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Ruth Davidson – A SCOTLAND THAT SUCCEEDS

8 Jun 2013

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson will address the party conference in Stirling today.

Below is a copy of her speech.

Ruth Davidson speech – A SCOTLAND THAT SUCCEEDS

Thank you, Struan for that generous introduction.

For the last fourteen years you have been our ambassador in Europe and a voice of common sense in a parliament that too often lacks that virtue.

You’ve twice been named MEP of the year

And here’s where it all started

…an old election leaflet from a fresh-faced Struan, seeking to be re-elected to Kyle and Carrick District Council in 1984.

In it he says; “In the ten years I have represented the Carrick South ward, I have travelled more than 90,000 miles and dealt effectively with more than 5,000 complaints.”

Well, it’s nearly thirty years later, and I think it’s fair to say that he’s got a few more miles on the clock and sorted more than a few constituents.

But your dedication to serving those you represent has remained undimmed over those years.

It’s why you are held in such high regard across Scotland, and why you have the grateful thanks of everyone in this hall and the whole party.

***

Friends, the last few years across the country have been hard.

But it’s important to remember where we were just three years ago; at the end of thirteen years of Labour rule.

We had the biggest structural deficit of any major economy, even before financial crisis engulfed the world.

Our banks had built up the biggest debts.

Our economy had lost ground to the emerging powerhouses like China and India.

We had a choice as a country.

Do we deal with the deficit?

Do we get the public finances back in order?

Do we face up to the long-term issues?

Or do we follow the path urged by Labour and the SNP; more borrowing, more spending, more taxes and more debt?

…Exactly the approach that got us into trouble in the first place.

I know the choice I make.

If we want a country that succeeds, then it must be built on firm foundations, not on a yawning budget deficit and a mountain of debt.

That’s why I’m pleased we have a Conservative-led government in the UK resolved to take the difficult decisions that will lead us through to a better future.

And it’s why I’m pleased that we have a Prime Minister in David Cameron who is determined to stay the course and set Britain back on the path to stability and future success.

Hard decisions in the national interest are being made by the UK government.

In Scotland we will soon make our own big decision.

14 months from today, we will know the result of the referendum.

It will be a momentous decision; the biggest of our lifetime.

With the signing of the Edinburgh Agreement, the UK Government honoured a vote.

…that will ensure the voice of the Scottish people is heard, respected and acted upon.

We know what we must do – visit every home in every street in every town in Scotland.

Explaining why we walk taller, stand stronger and shout louder inside the UK, not separate from it.

But if the process of the referendum has been made clear over the last year, then the SNP’s case for independence has become ever more confused and contradictory.

Once, the SNP advocated an independent Scotland signing up for the Euro.

Now, with the Eurozone in crisis, they have ditched their long-standing commitment and claim instead that an independent Scotland would form a currency union and keep the pound.

But they have not thought to ask the Bank of England.

Blind assertion from the SNP with no basis in fact.

Why exactly would the rest of the UK – a country from which Scotland had just voted to break away – agree to share its currency?

Why would the Bank of England, serving the rest of the UK, be prepared to act as a lender of last resort to an independent Scotland?

And even if they were, exactly what kind of independence would it be when Scotland’s main economic decisions were dictated by the Treasury of a foreign power?

If Scotland wants to keep the pound, there’s only one way to be certain of that; delivering a resounding ‘no’ to separation at the referendum.

***

But it’s not just the SNP’s case for currency that is falling apart.

What would independence mean for Scotland’s pensioners?

In public, the nationalists say pensions in a separate Scotland would be more generous.

But in private, leaked Scottish Government documents show they doubt the affordability of the pension schemes that currently exist if we go it alone.

As part of the United Kingdom, the pension costs of an ageing population are shared across all the UK’s taxpayers.

And since the rise in the number of Scottish pensioners will be greater than the rest of the UK, the burden would be even heavier if it were to fall on Scottish taxpayers alone.

No wonder the SNP don’t say in public what we know they understand in private; that even to maintain the existing value of the state pension in an independent Scotland, taxes would need to go up or spending in other areas of social protection would need to go down.

Pensioners know they have a proven and sustainable system right across the UK now, and a vote for independence would be a leap in the dark for them all.

***

And what about the future jobs and prosperity we all want to see?

Scottish jobs and prosperity depend on thriving business.

Scotland trades more with the UK than with the rest of the world combined.

So what would be the shape of an independent Scotland’s business law?

What employment laws would be enacted?

What health and safety rules would exist?

What impact would two different systems of business regulation have on our ability to trade with the rest of the UK?

