The Scottish Parliament can never fulfil its potential to improve the lives of Scots as long as the SNP is in government, David Mundell will say today.
Ahead of Holyrood’s 20th anniversary, the Secretary of State for Scotland will say the nationalists – as well as previous Labour and Liberal Democrat administrations – have failed to maximise the benefits of devolution.
Addressing the Scottish Conservative conference in Aberdeen, he will say only a Ruth Davidson-led Scottish Government can change the everyday lives of voters for the better.
He will say:
“Successive Scottish Governments have failed to realise the potential of the Scottish Parliament.
“First there was the uninspiring and managerial Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition.
“Now we have the SNP, which has been in government for the past 12 years.
“The aspirations of the Scottish Parliament have been left unfulfilled by an SNP government that is obsessed with independence.
“Nicola Sturgeon’s answer to the challenges of today is to blame Westminster and demand more powers.
“The Scottish Parliament has great potential to deliver distinct Scottish solutions to the challenges that we face here in Scotland, while ensuring that we continue to share resources to tackle issues that the whole UK faces.
“That could be happening right now.
“Yet the Scottish Parliament is never going to achieve that potential under the SNP.
“It is never going to achieve that potential while politics in Scotland is stuck on an endless indyref loop.”
Notes to editors:
Below is the text of the whole speech. Check against delivery.
It is fantastic for us to meet for this year’s conference in Aberdeen.
This city is truly the capital of our party’s new North East heartland.
We should never forget the tremendous achievement of winning six of the seven UK Parliamentary seats here just two years ago.
From Douglas Ross unseating Angus Robertson in Moray, to our very own Salmond slayer Colin Clark in Gordon.
Having been the butt of the joke, I never thought I’d be able to say there are now more pandas in Scotland than there are SNP MPs in the North East.
What a poor result for Nicola Sturgeon.
I’ve been hearing a lot recently that she is planning to quit and that she wants a job at the United Nations, it's claimed.
Given her track record, I think the Disunited Unions would be more appropriate.
As the speakers this morning have underlined, the North East has been let down by this Scottish Government and in 2017 the SNP paid the price.
And now in Kirstene, Ross, David, Andrew, Colin and Douglas they have a strong team at Westminster, fighting for a fair deal for the North East.
We, the UK Government, are playing our part to give the North East that fair deal.
Just this morning I visited the Aberdeen Art Gallery, funded by a UK Government Libor grant of £1.5 million.
We are also investing £125 million in the Aberdeen City Region Deal.
Which is funding exciting projects like the Oil and Gas Technology Centre, to help make the industry fit for the future.
We have also introduced tax cuts worth £2.3 billion for the industry.
We recognise that securing a long tern future for the oil and gas industry is the basis for securing the prosperity of the Aberdeen area.
Which is why we will continue to back this important employer.
But support for oil and gas is not all that this government has done for the North East.
We know the significance of fishing to the North East’s history.
And we will deliver a sea of opportunity when we take back control of our fishing waters after we leave the Common Fisheries Policy in December 2020.
But it is important that Scotland’s fishermen and processors have the capacity to make the most of this opportunity.
That is why the Chancellor in October announced a £10 million Fisheries Technology Fund, to make this country a world leader in sustainable, productive fishing.
And it is why Michael Gove announced an extra £16.4 million of investment in December, to get the Scottish fishing industry ready to make the most of leaving the EU.
The UK Government knows that if we seize this opportunity then fishing will not just be part of the North East’s past but can be an important employer in its future as well.
Then there is our support for the whisky industry.
Your 13 Scottish Conservative MPs lobbied the Chancellor again and again to back Scotland’s national drink.
They were successful in securing a freeze on spirit duty delivered in not one but two budgets.
What better example of the benefits that the North East and Scotland has already received from electing a strong team of Scottish Conservative MPs.
And I know that they will continue to ensure that the North East receives a fair deal from the UK Government.
But, as I am sure that many of you remember, there were some very lean years, before we finally saw our party winning constituencies in the North East and across Scotland again.
Yet throughout those long years there were those who kept fighting for the future of Scottish Conservatism.
It has always been a great strength of our party that, whatever the political battles being fought at the time, we have had great people.
