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Ruth Davidson speech on giving the people of Scotland a fair crack of the whip

18 Feb 2013

Ruth Davidson MSP

This morning at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson MSP made a significant speech on meeting the aspirations of the people of Scotland.

Ruth said:

“When many Scots think of the Scottish Conservatives, they picture a party that is for the people who have ‘made it’ in life.

You know the caricature.

…That we don’t value public services.

…That we don’t care about the gap between the rich and poor.

…That we don’t understand the concerns of hard-working people in Scotland.

It’s not a caricature I recognise, and I know you don’t either.

But mistaken as it may be, the fact is that it’s how too many of our fellow Scots  have come to see our party.

And it’s one reason why many of them, while sharing the same values as us, continue to vote for other parties.

Well, it’s time to lay the myth to rest, because the truth is something different entirely.

Yes, we want to encourage personal success, and the better standard of living it brings.

And we want to see the fruits of that success spread across Scotland, to every family.

But to confuse the aspiration to succeed with a lack of concern for wider society is simply wrong.

Every day, thousands of Scottish Conservative supporters contribute to our communities.

They work in our public services, they raise funds for charities, serve on parent councils; donate their time to voluntary groups.

We don’t stand apart from our fellow Scots.  We stand with them.

We don’t live separate lives from them.  We live the same lives.

We have grown up in the same communities, played in the same streets and parks, gone to the same schools and share the same workplaces.

We have the same hopes and fears.

And we have the same aspirations for our families, communities and for our country.

The Scottish Conservative Party is not just for those who have already ‘made it’.

Of course we want to appeal to successful people, but let’s face it, when you’ve really ‘made it’, it matters much less to you which political party is in power.

Scottish Conservatives represent those Scots who perhaps haven’t made it yet, but who want to get on in life and who want to provide a better future for themselves, their families and their country.

I have heard them be called the ‘strivers’, but I just know them as my friends and neighbours; the people I meet every day in cities, towns and villages across Scotland.

My own story is not unlike many of theirs, or yours.

I was born in the late 70s, raised first in Selkirk and then in Fife in a loving and happy family.

My parents taught me by example the values of hard work, aspiration and responsibility.

Like thousands of ordinary Scots, I went to a solid, community school and at Buckhaven High there was no shortage of young people who appreciated what their parents had done for them, but who wanted to go on and do even better.

It didn’t take me long to learn the value of hard work and from the age of eleven I made sure I earned my pocket money, and supplemented it with jobs picking berries, delivering newspapers, washing dishes in commercial kitchens and waitressing in a tea room.

At university I worked in bars, did data entry, was an usher in a cinema and did an admin job in Wester Hailes.

But hard work often just isn’t enough, and one job that really brought that fact home to me was a summer spent working at an amusement arcade in Kirkcaldy.

Every day, when I was handing out change, wiping tables and changing the bulbs in the arcade machines, I’d see Big Issue sellers outside.

Often they would come in, having not made enough that day and gamble what they had, hoping to make more on the slot machines.

They had stood for hours, working as hard as anyone with a regular job but just couldn’t see any other way forward.

It was soul destroying to see, and showed that sometimes even hard work and aspiration are no defences against unforeseen circumstances.

And there are many Scots for whom external factors conspire against them; if not homelessness, then illness, injury or job loss.

I know what it feels like to have early ambition thwarted.

After university I became a journalist and did stints as a reporter in local newspapers and on local radio. When I landed my first television job with a new local TV station in Perth, I thought my broadcasting career was about to take off.

But within a month of being hired, the company went under and nameless, faceless administrators walked into our office and told everyone they had 45 minutes’ notice to quit their desks.

We wouldn’t get our wages that month and we were at the back of the queue of creditors so probably wouldn’t get them at all.

It was the month before Christmas, and I’d just signed a lease on a new flat three days previously.

I went to the job centre where I was completely frustrated by the system. So I went down Perth high street, going into every shop, pub or business, asking if they were taking on staff.

So I’ll always be grateful to Next for giving me a job as a shop assistant and as many shifts as I could take to make my rent.  and for keeping me on I until I could get back into radio a couple of months later.

