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Ruth’s keynote speech to conference

16 Mar 2014

Ruth Davidson MSP

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson today delivered the party conference keynote speech in Edinburgh.

Below is the text of that speech.

“Thank You.

Conference, we gather here today on the cusp of an incredible few months ahead.

Glasgow welcoming the world at the Commonwealth Games.

Marking the work of our amazing servicemen and women at Armed Forces day in Stirling

And then the best sporting duel on the planet – The Ryder Cup coming to Gleneagles.

Big events all, in themselves. But we know gathering here today, that an even greater date faces us too.

This September, we face the biggest vote this country has ever seen.

It isn’t another election where you can vote again in five years’ time if you don’t like the result.

We’re talking about the very fabric of our country. We’re deciding the fate of nations.

And we all will play a part.

So I want to thank all of you – from card-carrying members, to volunteers, to the professional staff, to all our elected

members, who are stuffing envelopes and knocking doors, persuading friends and reassuring family.

You know there’s no second chance. You know we’re in the fight of our lives. You know it’s a fight we can win.

It’s a fight we’re going to win.

I want to single out Struan Stevenson, a man who has flown the flag for Scotland in the European Parliament for the last 15 years.

Serving this party and fighting for this country.

I also want to thank him for starting my political journey.

Because when I was a journalist, I worked for his wife, she was my editor.

And six years ago, on a rainy night, we sat in the kitchen of his flat in Glasgow and he encouraged me to stand as a Conservative candidate – he signed my forms and gave me a reference.

So, really, this is all his fault…

Struan has always believed in bringing forward the next generation – and in Ian Duncan, our lead Conservative candidate for May’s European elections, we have a worthy successor to take on the Brussels bureaucracy

Thank you Struan for everything you have done.

There’s one other person to thank. And it pains us all he’s not here today.

Conference, David McLetchie took the reins of this party when we were at our lowest ebb. It wasn’t in his nature to brood or mope.

With energy, with wit, and with wise judgement, he picked this party up and steered us to a better place.

His commitment never wavered. His service never stopped.

Attending parliament long after others would have been able, dialling in to meetings of the Better Together group he set up with Alistair Darling – when lesser men would have fallen away. Not David.

He believed in our nation. That it’s a great nation. He wanted to show the world that we’re stronger together, that we’re better together.

We need to ensure the country he loved – the country he fought for – sticks together.

So let’s honour David’s memory by working to make that happen.

And you better work hard, because he’ll be watching.

Conference let’s join together and remember the dashing young Edinburgh lawyer of yesterday’s video who became our leader.

Let’s give thanks for the life and the service of David McLetchie.

Thank You.

Conference, I want to talk to you today about the values that inspire me, about why those values should be cherished, and why we Conservatives are the people who can take this country forward.

My belief in our ability to do that is based on our most vital national asset. Our people.

As I travel around Scotland I meet folk from every corner of our country who share our belief in aspiration, responsibility and hard work.

Who want the government to give help where it’s needed and get out of the way when it’s not.

People who want to know that if they do the right thing – work hard, provide for their family, play by the rules – then the country will do right by them.

And I know it’s tough. That people are uncertain about the road ahead.

Jobs are less secure.

First-time buyers still struggle to get a foot on the property ladder.

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

We do understand.

And we’ll stand by you and speak up for you.

At Westminster, we’ve cut jobs taxes and brought down income tax.

To help more people into work…. and to give them more money in their pocket once they’re there.

We’ve raised the state pension, and minimum wage.

Cancelled the fuel duty escalator, saving people who fill up every week £360 a year.

At Holyrood, we’re fighting for the next generation – to stop cuts to colleges – vital in training people for work.

Ludicrous named person proposals – seeing state oversight imposed on every child in Scotland.

And a ‘suck it and see’ approach to justice – where corroboration can be scrapped with no idea what to put in its place.

Conservative common sense has never been more needed.

Our voice is loud and growing.

We’re here to fight for your community.

To fight for your family.

We’re here to fight for you.

Now, I’ve heard all the jokes about Pandas and phone boxes.

I have to say. This weekend the EICC hasn’t looked like a phone box to me.

But it is true conference, that Scottish Conservatives have been on the back foot. Not just for one, but for two decades.

And in that time we’ve been told, time and again that we’re out of touch. That we’re not relevant. That we don’t get it.

Well not any more.

I’m here to tell you that on the big issues facing our country, the Conservatives stand four-square with the people of Scotland.

