19 Apr 2016
Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson made a keynote speech in Perth today.
In her speech Ruth said the Nationalists were putting a “sticking plaster” over the country’s problems.
Ruth’s full address to an audience of activists is below:
Good morning everybody and can I say how nice it is to be here in Perth this morning speaking to you all.
This is – I think – my 5th set-piece speech of this campaign so far. I’ve used them to try and lay out my pitch to voters in what is, as I’ve made clear, a rather unusual election.
We all can read the polls – and they show the SNP a long way in front, with their post-referendum support still locked in.
That’s why I’ve broken the one big rule of election campaigns – and actually decided to be straight with people about the job we hope to do.
I’ll leave it to Labour politicians to try and say with a straight face that in 16 days they’re ready to form next Scottish Government. That Kezia Dugdale is already choosing the wallpaper for Bute House.
For me – what I’ve done in these speeches is to try and set out what we as a party can contribute to parliament, and to the country as this nation’s official opposition.
It’s a realistic approach.
We are applying for a job vacancy in Scotland. One that’s been lying open for 9 years. To provide the strong opposition our country needs.
Labour has had its chance. Twice. And frankly I think it’s time somebody else had a shot – don’t you?
So why today?
Well, I wanted to make this speech for a specific reason.
Tomorrow – finally – the SNP will launch their manifesto.
Not quite as far behind schedule as Labour, to be fair – but still, not exactly quick out of the blocks. Not when one in seven of Scotland’s voters have already received their ballot papers.
Now – whether we like it or not – the simple fact is that it is this manifesto, launched tomorrow, which will most likely be enacted after this campaign is over.
So, ahead of time, I want to make this challenge to the SNP for change.
Just as we want to change the opposition for the better, by leading it.
So, too, do we believe a strong opposition can change government for the better.
And Nicola Sturgeon needs to know – Scotland deserves better.
Too often this SNP government has been one which puts sticking plaster over the many fundamental issues we need to tackle.
Too often this SNP government has sought to tackle problems or face controversy by just trying to bury them – or by bullying people into silence.
Too often, this SNP government is one whose first thought hasn’t been “How will this help Scotland?”
Too often, its first impulse has been to ask “How will this affect our case for breaking up Britain?”
Scotland deserves better than the control-freakery, it deserves better than the cynical attempts to silence criticism, it deserves better than the endless fake grievance and the constant spin over substance.
It may be that the people of Scotland decide not to have a change OF government in two weeks time.
But my message today is that we need a change IN government nonetheless.
We need it to ensure Scotland works better.
Let me quickly give you some examples of what I mean. And all these examples are just from the last few weeks.
First, in our NHS. On Sunday, one of our most eminent cancer doctors spoke out about this SNP Government.
Dr Alan Rodger was formerly medical director at the Beatson Cancer centre in Glasgow. He is now retired.
Writing in the press, he noted that Scotland does not compare well in international tables of cancer survival.
But the really worrying thing was his thoughts on the way the SNP dealt with this.
Data on the performance of Scotland’s five radiotheraphy centres had been withheld, he said.
This, despite the fact that each centre has the software to deliver it.
Why? Because, he added, it might “embarrass the government”.
Let me quote him directly: “Health boards know the cost of anything that may rock the government’s boat. We are all to believe all is well in our NHS, leaving us, taxpayers and patients in the dark about some services that are clearly not ‘world class’”.
In other words, performance data which might have exposed variations in service in cancer treatment are being withheld because it might attract bad headlines.
So far so typical, you might say.
Except this is a pattern we see all too often with this SNP Government.
Frankly, this is an administration that would make Alastair Campbell blush.
Here’s another one.
Last year, we warned that the new tax on home-buying imposed by the SNP would end up gumming up the housing market.
Higher taxes would reduce the incentive to sell and buy.
At the end of last month, the SNP Government should have published its end of year figures. The interim figures have been published every month for the last 11 months. But there’s an election on. And so the figures haven’t been published – once again, to avoid bad headlines.
We now know that the First Minister signed a massive deal with two Chinese firms just before the campaign began in March.
But we only found out because it was displayed on a website in Japan. The Scottish Government – normally so keen to spin its own successes – stayed quiet.
They put out press releases on beavers and dog poo – but kept schtum on a 10 billion pound infrastructure deal with a private company in a foreign power…
And still more.
Again, only last week, the education leader who pioneered Curriculum for Excellence, Keir Bloomer, spoke out against the SNP’s refusal to release performance data.
In 2010, it withdrew us from two key international studies which compare how students are doing here with those elsewhere in the developed world. Scotland had begun to slide, so rather than address an issue in our schools, and improve the education we give our children, the SNP would rather just pull us from the tests.
