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David Cameron: Speech to Scottish Party Conference

INTRODUCTION

It’s great to be in Perth.

The Fair City holds a special place in my heart.

After the last General Election, I came here during the contest for the leadership of this party.

And at the next General Election, I really believe we have a chance to take this seat from the SNP.

But to do that, we have to show the people of Perth, of Scotland, of the United Kingdom, the leadership they deserve.

That’s what I want to talk about today.

The leadership we need to solve the problems we face:

An economic recession, and a debt crisis on a scale we’ve never seen before.

Social breakdown that has made Britain, for millions, a grim place to live.

A Union between our two countries that is in danger.

And as we’ve seen this week, a political system that has lost the trust of the people.

EXPENSES

For the past few days, I’ve been working to redeem some of that trust.

Too many MPs – from all parties – have made expense claims that do not stand up to public scrutiny.

I don’t care if these claims were within the rules – they were wrong.

That’s why we acted quickly to start sorting it out.

And that’s why I replaced the party election broadcast we had planned for this evening, with a filmed apology to the public and an explanation for the action we have taken.

Members of the Shadow Cabinet have agreed to pay back those claims that caused such concern.

We have set up a Scrutiny Panel to review expense claims made by Conservative MPs and to advise and discuss with them how much money should be paid back.

Our MPs will take part in this process – or they will no longer be Conservative MPs.

All our MPs, starting with the Shadow Cabinet, will publish each and every one of their expense claims online, for everyone to see.

If a Conservative MP sells a home for which the mortgage interest payments are rrently paid by the taxpayer, they are going to have to pay Capital Gains Tax.

This practice of ‘flipping’ second homes to get more money – I’ve banned it.

And from now on, Conservative MPs will only be allowed to claim the bare necessities: no furniture, no household goods, no food bills, no decorations.

That’s the action we in this Party are taking right now on MPs expenses.

But in amongst this torrent of allegations and revelations, there are two simple facts that every Member of Parliament – in fact everyone elected to public office - needs to remember.

First, remember whose money it is you’re spending.

When you spend money, it’s not your money, it’s not government money – it’s taxpayers’ money. 

Second, remember who you work for.

We work for the people, our constituents. 

To slightly misquote the song: “don’t forget it’s they who put you where you are now” – and, complete the lyric – “they can put you back down too”.

That’s why I’m pleased that some of my colleagues who have been in the spotlight this week are going back to the people who put them in parliament.

They are holding open public meetings in their constituencies.

They will be explaining what they’ve done, listening to what their constituents think, and together working out how to put right what’s wrong.

That is not just listening, it’s leadership too and I think it sets an example for others to follow.

It is right that we show leadership on this issue because I want us to be the party of change in Britain today and if change means anything in British politics these days it means changing politics itself.

So the action we’ve taken this week backs up the changes we proposed last year.

Ending MPs voting on their own pay.

Closing the final salary pension scheme.

And cutting the cost of politics.

But I know that these changes alone will not fix our broken politics they are just a start, because I understand how deep the damage goes.

Our politics is reviled.

Our Parliament is held in scorn.

Our people have had enough.

Let us be clear. 

This moment is dangerous, yet vital. 

The decisions we make and the actions we take in these coming days, weeks and months will help determine the future path of our politics and our Westminster Parliament.

Will it be a politics of change and hope - or a politics of distrust and despair?

Will we rebuild a Parliament that commands respect at home and abroad – or allow ours, the Mother of Parliaments, to descend further into a state of ridicule and contempt?

Let us be clear, this is not just about MPs’ expenses.

We will need to make big changes to fix our broken politics.

We in this Party must be on the side of this change – both in the next few weeks and at the next election.

It is in our hands – and future generations will never forgive us if we take the wrong path.

UNION

What has happened isn’t just bad news for our democracy.

It’s bad news for the Union between our two countries.

You can imagine the glee these stories were met with in the SNP headquarters.

Each expense claim marked down as ammunition for Alex Salmond’s separatist agenda, even though his own MPs are not squeaky clean.

The greater the impression of a Westminster mired in corruption, the greater the impression that Alex Salmond’s call for independence is credible.

And while we’re on the First Minister, I’d like to say this to him:

Before you talk about MPs fiddling the system, let’s look at your record.

You say you’re Scotland’s voice in Westminster – well, I haven’t heard it.

You take the salary but what do your constituents get?

An attendance record in the House of Commons and a voting record that is amongst the worst of all Scottish MPs.

You sit in two legislatures – Holyrood and Westminster.

You draw two salaries.

But you haven’t got a leg to stand on.

My position on the question of the dual mandate is this: one politician should not try to serve two masters, so they should only sit in one legislature.

I know the problems. Promises are made to serve a full term.  In parts of our United Kingdom the practice of dual mandates has grown up and become established.

But this needs to change.  That’s why any Conservative who is elected to a second legislature will give up the other seat at the first available electoral opportunity.

And to the Scottish people, I say this: I know you’re angry with politicians in London.

But a vote for the SNP puts our Union at risk.

