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Ruth responds to SNP's Programme for Government

Ruth Davidson has issued her response to the SNP’s Programme for Government, which opens the door for tax hikes and could see thousands of serious offenders avoid jail.

The Scottish Conservative leader said there were some policies set out today on which the party would support ministers, but that the people of Scotland have now put the SNP government “on probation”.

She criticised Nicola Sturgeon for hinting at tax increases at a time when Scotland is already the highest-taxed part of the UK.

Setting out the challenges facing the funding of public services, the First Minister told MSPs: “The time is right, in my view, to open a discussion about how responsible and progressive use of our tax powers could help build the kind of country we want to be.”

Ms Sturgeon also said she wanted sheriffs to stop issuing jail sentences of 12 months or less; the current presumption is against jail terms under three months.

However, it was confirmed that Frank’s Law – which secures free personal care for those with conditions like dementia and happen to be under the age of 65 – will go ahead.

Both Ruth and shadow health secretary Miles Briggs have campaigned on this topic for years.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said:

“If the Scottish Government is to earn back the trust and respect of people in Scotland, which it has squandered in the last year, then it must change – and change fast.

“It must show it understands the difference between a genuine complaint and the politics of endless grievance.

“It must accept responsibility for all its record in Scotland – and fix the mistakes it has made.

“Given what we know of this Scottish Government, we will wait to see whether today’s warm words are backed up by action before making a judgement.

“But the SNP should know this – after this last year, it is on probation with people in Scotland.”

On the prospect of tax rises:

“Because of the new financial powers, Scotland needs to raise closer to what it spends.

“Dragging Scotland down with ever more punitive taxes is not the way to do this.

“The First Minister is opening the door on greater tax rises today.

“We say stop taking ever more money from the pockets of Scotland’s workers – we must instead go for growth.”

On the presumption against sentences of less than 12 months:

“Nicola Sturgeon seeks to play down sentences of 12 months or less.

“Right now, 17 per cent of all offenders done for attempted murder or serious assault received a sentence of less than 12 months. More than a quarter of all sex offenders are given jail terms of less than 12 months.

“We see the need in many areas for criminals to be taken off the streets, and we see that nowhere greater than in domestic abuse cases.

“Judges use short sentences to show repeat offenders causing misery in their community with low-level crimes time and time again that their actions have consequences.

“That option should not be removed.”

On Frank’s Law: 

“I am genuinely pleased to see the inclusion of Frank’s Law in today’s programme.

“It is absolutely a policy whose time has come – Scots who need care should not be divided by an arbitrary line of age.

“I pay tribute to Amanda Kopel who has campaigned for this on behalf of her late husband Frank for years and with such amazing dignity and strength.

“If the First Minister wishes to expedite this so we can get this in and working on the ground as soon as possible, I believe she will have the whole chamber’s support. She will certainly have mine.”

Ends
 

Notes to editors:

Below is a copy of Ruth’s speech in full. Check against delivery:

"Can I first of all thank the First Minister for early sight of her speech. And can I also welcome members back to the chamber following the summer recess.

Presiding Officer, last week I set out some of my own priorities for the parliamentary year ahead in a speech in Edinburgh.

(As the First Minister has already alluded to) I began by pointing out that next week marks the 20th anniversary of the devolution referendum of 1997.

Famously Donald Dewar declared after that referendum that devolution was a “process not an event.”
It sometimes feels a little as if we have spent the last two decades since determined to prove him right.

The political structures which surround us have – often – been the central focus of our politics.
I hope that, as we mark 20 years of devolution, we now move on to a wider debate about political substance as well.

To that end, I and my colleagues on these benches are committed to challenging the government, scrutinising its decisions, but also proposing our own alternative way forward in what I hope will be a spirit of respectful debate.

With the clear aim: to use the powers of this parliament to make a difference to the lives of people who live here.

Well – at least, that’s the plan.

 So, in response to the First Minister, let me begin by seeking out what common ground that exists and finding what I can to welcome in her speech today.

For all the SNP pretends otherwise, common ground DOES exist.

