The inconvenient truths about who's delivering real devolution

The inconvenient truths about who's delivering real devolution

by ThinkScotland
article from Monday 6, March, 2017

FURTHER to our publishing in full the Prime Minister's speech to the Conservative conference in Glasgow we are also making available below the speech of the Scottish Secretary, David Mundell MP, as it covers some important points regarding the possibility of a second independence referendum and the current Brexit negotiations as they affect Scotland.

"Just 10 months ago, we achieved our best ever result in a Scottish Parliament election. We have 31 MSPs, more than doubling our ranks. We beat Labour into third place. And we are now the main opposition party at Holyrood.

What an achievement. Across Scotland, we watched victory after victory roll in. And it was because, as a party with belief, determination and passion, we said to Scotland: Only the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party can stand up to the Nationalists. Only we can be a strong opposition. It was a victory won together – thanks to the hard work and dedication of all of you here. So I want to thank you all. And of course I want to thank our new MSPs. You took our message onto the streets of Scotland’s villages, towns and cities. You made our case – and you won the trust of voters, many of them coming to our Party for the very first time. I’d like to mention you all but I’m delighted to say there are far too many of you to do that. You’ll forgive me if I mention one, though.

My son, Oliver.

Oliver, I was immensely proud to see you win last May and take your seat of Dumfriesshire – something I never managed to do. I remember so well taking my own seat in parliament 18 years ago, when you were all of 9 years old and you were there with us on the opening day of parliament, on 1st July 1999 – and it fills me with pride to watch you now speak so eloquently and effectively on the floor of the Scottish Parliament. And you’ve won us both the niche accolade of being Scotland’s first ever father and son pair to be elected to Holyrood – and the bonus to me is that some people don’t know which way round it is.

There is of course one person I want to thank and congratulate above all. All our great achievements, all the great strides we have taken – they would not have been possible without the brilliant, dynamic leadership of my friend and colleague, Ruth Davidson. Ruth, you have led from the front with courage and conviction. And everyone in this hall today will want to join me in saying a heartfelt Thank You to you.

It is so satisfying to look back on that successful night last year, but that was only the start. Our MSPs have been busy keeping the promises they made to voters. They have held a distracted, failing Nationalist administration to account.

While the other parties squabbled over just how much extra tax Scots should have to pay - and tried to outdo each other over how much Scotland should be the highest taxed part of the UK - we said a firm and clear No. That’s because we understand that by taxing Scotland more, you can only damage our competitiveness and hold Scotland back.

On education and on health, our MSPs are fighting for essential reforms the Nationalists can't and won't deliver. Ruth and her team are offering not just opposition, but a real alternative. And how badly is that needed?

The people of Scotland sent a clear message last May when they stripped the SNP of their majority and voted for us to lead the opposition.

The people of the UK also made their views clear in another vote a month later. We voted to leave the EU.

Now I supported Remain. But as a democrat, my reaction on seeing the result across the UK was to respect it. It was to make a success of Brexit. To seize the opportunities it presents.

Contrast that with Nicola Sturgeon.

I’ll give her this - she's consistent. Like clockwork, three hours after the result, she said a second referendum was “highly likely”. And that response filled me and, I’m sure, you all with utter dismay. For one thing, it betrayed the Nationalists’ complete lack of respect for any views but their own. 

That the four in 10 Scots who voted Leave are irrelevant. That Unionists like me, who supported Remain, are just numbers whose votes can be hijacked and used as a pretext for a second independence referendum. That their own supporters in 2014, who simply think that now is not the time for the uncertainty and division of a second referendum, can be ignored.

To all those people, the Nationalists have said: you just don’t matter.

Well, you matter to us. So I say again to Nicola Sturgeon: We voted in 2014. Another vote would divide our country and damage our economy at the worst possible time.

We don’t need it, we don’t want it – and you should take the threat off the table altogether.

What we do need, and what we do want is strong, clear, sensible leadership as we prepare to leave the EU. Well, we have all that, as we saw yesterday, in Theresa May. I am hugely honoured to serve in Theresa’s cabinet. I’m proud to work for a leader who has such great integrity and such an unswerving belief in the Union that brings us together.

As the Prime Minister set out yesterday, her vision is of a powerful, prosperous Britain beyond Brexit. Of a bold, global Britain forging new trading partnerships around the world.  And – yes – of getting the best possible deal for Scotland and the whole of the UK as we leave the EU. A Britain that is not leaving Europe but recasting its relationship with the European Union, based on free trade and new forms of co-operation.That is our goal. That is our commitment. A Prime Minister who is focused on getting on with the job in hand and getting that deal. And I am in no doubt, our Prime Minister will deliver the best deal for Scotland and the whole of our United Kingdom. We are approaching Brexit in a methodical, evidence-based way. Just as people would expect.

My colleagues and I have been listening to business leaders, young people, farmers, fishermen, university principals – people from all sectors of the economy and all sections of Scottish society. I've been getting a clear message - we need the best deal, but we must not forget the importance of our own domestic market. So one of our guiding principles will be to ensure that no new barriers to doing business within the UK are created. We have pledged to maintain the necessary common standards and frameworks for our own domestic market, not just to help business within the UK but to empower us to strike the best trade deals around the world. For Scotland, that is essential.

