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Ruth Davidson, Conservative Party Conference Scottish Fringe Event

8 Oct 2012

Below is the text from the speech made today by Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson at the main Scottish fringe event in Birmingham.

It took place as part of the wider Conservative Party Conference.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson MSP said:

“A year ago in Manchester, I came to conference as a newly-elected MSP, taking part in what became one of the most keenly-followed leadership election campaigns of recent years.

Today, I come as the first leader of a reformed Scottish Conservative Party, one now fitter than ever for the challenges which lie ahead.

In that year, so much has changed.

Europe has changed, Britain has changed, Scotland has changed and the Scottish Conservatives have had to change too.

At times it has been challenging, and there are more obstacles still to overcome, but overcome them we will.

We must complete the transformation into a modern political force with the best interests of Scotland at its heart, but one which benefits from the strength of being part of a national movement.

That’s why the programme of party reform I have embarked upon, reshaping the Scottish Conservatives – not from the top down, but from the bottom up – is so important.

Because for far too long we have been talking to ourselves, we need to talk about our Conservative Values to the country – and, more importantly to listen.

And it’s because we’ve listened we’ve made policies like more flexible childcare a priority, demanded fairer planning restrictions on windfarms and set up an independent rural commission to make sure we can fight for the whole country, not just the cities and suburbs.

Scotland needs a strong Conservative party.

So many Scottish communities are living with the effects of our opponents’ ideologically-driven vandalism which stretches back decades.

Take Glasgow – Never mind the Science Centre or the Armadillo, go to Germiston, Springburn or Barmulloch and tell me Labour has looked after those who have dutifully lent their support over the decades.

Yet Labour and the SNP still blame the Conservative Party for the problems they have created – and are continuing to create.

They must start facing up to their responsibilities and it is our job not only to make sure they do, but to show there is another way beyond their depressingly limited view that the government must provide the solution to everything.

Only the Scottish Conservatives genuinely believe that removing the restraint of government diktat is the best way to build strong communities and of lifting disempowered people out of the depression of dependency which has held back our country for so many years.

And don’t let anyone tell you that the SNP is anything other than a centralising, big-state old Labour machine with a tartan trim waving a government-funded saltire.

So little moves in Scotland without Government approval and anyone who dares challenge the status quo is deemed an enemy of the state. Maybe it’s because we stand up against the political establishment that some Scottish commentators have been indecently keen to write us off.

But the rotten system of patronage which denies so many people real choices in their lives has created a corrosive sense of entitlement which suits its political gangmasters.

It is staggering that public sector expenditure makes up a full 50% of Scotland’s GDP and only 12% of households are net contributors, where the taxes they pay outweigh the benefits they receive through public spending.

Only 12% are responsible for generating Scotland’s wealth. There are people with household incomes of £50,000 who are paying thousands – indeed- tens of thousands of pounds in taxation, and even that doesn’t cover the amount of money government spends in their name.

This isn’t about their contribution not being enough – their contribution is huge. It’s about the state spending too much and the SNP Government refusing to have an honest debate about where that money goes.

It’s not just staggering, it’s frightening. We need to expand our private sector, not just to build prosperity but to increase opportunity. We need to encourage our entrepreneurs, reward those hiring more staff, hang out a big sign saying ‘Scotland’s open for business’. Instead, what do we have? A Scottish Government who’ve hammered business with £100million pounds of Scotland-only taxes.

If the gangmaster state is the only provider people can see for their housing, education and employment, it’s no surprise those who seek to break the stranglehold find barriers in their way.

And now we hear, the liberating right-to-buy policy which, thanks to the Conservatives, gave thousands of families real independence for the first time, is to stop. And who will that blanket ban benefit? Not those who strive to get on the housing ladder, nor the young couple wanting to know as their children grow up, they have more security and can offer more help and opportunity because of the commitments they’ve made.

These are just some of the reasons a strong voice for the centre-right has never been so badly needed in Scotland as it is now.

It’s not just about votes, it’s about making sure the left-wing consensus is subjected to the most forensic scrutiny – otherwise Scotland could end up making North Korea look like a beacon of free enterprise.

And just before anyone thinks that’s an exaggeration, only today the SNP have asked me to apologise for the crime of using facts to support an argument. Facts supplied by the Scottish Parliament’s own information service, and based on the Scottish Government’s own figures. Welcome to Pyongyang.

We must stand up with confidence for what we believe.

Because no-one will believe in us if we don’t believe in ourselves.

The time for sack-cloth and ashes is over. On the constitution and the economy, Scotland faces two big decisions and we need to make our voice heard loud and clear.

I welcome Johann Lamont’s late arrival onto the ground we’re already occupying. While she was taking part in that disgraceful dutch auction before the 2011 election – as Labour and the SNP vied to see who could promise the most freebies that Scotland couldn’t afford – we were the party saying the council tax freeze couldn’t last forever, saying free prescriptions took money away from vital health services and that our universities would suffer unless graduates helped contribute to the cost of their degrees.