Indeed, given how much the SNP has been poached from Scottish Conservative manifestos over recent months, I’m tempted to suggest that her programme for government should be called “Something Borrowed, Something Blue.”

So I am happy to welcome:
the government’s proposal for an Education Reform Bill. That’s because the principle of reform has been consistently put forward by the Scottish Conservatives these last five years.
However, our support for the detail is limited. There is growing concern that, far from delivering real independence to schools, the Government is actually attempting to centralize control with its governance reforms.

That would be unacceptable to us.

To borrow from the SNP’s dictionary for a moment – while we support reform, we will not support a schools power grab from this Scottish Government.

I am genuinely pleased to see the inclusion of Frank’s Law in today’s programme. It is absolutely a policy whose time has come – Scots who need care should not be divided by an arbitrary line of age. I pay tribute to Amanda Kopel who has campaigned for this on behalf of her late husband Frank for years and with such amazing dignity and strength. I say to the First Minister, that if she wishes to expedite this so we can get this in and working on the ground as soon as possible; I believe she will have the whole chamber’s support. She will certainly have mine.

I’m pleased to see the campaign for a new offence of drugged driving brought forward by my erstwhile colleague, Douglas Ross has found favour.

On the issue of public sector pay. The Scottish Conservatives supported the government – both here and across the rest of the UK - in choosing pay restraint for public sector workers instead of redundancies as they sought to stabilise the economy following the financial crash. Having righted the ship, it is time to revisit that restraint. Depending on which part of the public sector Scots work in, their salaries can be set by either Holyrood or Westminster.

Although we await the details – timing, levels of increase and the rest, it is right to address pay restraint today, just as we expect to see movement in the same area from the UK government in the period ahead.
We also welcome the announcement of the bill to pardon gay and bisexual men.

This is an important, necessary step which will allow us to turn a page on the past and ensure we no longer label consensual behaviour as criminal. Up to 5,000 men in Scotland, living and dead, could be included in the provisions of the new bill – joining thousands south of the border who have already had their record set clear.

Any pardon requires adequate scrutiny – particularly in making sure that offences that are still crimes are recognised as such – and I offer the Scottish Government our support on the Bill.

But -  as much as we welcome the tone and some of the content of today’s statement – we are also entitled to be sceptical too.

We have just had 12 months when it is fair to say that delivery has not been top most of this Government’s list of priorities. Today the First Minister comes to the chamber waving her paper and saying – Look! __15_ bills and a budget. Look how busy we are going to be. Ignoring the fact that last year she came here with 14 and still only got through 3. The public are entitled to ask if today’s _15_ are in front or behind last year’s leftovers in the queue?

There are also areas where the Scottish Conservatives will not offer their support. Areas where we will fight every step of the way because the SNP government has simply got it wrong. 

Nicola Sturgeon seeks to play down sentences of 12 months or less. Right now 17 per cent of all offenders done for attempted murder or serious assault received a sentence of less than 12 months. More than a quarter of all sex offenders are given jail terms of less than 12 months.

We see the need in many areas for criminals to be taken off the streets. We see that nowhere greater than in domestic abuse cases – where keeping an offender in the home environment means others can never break free. And I would remind the First Minister that domestic abuse takes many forms, yes violence, but also financial, psychological and intimidation.

Judges use short sentences to show repeat offenders causing misery in their community with low level crimes time and time again that their actions have consequences.

That option should not be removed.

On a citizen’s basic income scheme; we WOULD be concerned if we thought anything would ever come of it beyond trying to write today’s headline and the bone she’s throwing to the greens. But when the First Minister’s commitment extends only to “working with interested local authorities to fund research into its concept and feasibility” we are sleeping easy on the Conservative benches tonight.

Now, it is clear from the First Minister’s words today that the SNP has realized that the absence of domestic legislative activity over the last year was a mistake and is now trying to change tack.
For all the warm words, however, I am afraid to say that the evidence suggests that the SNP still has not got the message.

On Brexit, the First Minister is right: new powers WILL come to this place after we leave the European Union – and we will support that process.