…Questions vital to our future economic success and upon which Scottish jobs depend.

But they are questions to which the advocates of independence have given no satisfactory answers.

Indeed even asking them results in bitter accusations from separatists that it’s doing Scotland down.

Do we really want to live in a country where legitimate scrutiny is dismissed as unpatriotic?

In this sea of uncertainty and unanswered questions there is still one inescapable truth.

Barriers to trade stifle business growth.

They cost us jobs and prosperity.

And independence for Scotland would mean greater barriers than currently exist.

…Bad for business, bad for jobs and bad for our future national prosperity.

It’s not more red tape and legislation that Scotland needs to succeed, it’s less.

And the biggest barrier to trade between Scotland and the other three nations of the United Kingdom would be a vote to leave the UK.

Our vote next year will be a positive vote for Scottish business, Scottish jobs and the economic benefits that come from membership of the United Kingdom.

We’ll be voting to stay in Britain because it’s the key to a fairer, more secure, and more successful Scotland.

***

And what of our armed forces?

The Royal Navy, the RAF, and the British Army make up the most professional fighting force in the World.

I spoke yesterday of seeing their work up close.

Of watching our soldiers in Kosovo patrol the streets, stopping the bullets and the bombs and the bloodshed.

Of keeping people safe, of securing a nation that had torn itself apart.

Of keeping the peace while a country which had experienced genocide and ethnic cleansing slowly built itself back up to a modern European nation.

Just as I saw then, I believe now, that the UK is a force for good in this world and we owe our servicemen and women a greater debt than we can ever repay.

Scottish soldiers, sailors and airmen have fought side by side – shoulder to shoulder – with their English, Welsh and Northern Irish brethren for generations.

Many have paid the ultimate price.

We owe it to them – we owe it to them to fight for what they believe in, to fight for what they chose to join – Her Majesty’s UK armed forces.

This afternoon, we will help launch a new cross party group to campaign for them – Forces Together.

And I know you will show your support for our fighting men and women and help Alistair Darling get Forces Together off to the start it deserves.

***

Conference, if you listen to the proponents of independence, you’ll hear a vision of a Scotland flowing with milk and honey.

…Where no hard choices would need to be made.

Where so called ‘free’ benefits for all would exist without question, or without even debate.

Where we simply ride the rapids of supposedly never-ending oil revenues.

Where they promise you double the sunshine and half the rain.

But it’s a ‘virtual Scotland’ that exists only in the sales pitch of the SNP.

…a vision of the future which demands we suspend our disbelief and close our eyes to the facts.

It’s the Del Boy model of government, where if you ask no questions you’ll be told no lies.

***

Now, I do not doubt an independent Scotland could survive in the world.

We are a proud nation of talented and industrious people.

We don’t like being told that we can’t do something, and rightly so.

But I don’t want a future in which Scotland simply survives.

I want a future in which Scotland succeeds, thrives, flourishes.

And that future success is best served by renewing our place in the United Kingdom.

***

We all know the economic case for Scotland staying in our family of nations, but there is something else too.

…Something deeper; something instinctive.

I don’t want to have to choose between two different parts of my identity.

I am Scottish first.  And I will always be Scottish first and I will always put Scotland first.

But that does not diminish in any way that I am British too and proud to be so.

And most Scots feel the same.

We can, and should, celebrate the things that make us distinctive as Scots…

…And Welsh, Northern Irish and English.

But we should also celebrate the things that draw us together as British, and which make us stronger together; better together.

When I cross the border from Scotland into England I may feel I have left home, but I don’t feel I’ve arrived in a foreign country.

And that should be no surprise.

Around one in six Scots live and work in England. 

My sister is one of them; an NHS doctor living, working and raising her family in Newcastle.

400,000 people here in Scotland were born elsewhere in the UK.

Our United Kingdom is a family of our four nations.                                                                               

And with such a remarkable degree of interaction, integration and interdependence between our peoples, the very last thing we need is to divide ourselves internally.

Scottish. 

British.

Proud to be both.

And we will fight today, tomorrow and every day between now and the referendum to defend Scotland’s place in that family.

***

We are the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party. We believe in Britain.

…But we put Scotland first.

And in doing so, we need to ask ourselves two questions…

What kind of Scotland do we want to build?

And what kind of party do we want to be?

Because the choice is clear…

We can talk to ourselves, as perhaps we have too often in the past.

Or we can have an open and constructive conversation with the people of Scotland, about how we can help tackle their fears and meet their aspirations.

We can hold to the old ways and follow a path of slow decline.

Or we can choose to do something about it.