On the referendum – we are fighting to keep our Kingdom united and are backed by the majority of this country.

On welfare – we say work should always pay and that’s what Scotland thinks too.[1]

On the economy – we’re cutting the deficit and controlling spending because it is immoral to shackle our children with our debts. The country’s onside.[2]

On immigration – we want the numbers down, so does Scotland. [3]

And on Europe – we say let the people decide. And the polls show the public supports us.[4]

And what about what the SNP wants?

Independence – they’re in the minority

Unreformed welfare – they’re in the minority

Unfunded spending – they’re in the minority

A huge increase in immigration – they’re in the minority

Refusing to trust people on Europe – in the minority there too.

And d’you know what? people are starting to notice that we are on the right side of the argument.

Scotland sees that we are fighting tooth and nail to keep our country together and more than 80,000 people have joined Conservative Friends of the Union to stand with us.

We’ve taken our message of fairness, responsibility, hard work and just reward to the doorsteps of this country and seen more and more people putting their cross in our box.

11 straight council and parliamentary by-elections where the Tory vote’s gone up.

The last time the party did that was 1974 – and I wasn’t even born.

In the last general election, more than four hundred thousand people voted for us – and I’m here to tell you that should be a platform, not a ceiling.

Because we have to speak our truth loud and proud. And encourage others to do the same.

Sometimes, it’s hard to come out…

…as a Conservative.

I should know.

I was in the bosom of the BBC when I broke cover.

But if you believe in sound finances – you’re a Conservative

If you believe in personal freedom, personal choice and personal responsibility – you’re a Conservative.

If you believe in aspiration, in opportunity – that ambition and success are not dirty words but something worth striving for – then you’re a Conservative

If you believe that decisions on local services should be decided locally – not gathered up in a massive Holyrood power grab – then you’re a Conservative

And if you value, cherish and believe unashamedly in family, country, in community.

In rolling up your sleeves and getting stuck in – then that makes you a Conservative too.

I want you to vote for those beliefs.

But more than just your vote, I want you.

I want you to help us fight to keep our country together.

I want you to help us give something back to the hard-pressed taxpayers of Scotland.

And I want you to help us turn our schools once again into the envy of the world.

I am changing the face of this party and in so doing, I am changing the faces of this party.

A third of councillors, new at the last election.

New faces on our European list to take the fight to Brussels

More MPs and MSPs means more Conservative common sense in Parliament, and I need you to help us make this happen.

So I don’t care where you’re from. Which school you went to. I don’t care about your age, your race, your sexuality.

What I care about, is whether you care.

Whether you want to change our country for the better.

That you are willing to give of your time, your talent and of yourself to make that happen.

If you have ever wanted to be involved in public life, but didn’t know where to start, then start with us.

We want you on our team. We want you to come forward.

I am changing the face of this party – and fighting for the future of this country – and I want you standing beside me.

Our voice is loud and growing and I want it to grow yet further.

How do we do that? We do that by focusing relentlessly on the things that really matter.

And in my book, top of that list are the opportunities we as a nation pass on to the next generation.

Scots have always known the value of a good education, and I know it personally.

I went to my local school in Fife – Buckhaven High.

I got a good education there, and I’ve always been grateful for it.

But that wasn’t yesterday – the world is moving on, and the simple fact is we’re not keeping pace.

Look at the results of the latest studies.

They show little if any progress has been made over the last five years in raising Scotland’s performance in the international league tables.

I know there’s great work done in our schools week in, week out.

…Teachers inspiring their pupils.

…Pupils hungry to learn.

The problem is that when it comes to educational achievement, we’re idling in neutral while many of our international competitors accelerate ahead.

And I can already hear the response from the SNP…

…That we’re doing at least as well as other parts of the UK.

But that’s not enough, and it’s depressingly narrow-minded as a view…

…Because the competition our young people face for the jobs of the future isn’t just from kids from Birmingham or Swansea.

They’ll be competing against a highly skilled and highly motivated workforce from the Far East and other emerging world economies.

So we need to set our sights higher still…

..Have the confidence and ambition to compete against the very best the world has to offer, and win.

The greatest gift this generation can give to the next is an education system that truly prepares Scotland’s young people for the challenges of a competitive global economy.

And that means reforms to Scottish education of a scale not seen in our lifetime.

I’m not saying this reform would be easy.

But I am saying that change, based on our constructive Conservative approach, is essential.

