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Hague: Scottish Party Conference Speech 2001

Conservatives can win in Scotland

It is wonderful to be back among you and to be in Scotland once again. And looking around, talking to colleagues, I feel I am in a party that has been transformed. Because there is little doubt that Scottish Conservatives have never been better prepared for an election, never more eager for the contest and never hungrier for victory.

Since 1997, the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party has been turned around. Our finances are improving, our membership is rising again and we have reconnected with the people of Scotland.

None of these things have happened by accident. They are the result of dedicated work by Ray Robertson and his colleagues at Central Office. They are the result of the outstanding leadership being given by David McLetchie and his team of MSPs in the Scottish Parliament. And they are the result of hours of effort put in every day by people like you, united in your determination to win the General Election.

But we are not just better organised than ever before. We are also better regarded.

Our MSPs have earned praise from every side for their work in Edinburgh. Many of them had had little experience of elected politics before. But they have spoken to and for their constituents in a way which puts some of the other parties to shame. They have displayed more understanding of the real world than all the other MSPs combined.

Above all, our party has found a distinctly Scottish voice. That voice can be heard in the calm, decent and persuasive tones of David McLetchie.

David and I understand what devolution means. It means fighting in Scotland as a Scottish party with Scottish policies. When David speaks, it's his voice you're hearing, not mine. When Henry McLeish opens his mouth, you know that it's Tony Blair who put the words there. Come to think of it, listening to what comes out it's probably John Prescott who put them there.

Just as we did during the Scottish Parliament elections, we have selected candidates from every walk of life. Candidates who can speak for all the people of Scotland.

And among them is another man who deserves nothing but the highest praise from us, a man who has done so much for the Conservative and Unionist Party: your President, Sir Malcolm Rifkind.

Over the past four years Malcolm has shown the same loyalty and service to the people of Edinburgh Pentlands than he did as their MP. That's why I am confident that he will soon be speaking up for them and for Scotland back in the House of Commons where he belongs.

But for all our confidence today, our conference is tinged with sadness. I refer of course to the tragic loss of John Mackay. John was a great servant of this Party and of Scotland, a man I worked alongside as a Minister and a man I came to rely on for his outstanding contribution in the House of Lords. I am sure that this Conference will agree that the best tribute we could pay to John Mackay, and the thing he would have wanted above all, is for the Conservative Party to go out and win the General Election.

The thoughts and sympathies of this Conference go out to everyone involved in agriculture struggling to cope with the outbreak of foot and mouth disease. And we think too of many of our own colleagues who would have been with us today but are forced to stay on their farms.

Nobody here needs to be told about the damage being done to agriculture by this terrible disease. It is a cruel tragedy inflicted on an industry currently going through its worst crisis for sixty years. For many farmers it could well be the final straw. And it has affected all parts of the United Kingdom.

We welcome the packages already announced by the Government. They will continue to have our support in their efforts to contain, and eradicate, foot and mouth from Britain. And we will continue to put forward positive suggestions to alleviate the hardship that many farmers face, such as modifying the rules on the movement of animals to help farmers at lambing time wherever that is prudently possible.

The countryside has reacted to the crisis with dignity and restraint, as the decision to postpone next weekend's march for Liberty and Livelihood clearly demonstrates. Their responsibility should be acknowledged by Tony Blair. So today I repeat my call for the Government to suspend the passage of the Hunting Bill until those who wish to exercise their democratic right to protest against it are free to do so.

Last week, at our Spring Conference in Harrogate, I asked people to think of what a second Labour term would actually mean. I asked them to look at the United Kingdom after four more years of Tony Blair.

I asked them to imagine a Britain where the pound had been replaced by the euro, where the life-blood had been torn out of the countryside, where taxes were rising higher and higher, where violent criminals were walking out of jail early and police morale had hit new lows.

I asked them to picture a country where the politically correct prejudices of a government in hoc to a liberal elite who treat the common sense instincts of the mainstream majority with contempt.

And how did Labour ministers respond? They didn't try to defend their policies. Instead, they attacked me for even daring to raise these issues!

In New Labour's Britain, there are certain subjects that no one else is allowed to talk about. Talk about tax and they call you greedy. Talk about crime and they call you extreme. Talk about asylum and they call you racist. Talk about your country and they call you a xenophobe.

Well I don't believe that our people are any of those things. They recognise that a decent society needs properly funded public services. But they don't see why they should pay higher and higher taxes when they can't see any improvement in those services.

They are not reactionary. But they understand that, in order to tackle crime, we should be increasing police numbers not cutting them. And they can see that letting violent criminals out of prison early is likely to cause more crime.

