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Ruth: A strong opposition makes a stronger parliament

9 Apr 2016

Ruth Davidson MSP

Ruth Davidson has used a keynote speech today to reach out to voters who have never backed her before – promising to lead a strong opposition that takes on the SNP.

In a keynote speech, she will also call for reforms at Holyrood so there is a “Scottish Parliament with teeth” which is able to scrutinise and challenge the SNP government more effectively.

In her speech, she acknowledges that the SNP are now “odds on” to win the election on May 5.

She says that with Labour having had nine years without success, the Scottish Conservatives are the only party which can now fulfill the job of taking on the SNP.

She says the Scottish Conservative campaign will now focus on appealing to people who have never voted Conservative before.

She said: “You vote for me and I will do a specific job for you. I’ll hold the SNP to account. I’ll provide a strong opposition. And I’ll say no to a second referendum – so we get the better government we deserve.

“My message is that – even if the people of Scotland don’t choose to get rid of the SNP, your voice can still be heard.”

She says that many people who never previously considered the Scottish Conservatives are now thinking about voting for the party.

“Perhaps they’re even surprising themselves a bit in this. I wish I had a pound for every time I’ve heard somebody tell me: ‘I can’t believe I’m going to say this.’

“But we would be foolish to think we’ve sealed the deal and it’s all in the bag. The truth is – many of these people are still thinking it over.

“If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Scottish politics in the last five years, it’s that people prize their vote pretty highly. So these folk – quite rightly – want to hear more about our plans.

“They want to know whether we’re really up to the task. Making a shift to vote for us feels like a big step – I know that.

“So people are interested but –rightly – they are waiting for us to given them more reasons.”

Next week’s manifesto will set out Scottish Conservative plans to use opposition to demand the repeal of the Named Persons law, to back a sustainable NHS, and a better education system.

She also says that a stronger Scottish Conservative opposition will call for reforms to the way Holyrood operates.

She said: “The truth is that the Parliament itself isn’t working as well as it should to help us do that job.

“What I want is to see a Parliament with real teeth in Scotland.

“I want to see Committees that are feared by Government, not patronised.

“I want Ministers to know that when they come to the Holyrood chamber or any one of the committee roonms they had better be prepared, or else.

“I don’t think that means a second chamber. We have quite enough politicians in Scotland as it is.

“But we will push for a series of reforms.

“The conveners of key committees should be held by opposition parties to improve accountability.

“My opposition spokesmen and women should be able to question Ministers every week, not irregularly as now.

“And it’s time we moved to a practice where – as far as possible – MSPs stay on a Committee for the full parliamentary term , so they know that this is their permanent job and responsibility.”

Notes to editors:

The speech was given before activists at the Apex Grassmarket hotel.

Full speech below (check against delivery)

