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Howard: We want Scotland to be the best it can be

Speech to Scottish Conservative Party Conference, Dundee

Introduction

"It's very good to be back here in Scotland.

I'd like to begin by expressing my sincerest condolences to the people of Glasgow for the terrible explosion there earlier this week. Our thoughts are with the families of those who so tragically lost their lives or were badly injured.

I would also like to express my gratitude to the hard work and skill of the men and women who work in our emergency services. They did an outstanding and professional job.

Today is an opportunity for us to acknowledge all the Conservatives here who work so hard for the people of Scotland.

My colleague David McLetchie, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, and his team in the Scottish Parliament. They are the effective opposition in Holyrood, and they did brilliantly in last year's elections.

Peter Duncan, our excellent shadow Secretary of State.

Struan Stevenson and John Purvis, who fight so hard for Scotland in Brussels.

Our growing band of superb councillors, fresh from another by-election victory in Kelso.

And of course all our activists, and our Central Office team under David Mitchell, who are helping to rebuild the Conservative Party in Scotland.

The Conservative Party in Scotland

Make no mistake.

We are on the way back in Scotland.

There can be no no-go areas for a contemporary Conservative Party. We aspire to be a Party for all Britain and all Britons.

Until recently, Scotland was a Conservative desert.

It's been our mission to change that.

And we are succeeding.

We are succeeding because we've learnt a bit of humility. We've learnt that you don't win the hearts and minds of the people of Scotland by preaching to them from London. And we've learned that people in Scotland won't trust us unless we trust them.

Scotland

Now we want the chance to put what we've learned to the service of this great nation.

Scotland.

A country that has had a global influence far beyond its size. A people that really have punched above their weight. A land rich in talent and ingenuity.

So much has been invented by Scots - from the telephone to penicillin.

Dundee itself is the City of Discovery. The city of jute, jam and journalism is now also world-renowned as a centre of excellence in medicine and bio-technology.

What Scotland needs now is a government with ambition and vision.

Instead, what we have today is an Executive which looks to the past, not to the future.

An Executive interested only in spending money, not in creating wealth.

An Executive managing Scotland's decline, not forging Scotland's renewal.

The truth is that, here in Scotland, Labour and the Lib Dems have let you down.

Just a few miles up the road is Kirriemuir, the birthplace of JM Barrie.

You could say JM Barrie predicted New Labour.

This Prime Minister is the twenty-first century's answer to Peter Pan.

He said he'd never raise taxes.

He said he'd never introduce tuition fees.

He said he'd never have a referendum on the European Constitution.

He really does live in Never Never land.

With all these u-turns, it's no wonder his Cabinet feel like the Lost Boys.

Labour's Record in Scotland

Seven years ago Labour were given a mandate by all the people of Britain to make a real difference.

They came to power with a golden economic legacy, a huge majority and the trust of the British public.

People genuinely believed things could only get better.

Labour could have achieved so much.

But they have achieved so little.

So many children in Scotland still leave school unable to read, write and add up properly. So many people still wait for urgent hospital treatment. And so many parts of our towns and cities are terrorised by young tearaways.

It's just not good enough. Scotland deserves better.

Labour and the Economy

In 1996, Tony Blair promised that Labour would not put up taxes.

But in Britain today, people are paying much more in tax than they did when Labour came to office. The equivalent of £5000 more a year for every household in the country.

It's made Britain and Scotland much less competitive. Scotland should be one of the most dynamic economies in Europe. It's the country that has given us businessmen and philanthropists from Andrew Carnegie to Tom Hunter.

But Scotland's economy has suffered under Labour.

I suppose that comes with having not one, but two, left-wing parties - Labour and the Lib Dems - running the Scottish Executive!

In Scotland, business rates are 7% higher than they are in England, driving much-needed investment away. And council tax has risen by 50%.

Economic growth in Scotland lags behind the rest of the UK. The public sector keeps growing, squeezing out the private sector.

The Scottish economy is on the wrong path.

The Public Services

And despite all these tax rises, Labour hasn't delivered the improvements to our public services that they promised.

One thing that unites Britain more than anything is the principle behind our National Health Service - that it is free for all at the point of use. Its values should ensure that wherever you need it the service is there - whether you live in Folkestone or in Fife. To me it's a tragedy that it isn't working.

Spending on the health service in Scotland has risen by almost a fifth in real terms.

It's the highest in the developed world.

It's a fifth higher than England's.

So you'd think we'd have something to show for it.

No waiting lists, perhaps?

The healthiest population on the planet, possibly?

No I am afraid not.

Since Scottish Labour and the Lib Dems took over, the number of treatments has fallen by more than 40,000 and waiting lists are up by 20,000.

Labour and the Lib Dems have delivered the impossible.

Higher spending, fewer treatments and longer waiting lists.

Dr Findlay must be birling in his grave.

Education

From the time of John Knox, Scotland has led the way in promoting access and excellence in education. The idea of the democratic intellect has permeated Scottish thinking and ensured that learning has been uniquely valued in Scotland. Aberdeen alone had two universities when that was the total number in the whole of England.