Our people are not intolerant. They recognise, as Conservatives have always recognised, that Britain must offer sanctuary to those fleeing from persecution. But they believe that Britain should be a safe haven and not a soft touch.

Above all, our people are not xenophobes. They understand that the United Kingdom works internally as a partnership of nations, and externally as a partner in the international community. They know that we are a maritime, trading country, connected by our history and geography to other continents.

But they also believe in democracy. And they can see that if our interest rates, our exchange rates and even our tax rates were set in Brussels, then yet more of our rights would have been signed away.

I trust the people. And I will never apologise for articulating the common sense instincts of the mainstream majority.

Tony Blair and his ministers can sneer all they like. But they're not sneering at me. They're sneering at the British people, whose opinions they hold in contempt.

Look at the way Labour, whether in Edinburgh or in Westminster, has brushed aside the views of the mainstream majority.

Just remember how Labour brushed aside opposition to the repeal of Section 2A, or Section 28 as it is usually known. Labour seem to believe that four fifths of Scottish voters are bigots. I don't believe that. I believe that most people recognise and value the diversity of modern Scottish society. But they can see the difference between being tolerant and using public money to promote homosexuality in our schools.

And just remember how Labour have brushed aside the opinions of rural Britain, as they have pressed ahead with their war against the countryside.

The truth is that we have a Government that despises the views of the people it purports to represent. A Government that is embarrassed by the very country it lives in. A Government ashamed of the United Kingdom.

Conservatives believe in the Union of the United Kingdom. We believe in a Union that includes Northern Ireland.

We support the Good Friday Agreement. It followed from a process we started. In our view it offers the people of Northern Ireland the best chance of peace and stability. The Executive and Assembly are working well. Without doubt much has been achieved.

But the Agreement must be implemented in full. So far we have seen four hundred terrorists released from prison early. The RUC has undergone painful reform. But still not one gun or one ounce of Semtex has been given up by the terrorist groups.

So, at this delicate time, I re-affirm that we will support any constructive efforts to bring about full implementation of the Agreement. But we should be clear where the responsibility for progress lies - with those parties that still refuse to fulfil their obligations to get rid of the weapons of terror and commit themselves unambiguously to democracy.

And we should be clear too that while the terrorist threat remains, there must be no question of lowering our guard or making changes to security that weakens the ability of the RUC and the army to protect us all.

Conservatives must also be prepared to speak up for the Union in its other three component nations. Scotland now faces a general election campaign in which only one party is prepared to give its full-throated support to the United Kingdom.

The SNP wants to separate Scotland from the rest of the Union. The Liberals are prepared to defend the Union only as a kind of conditional alliance with England. And Labour, because of their small-minded concern with party advantage, risk breaking the Union apart.

When Scotland voted for devolution, we made it clear that we accepted that democratic decision as the settled will of the Scottish people. And we went further. We promised that we would play our full part in making it work. The Scottish Conservative Party had to become the Party of devolution and of the Union. And, under David McLetchie's leadership, we can be proud of our record.

Because of our commitment to the Union we recognise that the constitutional changes in Edinburgh must be followed by changes at Westminster. Scottish MPs in London are now in the anomalous position of being able to vote on the domestic affairs of England and Wales, but not of their own constituencies. It is an imbalance could come to threaten the Union itself.

So the next Conservative Government will clean up the constitutional mess that Labour has left behind. The fair-minded people of Scotland have repeatedly agreed with us that Scottish MPs should no longer vote on legislation that affects only England and Wales. Within days of coming to power we will change the rules of the House of Commons to make sure that is what happens.

But while supporting devolution we will also ensure that Scotland's voice in the Union remains strong. That is why I have pledged to retain the position of Secretary of State for Scotland, with an enhanced United Kingdom role.

And whenever issues of vital importance to Scotland are at stake in Europe, such as fisheries, tourism or energy, I shall make sure that I appoint Scottish representatives to head the UK delegations to Brussels.

Our party will never be afraid to make the case for the United Kingdom. We are proud of what our nations have achieved together. We brought an end to the slave trade. We opened the world to free trade and the prosperity that came with it. We brought law and freedom to new continents. Twice we fought for the cause of all nations against tyranny.

These were our achievements as one United Kingdom - with Scotland at the forefront playing a disproportionately large role. And the people of each of the four component nations can take pride in them.

And yet we have a Government that is reluctant to make the case for the United Kingdom.

Britain should have a government that stands up for the United Kingdom. We should have a Government that shares the instincts of our people rather than despises them. Britain should have a Conservative Government that trusts the people.

