Jackson Carlaw speech at Conservative party conference

29 Sep 2019

Please see below the text of Jackson’s speech given at the Scottish Conservative event at conference this afternoon.

Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw said:

“I know what you are thinking.

‘He doesn’t much look like Ruth Davidson’. Either that or perhaps, ‘Motherhood agrees with him’.

Or worst of all given my weight, ‘When is he due?’

And in one sense at least, you would be right.

While it was a huge pleasure and privilege to lead the Scottish Conservatives while Ruth was having her baby, I didn’t expect to now be left literally holding the baby as well.

But before I say anything else, let me thank Ruth Davidson for all she achieved for Scottish Conservatives.

As someone who first spoke at this Party Conference in 1982, believe me I have seen the highs and lows of political fortune for Conservatives in Scotland, and frankly for far too long there were far more lows than there ever were highs.

Then came Ruth. Not only was there suddenly this ferocious force of energy and personality and at times it has to be said, a pretty raucous personality at that.

But crucially, it was accompanied by a strong and instinctive sense of political purpose.

Over the 40 years I have been involved, I’ve been lucky to have known all the big figures of Scottish Conservatism; Alec Douglas Home, George Younger, Michael Forsyth, Malcolm Rifkind – but the one who shaped my early views as to where Scottish Conservatives should pitch our wagon was Teddy Taylor, later of course the MP for Southend. It was Teddy who in the 1970s actively promoted ‘Blue Collar Conservatism’. Representing inner city Glasgow he once told me ‘Jackson, I represent the people who don’t all live in big hooses’.

And then for far too long we appeared to lose that connection and ambition. Lost it that is until Ruth came roaring on to Scotland’s stage. And with Ruth’s success came what I will now call, ‘Generation Ruth’ Scottish Conservatives.

And just to be clear ‘Generation Ruth’ is not an ageist movement, its about commitment to standing up and fighting for an opportunity Scotland at the heart of our United Kingdom.

So it includes soon to be 70 years old young Peter Chapman MSP just as it includes yet to be 30 years old Oliver Mundell MSP.

And Generation Ruth extends way beyond parliament – to a new generation of council success – like Thomas Kerr in Glasgow Shettleston, or Nathan Wilson in Ravenscraig – yes you heard that right, Glasgow Shettleston & Ravenscraig. And beyond that again, in our universities and communities a powerful generation of diverse, committed Scottish Conservative Unionists.

So thank you Ruth, your legacy is an invigorated, diverse, committed and enthusiastic Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party ready and waiting to take the fight and to bury the most dangerous political alliance of modern times; Nicola Sturgeon & her new partner of convenience, Jeremy Corbyn.

And as we look ahead, our focus must be strong.

From a Holyrood perspective, it is on the 2021 election.

And here is the task.

First and foremost, we will stand up against the SNP’s remorseless wish to take us back to a second referendum on independence.

Truth be told there has never been a referendum held this century the result of which Nicola Sturgeon has not sought to ignore and overturn. Other than one; the illegal referendum in Catalonia – she loved that one.

We in this room will lead the campaign across Scotland to stop her.

I’ve heard people from other parties already getting dragged into speculation about the prospect of another independence referendum after the next Holyrood election.

Richard Leonard – that’s the Scottish Labour leader, for the majority who haven’t heard of him – Richard Leonard was at it again in parliament this week.

What should we say? What will the question be? When should it be held?

My message to them today is: for God’s sake, stop doing Nicola Sturgeon’s work for her.

The whole Nationalist project is remorselessly advanced on the assertion that somehow independence is inevitable.

That we can’t do anything about it, might just as well accept it’s happening, and start making preparations.

Well, sorry, no.

What we on the pro-Union side need is a bit of backbone.

People prepared to stand up to the SNP and give over appeasing Scottish nationalism and instead puncture the Nationalist bubble.

To remind people: it’s the Union that’s inevitable. The Union that has benefited Scotland for three unbroken centuries. The Union that will outlast us all.

Not to get sucked into the SNP’s tribal myth-making.

But to say to Nicola Sturgeon politely but firmly: you had your chance five years ago, you lost, you blew it, now let Scotland move on.

Only this week we learned that even the Scottish Government’s Permanent Secretary has warned the First Minister that another referendum would distract this Government from the day job we pay them to do. That it will diminish any effort and resource currently directed, however unproductively or successfully by the SNP, into the real priorities affecting our lives.

I say – for Nicola Sturgeon to keep pressing ahead regardless, with her so-called priority of education on the back-burner, is a complete disgrace.

So let me be clear.

The Scottish Conservatives will say no to any referendum the SNP proposes.

Not because we fear the result – but because we fear what it will do to Scotland.

Dividing us again. Holding us back. Trapping us in a constitutional time warp.

So, in 2021, we’ll see Nicola Sturgeon at the ballot box.

With this message.