The Scottish Government’s own figures tell us that Scotland’s trade with its own UK market is worth four times its exports to the EU. It is an inconvenient truth for the Scottish Government, but a truth nonetheless. And another truth is this. As we work carefully through the evidence, and through the priorities of the Scottish government, it is increasingly clear that there is a lot of common ground. In a whole range of areas, Scotland’s two governments want the same outcomes as we leave the EU.

We are committed to protecting and enhancing workers’ rights.

We are committed to bringing the current framework of environmental regulation into domestic law with our Great Repeal Bill.

We want to continue our close collaboration with European partners on science and innovation.

We will continue to work with the EU on security, to fight terrorism and uphold justice across Europe.

Free Trade with the EU is also the Scottish Government’s priority. We want the freest trade possible between the UK and the EU, and we will pursue an ambitious Free Trade Agreement.

And we are determined to avoid a sudden ‘cliff edge’ exit from the EU that would prove disruptive for business. That’s why we will seek a phased process of implementation where necessary.

We’ve also been very, very clear on the status of EU nationals living in Scotland and the rest of the UK. We want to secure their right to stay as quickly as we can, and also secure the rights of UK citizens living and working in the rest of the EU. And I was glad even Alex Salmond said on Thursday night that he agreed EU nationals would be protected.

So even where the Scottish and UK governments disagree about the means, we largely seek the same ends. We want the same outcomes. And I genuinely believe we can do what the people of Scotland want and expect us to do: work together to deliver the best deal for Scotland and the whole of the UK. But I won't deny it is frustrating to see our efforts undermined by the Nationalists’ unwillingness to look beyond Brexit as an excuse to talk about independence. The First Minister went so far as to state Brexit was, and I quote, an “attack on the very foundations” of devolution. What a bizarre and wrong-headed claim to make.  I've said it before, and I'll say it again: none of the decisions currently taken at Holyrood will be transferred to Westminster.

And when decisions now taken in Brussels are returned to the UK, more decisions will be devolved back into the hands of the Scottish people.

It is spelled out in black and white in the UK Government’s White Paper, and the Prime Minister repeated it yesterday.

It says a lot about the Nationalist mentality that the promise of more powers is somehow an attack on devolution.

And here is the great irony.

There will be more powers for Holyrood because of Brexit. Powers that the SNP would hand back to Brussels in a heartbeat.

Funny, isn’t it, how they won't remind Scotland’s fishermen they would be back in the Common Fisheries Policy under SNP policy. Or that farmers would keep the bureaucracy of the Common Agricultural Policy. The SNP need to give up the games. Come with us. Work with us. Together as one Team UK. Because that is how we will get the best deal from the EU. 

The First Minister’s claims about devolution missed their mark on so many levels.

As Secretary of State for Scotland, I am charged with implementing the Scotland Act that was passed last year. That legislation is making Holyrood one of the most powerful devolved parliaments in the world. I’ve been helped enormously by my colleague Andrew Dunlop in that endeavour. And I'd like to thank him today not just for his support in delivering the Scotland Act but his efforts to drive forward all our work –

- on the City Deals that are transforming all our cities;

- on our huge investment in defence in Scotland;

- on our world-beating support for the vital oil and gas industry;

- on our backing for the Edinburgh Festivals, to make sure this year’s 70th anniversary is Britain’s greatest ever arts festival.

Thanks to the Advocate General, Richard Keen, working with our team in the Scotland Office as we implement the Scotland Act in full. And I will say this. By transferring such extensive powers over tax, welfare and more to the Scottish Parliament we are fulfilling, in full, the Vow that was made to the people of Scotland before the 2014 independence referendum. It is transforming Holyrood into one of the most powerful devolved parliaments anywhere in the world. And, as it becomes more powerful, it becomes more accountable to the people it serves.

Scottish Government ministers have now had to take new decisions on how to raise money, not just the same old decisions on how to spend it. And with Murdo Fraser leading the charge, they've realised accounting for it isn't so easy.

They now have the levers to strengthen and secure Scotland's economy. And they need to step up. Because the facts are worrying. Growth at a third of the UK’s rate. Unemployment above the UK rate and productivity still lagging behind. The signs are too important to ignore. The SNP need to put aside their ideology and focus on the job they were elected to do.

The sad truth is, they are failing Scotland. But we have a chance to do something about that. And soon. May’s local government elections are more important than ever. We must work for every vote. We must strive as hard as we did last Spring. And if we do, we can look forward to more success as more Scots turn to Ruth and the alternative she offers.

The SNP like to ask: what kind of country do we want to live in?

I'll tell you. It’s not a country where high taxes drag our economy down.

It’s not a country where our school pupils are falling behind their peers in other countries. Or where students from less well off backgrounds stand half the chance of getting into university than they would in England.

It’s not a country where hardworking farmers in my constituency are taken to the brink of bankruptcy by the incompetence of the Scottish Government.

It’s not a country where division is fueled and exploited to further political ends.

But that is Nicola Sturgeon’s Scotland.

So I say no. It doesn’t have to be like that. I want to live in a country where services matter and where parents, pupils and patients come first. I want to live in a country that looks to the future with confidence. That is united not divided. That’s the future Scotland wants and deserves. That's the future we must campaign for.

People are now looking to the Scottish Conservatives as never before to deliver it. So let's do it."

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