Outside of journalism, I joined the Territorial Army in 2003 and served as a signaller.  The Army gave me the best leadership training in the world, teaching me integrity, determination and decisiveness.

So when critics say that politicians, especially Conservative politicians, need to get in touch with the real world, I like to think that I’m no stranger to it.

I’m not going to claim to have lived a life of hard knocks. I haven’t.

But I know very well what it’s like to work long hours for small amounts of money.

I know what it’s like to feel desperate as your hopes are dashed.

I know what it’s like to face an uncertain future.

But I have also known that I could keep going, thanks to the values my parents taught me — hard work, aspiration and responsibility.

…Values which are deeply ingrained in the Scottish national character.

They also happen to be solid Conservative values and that’s in large part what led me to Conservative politics.

At school, work and in the TA, I was fortunate to meet and work alongside people from all backgrounds and from every corner of Scotland.

The people I met, and those I continue to meet and work with, share a common outlook.

They know nothing in life comes easy, and to get on you have to work for it.

They want to know – that if they make the right choices, work hard, get to university or go to college, get an apprenticeship, manage to put a bit of money by each week and play by the rules,  – then they will reap the rewards they have earned by their efforts.

And they want to know that if they do the right thing for themselves and their families, then they should also have a government that will do right by them.

They know real success comes only from their own efforts, but they believe just as strongly that everyone should have a fair crack of the whip.

I believe that too.  …A fair crack of the whip for everyone.

For the first time in our generation the harsh economic realities of our age are challenging the belief of ordinary Scots that hard work will be properly rewarded.

They are divided over whether their lives are better or worse than they were ten years ago, and they are uncertain if they will be better off in future.

Jobs are less secure, long-term contracts are more scarce; fears of unemployment are compounded by concerns of underemployment.

Getting a foot on the property ladder is becoming harder.

The cost of living goes up but the size of their pay packet doesn’t.

We live not only in an age of austerity, but an age of anxiety.

As a party, we must understand these anxieties, confront their causes and offer practical policies to overcome them.

We must help restore the faith of ordinary Scottish families in the values we all share; of hard work, aspiration and responsibility.

The aspiration of home ownership has long been a cornerstone not just of Conservative thinking, but of our outlook as a society.

…Putting down firm roots, having a greater stake in your community, a solid inheritance to leave to your children.

I’m proud of our record on home ownership.

Policies which over the last thirty years have been truly revolutionary and which have had a greater and more positive impact in Scotland than in other parts of the United Kingdom.

Nearly half a million families in Scotland took the opportunity to buy their home from the council, build up their assets and gain more control over their lives.

Giving tenants the right to buy their home has transformed Scotland from a country where most people rented from the council to one where most now own their own homes.

In 1981, home ownership in Scotland stood at a little over one third of the population.  It now stands at over two thirds.

As someone who is still renting, I certainly believe in the aspiration to own your own home.

And I believe we need to see bold action to help younger people in particular take their first step onto the housing ladder.

More and more low-to-middle income families are moving into the private rented sector, when once they would have been moving into homes they own.

And new generations of adults are facing years, or even decades, of saving before they have enough money put aside up for a deposit.

Fifteen years ago, it took the average low-to-middle income family three years to save up for a deposit.

Research suggests that it would now take those same families 22 years.

Many fear they will never become a home owner.

I believe it’s unacceptable for so many of our fellow citizens to face the prospect of a life excluded from the property-owning society.

Yes, part of the problem is not enough house building.

But the underlying problem is the mortgage market has not recovered from the banking crash.

Six years on from the Northern Rock crisis, borrowers continue to face a mortgage crunch, and it remains incredibly tough for first-time buyers to get a home loan.

It is obviously right that banks are stopped from selling mortgages to people who can’t afford to make the monthly payments.

But it is wrong that mortgages are no longer available to people who can afford to make the monthly payments, but who suddenly – as a knock-on effect of irresponsible bank lending in the past – are required to have at least a 20 or 30% deposit instead of a 5% deposit.

The national mortgage indemnity scheme launched last year by the Scottish Government is a start, and I welcome it.  But it’s limited to covering new-builds only.

It’s a step, but a relatively modest one.

