2 May 2017
Please see below the text of a speech given by Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson today, ahead of Thursday’s local government elections.
Good morning everybody
And can I thank-you all for turning out today.
Friends, there are less than 48 hours till polls open on Thursday.
And we are here today to make it clear to everybody in Scotland this week – the Scottish Conservatives are back right across the country, and we stand ready to serve.
Ready to combat the SNP power grab which has sucked power out of local communities across Scotland these last ten years.
We say: the SNP Government in Edinburgh isn’t Scotland. It shouldn’t get to decide everything that happens in our Borderland communities, to our island villages, in our powerhouse cities.
We say at this election: let’s restore energy, vitality and power to those cities, towns and villages.
Because that’s where Scotland’s powerbase really lies – not in Holyrood or Nicola Sturgeon’s First Ministerial office.
It’s in our communities, in the lives and actions of people across our country.
Now – the reason I decided to make a speech on our local government plans this morning was simple.
As you may have noticed, there have been a few minor distractions over the last couple of weeks.
Once again, local government has played bridesmaid to the national picture.
So I wanted today to shift the focus back – for the next 48 hours at least – onto these vitally important elections that we face on Thursday.
Because these elections will have huge impact on our daily lives.
For all the attention we focus on Westminster and Holyrood, on Thursday we decide on:
* how best we can improve the running of our schools.
* how to boost transport.
* how to bring jobs, support business and regenerate our local economies
* and how to restore vibrancy to our high streets
And we do something more as well. Because the other question on the ballot paper on Thursday is this:
Who will stand up against the SNP?
Who, in our local communities, will act as champions for local services not cheerleaders for separation?
It can ONLY be the Scottish Conservatives who provide that challenge.
ONLY committed Conservative councillors who will do what the SNP has singularly failed to do in 10 years in power in Scotland – and demand they do the same.
To get on with the day job.
To focus on what really matters to people in their local communities.
Now – our manifesto for the council elections was published a couple of weeks back to what I have to admit has been muted interest so far.
But for all that it didn’t exactly command the headlines amid all the general election excitement, it does spell out a thorough and clear vision.
And I note in passing that it is far more substantial than any of the proposals put forward by our opponents.
At its heart is a case for localism and for growth.
And arguing against the SNP Government’s stifling, centralising agenda which has concentrated too much power in Edinburgh.
Only at the weekend, we heard how this restrictive approach is damaging another of our great national institutions: the NHS.
Here’s what Professor Alan Rodger, the former medical director of the Beatson had to say about the SNP. “There is a culture of absolute control. No one is allowed to ask questions.” Another NHS official was quoted as saying: “We don’t have government; we have a dictatorship”.
Quite simply, the Nationalists distrust anything that isn’t under their complete control – because they fear it will undermine their grip on power.
And that includes local government.
Councils have been relegated to the role of service-delivery, often mere agents of the SNP Government in Edinburgh.
Our plan is the opposite: it is to renew their sense of purpose.
So our manifesto sets this out.
It’s why we are proposing – where there is the demand – to have directly elected provosts for cities, councils or wider regions.
Powerful figures with a strategic remit and the levers they need to drive economic growth, attract businesses and bring jobs to their area.
Able to challenge the First Minister in Edinburgh.
We’re already seeing the challenge cities like Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham are creating – acting like units to attract investment and development.
And, to compete, our own cities should have greater powers too.
We want to turbo-charge the City Deals partnerships between the UK and Scottish governments which are now in place or under negotiation for each of Scotland’s seven cities.
The UK Government’s new Industrial Strategy recognises the vital role of local government in supporting that work.
We say: let’s bring in local business leaders to form Local Government Partnerships with councils so they can drive forward growth.
And to boost councils further, we also argue at this election for them to have more control over the money raised locally.
A simpler, more responsive and more flexible business rates system is a key priority.
And Councils should keep all of their business rates income – giving local leaders a clear incentive to pursue the policies that will grow their economy.
For the same reason, we want councils to retain reformed property taxes raised in their area.
In addition, they should have the power to introduce local relief schemes, to help attract development and new residents.
Together these proposals amount to a clear and coherent programme that will begin to restore local government to its historic role as the engine room of the Scottish economy.
Add in council tax, they would place £5 billion worth of spending power back in the hands of local councils – for them to decide how to spend.
So – more power driven down to Councils.
And more reform too.
Our councils deliver schools for our children, care for the elderly
They repair roads, provide housing and plan our towns, cities and villages.
They are at the vanguard of our environmental protection – And much more besides.
Our councilors will work in local government to improve the way councils respond.
Take this beautiful city of Edinburgh.
A city whose beauty is marred by dirty streets and overflowing bins.
Last week a city-wide survey of recorded record low satisfaction with the state of Edinburgh’s streets.
A disgrace in our capital city and global tourist destination.
It has been a running sore for years.
But will swapping the Labour-SNP coalition that has allowed this to happen for an SNP-Labour coalition make a difference?
Somehow, I have my doubts.
We need a fresh approach.
Or take education.
We recognise the excellent work that goes in schools across the country and the dedicated commitment of teachers.
But we cannot ignore failings in the system.
Scotland has fallen behind in world rankings for literacy, numeracy and science and we need reforms that will address the problem.
That’s why we want to see greater diversity in schools, more autonomy for headteachers and a focus on basic literacy and numeracy.
That could mean schools run outside of local authority control, where there is a demand. And it should mean greater control over budgets, recruitment and school policies for headteachers within the existing Local authority structure.