And I trust the people.

I trust the people on tax.

People know that you can't spend more than you have. And they know that that holds true for governments as well for them. It seems like common sense to you and me. But not to Gordon Brown.

What do you do when you buy a car from a dodgy second hand car dealer? You read the small print. We'll we've had a couple of days now to read the small print of the Chancellor's cynical election Budget. Good job we did.

Because first, for all the Chancellor's talk of prudence in his speech, he has actually committed Labour to spending more than the country can afford. He is running up huge bills for the future which can only be paid for with extra taxes in the future. If a family was spending more than it could afford we wouldn't call it prudent, we'd call it irresponsible.

Second, the tax reductions trumpeted by the Chancellor in the Budget don't begin to compensate people for the billions of pounds of extra stealth taxes he's imposed over the last four years. On income tax, he's taken more than £600 a year from families by abolishing the married couples' allowance and mortgage relief and now he graciously deigns to give them back the princely sum of 69 pence a week. What he gives with one hand, he has already more than taken away with the other hand.

And third, any tax cuts are for a limited period only. There are new taxes already in the pipeline. New council tax rises. New VAT for people who wear glasses. And new rises in petrol tax already built into the Budget plans.

Labour is planning to tax more and deliver less. With Michael Portillo as Chancellor, Britain will spend no more than it can afford; and Britain will tax no more than it needs.

We will match Labour spending on the NHS and schools, but we will scale back the waste and the bureaucracy that has grown up like a fungus under this Government.

It is not just growing under Whitehall, but at Holyrood too. Anyone who doubts that money is being wasted should come here and look at the scandalous cost of building the Scottish Parliament as a result of Lib-Lab mismanagement.

We've identified precisely billions of pounds of money we can save without touching vital public services.

And we're going to use that money to build the Responsible Society and to support the people who are trying to do the right thing. We are going to give back the people's surplus to the people.

To the hard-working people who set a little bit aside each month, who listened in vain to the Budget for real help for savers, I say: you should be rewarded not punished. You should be allowed to keep every penny of the interest on your savings. You've already paid tax on your money once; you shouldn't have to do it twice. We're going to make your savings tax free.

And to the pensioners who have paid their contributions throughout their lives, and hardly merited a mention by Gordon Brown on Wednesday, I say: you have already done your bit. You shouldn't have to go on paying. We're going to take a million pensioners out of the tax system altogether.

And to the younger people who don't want to rely on the state in their retirement, I say: you should have the opportunity to build up your own pension fund. You should be able to use the National Insurance system to fund your own retirement. We're going to give you the choice we never had to be independent of the Government.

And to married couples, struggling and sacrificing to do their best for their children, I say: you are doing the right thing. You are providing the stable homes that children need. Your contribution should be recognised. That's why we're going to introduce a new Married Couple's Allowance - a transferable allowance worth as much as £1000. It's time we had a Government that supported the idea of marriage instead of doing everything it can to undermine it.

Spending only what the country can afford, rewarding savings, encouraging independence, supporting marriage: people know that these things are common sense. And I trust the people.

And I trust the people on crime. Labour may dismiss the views of the mainstream majority as prejudiced and ignorant. They may scoff at our calls for punishment that fits the crime.

But people can see that, under this Government, violent crime has risen in Scotland by nearly a third. Scotland is now the third most violent society in the industrialised world, and England and Wales the second.

Labour cannot escape responsibility. It is Labour that has allowed police numbers to fall, and Labour that has let 800 serious criminals back onto Scotland's streets early, so that many of them can offend again.

Labour have brushed aside the common sense instincts of the Scottish people. They prefer to listen to the self-appointed experts: to the liberal sociologists, who have so much to say about the rights of the criminal, and so little about the rights of the victim.

Of course I understand that crime is a devolved issue. But I know I speak for the whole Party when I say the next Conservative Government will stop releasing prisoners early. We will reverse Labour's cuts in police numbers. We will support our police where Labour has undermined them.

It is outrageous, in a country like ours, that people should feel that they can't go into their town centre on a Friday night. It is a disgrace, in a country that used to be respected for its civility, that there are streets where women are reluctant to walk outside after dark because they can't remember when they last saw a police officer.

We will only tackle the crime problem when we have more police and proper sentencing. That's not prejudice. It's plain common sense. People know it - and I trust the people.

And it's common sense, too, that the British economy should be the run in the interests of the United Kingdom. Saying this doesn't make you an extremist. It makes you a democrat.

For the past four years Tony Blair has tried to con the people of our country into believing that the euro isn't an election issue.