So that’s why I believe it’s time for a really big step to be taken.

It’s clear the banks will not mend this problem if we don’t make them.

And that’s why I am calling on the UK Treasury to do more with the Bank of England to come up with a way to bring back affordable, 95% mortgages.

Such deals are still common in other countries like the US, Canada and Australia, so why can’t they return here?

I don’t want to encourage people to take on loans they can’t afford, but lending with small deposits has been an important part of our mortgage market for a long time.

In the past it has helped families on modest incomes achieve the dream of buying a home of their own.

It’s time for us to take real action to rekindle that dream.

…To support ordinary young Scots who want to own their own home, but who are not fortunate enough to have families that can afford to help them with their deposit.

We need to end the drought in mortgage finance.

Direct action by the Bank of England to help young first-time buyers access affordable mortgages would be a bold step.

It’s one that I believe must be taken.

…A fair crack of the whip for young people trying to get a foot on the property ladder.

Of course owning a home and raising a family goes hand-in-hand with reliable and efficient services – schools, health-care, transport to name but three.

Like you, and like everyone else in Scotland, I want the highest standard of public services.

Hospitals that provide the best quality of care and where all patients are treated with respect, schools that give our kids the best start in life, a welfare system we can rely upon when we are in need.

It’s right and proper that Scotland should have politicians who will stand up on behalf of our public services.

But it’s just as right and proper that Scotland has politicians who will stand up on behalf of the hardworking families who create the wealth to support those public services we all value.

Our prosperity as a society does not arise from government action, but from the efforts of private individuals; builders, nurses, car mechanics, shopkeepers, teachers.  …The taxpayers of Scotland.

And we must always remember that there is no such thing as ‘government money’, only the money government takes from us as taxpayers.

If you forget the government has no money of its own, if you think of government as simply being some kind of generous benefactor, then you will – as too many politicians do – always favour increased government spending, and a heavier burden on the taxpayer.

Yes, we want world-class public services – and the Scottish Conservatives will always argue for the very best.  But that doesn’t mean simply throwing money at every problem – we need fairness for Scotland’s hard-pressed taxpayers too.

That’s why we will argue for Holyrood to use the powers coming in 2016 to reduce the burden of income tax in Scotland.

The SNP argue this tax relief would take hundreds of millions of pounds out of the government’s budget, as if the money would simply disappear.

But of course it wouldn’t.

It would stay in the pockets and purses of hard working, overburdened and underappreciated Scottish taxpayers, and give a boost worth hundreds of millions of pounds to Scottish shops and companies as families decide how best to spend the money they have earned.

…Cutting the cost and size of government to lower the tax bills of Scotland’s families; giving them more take-home pay and the greater financial security they need and for which they have worked.

…Practical help for families struggling to balance their household budget.

…A fair crack of the whip for the Scottish taxpayer.

Scots have always rightly prized a good education, believing it to be the route to self-betterment and self-advancement.

Our universities are recognised as being amongst the best in the world and a well-educated economy is a successful one.

The pressure to get to university felt by many young Scots is enormous, but surely we need to take a step back and ask ourselves a fundamental question.

Are we concentrating too much on what is on offer in universities, but not nearly enough on what we offer the majority — those who, for whatever reason, won’t be going?

Now I am absolutely not suggesting we should lower our ambitions, but rather we widen our horizons and take a broader view.

Everyone who wants the chance to go to university should get that chance, but for others there must be equally rewarding avenues open to them.

The global race demands we constantly seek to raise our skill levels as we compete with millions of highly-educated and motivated young people from emerging economies like China, India, Thailand, Brazil and Mexico.

But we need to meet the needs of our domestic economy too.

Feeling the intense pressure to go to university, many young people choose academic courses to which they may not be best suited; others do vocational courses for which few jobs exist.

Choosing the right educational and career path is a big decision for any young person, but there are big decisions for policy-makers too.

At last year’s Business in Parliament conference, Sir Tom Hunter gave a unique and thoughtful speech.

He warned of the need to align our education system more closely with our employment markets, saying:  ‘If we need welders, let’s train welders, and let vocational education flourish.’