It is simply wrong to fritter away tax-payers’ hard-earned cash on throwing electoral bribes at people who didn’t ask for them.

Right-thinking people have long argued they were quite happy to pay for their aspirins if it meant vital cancer drugs could be made available for the chronically ill.

And look at Scotland’s universities. With every spending decision skewed in order to cover up long term funding failures, all but one of our leading institutions are now tumbling down the world league tables.

That means the international students upon whom Scottish universities now depend for so much of their funds are more likely to look elsewhere.

What about Scotland’s schools? After years of SNP and Labour mismanagement, one child in every five goes to high school unable to read or write properly. What chance have they got?

And with every family in Scotland currently paying £700 a year just to repay the interest on the debts run up by the last UK Labour government, I thought I’d see Ed Milliband growing up and coming to the same belated conclusion of his Scottish leader.

Last week I was expecting a Mea Culpa…. Instead we got ‘me and my family tree.’

Well let me tell him – Scotland doesn’t want patronised by a champagne socialist in a million pound mansion, growing up with a bourgeois salon for Marxist intellectuals in the front room, telling people that he’s just like them because – hey- he went to a comprehensive.

Well I can tell you, Primrose hill and Haverstock are a long way from Buckhaven High.

Scotland’s grafters, those people that put in a shift to build a future for their family, they see you as nothing like them, Ed.

They see the boy who made a mess and ran away and now whines from the sidelines as someone else clears up that mess.

And as for the SNP – they are in complete denial that the situation they’ve created is unsustainable. We have demanded the SNP tell us how much their great giveaway is going to cost but they refuse to say.

They refuse because they don’t trust the Scottish people with the information. They even use our money to take to the courts to keep people in Scotland in the dark.

Isn’t it strange that in a country where the government tells us everything can be free, the Scottish people can’t be free to make their own choices.

It is only by facing up to the choices the SNP are ducking, we can possibly afford to pay for the help and services for which those in genuine need are desperate.

Yet the SNP wants to spend more taxpayers’ money, to borrow more in the future and when nothing is left then the blame lies not with them, but with Westminster.

The danger posed by the SNP government is one of the reasons for the overwhelming support we have received for Conservative Friends of the Union.

50,000 people from across Scotland have written to me, asking to be involved, desperate to help us win the biggest battle in Scottish political history for generations and trusting us to take the fight to Alex Salmond.

Let me tell you what I’ve learned about him in the last year.

There is no bigger cheerleader for Alex Salmond than Alex Salmond himself – and no wonder given the booing he got in George Square and at the Ryder cup – he styles himself as one of the big big beasts of politics, apparently an unstoppable force.

But let’s look at his record. When he first took over the SNP 22 years ago, an Ipsos Mori poll showed that support for independence stood at 37%.

So, what has this goliath, leading his party for more than 18 of the last 22 years, achieved on the one issue he cares about most?

A poll out today shows that support for independence has slumped by a quarter, to 28%. Support for independence has disappeared quicker than snow off a dyke.

Whatever this snake-oil salesman is selling, Scotland’s not buying.

But I’m taking nothing for granted, certainly not the Scottish people.

We will stand with the people of Scotland – those from other parties and from none – and we will put forward the positive case for Scotland’s continuation in our United Kingdom.

That work has already begun.

I have been campaigning across Scotland with the message that we walk taller, shout louder and stand stronger as part of Team GB.

On street stalls and at town hall meetings, people up and down our country tell me that they are ready to stand together and to fight.

And because they know the Scottish Conservatives are key to winning this referendum – Labour can’t do it on their own – and because the vast majority Scottish people know we passionately believe, as they do, there’s no contradiction in being Scottish and British. They see us leading from the front.

And as important as fighting for the UK, is demonstrating we have a real vision for Scotland beyond 2014.

In recent weeks, Scottish Conservatives have stood up for our country’s communities by demanding reform of our penal system to make prison work, to ensure criminals serve the sentences the public expects and to end the vicious circle of offending and imprisonment.

We have stood up for hard-working families by showing how the Scotland Act can be used to cut income tax and so provide a £560m boost for the economy, and of course for people’s purses and pockets.

And we have stood up for Scottish business by arguing that Scotland needs better transport links long before a new island can be built in the Thames.

But that is only the start. There’s a whole range of mountains to climb if Scotland is ever to become the most successful, compassionate but competitive nation we know it can be.

A Scotland where those in need are cared for but where those who are able – take care of themselves.

A Scotland where our health service can meet the needs of longer life and better treatments.

A Scotland where our children receive the best education possible, regardless of where they live or how much their parents earn.

A Scotland where those who need the support of government can count on it – but where they don’t have to wait for the government to tell them what to do.

A Scotland where those who can pay their own way do not look to an already overstretched state for more.

A Scotland where your work rewards yourself and your family, and not the tax collector and the government…

A Scotland which reaps the benefit of being part of the most successful social and economic union of nations the world has ever seen.

That’s a future worth fighting for and I’m up for the fight. I know you are too.”