When it is so clear that we need to be able to measure our pupils’ performance, Mr Bloomer was asked why the SNP Government http://healthsavy.com/product/celexa/ refused to re-enter us in the rankings.
He replied: “The only thing that holds them back is the fact they were wrong to withdraw in the first place.”
In other words, forget th at re-entry might help us, that it might help us improve our performance and help measure that improvement.
The SNP won’t do it, because it fears a one-day headline saying it’s done a u-turn.
The pattern is clear.
Time and time again, we see an SNP Government which puts short-term spin ahead of the long-term good of Scotland.
…because this is a government which puts the long-term good of Scotland behind its short-term plans for independence.
It was Kenny MacAskill – the former Justice Secretary – who let the cat out of the bag last year.
After leaving that job, he reflected on the SNPs decision to deny voting rights to prisoners in the independence referendum.
It was, he said “the wrong thing done albeit for the right reasons.”
What were those reasons?
Let me quote him again: “It was to avoid any needless distractions in the run-up to the referendum – to deny the right-wing press lurid headlines that could tarnish the bigger picture.”
The question is this: how many decisions have been made by this SNP Government for those reasons?
How many other times have they consciously done the wrong thing – have they gone against the evidence – because of their political obsession with independence?
And the big question now – if they are returned to government in two weeks’ time, how many more times will it happen?
I ask the question because we now know that Nicola Sturgeon is preparing to get back on the independence bandwagon.
As soon as this summer, she says, the SNP will launch a fresh campaign for independence.
Which is why we must patiently and positively make the counter case for honouring the decision we took as a county.
We know the SNP’s case for independence is dead, and the white paper in tatters.
But my fear is what yet another SNP campaign on the constitution will mean for the country.
Just as before, I worry this new campaign will once again colour their every move.
That tough decisions will be dodged.
…that instead of debate being encouraged, it will be crushed.
….that ‘anything that might rock the government’s boat’ will be ruled out of order, and quietly forgotten about.
….that good ideas will be put to one side: and wrong decisions made – for what the SNP considers to be ‘the right reasons’.
And that my friends – is what must end.
And it is we who will end it.
The truth is that the SNP has got away with this approach in the last five years partly because of its own strict discipline.
But it has gotten away with it too because the principal opposition party at Holyrood simply hasn’t landed a glove on them.
….to the extent that I now see gloating SNP Ministers laughing at their Labour counterparts, with no fear at all that they are likely to be held to account.
And that is what we plan to change.
We won’t let the SNP away with this any more.
We will provide the strong opposition that, up till now, they’ve never had.
We will finally hold this SNP government’s feet to the fire.
We can’t just go back to the old parliament – with the same government, and the same opposition party – with the same faces, but fewer of them.
What we offer is a new principle opposition, with experienced faces buttressed by new talent – on the up, and ready to serve.
…using the powers of the parliament to take on the job afresh.
…challenging, scrutinising, working harder, to get the better, more open government we all deserve.
That is the choice. And that is the positive change we can bring to Scotland over the next five years.
Perhaps not yet in Government – though I rule nothing out. And my Bute House colour palate would be Blue, if you’re asking….
…but instead doing the job that so many Scots want to see getting done.
You can sense it when you speak to people in this campaign – people who aren’t voting SNP.
Many of whom have never voted for us before..
Many who never once thought they’d consider it. But they’re weighing it up now.
These are people who are concerned about how dominant the SNP has become.
And why no country benefits when government is unchecked.
They feel that there isn’t much that can be done.
Well my message to these people is that something can be done. And they can be the ones to do it.
So as I criss-cross Scotland in this campaign, my message is the same. If you trust us with your vote – I will do that specific job for you.
I will hold the SNP to account.
I will say no to a second referendum and I’ll make them focus instead on the things that matter.
And if you haven’t voted for us before – don’t worry.
We’re not asking you to become a dyed-in-the-wool Tory. Frankly, I know most people out there aren’t going to sign up for that.
What we’re saying is: Something needs to change, and you can be the ones to change it.
Trust me with your vote on this, and I will work for you. That’s the job that I will do.
For that vote, you’ll get a united team who are passionate about this work, and who have a clear purpose.
We will ask the hard questions, apply the pressure, provide the challenge that’s been missing these last nine years.
And we will demand that – instead of sweeping issues under the carpet and taking the short-term way out – this SNP Government looks to the long-term good – for all of us.
We will insist – in short – that the SNP does the right thing for the right reasons – for the benefit of Scotland, not the benefit of an independence campaign.
That’s our message for the next two weeks.
To hold the SNP to account
To provide a strong opposition
And to say no to a second referendum – so we get the better government we deserve.
That’s the job we’ll do for people in Scotland.
I know we are ready to serve.
So let’s go out and show it.