Time for a Scottish Alternative

10 Aug 2015

By Ruth Davidson

Welcome to election year. Again. No sooner has the General Election been completed than a new political year is getting underway which will decide the makeup of the Scottish Parliament.

Scotland’s voters will be forgiven if they are experiencing ballot box fatigue at the thought of yet another campaign. But next year’s vote is both different to what has gone before and significant in its own right.

If the referendum was about our membership of the UK and the general election was about the UK’s future direction, next year is all about what happens in Scotland. It is long past time that Scotland’s domestic affairs got the scrutiny they deserve. It is about what happens next in our cities, towns and villages.

All those things we hold dear; our children’s school, our local hospital, how safe we feel, what roads are built – the bread and butter issues which decide the quality of all our lives are being put under the microscope.

And more than that, new powers coming to Holyrood during the next parliament mean we need to debate and discuss how much tax we pay, what welfare changes are made and how we support unemployed people back into work.

For my part, following more than eight years of SNP rule, five as an all-powerful majority, I will ensure the Scottish Conservatives provide a clear Scottish alternative to the Nationalist orthodoxy over these coming months.

That means challenging the SNP on their record – and there’s plenty to challenge – but it has to be more that. It has to be about showing people that there’s a different, better, way to go.

A future for Scotland as a dynamic, confident nation that creates employment opportunities, supports business and encourages skills training at every age or stage in life.

It’s about a country, comfortable enough in its own skin, to use the advantages it has from being part of the fastest-growing economy in the G8 to boost investment and build an international reputation.

It’s about a government that is honest enough to recognise what’s working well in our hospitals and what is failing, where advancements are being made in education or where we have fallen behind.

It’s about a society where we trust our councils, communities, colleges and chief inspectors enough to make decisions for themselves, rather strip them of responsibility and hoard it at Holyrood.

The SNP have enjoyed undoubted electoral success. At the last Scottish Parliamentary election they recorded an overall majority of seats – a feat the designers of our political system thought impossible. Just a few months ago they swept 56 of Scotland’s 59 Westminster constituencies before them in an electoral tsunami.

I do not deny the nationalists their victory, but equally no-one should make the mistake of thinking that the party has sole claim to speak for Scotland. It does not.

Nobody likes a one-party state and a full fifty percent of the voting public didn’t vote SNP in May. Many of those voters are now asking themselves the question – who stands for us?

In part, this is a function of the mess they see in the one party which would once have been their answer. But, without a leader in either Scotland or at a UK level, the Labour party has been consumed by its internal difficulties.

I have no wish to intrude on private grief, but the idea that Jeremy Corbyn could be the answer to Labour’s problems would be funny if the situation were not so serious.

Labour’s collective nervous breakdown has left a void which, as a Unionist, worries me. Scotland needs pro-union parties to step up, challenge the hypocrisy of the SNP and continually make the positive case for our United Kingdom.

So my aim ahead of next May’s election, therefore, is to ensure that the Scottish Conservatives stand up and are counted. That we become the force that Scotland needs us to be.

We will strive do two things.

Firstly, we will challenge the SNP on their push towards separation. That they are striving for it is clear. Only weeks ago, Alex Salmond declared that a second referendum was “inevitable”. This week we learnt that SNP activists have been tabling resolutions demanding a re-run at their party conference this October.

The only conclusion to reach is that – despite promises of ‘once in a generation – the SNP is winding up for another vote on separation. In the face of this, we on the pro-Union side need to be just as passionate about our cause as the Nationalists are about theirs. Too often, pro-UK parties have failed to stand up unambiguously in support of our place Britain. It is not a mistake I intend to make.

And secondly, we will seek to offer a clear vision of how a different, better way is possible. Too often the SNP likes to portray itself as the helpless victim of Westminster decisions, all the better to inflame nationalist sentiment. This has never been accurate, but as new powers are added to the already extensive list that the SNP controls, It simply will not hold any more.

It is time we had a debate in Scotland about how we take responsibility – not blame others – for our own problems. There is nothing stopping the Scottish Government from radically improving the quality of our education and from putting the NHS on a stable long-term footing. There is nothing stopping them from dealing with the crisis of confidence in the centralised police service put in place by the SNP. There is nothing stopping them from setting out a clear vision of how Scotland can become the most dynamic part of the UK over the coming decade.

My ambition over the coming nine months will be to set out that plan and show that there is a Scottish alternative to the SNP’s old politics of grievance – a centre-ground plan for working families which will deliver security for Scotland and a stable future for your family; a plan, in other words, which reaches out to those who want to keep Scotland in the UK, and build strong foundations for our society.

I know that many people in Scotland may not have voted Scottish Conservative before but, following the referendum, we face changed times. And we, as a party, have changed too – backing a stronger Scottish Parliament and values which will lead to a stronger society. So I am determined to reach out to former Labour voters, LibDem voters, indeed, anyone who just wants a centre-ground plan that accepts and promotes our place in the UK, and secures jobs and prosperity for families within it.

There is a proper, practical, pro-UK alternative to the SNP, and we are determined over the next year to provide it.

This article first appeared in the Sunday Times, Sunday 9th August 2015