But a few weeks ago the strategy was shot to pieces when he admitted that, if he wins, he will seek to scrap the pound within two years.

A second term of Labour will mean that 2003 is the last year we will see the pound. After that, the currency that for centuries has helped to define our national independence, will have gone forever.

It is the most crucial decision that this country will ever have to take in peacetime, and the choice between the parties has never been clearer.

It is between a Labour Government that will scrap the pound, or a Conservative Government that will keep the pound.

And don't be misled by Tony Blair's promise of a referendum. Because who will set the terms of that referendum? Tony Blair. Who will decide when to hold it? Tony Blair. Who will draft the question? Tony Blair.

If anyone believes that we'll be allowed a free and fair vote, just take a look at the way in which Labour have already rigged the rules.

They've given themselves the right to use the Government's resources to push for a "Yes" vote. They've fixed artificial spending limits, to give the "Yes" campaign a huge financial advantage. They've even written in a special exemption so that the "Yes" campaign can receive money from elsewhere in the EU.

They'll spend every pound they can lay their hands on, until there's no Pound left at all.

So I say to the people of Scotland and to the whole United Kingdom. Be in absolutely no doubt. This election is your last chance to keep the pound.

And we know too that the election is the last chance to halt the steady and certain march into a European superstate under Labour, or to maintain our freedom and independence under the Conservatives

The election will determine nothing less than whether the Crown in Parliament remains supreme in the United Kingdom, and whether our people will remain sovereign their own country.

Here in Scotland it seems extraordinary that politicians who campaigned so hard for devolution - so that Scotland can have a greater say over its own affairs - should now be campaigning to hand powers away to Europe.

Well, the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party is the only party in Scotland that believes in being in Europe, not run by Europe. We believe in a strong Scotland within a strong United Kingdom in a Europe of independent nation states.

The next Conservative Government will defend the independence and integrity of our country. We will renegotiate the Common Fisheries Policy, whose iniquitous quota system threatens the viability of the Scottish fishing industry, and forces Scottish fishermen to throw thousands of tons of dead fish back into the North Sea. We will renegotiate the Common Agricultural Policy, which has contributed to the worst recession in Scottish farming since the 1930s.

And through our Reserved Powers Act will write into the law of our land the powers and rights that we hold today and which we will pass to the next generation, so that no stroke of a pen from Brussels, or retrospective court judgement, can take those rights away.

To those who might never have even considered voting Conservative before, but who believe in an independent United Kingdom, at this coming election, I say lend us your vote. Vote for us this time, so that your vote will mean something next time, and the time after, and the time after that.

Our country is being pulled in two directions. The Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly have been established. But, at the same time, they are happy to transfer more and more decisions from the United Kingdom to Brussels.

Each of you here will know people who are not Tory supporters, but who believe in the United Kingdom. Good, patriotic people, who may be lifelong supporters of another party, but who are not willing to watch their country being handed away.

They are people we must reach out to between now and polling day. And we should carry this message to them. We are the only Party that believes in an independent United Kingdom. We are the only Party that trusts the character of our people. We are the only party that will articulate the common sense instincts of the great mainstream majority in our country.

The common sense instinct that the Government should be on the side of the victim not the criminal.

The common sense instinct that we should not spend more than we can afford, nor tax more than we need.

The common sense instinct that we should be in Europe not run by Europe.

We are taking the fight to other parties that scorn and despise the instincts of the people they purport to represent. Other parties that dislike and mistrust all the things that make our country what it is.

Only the Conservatives have faith in the United Kingdom as an independent country.

Only the Conservatives want to pass on to our children the rights that we have inherited from our parents.

So as we go out in the next few weeks to campaign, we will be setting out our bold promise.

Elect a Conservative government and we will give you back your country.

We say to the pensioner trapped at home after dark for fear of crime, and the young woman afraid to walk down her own street at night - we will give you back your country.

We say to the parent who despairs of the onward creep of political correctness, and the patriot who sees a political class embarrassed of our proud history: we will give you back your country.

We say to businessmen overloaded with yet more red tape and regulation, and the family overburdened with extra tax: we will give you back your country.

We say to the people of our countryside who see their livelihoods and lifestyles under attack, and the people of our deprived inner cities who live in hope: we will give you back your country.

We say to millions of people who see our right to govern ourselves being steadily eroded, and the independence of our nation dismantled, and the currency of our people threatened with extinction: we will give you back your country.

As polling day draw near, to all these people, in every part of Scotland, from every walk of life we say: come with us, and we will give you back your country.

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