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Michael Gove speech to Scottish Conservative Conference

4 May 2019

It’s great to be back in Aberdeen. It’s great to be home.

It’s particularly great to be back when talented Conservatives are running the council in Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire, and with fantastic campaigning Conservatives as MSPs for the North-East.

And right across the region, in Moray, Banff and Buchan, West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, Aberdeen South, Angus, and of course in Gordon, a superb team of outstanding Conservative MPs.

In particular, on behalf of everyone in Parliament, I want to thank the Salmond-slayer himself, Colin Clark.

Alexei Salmond, as I believe he’s now called on television, is in some respects symbolic of the SNP overall. They claim to be thinking about Scotland’s future, but their reality is Russia Today.

In Scotland, the Conservative revival is the direct result of thousands of party members with the campaigning energy, political dedication and principled determination to put the country first. You have been magnificent.

It’s also the result of the fantastic leadership, courage and vision of your leader, and my friend, Ruth Davidson.

Ruth is brave, principled and, above all, honest. In fact, refreshingly honest. Especially when she talks to me.

One day, when I had just asked a favour, she told me: “Michael, it’s often said that politics is showbiz for ugly people. Well, I have to say as a politician, you are a complete natural.”

Ruth’s sense of humour, her talent for truth-telling and her dedication to public service are the ingredients that make her someone special.

Whether it be in broadcasting, in the territorial army, or in Holyrood, throughout her life, she has always – always – put herself at the service of others.

And that is why, the greatest service we can do for Scotland is to make her First Minister in 2021. 

Now while Aberdeen is my home, and I am absolutely delighted that the North East now has even more Conservative and Unionist MPs than in my boyhood, I do have a confession to make.

I wasn’t born in Aberdeen. And I wasn’t born a Tory.

Just over 51 years ago, I was born in Edinburgh to a single mother who had to give me up for adoption. I spent the first four months of my life in care, and then I was adopted by my parents, Ernie and Christine.

My dad was a fish merchant, running a small business that his dad had set up just down the road from here. My mum worked in a jewellery shop, then as a lab assistant at the University, and then for the Aberdeen School For the Deaf, where my adopted sister Angela was taught.

From the moment I arrived, my parents gave me unconditional love. They gave me everything.

As my mother said when she explained to me the circumstances of my adoption: “Son, you didn’t grow under my heart, you grew in it.”

They gave me the best possible start in life, and sacrificed their own comforts, so that I could get an amazing education here in Aberdeen and become the first person in our family to go to university.

Along the way, my dad’s business closed. I saw what it was like to have a dream die. But throughout some tough times, my parents were always thinking of others, of me and my sister, of the good workers my dad had employed, who he was determined should find other jobs.

And they thought of other friends and relatives, who they also stood by, who were going through an even worse time.

My parents are the reason why I am in politics.

I want to show them the chance they took and the love that they gave in choosing me has in the end worked out. I want to repay their kindness and love by doing whatever I can to help make others’ lives that wee bit better.

And just as they gave me the chance to choose my future, I want to ensure  that everyone has the ability to determine their own destiny. To be the author, and the editor, of their own life story.

And the reason I’m a Tory politician is that the virtues I’ve seen them exhibit throughout their lives:

Hard work.

A belief that business is a force for good.

A faith in education as a good in itself.

A compassion for those less fortunate, which leads to action not just words.

A big heart that they don’t want to wear on their sleeve.

A willingness to take risks and believe the best in others.

A basic sense of justice, combined with a readiness to forgive.

I believe that these are virtues which we in the Tory Party strive to live up to every single day.

So while I wasn’t born in Aberdeen, and I wasn’t born a Tory, I want you to know how much it means to me that I was brought up in Aberdeen.

And brought up by incredible parents who gave me the chance

to stand up and be counted as a proud Conservative and a passionate Unionist.

And never has the case for the Union needed making more strongly. Because some people quite literally just don’t get it.

In 2014, Scotland voted to stay in the United Kingdom. 

My mum and dad, and millions of others, were asked if they wanted Scotland to separate, and this union to be broken. And they said no.

They didn’t want their grandchildren to be foreigners. They didn’t want the ties that bind us all and the institutions we share the military, the BBC, the NHS, to be split in two.

They couldn’t have been clearer. No to separation, yes to the Union, and let’s get on with making Scotland stronger inside the United Kingdom.

But Nicola Sturgeon thinks she knows better than a majority of Scots. What part of no does she not understand?

Her single-minded obsession with independence to the exclusion of all else is contemptuous of Scotland’s interests and puts all our futures at risk.

Just last week she said she’d have another independence referendum. Simply because she didn’t like the answer she got in the last one. 

Let us spell it out for her loud and clear in this hall. We said no, and we meant it.

The idea that what Scotland wants now is another expensive, divisive, investment-freezing, prosperity-draining, uncertainty-generating, family-separating, acrimony-escalating referendum is politically reckless, democratically insulting and just plain wrong.

And it’s not as though there aren’t critical issues that Scotland’s Government should be focussed on. Fighting crime, investing in the NHS, improving schools. These are all policies that politicians need to prioritise.

But instead the SNP want to ignore Scotland’s needs. Because there’s only ONE thing they want, one thing they care about, one goal in their minds: holding another independence referendum.