On the shameful attainment gap between children from better and worse off backgrounds – which the SNP Government has failed to address – we would extend free childcare to a higher proportion of disadvantaged two-year-olds and disadvantaged one-year-olds.
It is not right that children arriving at primary schools from our poorest backgrounds already have a vocabulary 18 months behind those from our richest.
With councils delivering better education, families will benefit and the whole economy will benefit.
And the same applies with other key council functions such as housing, planning, transport and infrastructure.
We need greater ambition if we are to return to pre-recession levels of house building.
We should be building 100,000 new homes over the lifetime of a Holyrood parliament but to meet such an ambitious target, we’ll need to overhaul the cumbersome, delay-plagued planning system.
Councils should also be at the heart of a new drive to build on brownfield sites.
They should be making it easier for people to build their own homes – and for developers to convert derelict buildings into housing.
And they should be able to offer first time buyer council tax discounts.
Councils also have a role in ensuring our existing housing stock is fit for purpose. We would invest £1billion to ensure all Scotland’s homes are warm and energy efficient by the end of the decade.
Across a range of areas, local authorities should be working in much closer partnership with central government to identify needs and deliver change.
Local-driven growth is key.
If a bigger share of capital spending was devolved to local authority level, councils could take a lead in delivering the infrastructure they know their area needs most – and investing in the assets that make their area special.
And….. pot holes.
You didn’t seriously think I’d make a speech about our approach to council services without mentioning the state of our roads, did you?
You know they are a menace.
We know they are a menace.
And that’s why we want a central Road Maintenance Fund to bid for cash – pots of cash – so holes in the road can fixed much more quickly.
And don’t let anyone say that this stuff doesn’t matter. That it’s too small to take our attention.
Indeed I dare say this: if you asked most Scots right now – they’d rather SNP councilors were filling up in cracks in their road, not opening up cracks in the UK.
Under our Conservative Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, Holyrood is becoming one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world.
Powers over tax and welfare that were promised in 2014 have been delivered in full by a Conservative Government.
As Holyrood turns 18, it really is coming of age. More responsible. More accountable.
It is long, long past time for our local councils to take on greater responsibility too.
They should be trusted, empowered and freed from the dead hand of SNP Government centralisation.
When that happens we can create a virtuous circle.
A virtuous circle where economic growth benefits local communities and the rewards can be reinvested in services that deliver for people.
And in turn that drives the economy.
We know this cannot happen under the SNP.
If the SNP gain control of more town halls on Thursday, it will be a backward step.
Vital local service will be in the hands of supine administrations, happily submitting to Nicola Sturgeon’s centralising agenda.
We offer a real alternative.
And – OF COURSE – a vote for the Scottish Conservatives on Thursday is a vote for something else too.
It’s a vote that ensures that in your local community, in your local town and city, there is someone near you who you can rely on to fight the SNP’s obsession with separation.
Who doesn’t see it as an added on extra.
Who values our place in the UK – and believes the decision we all made to stay in the UK has a right to be respected.
And – make no mistake – these councillors are going to be vital.
Because the SNP is not going to give up.
Of course, Nicola Sturgeon in now trying to face both ways. Telling the faithful that Independence is at the heart of her campaign and telling the rest of us it couldn’t be further from her mind.
It didn’t look very convincing when – last week – she posed astride a motorbike festooned with Yes stickers.
Like a Nat out of Hell.
We all know the truth of it.
They’ll play down independence during a campaign.
Then – afterwards – they’ll claim any advance in their support as a mandate for nothing but.
And it’s no different with Thursday’s vote either.
One prominent independence campaigner last week rallied Nationalist activists with a promise that the council elections would ‘help regain momentum for indyref2’.
It’s not hard folks. The SNP see EVERY election as a chance to push for independence.
That’s what’s they’re for.
And that – I am afraid – is what they are determined to carry on with as well.
It’s like the slowest dance of the seven veils.
Before Jetting off to America, Nicola Sturgeon promised she’d lay out her next moves to parliament.
Now she’s back, it’ll have to wait til after the election.
But she won’t tell the country what the plan is after June 8th.
Irrespective of the result, come June the 9th she’ll simply claim it as a renewed mandate to break up Britain by fair means or foul. It’s what she does.
It isn’t on.
Scotland is one quarter away from recession. Our school performance is going backward. Our services are under strain.
And the people of Scotland don’t want dragged back to another divisive referendum at this time.
They want us to get on with the job.
So let me close with this.
We may be focused on two separate election campaigns right now.
But one thing has already become clear.
Only the Scottish Conservatives can stand up to the SNP against a second referendum.
Only the Scottish Conservatives can lead Scotland’s fightback against the SNP.
That is what is at stake and I make no apology for being as clear about it as I can.
But for those who say that is ALL that we are about I say – no.
We’re not opposed to a referendum simply because we’re Unionists.
We’re opposed to it because we want Scotland to focus back on the things that matter.
The things we’re voting about on Thursday.
Your local school.
Your family’s social care.
The quality of your local services.
Politics IS about priorities. It is always about priorities.
And a vote for the Scottish Conservatives on Thursday is a vote to say where your priorities lie.
Not on a second referendum most of us don’t want.
Not on more division, more uncertainty, more constitutional wrangling.
But on putting Scotland back on track.
We have less than 48 hours left to persuade people of our case.
So let’s get out there and do it.