Choose to turn it around…

Choose to build a modern Scottish Conservative party that speaks to the aspirations of mainstream Scotland. Which once again attracts the votes of people from every part of the country and every walk of life.

I’m proud of our party’s history, but we can’t live in the past.

Like you, I believe in our future; and in the future of Scotland.

I believe that we must be the agents of change that Scotland needs if our country is to be all it can.

If we are to meet the challenges of today, we can’t endlessly refight the battles that have gone before.

Scotland has moved on, and we have to move on too.

So a ‘no’ vote next year won’t be a vote for ‘no change’.

Scotland wants change; needs change; and we are committed to helping deliver it.

…A Scottish Parliament that is more accountable to the people of Scotland.

…A Scottish government which can’t hide from its responsibilities.

…A Scotland that stands on its own two feet but which doesn’t stand alone in the world.

Our Constitutional Commission, chaired by Tom Strathclyde and supported by Annabel Goldie and Alex Fergusson, will bring forward proposals to improve the current devolution settlement.

And I am pleased to confirm today that they will be joined on that group by representatives of Scotland’s business community and of the professions, by Chairman of CBI Scotland, Nosheena Mobarik and by former Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, Roy Martin QC.

With independent advice being offered by constitutional experts Alan Trench and Professor Adam Tomkins, our Commission brings together a team of people with a broad range of talents, expertise and experience.

Serious people for serious work.

Work which will not only help chart a new course for our party, but for our country.

We need to find a devolution settlement in Scotland which is stable and which meets the aspirations of the Scottish people.

If we secure a win next year – as we are working to do, we cannot find ourselves back here again with another referendum in 5 years time, and in 10, and in 15.

It’s time to resolve this not just for our generation, but for the generations to follow.

Over the months ahead, the decisions we take must lay the foundations of a stable and lasting union between our home nations.

***

We will advance a set of clear, Conservative proposals for a stronger, more accountable, more responsible Scottish Parliament serving a dynamic and self-confident Scotland.

Proposals which will have our future prosperity at their core.

And we’ll play a constructive part in discussions following the referendum.

But as Conservatives we will never forget that Scotland’s future success does not rest in the hands of politicians or political institutions.

It rests where it always has; in the hands of the people of Scotland.

…In your hands, and in the hands of your families, friends and neighbours.

We live in a world where, some would say, there are no longer any role models to look up to.

But that’s not true.

…Because I get to meet those role models every day.

They are found on factory floors across Scotland.

…In charities and voluntary organisations.

…They are the nurses in our hospitals and the teachers in our schools.

…The farmers supplying our supermarkets.

…The small businessmen and women who are the lifeblood of our economy.

…The taxpayers of Scotland who pay for government and for the services it supports.

…The millions of Scots who go to work every day to provide for themselves and their families.

…And those who, if they don’t have a job, go out and look for one.

They are role models to be looked up to.

…The decent, hard-working, community-spirited people of Scotland.

These are the people whose hard graft has built our past success, and through whose efforts our future will be achieved.

They are the people whose hopes and dreams we must strive to fulfil.

They are the Scots who were once the bedrock of our party’s support.

But somewhere along the road we lost touch with too many of them, and they lost trust in us.

We are working – day by day – to rebuild that bond of trust.

…To earn their support once again.

We are listening, we are learning. And as a party, we are changing.

We are building a platform of policies to meet the aspirations of the people of Scotland.

…Policies that will put Scotland first and take Scotland forward.

***

A Scotland that succeeds is a country where businesses can flourish and generate the jobs we need.

…Creating the wealth to pay for our public services and putting wage packets in the pockets and purses of Scotland’s people.

That’s why we oppose the SNP’s anti-business policies of increasing the tax paid on empty shops and levying extra costs on our retail sector.

Piling more taxes on business is no way to encourage investment by retailers in Scotland.

It’s no way to support new jobs in the private sector.

Because it’s not higher taxes we need in Scotland; it’s more taxpayers.

…More Scots with secure, well-paid jobs, paying their way and providing for themselves and their families.

And it’s not just Scotland’s businesses that need tax-relief.

Scotland’s hardworking families need it too.

When we Scottish Conservatives argue for lower income tax for ordinary Scots, the SNP condemn us and claim that it would cost the Scottish Government money it can’t afford.

Let’s be clear about this.

It wouldn’t ‘cost’ the Scottish Government a penny because it’s not their money…

…It’s the hard earned cash of Scotland’s taxpayers and it belongs to them and they will spend it here.