Put your divisive, backward-facing, unwanted referendum on the table if you want to.

Our message from people all over Scotland will be simple, Scotland’s not for turning; vote for us and together we’ll dump that referendum for good.

Scotland can forget Labour and the other smaller parties: only we have the strength, the will and the resolve to replace the Nationalists in government.

After a decade of constitutional strife, Sturgeon’s referendum will be scrapped on day one and our next Scottish Parliament will be referendum free.

Frankly, it is time to stop being shy about Nicola Sturgeon; whether here in Manchester or media based in London, to stop casting Nicola Sturgeon as some benevolent Governor General presiding over a mythical and sparkling record of success – nothing could be less true.

Her 5 years as First Minister are years of unmitigated domestic failure; failing educational standards, increasing drift in our NHS, this year alone a 10% increase in violent crime, a stumbling economy, the highest taxes anywhere in the UK, public procurement delay, cost overrun and failure.

Ok sure, Nicola Sturgeon cuts a figure as she jets around the world promoting independence yet all the while the people’s business suffers.

My ambition will be to travel anywhere and everywhere, exclusively to promote Scottish business, to have a Scottish Government and First Minister focussed entirely on putting the people’s business first.

The problem is that Nicola Sturgeon still cannot accept that the people of Scotland emphatically rejected her idea of separation five years ago. Her party remains numbed by that defeat. And Scotland’s public services, our economy, our hopes and ambitions remain paralysed as a result.

Conference, the SNP does not speak for Scotland. The truth is they are damaging Scotland.

Take education.

That is part of Scottish identity. Before the Union Scotland had, arguably, the best most progressive education system in the world. The act of union in 1707 unleashed that educated Scottish talent on the world.

We have always taken pride that every Scot has enjoyed access to the best education to make the best of themselves. To be themselves. Individuals who improved themselves and who built our communities.

Now under the SNP we have an education system that does not bear comparison with the rest of the UK let alone the world.

Indeed the education secretary John Swinney has removed Scotland from many international comparators.

Using the saltire as a blindfold not a flag, he and the SNP will brook no criticism. To point out the failings of the Scottish education system they decry as being unpatriotic.

The truly unpatriotic thing is not to admit its failings. The truly unpatriotic thing is to do as they do and not address them. The truly foolish thing to do is to plough on with a loathed Named Persons policy; investing time, money and energy in a snooper’s charter only to have to, as we said all along, abandon it in abject humiliation.

Education is part of Scottish identity, yet those in the SNP who assert they are the exclusive keepers of Scottish identity, are doing their best to undermine it even if they are too dim-witted to realise it.

A generation of young Scots are being let down as never before. As a result Scotland’s future is being stunted by people with the arrogance and the delusion, that only they speak for Scotland.

That is why it is the task, the duty and the obligation of Scottish Conservatives to speak up for Scotland and to stand up for ordinary Scots.

Every child has the right to a proper education. The opportunity to make the best of themselves. We will give them that chance. We will keep that great Scottish tradition of education alive and refuse to allow the self-styled Scottish nationalists to kill opportunity for Scots and Scotland, our identity and our traditions.

It is said that our NHS is as much a part of our DNA as a public service. A faith. We rightly cherish it. Under the SNP it is increasingly less of a belief and more of a myth.

Our largest city, Glasgow, has a major hospital in the Queen Elizabeth, which despite heroic efforts of health workers is fast becoming more renowned for the diseases you might catch there than for those that they cure.

In our capital city, despite spending millions of pounds, we still do not have a new hospital to treat our sick children. And in Aberdeen our new hospital is £50m over budget.

Three hospitals, four health secretaries, starting with Nicola Sturgeon herself.

During the last three weeks at FMQs, we have exposed the SNP failings on hospitals, on education and this week on justice. But as we have also revealed this is no surprise as we have un-redacted the Scottish Government’s redacted documents to reveal that they have pursued their plans for Indyref2 despite being told by their own Permanent Secretary that this must be at the expense of all of these fundamental issues.

Before she was elected, our health secretary – Calamity Jeane Freeman – was a quango queen who famously charged the public purse for more days than there are in a calendar year.

Now she is in office it seems she cannot do a single proper day’s work.

Telling us you believe in the NHS is not enough. We will judge you by your actions and your inaction and both deliver a damning verdict; that the Health Secretary and the SNP by their actions do not believe in the NHS in a way, which matches their words.

Education is not the SNP’s priority. Nor is health. Nor is our economy.

Theirs is a rigid, bitter politics that cannot adapt to the post referendum age or Scotland’s post Brexit needs.

Instead, Scottish Conservative and Unionists have the principles and the pragmatism not just to meet Scotland’s immediate needs but to lay out and build a better future.

To build prosperity we must give our children the best possible opportunities in education to make the best of themselves. To give them the chances that this SNP administration through inadequacy, incompetence and a misplaced focus on another referendum denies them.

