Ruth: Now not the time to be side-tracked by unnecessary division

28 Mar 2017


Please see below the text of Ruth’s opening speech from this afternoon’s debate on a second independence referendum.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said, (check against delivery):

“I am responding on behalf of my party today because the First Minister has decided to re-open for the Scottish Government.

But there is really only one thing which I think is worth adding to my comments to the chamber last week.

And that is:

…if this debate so far has served one purpose it has been to show why most people in Scotland don’t want the Government and this Parliament to be side-tracked by the division and rancour of yet another referendum campaign.

Despite some honourable speeches from all sides of the chamber, this Parliament last week added precisely nothing to the sum of human knowledge on Scottish independence.

No new arguments.

Nothing for families who want to see a Parliament focussed on improving schools for children across Scotland.

No ideas on how we ensure patients are seen more quickly in hospital so they get the treatment they deserve.

No insight into how we tackle endemic low-growth in Scotland.

This Parliament – within the next few days – is about to gain huge new powers over tax and welfare, making it one of the most powerful chambers of its kind in the world.

And yet, in this last week, we have seen a Government whose sole purpose is to spend its time complaining – as always – on the powers it doesn’t have.

We have seen a First Minister whose clear priority is to press ahead with a referendum campaign she wants to start tomorrow.

And wants to use our time here today in pursuit of her real purpose – in fact, her only real purpose in politics.

Let me deal briefly with the First Minister’s comments in relation to her meeting with the Prime Minister yesterday.

Let’s just go through what the First Minister didn’t mention.

I heard no welcome of the counter-terrorism plans announced by the Prime Minister in Govan yesterday

No welcome for the Prime Minister’s support for the Department for International Development in East Kilbride.

Instead, the only thing on the First Minister’s agenda yesterday and today is how to use her meeting with the Prime Minister to spin some kind of new rationale for her rushed timetable for a referendum.

First of all, she should be aware that even her own colleagues don’t share her view,

As Alex Neil stated last week, all may be not be done and dusted by March 2019 and a timetable for a trade deal could extend beyond that date.

I also refer the First Minister to that leading authority on all matters European, Joan McAlpine.

Who said in January : “There’s no way a trade agreement is going to be put in place within two years…..that’s completely unrealistic.”

Of course, I wouldn’t be as pessimistic as Mrs McAlpine.

I just look forward to her Damascene conversion now that the First Minister has ordered a different tactic be used in order to rouse grievance and resentment.

Presiding Officer, the truth is that nothing changed at all yesterday.

Just as she announced two weeks ago in Bute House, the First Minister wants to start a referendum campaign now.

To fire the starting gun on an 18-month countdown to a referendum.

To have people knocking on our doors from this weekend demanding your vote.

Independence campaigners re-running the trope that we’d all be £500 better off.​

Promising us the earth. Still without a plan on the currency, or on EU membership, or how we’d pay our way. I’m still wondering who did win the iPad.

Whereas our view – and the UK Government’s view – remains this:

That a time of enormous uncertainty…

When it’s only three years since the last vote.

One we were told would be once in a generation….

That the decision of the Scottish people would be respected by both sides

When there would be no re-run without an overwhelming change in public opinion

That people in Scotland have the right to see the Brexit process play out…

…to see it operating

…to see it working in practice.

And that, at this moment, we should be pulling together, not hanging apart.

And that – as Alex Neil also told the First Minister last week – we shouldn’t even be contemplating such a vote unless people come with us.

Mr Neil was arguing from his own perspective of somebody who wants independence.

Fair enough – and I respect his views.

I am arguing from the perspective of someone who believes that the First Minister’s plan for a rushed referendum, with a campaign beginning NOW, without public consent, with no agreement in place for how it should take place, with only one side dictating the timing, the franchise, the question, or the rules, would be a farce.

Most people – Yes, No and undecided – are right to be turned off this prospect – because they can see that too.

And as I said last week – and I repeat it today – I think the First Minister knows this.

She knows the proposal she is putting forward today can’t work. That it is not fair to the people of Scotland.

But that’s not the point.

Because this isn’t the serious plan of a responsible government.

It’s just the SNP cooking up the same old recipe for division.

Take one unworkable proposal. Add in some Greens. Stir in grievance. And bring to the boil.

It might have worked once – but let me tell the First Minister: it stinks and most people in Scotland aren’t buying it.

Presiding Officer, I have said my piece – twice.

We will be voting against the SNP’s motion today and in support of our own amendment.

We also still call on the Greens to honour their own manifesto commitment.

Unless of course, Mr Harvie can now inform the chamber that – in the days since we last met – he has finally managed to collect that elusive millionth signature in his referendum petition?

No? Can he?…..

As I say nothing has changed since last week – except this.

Since the debate was postponed last Wednesday, we have learned:

That fewer than half of nurseries in Scotland will offer extended free early learning and nursery hours.

That Police Scotland has a projected deficit of nearly £50 million next year.

That just 5% of Scottish schools have been inspected in Scotland in the last year.

That the SNP Government has u-turned on junior doctor hours and now won’t bring down the amount of time they can work.

That two formers members of the independent panel into the Mesh implants scandal are warning that the report is a “betrayal” and will be “watered down”.

And, only this morning, we learn that cancer waiting times have been missed again, for the fourth year in a row.

Last week, in what was a disgraceful episode, we were shouted at from the SNP benches and told we were frightened to debate independence.

We’re not. But we are sick of it.

And most people in Scotland have had enough too.

Because this parliament needs to and must focus on the priorities of the people of this country.

This is not the time to be side-tracked by yet more unnecessary division.

It is time for a Government that focuses on the job we pay it to do.

I move the amendment in my name.”