We want to end the monopoly of mediocrity that traps too many Scottish kids into lives of low expectations.

Not all children learn the same and they shouldn’t all be taught the same.

I want more choice for pupils and more power for parents.

…More power to select the right type of school for their children.

…An end to the postcode lottery which locks thousands into failing schools.

It means more rewards for good teachers and showing bad teachers the door.

Flexible school hours to help working parents…

…Rigorous exams to stretch the brightest pupils.

…More choice for those whose abilities and interests lie in the vocational.

The truth about our unreformed education system is it too often fails the ablest without giving real help to those who need it the most.

It’s time that changed.

…Time every Scottish child was given the same fair shot at success, no matter their background, where they live, or who their parents are.

I’m not so naïve as to believe background doesn’t play a part. We know it does.

But I am ambitious enough – have enough faith – to believe that with the right support and encouragement any of our nation’s children – no matter their circumstances – can succeed.

And I believe to my core that the greatest disadvantage anyone can suffer is to be written off because of their background.

…To be told that they won’t get good grades, won’t get a good job, won’t get on in life.

That’s not my way, because I believe in Scotland’s young people.

It’s not the Conservative way.

…And we will fight for reforms to give every Scottish child the education they need, and the fair shot in life they deserve.

And if Scotland’s young people work hard to get a job then they need to know the government won’t be dipping deep into their pockets once they start to earn.

It’s just a pity we don’t have a Scottish Government which sees that.

Just think for a minute about the SNP’s contortions on this.

They want multinational corporations like Amazon and Starbucks to pay less tax in Scotland than in the rest of the UK…

… But they stubbornly oppose cutting the tax bills of the ordinary Scots who work on the shop floors of those companies.

That doesn’t make sense

And it doesn’t seem fair

…They’re saying a tax cut for Starbucks is a good thing, but a tax cut for the barrista behind the counter is somehow bad?

…Not in my book.

Our future prosperity will come from an economy built on a strong and growing working class.

And when I say a strong working class, I mean anyone who gets up, goes to a job and earns a wage to support themselves and their families.

…The everyday grafters of Scotland.

Those hard working people who deserve a Scottish government that values them and their efforts.

…Who deserve a government that believes in letting them keep as much as possible of what they have earned.

And it’s not just a question of economics.

Just as importantly – more importantly – it’s a question of values.

Too many politicians believe in government money – there to spend as they wish.

But there is no such thing as government money – only money that governments have taken from taxpayers.

And I think successive governments have taken too much.

We shouldn’t be dipping deeper into people’s paypackets; we should ensure there are more pounds left in the pocket of men and women across Scotland.

To spend in their local shops, to invest in their local community or to save for their children’s future.

That’s why the Scottish Conservatives are committed to cutting the tax bills of working Scots.

It’s why we support 100% the plan being pursued by the Chancellor George Osborne.

Lowering personal taxation and raising the threshold

George didn’t get into politics as a popularity contest.

But that’s just the point. He isn’t in this for the headlines; he’s in this for the long-term – to make sure that when today’s children start work, Britain is a low-debt, low-tax success story which can take on Asia’s tiger economies and win.

And we’re turning the corner.

The deficit cut by third; one point three million more jobs across the UK

Britain’s economy growing faster than France, Germany, America, Japan – the fastest of all western European countries.

Of course, there’s still a long road ahead.

And to get there, difficult decisions have to be taken.

And in no area does it get more difficult than sorting out our welfare system.

But sort it out we must.

Under the former Labour government, one-point-four million people were unemployed for nine of it’s last ten years.

Left on the scrapheap by a government which cared more about what people couldn’t do, than what they could.

On Monday, I visited one of the projects in Glasgow helping with the difficult work of untangling the system and ensuring the people who need the most help, have the right support.

Staffed by nurses and Occupational Therapists – and run on a social enterprise model – it ploughs any money it makes back into the NHS.

And it is only part of the picture.

Because across Scotland – in hidden estates far from the smart West End parts of town – a broken, amoral welfare state left people on the sidelines, watching the world pass them by.

People, forced onto benefits because they knew that work wouldn’t pay.

Most who would love a job if only the system would reward them.

By increasing the minimum wage, we’re doing that.

By bringing in the new Universal Credit, we’re doing that.

By building the biggest back to work programme in our nation’s history. We’re doing that.

By ending the politics of the scrap heap which only looked at what people couldn’t do, but never asked them what they could – we are acting.

So I don’t resile from Iain Duncan Smith’s reforms one bit. I back him all the way.