But the First Minister must recognize the country has had enough of constitutional squabbling.
Brexit must not be used by the SNP as another opportunity to retreat to their comfort zone of talking process.

Instead – if the First minister really wants to find consensus on this matter – the Government must approach this issue pragmatically.

We can’t just talk about where powers lie – all of us now need to start talking about what to do with the powers we have.

Because time is pressing.

Just look at some of the enormous challenges that we face in Scotland that have come to light since we last met here.
A survey of more than 3,000 nurses found that half believe patient care is being compromised by insufficient staffing.

Audit Scotland concluded that the Government has failed to plan adequate staffing for the NHS in the long term.

And, today, the ISD Scotland report shows record vacancies for NHS consultants and for midwives.
There are currently the equivalent of 32 hundred posts unfilled. 

Figures showed the number of drug deaths in Scotland in 2016 rose by 23% on the previous year.
The Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee has warned there is a real risk of increasing shortages of head-teachers in the future.

AS I said last year when I stood here, the in-tray is bulging.

We need action.

And it’s clear that, if it is going to re-earn the trust and respect of people in Scotland, we also need a new approach from this SNP Government.

One that shuns the over-promising and under-delivering of the past – compounded by trying to cover it all up when the inconvenient facts emerge.

Let us again go over the record this summer.

This time last year, the SNP Government’s big announcement was a new £500m Scottish Growth Deal.
Yet last week, we learned that this new deal has yet to provide a single penny to any Scottish firm. Why the delay?

Last year, the SNP staged a major announcement where GPs were told that this Government was committed to increasing the proportion of NHS funding going to primary care.

Over the summer, GP leaders have warned that this cast-iron promise was now being watered down.
Grand promises – but, in reality, less than the sum of their parts.

People want a Government which is prepared to face up to these issues.

Too often, however, we have had a Government which has tried to hide them away.

Which asks its own independent poverty adviser to tone down a report criticizing cuts to Further Education.

Which urges Audit Scotland to water down its warnings about the future of the NHS.

…which doesn’t confront its own failings in government, but is more concerned with trying to fool people into not noticing.

People have a right to be wary of a Government which, for the tenth year on the trot, is promising jam tomorrow.

 A Government which complains about the levers it doesn’t have, but seems terrified of the ones under its control. 

So, as the main opposition party, we will seek to push the Scottish Government to a bolder path, by ourselves pushing for change.

Last week, I set out some of my own initial ideas, focusing specifically on ways to help solve Scotland’s housing crisis.

Nobody in this chamber, I believe, can be satisfied with the current situation – where young people find themselves shut out of the housing market until their mid thirties.

…where a new generation no longer believes they will match the living standards of their parents’ generation.

So we must act.

Speak to people in the sector – they are utterly frustrated by the drift and delay they’ve seen from this Government on planning.

Drift which is deterring investment and sending it to Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham  - not Glasgow or Edinburgh or Aberdeen.
We must find new ways to ensure 25,000 homes a year are built in Scotland, and we will push the Government to deliver.
Furthermore, we need to address the current state of housing in Scotland.
And so we will continue to push the Scottish Government to use its growing capital budget to ensure no-one has to live in a hard to heat home.

A transformational investment in home energy efficiency would be a huge win-win for Scotland – creating jobs, reducing carbon emissions, improving health and helping householders with their energy bills.
That’s why, in government, we would introduce a new target to ensure that every home is Energy Efficiency rated C or above by the end of the next decade.

On the NHS, I’m pleased to say that – tomorrow – we will unveil our new NHS Advisory Panel.

Made up of practitioners and health professionals, it will examine how best we sustain our health service, and its traditions, for the long-term.

There is, I think, plenty of consensus in this chamber the need to face up to the challenges in the NHS. We want to play our part in that.

On education, we will press the Scottish Government to push real power down to individual schools and headteachers – because they are the ones who know their school the best.

We will set out fresh ways to tackle what is the clear pressing priority of parents – to ensure there are enough teachers in our schools.

And we will report back soon with a full review of the Curriculum for Excellence.

The warnings made by Professor Lindsay Paterson at the weekend cannot be dismissed out of hand, as the SNP Government has sought to do.