Here, where that spending will help secure and generate sustainable Scottish jobs

The tax powers of the Scottish Parliament – those it has now and those it will gain in the future – must be used only one way.

…To drive down the tax burden in Scotland.

***

So we will take action to help businesses compete, grow and create jobs.

…And take action to lower the burden of tax for Scottish families.

But a truly successful, enterprising economy doesn’t come from nothing. It comes from a well-educated, ambitious and aspirational people.

But our passion must be to lead a drive for excellence in our schools.

…And to have an intolerance of educational failure.

Because a Scotland that succeeds is one in which every child has an equal chance to get on in life, no matter their background.

Let’s take the example of Scotland’s universities and colleges.

Scotland’s universities have a global reputation for excellence in teaching and research, and our colleges best understand the changing needs of their local areas and play a vital role in matching skills to the needs of their local economies.

But our university and college sector is under attack by a power-hungry SNP government intent on extending the control of their Ministers.

They are writing a law proposing sweeping new powers for Ministers over the management of universities and colleges.

New powers which threaten their autonomy, academic freedom and reputations.

But it’s worse than that.

Senior figures in Scottish education warn the SNP’s plans will see a radical shift in college funding away from relatively deprived communities to the much better off, stripping college funding from the very areas which need it most.

The SNP seem determined to run down our college sector.

We will fight them.

And I can make this pledge to Scotland’s colleges; the Scottish Conservatives will continue to stand up for you, and for the vital work you do in training our young people.

But we need to understand something else.

…That for too many of Scotland’s young people, the dream of going to university or college remains just that; a dream.

That’s why we have to focus on where the highest price is paid for educational underachievement; with disadvantaged children in underperforming schools.

No child should be left isolated by low expectations, trapped by illiteracy, or forsaken to a life of frustration and insecurity.

Most schools across Scotland provide a good education for their pupils, and most teachers do their best.

Many are an inspiration to the children they teach.

They are due our thanks for their efforts.

But that must not blind us to the problems that exist, or deter us from taking the steps needed to overcome failure where it is found.

In my own city of Glasgow, just 8% of fifth year pupils achieve five good Highers passes.  That’s less than half the pass rate here in Stirling.

Across Scotland, only 13% of pupils reach this “gold standard”.

Research shows the reading skills of the highest-performing Scottish fifteen-year-olds from disadvantaged families are on average more than two years behind the most able pupils from better-off backgrounds. [1]

According to Education Scotland, nearly one-third of secondary schools in Scotland’s most deprived areas are either ‘weak’ or ‘unsatisfactory’.[2]

That’s compared to one tenth in our least deprived communities.

So we know there’s a problem.

The question is whether or not the Scottish government is prepared to take the action needed to deal with it.

The signs are not promising.

The SNP’s Education Secretary claims that:

“We don’t have failing schools in Scotland like others have failing schools.  We have schools that are ‘coasting’.”

Well, that sounds to me like a distinction without a difference.

It sounds like an unwillingness to face up to hard facts.

Because while first-class work is being done in many schools serving Scotland’s most deprived areas, others are not just ‘coasting’.

They’re failing.

They are failing their pupils, and failing the communities they serve.

And it’s a failure we cannot tolerate.

But for too many, it’s the system that fails them.

So the system must change.

We are clear more choice and a greater diversity in the way schools operate should be the cornerstone of fundamental educational reform.

The existing structure of comprehensive education in Scotland holds too many pupils back.

It fails to reflect their individual needs and strengths.

Sometimes the most able are held back.

Just as often, those who need the most help don’t get it.

So that’s why we believe that pupils should have an early 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 talents best lie, and which can lead them into the most suitable and rewarding careers.

But turning around underperforming schools and improving the life chances of their pupils should mean considering other, more radical, steps.

Choice is the greatest driver of the excellence to which we must aspire.

So we will give all parents a route to the better education their children need.

We will give them an ‘Opportunity Voucher’ with a value equivalent to the cost of their child’s education.

That voucher could be used to help transfer their child to a better-performing school.

Some will say this would undermine underperforming schools.

I think it says something else entirely.

It would send the clearest possible message to underperforming schools…

…Improve the education you provide, or parents will vote with their feet and choose something better for their children.

I reject a counsel of despair that some schools simply can’t improve but, if they don’t, why should the pupils served by them simply have to settle for that?

The quality of your child’s education should not be decided by your bank balance or where you live.

This will give the parents a choice over their children’s education that they have never had before.

Our ambition should not just be to avoid failure, but to actively pursue educational excellence for every Scottish child.

Scotland’s future success demands it, and the Scottish Conservatives will settle for nothing less.