And I do so, knowing that while the SNP generates sound and fury at Westminster politicians in Scotland, this is a party which – shamefully – has failed to produce a single idea on welfare reform, the most vital and sensitive area of public policy in Scotland.

Six months out from the referendum, they haven’t got a clue how to sort out our welfare state. And that is the real disgrace.

Opportunities for the next generation…

A fair return for Scotland’s taxpayers

A Welfare system that rewards work.

And – an NHS that continues to be the envy of the world

Millions of people across Scotland have cause to be grateful to the Health Service for the care it provides in what is often their hour of desperate need.

Many owe their lives to our NHS.

I should know; I’m one of them.

When I was five, I was run over by a truck outside my house.

I was given just a 50/50 chance of life.

But after months of care across three separate hospitals, I pulled through – learning how to walk all over again, the only kid in class with a zimmer frame.

By P7 I was even playing football with the boys.

It’s sometimes said the NHS is the closest thing we have to a national religion.

And I know I’ve got good reason to say a prayer for all it‘s done for me.

Public satisfaction with the NHS in Scotland is high, and rightly so.

But there are problems too.

And choices we can make to improve care on wards up and down the land.

Under the SNP, the number of nurses and midwives in Scotland has gone up and down like a fiddler’s elbow.

2,000 posts gone in two years.

Right now – hundreds of places down, creating an intolerable pressure on those who are left.

Millions spent on bank or agency nurses to plug the gaps.

It’s not good enough.

It’s not good enough for staff and it’s not good enough for patients.

For the young mum turfed out of the maternity ward on the same day she gives birth.

For the post-op patient waiting for a bed pan because staff are rushed off their feet.

For the nurse whose own health suffers from the stress and exhaustion of doubling her workload.

It’s time we did something about it.

That’s why today I am able to announce the Scottish Conservatives will pledge an extra 1,000 nurses and midwives for Scotland. And, once introduced, we will not let numbers drop below that mark.

And we’ll pay for it by restoring the prescription charge.

Not for the young, the pensioner, the pregnant or the poor – they’ll stay exempt as they always were.

But for people who’re earning, who are overwhelmingly happy to make their contribution, they will know that their small sum will make a world of difference in wards across the country.

Politics is about choice. The decisions you make and the consequences of your actions.

Alex Salmond says that on six figures, he should get free aspirin.

I say we should have enough nurses to do the job.

Enough nurses so patients get the care they deserve.

Enough nurses to make sure healthcare workers have the support they need.

That’s my priority.

That’s the Conservative priority.

Aspiration…hard work…responsibility.

These are our values.

But there’s one more…

…and that is our unashamed, unself-conscious, unapologetic love of our country.

We are the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party.

Both ‘Scottish’ and ‘Union’ are there for a reason.

We feel no conflict between our Scottish and British identities.

We know that one complements the other…

…That we gain more from our shared endeavour than we ever could from splitting apart.

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

On the 18th September, the Scottish people will vote.

And the result won’t just decide if Scotland remains part of the United Kingdom, but if the United Kingdom is to exist at all.

It is the most momentous decision of our lifetime, and its outcome will affect all of us.

My view is a straightforward one.

We have a history to be proud of and a future filled with the promise of even greater things.

The UK’s successes are Scotland’s successes too, because we built this union.

Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland…working together.

Those arguing for independence for Scotland claim it’s the only way to realise the ambitions of the Scottish people.

…The only way to get the change Scotland needs.

But that’s just not true.

I want change. Scotland wants change. But you don’t need to separate your country to get it.

Under devolution, Holyrood already has full control over the great public services we rely on; education, health, policing…

The Scotland Act, delivered by the Conservative-led coalition, will soon see the biggest transfer of financial powers to Scotland in three hundred years.

That’s the mark of a reforming government which listens to the people of Scotland, understands their aspirations; and which is committed to taking the steps needed to meet them.

And the process doesn’t end there.

Tom Strathclyde’s commission – set up to examine devolution.

To make it more effective, more responsible – the results of his report will be published in May and in good time for people to see before they vote.

We are 100% committed – from the Prime Minister down – to making sure that, after voting No, we deliver a settlement the people of Scotland want, within a union the people of Scotland want to keep.

A settlement built on Conservative values.

Responsibility and accountability to the taxpayers of this country.

A no vote allows devolution to develop. Independence kills it stone dead.

