Douglas Ross delivered the keynote speech to the Scottish Conservative conference fringe on Sunday 3 October.
The full speech is below:
Thank you for that introduction Meghan.
And it’s fantastic for us to able to come together in the same room today.
After more than a year as Scottish Conservative Leader, amazingly this is the first time that I have been able to address members in person.
The fact that our party can now meet together again here in Manchester is a sign that we have turned a corner and that the worst us now behind us.
It’s thanks to the world leading success of the UK vaccination scheme.
An incredible showcase of the strength of our Union, of what we can achieve together as one United Kingdom.
And it is great to be able to come together again as party to celebrate.
Because we in the Scottish Conservative Party do have something to celebrate.
Against the expectation of the naysayers and the doom mongers.
Against the expectations of pollsters and most of the media,
We succeeded. In May we proved them all wrong.
The Scottish Conservatives returned 31 MSPs and won 100,000 more votes than ever before to deliver our best ever result in a Scottish Parliament election.
When we held our virtual conference last October, I promised you that an SNP majority was not inevitable.
And while it was a photo finish, we delivered on that promise.
It was the Scottish Conservatives who stopped that SNP majority from happening, just like we said we would.
While Labour and the Liberal Democrats crumbled, losing seats and vote share in yet another election, it was our party that held firm and halted the nationalists in their tracks.
Before the votes had even been counted, Nicola Sturgeon was demanding another referendum – but because of our success, her words rang hollow.
Against her own expectations, nothing had changed.
She went into the election as the leader of a minority government and came out as the leader of a minority government.
So now, to keep the nationalist show on the road, she has done a desperate coalition deal with the extremist Greens. It’s an act of weakness, not of strength.
And it was the Scottish Conservatives who caused that upset.
I want to thank every single person in this room who contributed to our campaign and helped to deliver that fantastic result.
Everyone who donated, everyone who delivered leaflets, everyone who got to the bottom of a canvas call sheet and then asked for another one.
It was truly a team effort that paid off.
And to the over 630,000 Scots who voted for our party, some for the very first time.
Who gave us your conditional support, to stop an SNP majority and a second referendum.
We now have a more diverse and more able group of MSPs than ever before.
Scotland’s first Sikh MSP Pam Gosal.
Crime fighting journalist, turned politician Russell Findlay.
Glasgow GP Sandesh Gulhane.
Shop manager Sharon Dowey.
Tess White with her decades of experience in the Oil and gas industry.
And councillors Craig Hoy, Douglas Lumsden, Sue Webber and Meghan Gallagher
I am proud to lead this Scottish Conservative team that is providing the only opposition to the SNP.
The only party challenging them on so many issues.
Such as their plans to potentially scrap exams. Put 100,000 Scottish jobs in our oil and gas industry at risk. Or enforce their authoritarian Hate Crime Act.
We are not here to nod along with the cosy Holyrood consensus that exists between the SNP, Labour, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats.
We are not here to give the nationalists free rein and little scrutiny.
We are not here to play by their rules.
We are here to build Scotland’s real alternative to the SNP.
A real alternative that stands up for the beliefs of hard-working Scots right across the country.
A real alternative that upholds Scottish schooling traditions, sides with victims over criminals, backs Scottish businesses and stands up for free speech.
A real alternative that works with, not against the rest of the UK.
A real alternative for everyone who wants to get rid of this SNP Government.
Because while we can take a little time today to celebrate our achievement in the election, we must also prepare ourselves for the task ahead.
It’s not good enough to stop an SNP majority. We have to stop nationalism for good.
It’s a big challenge.
It will take a party that knows, listens to and represents working Scotland.
That was once the role of the Labour party. But no more.
They have imploded. Going from government, to opposition, to third party.
A collapse that is continuing with Anas Sarwar’s leadership.
Never mind pandas in Edinburgh Zoo, Scotland has more Alba MPs than Labour MPs.
Labour showed this week at their party conference that they remain a party obsessed with talking to themselves, about themselves, with themselves.
The most important policy that Keir Starmer brought forward was a botched attempt to change internal party rules.
The most significant news headline was a member of his own shadow cabinet resigning.
They sound more like a party preparing to fight a leadership election, not a general election.
One of Labour’s own MPs said this week and I quote “The break-up of Britain has happened, whether we like it or not”.
As if the votes of two million Scots to keep our country united don’t matter.
According to Clive Lewis we should just give up.
And that same attitude is present in Scottish Labour.
Several of their MSPs are on the record supporting another independence referendum.
Within days of the election, after getting their worst result ever, Anas Sarwar was making a “big offer” – his words – to work with Nicola Sturgeon.
And half a dozen of their council groups are working in coalition with the SNP right now.
Labour would rather work with the SNP, than stand up to them.
Is it any wonder that pro-UK voters have deserted them?
And who do they blame for so many working people turning away from them?
Corbyn? Starmer? Sarwar?
Instead, they blame Scottish voters for their own failings. They arrogantly talk of a “red wall” as if those voters belong to them.
Well, I have a hard truth, they aren’t Labour voters anymore.
Scottish Labour are a party of the past.
The red wall has gone for good.
Labour took people for granted – and those voters have moved on.
In May’s election, more working-class Scots voted Scottish Conservatives than Labour.
Those voters aren’t, as Angela Rayner would, say “vile”. They aren’t “nasty”. They aren’t “scum”.
They are just normal Scots looking for a party that can stand up to the SNP.
They are people like me, my family and my community.
We went to great local schools, like I did and my kids will too.
Many of us didn’t go to university, we went to college or even straight into work.
We were not raised wealthy but we were raised well by good, honest, hardworking parents who put in a real shift as lunch ladies, as my mum was, or as labourers – in some cases farm labourers – like my dad was.