He went on to suggest rewarding schools, universities and further educational colleges not on their success rate on exams but on the positive destinations of their pupils, and to propose that we incentivise the best teachers to teach in our toughest schools.

To some, Sir Tom’s views may seem radical.  To me they make good common sense – looking at both results and outcomes to measure real success. Either way it’s a debate we need to have.

So here is the first contribution from the Scottish Conservatives to that debate.

Parliament is currently scrutinising the Scottish Government’s proposals for post-16 education.

I believe we need a far-reaching re-think over the type of education offered to 14 and 15 year olds too.

In Scotland we should reform the current system of comprehensive education after second year.

At the end of second year, and with the help of their parents and teachers, pupils should have the opportunity to decide what educational path they want to follow; academic, technical, vocational or in the creative arts.

They should have the opportunity to focus on areas where their best talents lie, and which can lead them into the most suitable and rewarding careers.

Let me be absolutely clear.  I’m not arguing for education or training to stop at a younger age – to throw open the school gates at 14 and tell young people they are on their own.

I believe in lifelong learning, not placing restrictions on learning.

But I do want to see a revolution in our schools.

They need to respect and reflect the full spectrum of talents and abilities of their pupils, and have as their overriding purpose the improvement of the life-chances of Scotland’s young people.

Our colleges have a huge role to play in providing high-quality vocational education and training.

But if the young people of Scotland are to have the skills they need to compete and win jobs in the future, then our schools must also play a much greater role in driving forward that skills revolution.

And we need to look at other ways to drive forward innovation in our education sector.

For years, and in some cases decades, other countries have innovated in the delivery of specialist education beyond the ages of 14 and 15.

Look at the Japanese Colleges of Technology, which provide five years of consistent engineering education from 15 years old, with the prospect of continuing further study over a two-year advanced course.

Japan’s Colleges of Technology have been praised by the OECD as providing a socially-inclusive progression pathway for students from less well-off backgrounds.

Take the example of the French lycée professionels; vocational high schools serving pupils between the ages of 15 and 19 where students who propose to go directly into employment, rather than higher education, study for a Vocational Baccalauréat or for a Vocational Aptitude Certificate.

Or look at the experience of University Technical Colleges, which are non-selective colleges for pupils aged from 14 to 19.

Teaching practical subjects like engineering, product design and health sciences, as well as English, maths, science, humanities and foreign languages, they are pioneering a new and exciting approach to education.

And it’s one that works.

Last summer, every single 16 or 18 year old student at the JCB Academy in Staffordshire went into a job, apprenticeship, further education or university.

Every single one.

It’s the kind of approach we need to take in future, and it’s why I want to see the development of specialist, school-based technical and vocational education here in Scotland, to help Scotland’s young people into positive and sustained destinations.

So let’s get the debate going.

And when we do, we need to look at something else too.

As you will have gathered, I am a fan of vocational training.

It’s not just that there’s always demand for good, hard-working plumbers and joiners, but that skills in the science, technology, engineering and maths sectors are the skills we need to compete globally in the future.

But we need to look at why a stubborn segregation continues to exist across our publicly-funded apprenticeship training.

Yes, I know there are the old stereotypes to contend with; but can we really be satisfied when fewer than 3% of engineering modern apprenticeships in Scotland are filled by young women, with the number for the construction sector standing at just 1.5%?

We might not think this should matter much, but when you consider the effect of this segregation is to see young women going into six-month-long apprenticeships in hairdressing and hotel catering while young men enter four-year apprenticeships in engineering and construction, it’s clear there is a problem.

This is not a party political point, and it’s not an issue for party political point-scoring.

But it is an issue we need to tackle if young Scottish women are to get the fair deal they deserve and their career aspirations fulfilled to the fullest extent.

Like the rest of the UK and indeed much of the rest of the world, we are contending with profound shifts in our economy which impact on every area of our lives.

Some of these shifts are relatively recent and caused by the global economic downturn, but others are longer term trends with which we are still wrestling.

The days where in households across Scotland a husband went out to work while his wife was just expected to keep the house are thankfully long gone, but in many ways we are still struggling to deal with the impact of that long-term shift in society.