 The urgent priority must be to address our declining numeracy and literacy standards.

We need more investment in teacher numbers – with more flexibility for routes into teaching.
And we need root and branch reform of our education agencies.

On justice, we will support further prison reforms that focus on rehabilitation.
At the same time, we need to give judges the tools to punish the very worst crimes by backing whole life sentences.

It will only be required for a handful of the very worst offenders. But it is a necessary option that will show victims that , for the worst crimes, we’re prepared to throw away the key.

And we must also act here to listen to the concerns of rural Scotland - to reflect the concerns of people who, too often, feel left out of Scotland’s public debate.

Who have had enough of hearing about who is to blame for the lack of rural broadband, for example. Who just want to see Government – both Governments – get on and sort this out.

And on the economy, we will seek to lead a debate here in this place on the need to put growth first.
The time for endless theoretical debate about the state of our economy in a future constitutional position is over.

We need to focus on the more pressing issue of how we grow the Scottish economy now. How we increase productivity, how we train and retrain our people for the jobs of today AND the jobs of tomorrow.
Because the new financial powers here mean that Scotland needs to raise closer to what it spends.

We will continue to argue this year that dragging Scotland down with ever more punitive taxes is not the right way. The First Minister is opening the door on greater tax rises today. We say stop taking ever more money from the pockets of Scotland’s workers.

We must instead go for growth.

The Scottish Government’s own review of business rates last month urged Ministers to re-think some of their tax rises.

If even their own report is critical of their policy, then surely it is time to listen?

The SNP, bluntly, needs to decide what it believes in.

It has tacked left on its new Land and Buildings and Transaction tax – and, inevitably, gummed up the market as a result.

On the new Air Passenger Duty, however, it has recognised the benefit of competitive taxation.
On issues like APD, we will seek to work with the SNP to deliver something that could be of huge economic benefit to Scotland.

We only wish they would show some consistency.

We all are reading that the SNP is preparing to march leftwards this year – largely for its own political reasons.

I would humbly urge the First Minister to remember some other people too…

…the small firms, the employers and the taxpayers of Scotland.

 Because by backing them, we can realise an ambition we all share: to make Scotland the best place in Europe, never mind the UK, to invest and to build a business.

That, in turn, will bring in greater receipts to fund our public services.

ON that note – The Scottish Government has announced a Business Development bank.
We welcome the focus on providing finance to Scottish businesses, particularly SMEs. I will not be ideological about this and if the government can provide such support, then it should.

However, it would be remiss of me to avoid pointing out that, yet again, we've been here before. The Scottish Government announced a Scottish Business Development Bank as far back as May 2013. It was then re-announced in September 2013, but dropped in May 2014, before resurfacing in this First Minister's first programme for government towards the end of 2014.

Since then it has not only been delayed a few times, but the plan also changed from the setting up of a dedicated bank to being a part of the existing Scottish Investment Bank. And guess what, it still doesn't operate in full.

Overpromise and under deliver, it's a theme with this government.

Now – given the parliamentary arithmetic of this place, I do not seek to downplay the challenge facing the Government in pushing its agenda through this year.

Indeed, we all await with anticipation the great Scottish courting ritual of the winter months – though it may be that Mr Harvie will find competition as a suitor this year from Mr Rennie.

Sometimes, even I can muster some sympathy for the First Minister.
But what all parties will be looking for this year – from all sides of the chamber – is a sign of a change.
Because, if this Government is to earn back the trust and respect of people in Scotland, which it has squandered in the last year, then it must change – and change fast.

It must show it understands the difference between a genuine complaint and the politics of endless grievance.

It must accept responsibility for all its record in Scotland – and fix the mistakes it has made.
And it must be frank about the huge challenges that Scotland faces – and not seek as its first response to bury bad news and pretend it doesn’t exist.

Given what we know of this Government, we will wait to see whether today’s warm words are backed up by action before making a judgement.

But the Government should know this: after this last year, it is on probation with people in Scotland.
It is time to change tack. It is time to deliver."
 

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