Monday marks the 20th anniversary of the 1999 Scottish Parliament Election.
I was proud to be elected to the Scottish Parliament that day,
although for those of you who can remember it, I found out on Teletext the next morning after a delay in our count in Dumfries.
Three other Conservatives elected that day, who are no longer with us, played a pivotal role in our return to the mainstream of Scottish politics after the wipeout of the 1997 General Election and I’d like to play tribute to them.
David McLetchie was our leader for that campaign.
And, let’s not forget, the background was hardly auspicious.
Tony Blair was at the height of his powers. Our activists were sceptical of devolution.
But David led us to a very creditable result in 1999.
We had no MPs - but suddenly we did have 18 MSPs.
And, with his fine legal mind and fierce debating skills, David led that team and ensured there was a strong and constructive Conservative voice in the new parliament and in the country in those early days of devolution.
David died in 2013 at the tragically young age of 61.
But he is remembered warmly by so many of us here.
Not just because of the friendship he shared with us but because of what he achieved for our party in the toughest of times.
He laid the foundations for today’s Scottish Conservative success.
A party whose goal is no longer to gain a foothold in the Scottish Parliament – but to form the next Scottish Government.
Let me say that again.
We want to form the next Scottish Government.
We want Ruth Davidson to be First Minister.
It’s a measure of how far we have come.
In 1999 that would have seemed inconceivable. Now, it is game on.
Of course, David was not alone in getting us here.
I’d also like to remember Alex Johnstone, who was our longest-serving MSP at his untimely death in 2016.
Alex really was a big man with a big heart.
He embodied the best of politics.
As an MSP, he stood up for Conservative values with a wit and decency that never failed to win people over.
He was a true champion for the North East.
Alex is one of the people we have to thank for being able to call the North East a Scottish Conservative heartland.
How proud I am to say that here in Aberdeen!
And let’s also remember my dear friend Sir Alex Fergusson, who died suddenly last year.
The first Conservative to become Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, Alex did as much as anyone to cement our position as a party of devolution.
And there was no stronger champion of rural Scotland.
Alex commanded so much respect, he was held in such high affection by so many people – political friends and foes alike
I was privileged to deliver the eulogy at a memorial service for Alex last August,
an intensely moving occasion for the 800 of us who packed into Kirkcudbright Parish Church.
But we’ll not forget them, Alex, Alex or David.
And we should continue to thank them for what they achieved.
They were a huge part of our party’s recovery from the tough times of 20 years ago.
We have gone from no MPs and 18 MSPs…
…to 13 MPs and 31 MSPs.
We are in government at Westminster. And we are working hard to become the government in Edinburgh – with Ruth Davidson in Bute House.
Yes, we face serious challenges.
And, yes, we still have an immense job of work to do in delivering our promise to honour the result of the UK’s 2016 EU referendum.
But we should not despair.
As our history over 20 years has shown we have faced problems in the past. We have steered our way through the tough times.
We have fought together.
And we have found the right people at the right time to give voice to our values, to represent our party, to lead us.
Next month, as we formally mark the 20th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament, we have to acknowledge that many of the hopes for it remain unfulfilled.
I believe the Parliament can be a force for good and change in Scotland.
A chance for the decisions on essential issues that impact on our everyday lives, decisions like the future of our education system or how much income tax we pay, to be taken closer to the people they affect.
And it is because I believe in that potential that I am proud of the role that I have played in enhancing the powers of that Parliament.
As a Minister, I worked on the 2012 Scotland Act which gave Scottish Parliament the power to borrow money and replace stamp duty.
And then, as Secretary of State, I had the privilege of taking the 2016 Act through Parliament, which completed the devolution of income tax and transferred a wide range of new welfare powers.
That is the record of this Conservative Government,
building rather than breaking devolution, as the SNP are intent on doing.
Yet successive Scottish Governments have failed to realise the potential of the Scottish Parliament.
First there was the uninspiring and managerial Labour- Liberal Democrat coalition.
Who complacently believed that they had killed nationalism stone dead.
Now we have the SNP, who have now been in government for the past 12 years.
And in each of those parliaments, the main focus of politics in Scotland has been on the SNP’s plans for independence.