To nurture talent. To empower the people who will build the communities and the businesses creating the wealth, giving people career opportunities, life chances and therefore investment in world class public services.

Our ‘once in a generation’ referendum in 2014 was as divisive as it was decisive. The SNP’s denial of Scotland’s verdict has made them increase division rather than heal the wounds their vote created.

Our vision is very different. It is to give Scots the freedom to build their own world and by doing so make our whole nation better.

There are only two genuine political choices now in Scotland. The SNP or the Conservatives.

The Liberal Democrats now proclaim policies that prove they don’t believe in democracy. Neither Liberal nor Democrat.

The Labour Party do not represent the views of the many but increasingly those of the fewer and fewer.

And let me here take just a moment as the MSP for Eastwood where some 40% of Scotland’s Jewish population live to make clear just how unacceptable it is this morning to find that Nicola Sturgeon is prepared, in her words, to be “open minded” to making Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister even for a few days.

The prospect of Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister strikes genuine fear not just with Scotland’s Jewish community but with Jewish friends all across the UK.

And no First Minister, however obsessed with achieving indyref2 should even for a moment, in a move of dangerous political expediency, conspire to make that possible. It is a grave error of judgement and Nicola Sturgeon must withdraw this threat without delay.

At the next election in 2021, the SNP’s only offer will be to take Scotland back to 2014. Fourteen years in office with little achieved in the last five with Sturgeon, they will ask us to go back to 2014 to have a re-run of a decisive vote because they didn’t like the decision, because the party that asserts, that deludes itself, that it speaks for all Scots, cannot actually accept the views of the majority of Scots.

We will not have it. We will stand up for the majority of Scots. We will stand up for Scotland and take strides forwards rather than steps back.

On the economy, we will resist the Nationalists’ record in  making Scotland the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom.

Instead, we will deliver a competitive tax system that attracts people to come and work here.

We will give young people the skills needed. And deliver the economic policies that will put some ‘va va voom’ in the Scottish tank.

Later this year, our Scottish Future Growth Council – led by Andrew Dunlop – will deliver its final report on creating a more productive Scotland.

And once finalised, I intend to make sure we take our plan out and across Scotland.

Because we – not – the Nationalists – are the party of the strivers, the entrepreneurs, the small business looking to get on.

I intend to make sure everyone knows it. So the Scottish Conservative Shadow Cabinet will tour Scotland not in private but in public to demonstrate how we are a party that promotes business, jobs, entrepreneurs, the High Street, research and development, innovation and a thriving modern post-Brexit dynamic economy.

Yes, let me say that again. Scotland will meet the challenge and seize the opportunities of a post-Brexit economy.

I said earlier that Nicola Sturgeon had never seen a referendum result this century she did not seek to ignore or overturn.

That’s not democracy. I sit in a Scottish Parliament precisely because Scottish Conservatives accepted the referendum result in 1997 and buckled down to the task.

And however we have voted in referendums since, win or lose, we have accepted those results as well, we have accepted the choice of the majority every time.

All power then to Boris Johnson as he seeks to achieve a fresh arrangement with our European partners and an orderly exit from the EU on October 31st. And if he does, it is the duty surely of all those who say they will do everything they can to avoid a no-deal to vote for that fresh arrangement.

And as we develop our policy platform for the 2021 election, we must focus on the biggest job of all; repairing the damage of 14 years of Nationalist mis-rule, and restore Scotland’s reputation as the greatest educator in Europe.

Reforming the travesty the Nationalists have made of Curriculum for Excellence – so it actually delivers results for teachers and pupils.

Widening choice, so pupils are no longer told at 15 that they are unable to study the subjects they had set their minds on choosing.

And, above all, doing the one thing that will above all restore morale and boost standards – and that is to get more teachers back in the classroom.

Let’s never let the Nationalists forget, fewer teachers in our classrooms today than when they came to power.

We know what most Scots want after the next election: more teachers, not a referendum Nicola.

And Scottish Conservatives will deliver.

The stakes could not be higher, yet the opportunities could not be greater.

We have worked too hard, through too many days of adversity, not to have optimism and confidence now.

I remember when we were knocked to the canvass in 1997. The numbness of it. The resolve and determination of David McLetchie, the earthy good humour of Annabel Goldie and then the grounded dynamism of Ruth Davidson – their leadership allowed us to punch above our weight and grow in strength, purpose and resolve.

Now we are back. We have won and sustained our place as Scotland’s principal party of opposition. Now we are preparing for government. We are fit. We are contenders.

I said when I began that I found myself in the wake of Ruth’s departure left holding the baby. Believe me I ain’t going to drop it. After a generation of bitter and tribal nationalism people across Scotland are looking to us to stop Sturgeon, unite the nation and deliver for them, for ALL of them.

And we are ready.”