The Strathclyde commission

A responsible Scottish parliament

Independence. – defeated

A stronger United Kingdom.

In the last year, we’ve seen arguments from both sides.

Issues of currency, pensions, jobs, Europe, oil hitting the headlines day after day.

When the supermarkets said independence would cost their customers more, the nationalists shouted them down.

When Standard Life said it was already setting up companies outside Scotland to transfer work in the event of Independence – the SNP ignored them

When oil receipts plummeted – taking with them the cost of every school in Scotland – Alex Salmond was in denial.

And when the chancellor, shadow chancellor, chief secretary to the treasury, permanent secretary to the Treasury…

all said a currency union was not in the rest of the UK’s interests – the separatists said they were all making it up.

I think Billy Connolly said it best when he said “I love Scotland. But I hate the way nationalists think they own the place.”

It’s not just Scotland they think they own – but the decisions of other countries too.

When the head of the EU, and of the Commission said an Independent Scotland would have to apply for membership, and join the same queue as everybody else – Alex Salmond said they didn’t know what they were talking about.

He alone knew that Scotland would have its path smoothed and all 28 member states would waive any requirement, to join the Euro, or Schengen, or give back the rebate.

When George Osborne laid out the facts of a currency union here in Edinburgh, and calmly and forensically detailed why the rest of the UK wouldn’t buy it, the First Minister said he was wrong.

He knew better.

He knew that – despite seeing the disaster in the Eurozone,

The wreckage that happens when different countries share a currency and interest rate but pursue different tax and economic policies…..

…The UK would jump at the chance for the same.

The Governor of the Bank of England says currency zones mean ceding sovereignty – giving up control – but our brave First Minister thinks people south of the border would love to hand him some of the reins, just after he’s told them to shove off.

The chancellor made it clear that leaving the UK, means leaving the UK pound and all that underpins it.

I know the SNP isn’t familiar with the concept, but it’s called ‘independence’.

Jim Sillars understands that, Dennis Canavan understands it, and Patrick Harvie gets it too.

The last few months have taught us that Alex Salmond is utterly incapable of accepting the consequences of his own actions.

If he was caught spraying graffiti, he’d blame the wall.

But all the rest of us can see it all too clearly.

We see the work of our country men and woman – and we look around the world.

We see all our exports to France and to Germany, to America and Japan, to China, Brazil and India.

We look at them all and we double what we see – and it’s still not as much as Scotland sells to England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

We look at our pension – the money we’ve put aside to provide for ourselves and our families – and we know it’ll be there in our old age, paid out in the pounds in which it was saved.

We look at our armed forces – and we see Scots serving with their Welsh brethren, with soldiers, sailors and airmen from England and Northern Ireland too.

The most professional fighting force on this planet and one we are proud to be a part of.

We look at our financial services, banking services, oil companies and engineers.

The men and women across this country who work for Lloyds, for RBS, for BP, Shell, Babcock and Aggreko and we want these jobs – all these jobs – to stay.

The Union provides opportunity, stability, security and prosperity.

And we are fighting head, heart, body and soul for that union.

Because it’s personal to all of us.

It’s certainly personal to me.

As someone who served in our reserved armed forces – I don’t want to see our army, navy and air force broken up.

As someone who worked in one of our great shared institutions – the BBC – I don’t want it ripped apart to the detriment of all.

As someone who’s lived and worked in Scotland their whole life – never anywhere else – but whose only sister has built her life and family just south of the border, I don’t want to see barriers erected between us.

And I think that’s what Alex Salmond doesn’t understand. Why he’s genuinely puzzled the polls haven’t moved.

He thinks if he waves a flag, and offers the earth, closing his ears to any questions of how to pay for it, people will flock to his banner.

But he hasn’t realised that this land is our land. This union is our union. And every one of us has their own personal reasons for wanting it to stay.

Our United Kingdom belongs to all of us.

We’ve built it together.

We’ve traded together.

We’ve fought together

We’ve lived together

We’ve loved together

We’ve settled and built our lives together.

This land is our land and we will allow no-one to break it apart.

Conference, we have six months.

Six months to tell our truth

Six months to fight our corner

Six months to persuade our friends and family to keep our country together.

And the fight starts now – today.

So I want you to go from this place and to tell the world that you are proud of being Scottish, but proud of Britain too.

And that our United Kingdom, the nation we have built – through blood and toil and sweat, will not be broken.

Tell the world that we are Stronger together; safer together; better together…

And we can – must – will – stay together. Thank You