But today in Scotland, despite an increase in education spending of around a fifth, we have a system plagued by disruption, truancy and falling standards.

A member of staff in a Scottish school is attacked every twelve minutes of the school day. There has been a nine-fold increase in violent incidents in schools since Labour came to power.

In our secondary schools, truancy is up by a fifth; in our primary schools it's up by a third.

More than half of Scotland's 14 year olds can't read or write properly.

Crime

But there isn't just violence in our schools. Scotland is suffering from a crime blight on its streets.

A crime is committed in Scotland every 72 seconds, a violent attack every half hour. Violent crime has risen in Scotland by a quarter since Labour came to office. The crime rate in Britain is higher than almost every other country in Europe, and you're more likely to be mugged in Scotland than you are in America.

Is it any wonder that crime is rising, when at any one time there are fewer than 140 police officers out on Scotland's streets?

Waste

Tony Blair came to Edinburgh in 1996 and said Labour "could not succeed through tax and spend, even if we wanted to".

Well he did try that approach. And as he predicted he has failed.

Where has all the money gone?

All that spending.

All that taxing.

All that borrowing.

What's happened to it?

So much of it has simply been wasted.

And if you seek monuments to Labour's waste, look around you.

The London Assembly building. £100 million.

The Welsh Assembly building. £55 million and rising, four times more than planned.

The Scottish Parliament. £430 million and rising, ten times more than planned.

I know that property prices have gone up since Labour came to office. But this is ridiculous!

Do you remember Tony Blair's pious words in Inverness in 1997? "A Labour Government", he said "will not be spending £60 million on a new Royal Yacht whilst people lie on trolleys in hospital corridors waiting for treatment".

No.

They'll spend £430 million instead on offices for their pals and their cronies in Holyrood.

More than seven Royal Yachts-worth to be precise.

What monstrous, disgusting mismanagement.

You know, here in Scotland, that the costs of administration have risen by more than 60 per cent.

And do you know why? Because Labour and the Lib Dems are asking you to pay for three times as many chauffeur driven cars as when they took office; to pay for three times as many press officers as when they took office; and to pay for five times as many special advisers as when they took office.

And have we got better government as a result? Or just bigger government?

Lib Dems Face Both Ways

Certainly, if the Lib Dems were in power on their own, we'd have muddled government.

You see, they have a policy for everyone.

The council tax? If you want to abolish it, that's fine. The Lib Dems want to replace it with a local income tax - in England. There, they say the case against the council tax is "overwhelming".

Want to keep it? That's fine too. In Scotland, the Lib Dems voted against a local income tax.

The common fisheries policy? The Lib Dems' Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael wants to scrap it; their Shetland MSP Tavish Scott wants to keep it, scrap it, keep it, scrap it, it all depends on what day of the week it is and whether he's in Lerwick or Edinburgh.

Tuition fees? The Lib Dems want to scrap them in England, but they've retained them in Scotland - though here they call it a "Graduate Endowment", as if that's going to fool anyone.

The list goes on. And on. And on. Road tolls? For them and against them. A referendum on the European Constitution? For it and against it.

GM crops? Charles Kennedy has signed an anti-GM crops petition and the Lib Dem Scottish manifesto pledged to halt further trials. But then the Lib Dems turn round and consistently vote with Labour to continue GM crop trials in Scotland.

Well we know Labour don't have a reverse gear.

Now we know the Lib Dems don't even have a steering wheel!

They're the ad-lib party.

The SNP

You'd have to be desperate to vote for the Lib Dems.

And the Scot Nats aren't any better.

They don't fight for Scotland. They don't fight for you. They don't fight Labour. They just fight each other.

They want independence for Scotland from Britain. But dependence for Scotland, subsumed within a European superstate.

They'd sell Scotland's birthright for a handful of euros.

The truth is that it is we, the Conservatives, who provide the real and credible alternative to this failing Labour government and this failing Scottish Executive.

Devolution

We Conservatives will make devolution work for Scotland.

That is my pledge here to you today.

The Scottish Parliament is here to stay.

The fiasco of the Parliament building and the poor performance of the Scottish Executive have damaged the Scottish Parliament's credibility.

It will take years to rebuild the trust of the Scottish people.

Conservatives are taking the lead in rebuilding that trust.

Devolution needs to work, especially when different parties are in power in Westminster and Holyrood.

If we win the next General Election, we will have a constructive relationship with the Scottish Executive and the Scottish Parliament. Ours will be a partnership based on fairness and mutual respect.

But fairness is a two-way street. That is why no Scottish MP should vote in Westminster on issues that are purely to do with England and Wales.

Peter Duncan already takes that principled approach, as he showed by not voting on foundation hospitals or top-up fees. And when we get into Government we'll ensure it's the case for all parties.

A recent poll showed almost 80 per cent of the people of Scotland agree with us. They agree because they know it's fair.

The Conservative Approach

I have spent a lot of time recently not just here in Scotland but all over Britain - talking to people, listening to people, learning about their concerns.