We were taught the value of hard work and many of us know what it’s like to get started at 4am while most of the country is fast asleep.
We are the party of working class unionists in Scotland now because we represent their values.
In the election this year, we won 100,000 more votes.
Those votes came from communities like mine – and communities that fiercely and proudly consider themselves working class.
The working class of Scotland didn’t leave Labour, Labour left them and now they look to us to represent them.
And we will never take them for granted.
The Scottish Conservatives are building Scotland’s real alternative to the SNP for working people across the country.
And the audience for that real alternative is growing.
Working class people across Scotland look to Holyrood and see a Scottish Parliament that largely does not represent them.
Where the majority of parties ignore them and belittle their values.
There is a representation gap for working people.
Until recently, many of them had turned away from politics entirely.
They used to have a party to vote for – but it left them behind years ago.
My party will not look backwards. We are looking forward, to the next wall to fall.
It won’t be red this time. It will be SNP yellow.
Nicola Sturgeon has become detached from working class communities scarred by drug deaths and marred by all the other failings that her government is too distracted to tackle.
She has become out of touch, talking down to everyone who doesn’t speak at her supposedly higher level of intelligence.
No government for working people would bring in the Hate Crime Act.
No government for working people would ever treat crack cocaine less seriously than littering.
No government for working people would mess football fans and clubs around with a shambolic vaccine passport plan.
And no government for working people would be ramping up their independence campaign, as a leaked memo revealed the SNP are planning to do this very month.
Increasingly, their campaign is utterly divorced from the views and needs of the majority of their countrymen and women.
Nicola Sturgeon has turned the Scottish Government into a subsidiary of Yes Scotland, an organisation staffed by loyalists, built to deliver independence,
It’s not a government anymore. It’s a constitutional campaign group on stilts.
She has built a bureaucracy that are all well trained to play by SNP rules,
An establishment that sees the drug death crisis, and other scandals like it, as an annoying inconvenience on their road to separation.
But let’s never forget that no matter how often or how loudly the SNP go on about it, independence is a minority pursuit in Scotland.
Working Scotland has bigger and more pressing concerns than the minority’s endless agitation for a referendum re-run.
Like real action to tackle the scourge of drugs that is endemic in so many deprived Scottish communities.
Another independence referendum won’t rehabilitate a single Scottish drug user.
Or close the educational attainment gap that after 14 years of SNP rule, sees pupils from poorer backgrounds missing out on future opportunities.
Another referendum won’t transform the life chances of those children.
Or tackle the yawning inequalities in life expectancy between richer and less wealthy areas.
An independence referendum won’t add another day of good health to anyone’s life.
While they talk, we will act. That’s why we’re introducing a Right to Recovery Bill.
To tackle the drugs scandal that will be Nicola Sturgeon’s legacy.
Every year she has been First Minister, drug deaths have gone up, to the highest level in Europe.
Every party should be focused on this crisis.
But it is the Scottish Conservatives that are proposing the necessary bold action.
We are also progressing our Victims Law.
To put the Scottish justice system on the side of the victims, not criminals.
And today I can also announce two more bills that the Scottish Conservatives will bring forward in the immediate future.
My colleague Graham Simpson is bringing forward Mackay’s Law to give people the power to get rid of MSPs who don’t do their job.
The ex-SNP Finance Secretary, Derek Mackay, resigned in disgrace and was never seen in Parliament again.
Yet Scottish taxpayers were forced to continue to pay him over £100,000.
In no other job could someone pocket a six figure salary while hiding at home. So why would we stand for it in the Scottish Parliament?
And as we prepare for the local elections next year, we will restore powers to our communities.
This SNP Government wants to strip councils of powers and funding.
To overrule community planning objections, ring fence more of their budget, and centralise decision making.
An approach the SNP would attack as a power grab if taken by the UK Government.
As a local councillor for 10 years, I saw the direct impact national cuts from the Scottish Government have at a local level.
I saw the services that working people rely on most, that it seems this SNP government are happy to dismiss.
And I saw that communities know how to improve their area.
That is why we will introduce a new Local Government Powers and Protection Bill to put local people first.
In introducing these laws, we are challenging the SNP to back these Scottish Conservative plans – or tell taxpayers why they should go to work to pay for an MSP who won’t.
Back our plans or tell local communities that ministers at Holyrood know better than they do what their local area needs.
Back our plans or tell victims that the law isn’t on their side.
Back our plans or tell the families of people addicted to drugs that there is no hope.
With these plans, we are bringing forward substance, not sound bites.
Conference, the Scottish Conservatives have a mission.
As Scotland’s opposition, we have a responsibility to do everything that we can to defeat the SNP.
Over the next five years we will build Scotland’s real alternative to the SNP to remove them from power.
Some people will scoff and say that this cannot be done but they are the same people that said we were finished in May.
We proved them wrong then and we will do so again.
With your support, the SNP will find themselves in a real contest.
With your support, we will not be standing just to stop the SNP but to remove them.
Because there are hundreds of thousands of working people in Scotland who are looking for a party that can defeat this SNP Government and bring an end to the independence obsession.
And we are that party – the party of working Scotland.
Where Labour failed and were rightly punished by Scottish voters, we can succeed.
This is not just a mission we want to achieve but one that we need to deliver.
Because for as long as the SNP remain in power our children will grow up with less opportunities.
So long as the SNP remain in power drug deaths will continue to be our national shame.
So long as the SNP remain in power the future of our country remains at risk.
That is why we need to be more than just a strong opposition.
Conference, the Scottish Conservatives have an opportunity.
To bring an end to this SNP Government and to secure our future.
We will not move Scotland on from this poisonous debate and the threat of another referendum until that happens.
We need to seize the opportunity to defeat nationalism for good.
We have five years, let’s get to work.