If Nicola Sturgeon were on a TV quiz show she’d never stand a chance of winning. Because whatever the question, her answer is always indyref2. And you don’t need Alexander Armstrong and Richard Osman to tell you that really is a pointless answer.

But while the SNP have only one thing on their mind, Scotland’s Conservatives are putting their head, heart and soul into improving people’s daily lives.

We desperately need to improve Scotland’s schools. Nicola Sturgeon used to agree. She said education would be her top priority as First Minister. Since then, the number of teachers in Scotland’s schools has shrunk by more than 3,000.

The range of subjects on offer to students has been restricted, and in the latest International league tables Scotland’s education system is falling further and further behind other countries.

Scotland’s next generation are being denied the opportunities they deserve because the SNP are obsessed with independence when they should be focussed on our children’s future.

But as First Minister, I know that Ruth Davidson would ensure that schools got the money and the teachers they need, that there would be a relentless focus on improving standards and that headteachers would have the powers they need to enforce effective discipline and help children flourish.

It’s not just education where we need a new approach. The NHS in Scotland is also suffering because of the Scottish Government’s failure to do their day job. 

And the Scottish Government is also failing in the fight against crime.

Failing on crime, letting down the NHS, going backwards on education.

The SNP are so busy arguing for independence that they aren’t using the powers that the Scottish Parliament already has to improve lives.

Instead, they’re arguing that the way to improve the lives of Scots is to ditch the pound and give Scotland its own currency.

So you’d have a Bureau de Change at Berwick and you couldn’t use sterling in Stirling. It’s a crazy idea, and Nicola Sturgeon knows it. She didn’t want it to become SNP policy but her party insisted.

And now she has to argue for something she doesn’t believe in which would drive up prices in Scottish shops and make Scotland poorer.

Instead of dividing Scots between themselves, and dividing Scotland from the rest of the UK, we need a First Minister who can bring people together.

Someone who can deliver a growing economy, improve public services and better opportunities for the next generation.

A First Minister who can ensure we get all the benefits of Brexit while also safeguarding every sector of the economy.

And that First Minister simply has to be Ruth Davidson. And only Ruth can ensure that in the future, prosperity is spread right across Scotland, starting here in the North East.

The Scottish Conservatives are the only party in Scotland that is committed to taking us out of the Common Fisheries Policy and taking advantage of the sea of opportunity that would bring.

I know first-hand from what happened to my dad’s business the damage the CFP caused to our fishing industry.

And now we can put that right. The Scottish Government’s own figures show that there could be thousands of new jobs and hundreds of thousands of pounds of growth in our economy with Fraserburgh, Peterhead and Aberdeen leading the way.

But that same SNP Government wants to throw that growth away by staying in the EU and in the Common Fisheries Policy.

Let the message from this hall come out loud and clear: We are leaving the CFP. We are putting Scotland’s interests first. And we are taking back control.

Neither Labour nor the Liberal Democrats can be trusted to stand up for our precious union, take the fight to the nationalists and unite Scotland in hope.

Jeremy Corbyn has said that he would be “absolutely fine” with a second independence referendum. The man is a danger to our Union. Indeed a danger to our whole security.

He’s said he wants to get rid of our independent nuclear deterrent. He’s said he wants to pull us out of Nato. He’s said countries that boast about their armed forces are mistaken and we should admire Costa Rica which has no army.

Ditching the deterrent, alienating our allies, diminishing the role the brave men and women of our military play.

He is just not fit to lead this nation. In an increasingly dangerous world, this man cannot be trusted to keep our country safe. Which is why he must never, never, never be allowed into Downing Street.

But let us be in no doubt. If we want to avert that danger, we need to deliver. And that means a Brexit deal that works for the whole United Kingdom.

If local elections down south tell us anything, they remind us that referendum verdicts must be honoured. Lots of hardworking Conservative councillors lost their seats because Parliament has not yet delivered Brexit.

I believe the deal the Prime Minister has negotiated does recognise the hopes and concerns of Remainers and Leavers alike.

It enables us to leave the EU, while safeguarding essential interests and liberating us to enjoy new opportunities.

I am all too aware of how hard the Prime Minister has worked and how dedicated she has been to secure a good Brexit deal.

Which is why I hope that when Parliament returns, that MPs from every party will unite to respect the referendum result and back the deal. That is what democracy demands.

And then we can concentrate on uniting our country behind the vision of a brighter future and restore trust to our politics.

Conservatives in Government have achieved great things over the years.

From ending the slave trade, to introducing equal marriage. From clean air acts, to climate change action. From extending home ownership, to investing more in childcare. From creating more jobs than ever before, to having more children in good and outstanding schools than ever before.

And all of these changes for the better have been driven by our belief in the worth of every individual. And now we need to drive forward with confidence the vision that will make this country even greater.

To make us the best place in the world for education, innovation and science. To show we are the best place in the world for people of different backgrounds and cultures to make their common home.

To show how free markets and free enterprise can help make a world-beating economy that works for every single individual.

To see this country lead the world in the fight for a better environment for the next generation.

And ensure that every single person across this United Kingdom is accorded equal worth and dignity, equal opportunity and hope, equal respect and compassion. That is the change Ruth can bring to Holyrood, and only the Conservatives can bring, to our whole country. Change for the better. And change that you can believe in