They tell me how fed up they are with the government wasting their money - the money they have worked so hard to earn.

They tell me how angry they are when they see their public services getting worse.

Labour - and in Scotland Labour and the Liberal Democrats together - have let people down.

We, the Conservatives, will stand up for people.

We want to reward the people who do the right thing - those who work hard for their families, who save for their future, who give back to society.

We will get a grip on government. We'll cut waste and regulation. And we will stop Labour's third term tax rises.

Taxes in Britain are too high. We want people to keep more of the money they earn because we believe they are better at spending it than politicians. Goodness knows, the people of Scotland have learned that lesson the hard way.

And we understand that low tax economies are the most successful economies. They create more jobs, attract more investment, and make people better off.

The Public Services

I don't apologise for my ambition to take less of your money.

And I will not be put off by Labour's scare tactics.

We know you can have lower taxes but still deliver first-rate services.

And we know that real improvement in public services doesn't come just from investment.

It comes from a genuine desire to bring our public services up-to-date with people's expectations in the twenty-first century.

That's what the public wants.

That's what the whole of Britain needs.

We know how they do things in other countries.

In most other European countries, people don't have to put up with what we have to put up with in Britain. It makes me angry that in this country people die of diseases they would not die of if they lived across the channel.

In Germany, there are no waiting lists.

In France, people are free to consult whatever doctor they like.

And in Denmark, people can choose any hospital they want to go to for an operation.

In Britain today it's only people with money that get better education and better healthcare.

Because they have choice.

In other countries, every one has choice.

That's why their standards are higher than ours.

I want to give choice to all, not just to those with the money to buy it. I want to end a world where people just shut up and take what they're given.

That is why our patient's passport is such a sensible and effective idea. For the first time, the patient will choose where they want to be treated. And they can go wherever it suits them best. To their local hospital. Or to the hospital that is nearest their family. Or to the hospital that will treat them most quickly.

Our NHS will be transformed.

Our education passport will give parents a choice as to where their children are educated, and make it easier for popular and successful schools to expand - even to take over neighbouring schools. It will give opportunities to thousands of children who are denied them now.

As The Scotsman recently noted, "the secret weapon" to improve school standards "is choice". Because, as they say, from choice comes "creative experiment, greater parental involvement and a greater social mix in the classroom".

I agree.

That's what happens abroad.

That's what could happen here.

Let's get on with it.

Europe

We have lots to learn from Europe about how we run public services. And we have a great deal to say about the right direction for Europe in the new century.

The Conservative vision for Europe is clear. We want Britain to remain a positive and influential member of the European Union - a European Union which is both flexible and outward-looking.

This month we welcomed ten new member states to the European Union. That's a fantastic achievement. Many of those countries, less than two decades ago, lived under the oppression of the Soviet yoke. Now they have taken their place in the family of European nations as thriving democracies.

But that achievement should not divert us from seeking the best deal for Britain, for Scotland and for Europe.

We do not want a Europe which is a one-way street to closer integration. Labour, the Lib-Dems and the SNP all want to give more power to Brussels. It is only the Conservatives who do not want to squeeze every country into a 'one-size-fits-all' plan.

That's why we are opposed to the European Constitution.

My vision for the Europe of the twenty-first century is clear. Those member states which wish to integrate more closely should be free to do so. But they should not drag Britain, and quite possibly some other member states, in their wake.

Conservative policy is simple. Live and let live. Flourish and let flourish.

Make no mistake. The Conservatives will stand up for the interests of Britain and the interests of Scotland.

When I visited the fishing community of Pittenweem in December, I pledged to restore national and local control over our fisheries. The Common Fisheries Policy is emptying our seas of fish and has utterly failed our fishermen.

It needs to end.

And let us be clear - only a Conservative Government can and will end it.

And if necessary we will legislate in Parliament to make it happen.

For if we wait much longer, there will not be a fishing industry left to sustain. My message to Scotland's fishermen is simple: "I can deliver and I will not let you down".

Conclusion

As a young man, I chose to become a Conservative. In the part of the world where I come from, you weren't expected to be one.

As with many parts of Scotland, in Wales there are areas where Labour seems to rule unchallenged.

But Scotland is changing.

And we have a great opportunity here, in Scotland, a country whose values are our values.

Scotland is a country rich in talent and with a deep history of invention and industry.

It is a country that has, over centuries, used the successes of the fortunate and gifted to lift up those without fortune and without hope.

A country that is open to change and supportive of progress.

We want Scotland to be the best it can be.

Seven years ago, Labour came to power with high hopes and the public's blessing. They promised that things could only get better.

But Labour have let you down.

Instead of the improvements they promised, they've given us seven years of tax, spend, borrow and waste.

We need a government that is united in its desire to do its best for Scotland, its best for Britain and its best for all the people.

A government that will trust the people.

A government that will serve the people.

That has always been our historic mission.

Britain needs it now more than ever.

The battle lines have been drawn.

We are ready for the fight.

We are ready to win.

Here in Scotland.

And across this United Kingdom."

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