In the 2007 to 2011 Parliament they published plans to hold an independence referendum,
even though they knew that there was no majority support among MSPs at the time for that to happen.
Then the 2011 to 2016 Parliament was consumed by the 2014 Independence Referendum and its aftermath.
And less than two months after the 2016 election, Nicola Sturgeon said that “the option of a second referendum must be on the table”.
Now she has said that she is making plans for indyref 2 to be held in eighteen months’ time.
Until then, do we really believe that this SNP Government is going to be focused on the state of our health service;
or why our school system, which used to be the envy of the world, is now considered just average – or worse - and is slipping behind our international competitors,
with pupils’ subject choice constrained and teachers forced to teach three or four different courses in the same classroom;
or the state of our economy: why Scotland’s growth rates have lagged behind the rest of the UK, over the SNP’s time in office,
with income taxes that are higher than anywhere else the UK;
or why the plans to create a distinct Scottish welfare system have been delayed time and time again.
These are the important issues that the Scottish Parliament has the potential to address.
Issues that could make Scotland a better place to live, to work and to raise a family.
The day job of any government.
But instead our politics is going to have to spend another two years focused on the SNP’s plans for independence.
On the remit of a new citizen’s assembly, instead of what our existing citizen’s assembly, our Parliament, can do.
On more talks about powers and responsibilities, instead of using the extensive powers that the Scottish Parliament has.
And all this, led by the great conciliator and unifier Mike Russell of all people!
And then we’ll be on to the name of the currency that you will receive your pension in or use to pay your mortgage, in an independent Scotland.
I’m very clear: my constituents don’t want Nicola’s chocolate money under any name.
When I sat in that first Scottish Parliament, when it didn’t even have its own building, there was a sense of excitement around what the new Parliament would do.
When I asked the first ever question back in 1999, it was with anticipation and hope.
And when I brought forward legislation that would enhance the powers of the Scottish Parliament, the debates in both Holyrood and Westminster were around the possibilities for action that these new powers could deliver.
These aspirations have been left unfulfilled by an SNP Government that is obsessed with independence.
Nicola Sturgeon’s answer to the challenges of today is to blame Westminster and demand more powers.
I still believe that the Scottish Parliament has great potential.
To deliver distinct Scottish solutions to the challenges that we face here in Scotland,
while ensuring that we continue to share resources to tackle issues that the whole of the UK faces.
That could be happening right now.
Yet the Scottish Parliament is never going to achieve that potential under the SNP.
It is never going to achieve that potential while politics in Scotland is stuck on an endless indyref loop.
Despite all their claims that they are protecting its interests, the SNP are wasting the potential of the Scottish Parliament.
They are more interested in campaigning for their ultimate goal of independence than being the government of Scotland.
In 2014, Scotland rejected the SNP’s plans for independence,
Yet last week Nicola Sturgeon launched yet another tone deaf campaign.
Just in time for Ruth’s return.
We in the Scottish Conservatives know that we represent a majority of Scots when we tell the SNP that they should abandon their plans for a second independence referendum.
But let me be clear: if Nicola Sturgeon continues with her Indyref2 plans and asks for the UK Government’s agreement to hold a referendum, the answer will be No!
No Section 30 Order.
No second Edinburgh Agreement.
No legal referendum.
The people of Scotland said No in 2014 and they meant it!
Ruth and the Scottish Conservatives want nothing more than to
debate the future of Scottish education and how to grow our economy.
Yet while the SNP are consumed with their constitutional obsession we must continue to stand up to them.
Because we know the damage independence would do.
For example, it would take £10 billion out of our public services…
- real money, not chocolate money!
…and restrict trade to our largest export market, the rest of the UK.
And there is no one better to make that argument as strongly as our leader Ruth Davidson.
She has taken our party to levels of support not seen in decades by doing what Nicola Sturgeon finds impossible,
saying what a majority of Scottish people think.
It is great that she is back and ready for this fight.
Because the only way that we can stop the SNP and their plans for another independence referendum for good is to make Ruth First Minister of Scotland.
Let’s commit today, all of us, over the next two years to do everything possible to make that happen.