficit.
So we’ve taken the big, tough decisions to deal with it.
Freezing public sector salaries. Reforming welfare. Sorting out our public sector pensions system.
None of these things is easy – not remotely.
They’re not in the text-book for running a popular government.
But they are right for the long-term.
And they’re right for Scotland.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a parent in Glasgow or Glastonbury…
…you care that we are credit worthy and our interest rates are low …
…and above all you care that we don’t pass on these hideous debts to our children.
Talking of hideous legacies, we came in to the most shocking, reprehensible mess in our defence budgets.
Projects over-running by years.
A black hole that was several billions of pounds wide.
An utter betrayal of our brave armed forces.
And this isn’t just a Westminster issue for Treasury officials to worry about – it’s an issue that really matters for people right across Scotland.
We have jobs on the Clyde, on the Forth, in the central belt that depend on defence business…
…defence contractors across the country…
…all of whom rely on us sorting the mess Labour left us out.
So that’s what we’ve been doing.
The Strategic Defence Review is about equipping our armed forces for the long-term, for the new threats we face.
It’s about looking ten, twenty years’ down the line and asking what will we need, how can we keep our capability without over-extending ourselves.
At the end of it all we’ll still expect to have the fourth largest military budget in the world.
We’ll still be capable of carrying out major, sustained deployments.
We’ll still have world-beating ship-builders and defence contractors here in Scotland.
The difference is we’ll have a budget where we can actually pay for the things we ask them to provide.
And that’s because this is a party and a government that looks at the horizon, not at the headlines.
It’s the same with welfare.
We came into office and met a woeful, hopeless, life-destroying system.
One that kept families chained in the trap of benefits for generations.
One that made it laughably easy to stay at home rather than get out and work.
This is the world that so many children have grown up in…
…one where hard work is an optional extra, where your entitlements mean more than your responsibilities.
So again – we’ve taken bold action.
Making work pay. Training people up to get them into jobs. For those who don’t want to bother – real sanctions.
And crucially: capping welfare so that no one can take home more in benefits than the average working family earns.
Now taking money away from people is always difficult.
Reforming the welfare system is a huge, complex monster of a task.
But it is also desperately important for the future of our country.
And like all of the tough decisions we’re making it’s vital for Scotland…
…because whether you live in Aberdeen or Aberystwyth you believe that work should pay…
…whether you’re in Dundee or Davenport you believe there should be no something for nothing…
…and in all these things we’re with you…
…acting for the long-term…
…governing for the length and breadth of our United Kingdom.
So those elections are just around the corner now and we’ve got to take this message – about our values, about the action we’re taking – out to the people of Scotland.
Now’s is not the time to put our feet up.
It’s time to roll our sleeves up.
To get out there and tell people how we’re putting our Conservative principles in action.
Our belief in enterprise – there in our cuts in corporation tax – soon to be 22 per cent, the lowest in the G7.
Our respect for the elderly – there in the biggest-ever cash rise in the state pension, an increase of £5.30 a week.
Value for money – there in Conservative-led councils all over the UK keeping the bills down…
…and right here in Dumfries and Galloway, the lowest Council tax in mainland Scotland.
Aspiration – there in the increase to the personal allowance, taking 2 million out of tax altogether.
Real fairness – there in the way we’re making work pay.
Real compassion – there in the way we’ve protected our aid budget for the poorest on our planet.
So let’s tell them, from Stranraer to Stonehaven…
…”You live within your means – the government does too.”
“You want a better future for your children – that is what the Conservatives are creating.”
“You understand what’s right for this country – and so do we.”
Tell them that this is a government that’s looking at the horizon, not at the headlines…
…that cares about working for the long-term good, not short-term popularity…
…that works in the national interest, not the party interest.
This is us. This is what we believe. It’s our job to get this message out over the next two weeks – so let’s get to it.”