At work, Scotland’s women are every bit as career-minded as men, but you won’t have to go far to find a working family woman who feels she shoulders far more responsibility than her male colleagues, or indeed her partner, when it comes to juggling her work life and home life.

Even so, in Scotland we are not short of high-flying women who have scaled the heights of their chosen professions.

Hundreds of thousands of working women are carving careers for themselves in business and in our public services, making a vital contribution to our economy and communities.

But for too many, balancing family and workplace commitments is a high-wire act, with not much of a safety net.  For single-parents, the pressure is often even greater.

And for some parents who desperately want to work it is simply unaffordable.  That can’t be right.

40 hours of care for the average Scottish two-year-old costs £161 a week, so a working mum has to clear £7, 245 a year to cover that cost alone. When basic average household bills for a single mother and child are included, a salary of about £18,000 is needed just to make ends meet, even with tax credits and benefits. That leaves little left over for Christmas or a summer holiday.

But there have been welcome advances in childcare provision over the last two decades.

There is no doubt that increased provision has made it easier for many working mums to enter or re-enter the workforce while still managing to find time for their families.

But it’s still tough.

Nursery places are often difficult to find, or when places are available they’re not flexible enough.

Only a fifth of Scottish councils have enough day-care places to meet local demand  -  Just one in ten has enough places for parents who work outside normal office hours.

And we know that Scottish parents are facing some of the highest childcare costs in Britain. It’s like a second mortgage.

Some councils charge twice as much as others for day-care,

And at an average of £49 for 15 hours, after-school care, even where places are available, is simply beyond the reach of many working families.

If Scotland’s working families are to get a fair crack of the whip, then we must redouble our efforts to increase the availability and reduce the costs of childcare.

High quality and affordable childcare must be accessible to all, and not just to the fortunate few who live in areas where it is available and where costs are not prohibitive.

Following the British government’s initiative, the Scottish Government has made a commitment to increase the amount of free nursery education from 475 hours a year to over 600 hours.

I do welcome the pledge to extend nursery places, but we also need to look at where such an extension will do the most good.

And that’s why I first want to see a commitment to extending free nursery places to all 2 year olds, starting with the most disadvantaged families.

Those whose circumstances are the most difficult must be able to count on being first in line for our attention.

We need to look at how to make childcare more flexible, to help meet the circumstances and needs of individual families and find ways to extend nursery provision in Scotland.

We should be looking to a country like Sweden, which operates a successful childcare voucher system, giving families the choice between public preschools and nurseries and approved private and voluntary sector childcare providers.

As family and working lives become more and more complicated, so the choices available to help meet those complex circumstances must be increased.

I believe that Scotland succeeds when everyone gets a fair crack of the whip.

I believe in a Scotland that values and rewards hard work, aspiration and responsibility, and where everyone plays by the same set of rules.

Yes, we are living in uncertain times.

But I believe in Scotland’s ability to rise to the challenges we face, to compete and to overcome the obstacles in our path.

There is every reason to believe in the working men and women of Scotland.

When we all play by the same set of rules, Scotland has what it takes to succeed: the creativity, the integrity, the resourcefulness and the hard work, to compete with anyone and anywhere.

Finally, a small piece of trivia.

This month sees the 250th anniversary of the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Seven Years War.

What’s not trivial about that fact is that under the treaty, France ceded its North American and Indian territories to the UK and Britain emerged as the first super-power of the modern era

With its sheltered deep-water western approaches, it turned Glasgow into a major trading centre, the second city of the world’s dominant economic force.  This library and the many great buildings in this city are evidence of that prosperity, aspiration and confidence.

That was then, and this is now.

Today we are in a different global race, and it is once again time for Scotland to turn our face to the world with that renewed confidence.

…Confidence in our people and their abilities.

…Confidence in our values of hard work, aspiration and responsibility.

… Confidence that, together, we can build a better, more secure, fairer and more prosperous future for everyone in Scotland.

…A Scotland where you can get on in life through your own efforts and determination, and not because of who you know, the school you went to or your family’s background.

I believe in a Scotland of aspiration.

…And a Scotland where everyone gets a fair crack of the whip.”