***

More choice for our young people over their future career paths…

Standing up for our universities and colleges…

Action to close Scotland’s educational attainment gap…

Lifting the tax burden from Scotland’s families and businesses…

These are policies for an aspirational and successful Scotland, and for Scots of all backgrounds who want to get on in life.

But for many of our fellow Scots, it’s not so much a question of getting on in life…

…For too many, it’s a struggle just to keep pace.

Jobs are less secure, and long-term contracts are fewer and further between.

Unemployment is still too high.

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

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.

For too many, future success seems far out of reach.

…Because it’s hard enough coping with the realities of day to day life.

That’s why we know a Scotland which truly succeeds must be a Scotland where nobody is left behind.

It must be a Scotland where those in need can count on getting the help they need.

We will never lose sight of that fact; that simple fairness.

And it’s why I want to make particular mention of Scotland’s carers.

660,000 Scots act as unpaid carers.

…Some of them will be in this hall today.

That’s fully one in eight of our population.

Nearly a quarter of them care for over 50 hours a week.

 …A full time job for which they receive no pay.

It’s estimated that carers save the Scottish NHS nearly £7.7 billion each year.

That’s three quarters of the total NHS budget in Scotland.

60 per cent of carers are women, and most have part time jobs or are unemployed.

Nearly a third of all households with a carer who cares for another household member are in the most deprived communities in Scotland.

They risk their own health.

They give up their work and forego their own careers.

Often, they give up much of life because it’s simply impossible to maintain a balance between the demands of caring for a loved one and their own leisure time.

So in place of their own life and leisure, they choose the caring needs of another.

Unpaid carers are the often unsung heroes of communities across Scotland.

Without their selfless sacrifice the quality of health and care services we enjoy as a nation simply would not exist.

If we don’t provide them with the right support, many will be unable to carry on with their caring responsibilities.

As a country we need to do much more to support them.

So we need to ensure that the rights of carers are strengthened.

And the Scottish Conservatives will.

If you are in employment, you get paid holidays.

But if you sacrifice your career to care for a loved one, and often work longer hours than most people with a paid job, you have no guarantee of any time off at all.

Scotland’s national carers’ organisations have identified the right to regular, high quality short breaks as the top priority for carers.

And their research shows that nearly four out of every ten carers have not had a break from their caring responsibilities lasting longer than two days.

It’s time that Scotland’s carers were given the break they need and deserve.

And it’s why I am today able to announce the Scottish Conservatives will promise to give them that break – a National Carers’ Break Guarantee.

Every carer in Scotland who provides 50 or more hours of care each week will be entitled to a full week’s break each year.

We will provide a budget to cover the cost of that week’s break for every eligible carer.

And we won’t allow the funding to be diverted away to other uses. 

It will be reserved for this specific purpose; guaranteed funding for guaranteed carers’ respite breaks.

Although not every carer would choose to take this annual week’s break, every single carer assessed as being eligible will be guaranteed to be able to do so.

And how they choose to take their respite break will be entirely up to them.

They might use the funding to get someone to provide caring cover for a full week, or for a series of short weekend breaks.

They might take their break at home, or choose to go away with the person they care for.

The budget will be entirely flexible so that the individual needs of each carer are met.

They might choose to have respite cover provided by their local Council’s social services department, by a private provider, or by the voluntary sector.

The choice will be theirs to make, because they know best what suits their own circumstances and how they would best be fulfilled.

Scotland’s carers give so much and so selflessly, it’s time they got the break they need.

And the Scottish Conservatives’ National Carers’ Break Guarantee will make sure they get that break, and that that they can continue to make their vital contribution to society.

***

Conference, policies to help Scottish businesses grow and create jobs…

Policies to give the next generation the education they need…

And policies to help those most in need…

These are amongst our practical plans to help build a Scotland that succeeds.

And this is the Scottish Conservative Party we are building….

…A party in tune with our country.

…A party that takes action on the issues that matter most.

…A party that puts Scotland first.

And when we say that we will put Scotland first, we mean all the people of Scotland.

…Those who’ve ‘made it’ in life…

…But more importantly, those who haven’t ‘made it’ yet, but who want to and need our help.

We are the party of freedom, of choice and of opportunity.

Yes, we take pride in our country’s past.

…Pride in what we have achieved through the partnership of our United Kingdom.

But what drives us is a desire to build a better future.

The Scottish Conservatives want Scotland to succeed.

And we will work for a Scotland that enjoys success everyone can share in.

It’s a Scotland worth believing in.

It’s a future worth fighting for.

We know what needs done.

Let’s get out there and do it.