My speech to the Scottish Conservative Party Conference on a Strong Opposition.
Ladies and Gentlemen, colleagues, I’m delighted to have the opportunity to take part in this session on a ‘strong opposition’.
A year is a long time in politics!
This time last year, we were talking about being the official opposition.
The pundits and pollsters said we couldn’t do it.
But during last year’s election we had three things which made the difference:
- We had a strong record of standing up to the SNP
- We had a clear and positive message about the future of our country as part of the United Kingdom
- And we had a respected and inspirational leader – Ruth Davidson.
And look where we are now…
I feel absolutely honoured to represent my constituents each and every day, standing up to the SNP and their atrocious record in Government.
I want to see a massive thank you to all of you for the part that you played in our success.
The First Minster made a promise to Scotland at last year’s elections that education would be her governments top priority.
But as we have heard from Liz Smith a few moments ago, sadly we are seeing little sign of this.
Instead, Nicola Sturgeon and her band of separatist lemmings seem hell bent on throwing Scotland off the edge of a cliff into another unwanted, divisive independence referendum.
The impact of this uncertainty couldn’t be more clearly seen than in D&G – where house prices, business investment and tourism in the area are all under strain.
For the farming sector of D&G a hard border would be hugely detrimental - much of our Livestock is sold in Longtown and Carlise and many of our agricultural merchants are based in Cumbria.
We voted on this - in what we were told was a ‘once in a generation’ decision.
Voters in the South of Scotland made it clear then by voting resoundingly NO to independence.
And last year in the Scottish Parliament elections they made their feelings on the matter clear again, when we won Galloway & West Dumfries, Dumfriesshire and Ettrick, Roxbourugh and Berickshire.
A blue line of resistance across the border.
What stronger signal could South of Scotland voters send to Nicola Sturgeon that No means no.
I am in no doubt that in this years council elections that message will be reinforced again with many new conservative councillors being elected across Scotland.
The SNP continuously claim to speak for the whole of Scotland.
It is the role of the Scottish Conservative Party to say that they do not.
We are the only party that you can trust to continue to defend the Union.
We were elected to hold this government to account – so let’s take a look at some of the failings of the SNP government when it comes to rural affairs.
As every farmer will know the SNP have presided over one of the most embarrassing episodes of any Scottish government when the £180 million computer system to issue EU Farm subsidies didn’t work.
Farmers were left with no payments, no indication of how much they were due and no idea when they were going to get it.
If the European Commission hadn’t extend the payments deadline Scottish taxpayers would have been facing up to £125 million of fines.
The then Rural Affairs Minister Richard Lochhead had the audacity to blame the farmers – saying they made things too complicated.
What a shambles.
And the impact on our rural communities has been profound – because we all know the old saying:
“for every pound a farmer has in his pocket – he spends 2 in the local community”
Farmers and rural businesses were facing ruin - left negotiating overdrafts and loans just to get by, with no idea when they would be in a position to pay this money back.
And conference, I’m sorry to report that this long running saga is by no means over.
Millions of pounds worth of 2015 subsidies still to be paid,
and we’ve had little or no reassurance from Fergus Ewing that the computer system, that went 75% over budget, can be fixed.
A £180 million computer system that will be redundant before it is fit for purpose – this government must do better if we stand any chance of having a fit for purpose agricultural support system post brexit.
This whole saga brings to mind one of my favourite verses from Robert Burns:
Gang aft agley,
An'lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!
Still thou art blest, compar'd wi' me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e'e.
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!
One group of people in Scotland who are fully aware of the opportunities Brexit offers is fishermen.
Fishermen in Scotland voted resoundingly and overwhelmingly for Brexit.
With the number of EU laws and regulations they have to navigate – it is no surprise.
The Common Fisheries Policy has profoundly failed our fishermen.
They are rightly optimistic about the prospects for the industry when control of UK waters come back and I’m really looking forward to having the opportunity to discuss how we can work with industry to ensure a thriving sector for our fishermen and fishing communities.
As the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation have said – there is a sea of opportunity
What is now clear is that the SNP will continue with their grievance agenda,
it is only the Scottish Conservatives who will stand up for the rural, fishing and farming communities of Scotland.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have now had this SNP Government for 10 years with one priority – not education, not the economy, not the NHS. There one priority is to puruse their independence obsession and break up the United Kingdom.
A total focus on independence at the detriment of all else.
So let me make this absolute guarantee to you.
That I and my colleagues will continue to challenge this government on the real issues of importance to Scotland.
And continue to hold the government to account and provide the Strong opposition that has been so desperately needed.
the people of Scotland deserve better.