Good morning everybody
Ladies and gentlemen, we are nearing the half way point in this campaign – I know, it feels a lot longer – but I think we already see some clear facts emerging.
Let me just spell them out quickly.
Fact One.
The SNP are miles ahead in the polls. They have been for over a year and – unless an earthquake happens and the ground swallows them up between now and May 5th – they are odds on to win this election.
We can deny it all we like, but I’ve yet to see the value in ignoring reality.
This is where we are.
Fact two.
If it does return to government, the SNP is going to take Scotland back to more division over Scotland’s place in the Union.
Nicola Sturgeon has already said she wants to start a fresh campaign for independence this summer.
She is going to use her position in government to rake over the referendum coals and try for another as soon as she thinks she can win.
Again, that is where we are.
Right – that’s the gloomy bit over.
Let’s move onto fact three.
And that is – that in the face of this continuing threat from the party of government, many hundreds of thousands of Scots who don’t support the SNP, now want to see it held in check.
They want to stop what they fear is an unstoppable march towards a one party state.
They want to see somebody – anybody – take the SNP on.
You know, even some Nationalists are worried, I think, by the kind of dominance we see in our public life right now.
And talking to people on doorsteps right around Scotland, that groundswell is unavoidable.
Bottom line is: people are yearning for a strong opposition which do a job, to put in a shift, to balance the parliament and to help put this country back on an even keel.
That leads me to fact four.
Not so long ago, it was the case that Labour was seen as the natural party of government in Scotland.
When that ended, it then became the case that they were the only credible alternative to the SNP.
Well, both those assumptions have now collapsed.
Governing, opposing – the fact is that Labour is now hopelessly lost.
I see Jeremy Corbyn is in town today.
If the Labour campaign plan has already reached “Send in the Corbyn Cavalry” phase, you know they’re in trouble.
It’s easy to laugh, but the joke is now wearing thin.
In just the last two weeks, we’ve seen utter chaos.
Flip flops on tax.
Flip flops on named persons.
And – easily the worst – flip flops on the Union.
This is now a party which will allow its candidates to support independence if they wish.
A leader who says it’s “not inconceivable” she’d vote for it herself.
Here’s the question: how can you trust a party like that to take on the SNP and force them to focus on the day job?
The real truth is this. I see it every week in the Scottish Parliament.
The SNP no longer fears Labour.
When it can be bothered to notice them, the SNP treats them like a joke.
And all that means is that we have an SNP Government which thinks it can get away with anything.
So Fact Five is this.
It’s that it’s us, the Scottish Conservatives, who are now the only party which can do the job of opposition that Scotland so desperately needs.
Who can hold the SNP to account.
Who have the strength, the unity and the resolve to stand up for our place in the United Kingdom…
….and to demand that the SNP respects the decision we made as a country – and instead focuses on the things that matter.
So that’s where Scotland is right now.
Facing five more years of SNP control.
In desperate need of a strong opposition.
And with us as the only party left who can fill that job vacancy
But – if we’re going to be honest – there’s another fact that we must acknowledge today.
And it’s this.
I know that we’re ready to serve.
That we have a whole new generation of Scottish Conservatives ready to bring their outside experience into the Scottish Parliament – to strengthen and to serve.
You know that we’re ready to do this job for the people of Scotland.
But we still need to persuade people out there that we’re ready.
If, like me, you’ve been on the doorsteps these last few months, you’ll know what I mean.
The good news is that many, many people are thinking about voting for us, perhaps for the very first time.
Perhaps they’re even surprising themselves a bit in this.
I wish I had a pound for every time I’ve heard somebody tell me: “Ah cannae believe am gonnae say this…..”
But we would be foolish to think we’ve sealed the deal and it’s all in the bag..
The truth is – many of these people are still thinking it over.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Scottish politics in the last five years, it’s that people prize their vote pretty highly.
So these folk – quite rightly – want to hear more about our plans.
They want to know whether we’re really up to the task.
Making a shift to vote for us feels like a big step – I know that.
So people are interested but –rightly – they are waiting for us to given them more reasons why we’re worthy of their vote.
And that’s what the rest of this campaign is about.
We ARE the only party which can take on the SNP.
But in the short time left to us, we now need to prove it.
We need to show we are the party that can do a job for working people, for their families and for Scotland.
To be, on their behalf, Scotland’s strong opposition.
To show that we are WORTHY of people’s vote. That we are PREPARED to stand up for their interests. To show we CAN hold the SNP to account.
That’s the task we need to meet over the next few weeks.
And it starts now..
We will launch our manifesto on Wednesday. It will set out exactly what our offer is.
.…showing how, as Scotland’s strong opposition, we are going to challenge the SNP.
For me, it’s about building on what we’ve already achieved over the last few years.
As a small party, yes. But one which has punched above its weight.
Like on education. We demanded a return of testing. We said money for attainment should directly follow poorer pupils. Both times the SNP was forced to act. Both as a result of our pressure.
Like on our rural economy. We exposed the scandal of the SNP’s failed IT system. We revealed how even pro-independence farmers were furious with the way things were going. The SNP was forced to act – and relief was given.
Well, that’s how we intend to proceed. But this time, with more MSPs behind me.
Take the SNP’s appalling named persons act.
If I’ve got a strong group of MSPs behind me next month, we’re going to really chase Nicola Sturgeon on this one.
You know what? – I think the First Minister knows this policy is a dud.
It’s why she’s tied herself in knots muddying the waters on how it would work.
But the SNP is simply banking on the fact that it can sweep it in and nobody will notice.
That might be the case if Labour is still the main opposition after May 5th.
Let me assure you: it won’t be with me.
She won’t be able to bury this, like she tried to bury her cosy deal with the Chinese last month.
Together with a strong group of MSPs behind me, we’re going to put her under pressure, and demand change.
On that, and on so much more.
We will demand that the SNP does more to ensure every local school is a great school.
We will campaign to ensure our NHS is looked after for the long-term
And – something I’d like to talk a little more about today – we will insist that our Scottish Parliament is strengthened further so it does its job better.
From next year, it will become one of the most powerful institutions of its kind in the world.
On our taxes, on billions of pounds of welfare, on our NHS, on our schools – it will be the parliament in Edinburgh that decides on them all.
Now of course, we will scrutinise and challenge all the decisions the SNP makes on these issues.
But the truth is that the Parliament itself isn’t working as well as it should to help us do that job.
Holyrood was never designed with a majority government in mind. The SNP broke the system.
And the last five years have shown that – with that majority in place – bad laws can too often be rail-roaded through.
There have been exceptions: like the Justice Committee’s opposition to corroboration changes.
But these examples are rarer than hens teeth.
On too many occasions, we have seen SNP MSPs simply toe-ing the line, putting party above parliament and failing in their parliamentary duty.
What I want is to see a Parliament with real teeth in Scotland.
I want to see Committees that are feared by Government, not patronised.
I want Ministers to know that when they come to the Holyrood chamber or any one of the committee roonms they had better be prepared, or else.
I don’t think that means a second chamber. We have quite enough politicians in Scotland as it is.
But we will push for a series of reforms.
The conveners of key committees should be held by opposition parties to improve accountability.
My opposition spokesmen and women should be able to question Ministers every week, not irregularly as now.
And it’s time we moved to a practice where – as far as possible – MSPs stay on a Committee for the full parliamentary term , so they know that this is their permanent job and responsibility.
In of themselves, this isn’t going to bring the SNP to heel.
But, with a strong opposition in us, and a parliament with sharpened teeth, we can do more to challenge, more to scrutinise – and get the better government we all deserve.
And that’s the positive change I can bring to Scotland over the next five years.
Not in government I admit – at least not yet.
But in opposition, pressuring, challenging, scrutinizing – doing the job that so many people are crying out to see.
And responding, I hope, to the concerns of so many of my fellow Scots.
I’ve listened to those concerns over these last few weeks.
They look at the way the country is run and they feel there’s nothing that can be done…
….that the SNP is all-dominant; and we just have to accept it.
Well, my message to them in this election is that no we don’t
We need not just accept it..
We need not just shrug our shoulders.
My message is that – even if the people of Scotland don’t choose to get rid of the SNP, your voice can still be heard.
Something in Scotland needs to change and if we choose not to change the government, we can choose to change the opposition to one that will really take them on.
With more MSPs behind me, I’ll make sure we do.
Labour can’t: they’re too busy arguing with one another.
The LibDems can’t: they don’t have enough people to hold an argument in the first place.
We, on the other hand, are united, we are strong, we are passionate and we have a clear plan.
We will campaign every day – head, heart, body and soul – to prevent the SNP taking the country back to a second referendum.
Nicola Sturgeon said she would respect the vote. It is time we made her.
And I will insist that the SNP gets on with the job in hand – the job we pay them to do.
Ladies and gentlemen, already in this campaign I’ve been to Inverness, Aviemore, to Aberdeen, to Perthshire, to Fife, to Ayr, to Stranraer, to Dumfries, to Edinburgh to Glasgow to Renfrew and all points in between in between.
And for the next three and bit weeks, I’m going to stay on the road, going to keep on trucking. with that simple message we have.
You vote for me and I will do a specific job for you.
I’ll hold the SNP to account
I’ll provide a strong opposition
And I’ll say no to a second referendum – so we get the better government we deserve.
That’s the job I’ll do for the people of Scotland.
Something in Scotland has to change.
I know that need is there.
I know we are ready to serve.
Now let’s go there and show it.
Thankyou