And don’t put our Union at risk because remember what it has done for us, is doing for us, and will do for us in the future.

We have a long and proud history together.

We turned a small, off-shore European island into the one of the most powerful countries known to man.

We ruled the waves, started the industrial revolution, defeated fascism and led the world.

Just forty miles away from here in Edinburgh, a Scotsman was born – David Hume – who built on the work of an Englishman – John Locke – to lead the Enlightenment.

Just twenty miles away in Dundee, it was Scottish shipbuilding and mills that joined with English industry to transform the global economy.

And just down the road, here in Perth, is the traditional headquarters of the Black Watch – a Scottish regiment that stood shoulder to shoulder with their English counterparts from Flanders to Korea.

But the Union is not just a sentimental Union.

It’s a matter for the present as well as the past – the head as well as the heart.

Together, we are richer – as the fifth largest economy in the world.

Together we are stronger, with one of only five permanent seats of the United Nations Security Council we are listened to in a way that other countries can only dream of.

And together, we are safer.

We have the British military - one of the most respected armed forces in the world.

Scotland punches above its weight in Britain's armed forces and Britain punches above its weight in the world because of the expertise and bravery of those forces.

We share these strengths.

But yes, today, we also share some problems.

CHALLENGES TODAY

We have an economy that is running out of money.

The highest borrowing in peacetime history.

The deepest recession since the war.

And a society that is struggling.

The welfare claimant who can work but doesn’t work.

The father who leaves his family to fend for themselves.

The teenager who beats someone up and films it on their mobile phone.

A battered economy.

A broken society.

These problems are deep and daunting.

But I have hope.

Because if I am given the privilege of being Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Scotland, England, Wales, Northern Ireland, I know that we can meet these challenges with our core Conservative values.

Those values are thrift in government and responsibility in society.

Let me explain what I mean.

A GOVERNMENT OF THRIFT

In this new age of austerity, Britain needs a government of thrift.

But all we are getting from Labour is more of the same irresponsibility that got us into this mess.

They are planning to borrow more in the next two years than all our previous governments – put together.

More in twenty-four months than in over three hundred years.

They say we can keep on borrowing more and keep on spending more and deal with their debt crisis later.

That’s wrong.

We need to deal with this debt crisis now or we risk higher interest rates and taxes and a weaker economy for years to come.

Let me give you just one fact.

We will soon be spending more on paying off the interest on that debt than we will on schooling our children.

Everyone in this room knows there is only one way out of this mess – big change in how we run the government.

For a start, we need proper spending control.

That means weeding out all that spending and borrowing that is not essential.

That’s why we opposed the pointless VAT cut.

It’s why we said Labour should reduce their spending plans back in 2008 – and are now saying they should abandon their irresponsible plans for big spending increases in 2010.

And it’s why we will reverse all those extensions of the state – like I.D. Cards and Regional Assemblies - that cost so much money and will do more harm than good.

For Conservatives, these are easy choices to make.

We’ll need to make some hard ones too.

That’s why right now, each member of the Shadow Cabinet is going through every bit of government spending and seeing what is really necessary, and what can be dropped in this new age of austerity.

But proper spending control is not enough.

We need a whole change of culture in government too.

I want everyone – from Minister to adviser; Permanent Secretary to civil servant – to be as careful with public money as they are with their own.

Again, let me give you one fact.

At a time when our armed forces are over-stretched and under fire in the dust and heat of Afghanistan, this Government spent £2.3 billion on refurbishing the MOD.

It’s got to stop.

In our war on waste, we’ll use every weapon - the traditional and new.

In terms of the traditional, there’ll be leadership from the front.

With me as Prime Minister, it will be simple: if Ministers do more for less they get promoted; if they do less for more, they get sacked.

In terms of the new: there’ll be transparency.

With our Right to Know plan, we will publish online every item of government spending over £25,000 and each public sector salary over £150,000.

It’ll all be there – online and for all to see.

The days of ever accelerating bills for the quangos that have grown and grown under Labour will be over.

A RESPONSIBLE SOCIETY

So we will bring about a government of thrift to fix our broken economy.

But as we have been arguing for years, our society is broken too.

Teenage pregnancy. Incivility. Crime. Fear. Wasted lives.

The thread that links it all together passes yes, through family breakdown, welfare dependency, debt, drugs, poverty, poor policing, and failing schools, but it is a thread that goes deeper.

We see a society that is in danger of losing that core value – responsibility.

Yes – politicians have got to start with themselves. We cannot convincingly talk to others until we put our own house in order.

But, as we do, I want that word – responsibility – to be at the heart of everything a Conservative Government will do.

That’s why we have put such massive emphasis on welfare reform.

If people don’t accept the offer of a good job, their benefits will be cut.

It’s why we must bring some honesty back into sentencing: if you commit a crime, you’ve got pay the price.

And it’s why the Scottish Conservatives have taken such a lead on tackling drug addiction in some of our most deprived communities.

It’s simple: if you do the right thing and want to go clean, we’re here to help you.

FAMILY RESPONSIBILITY

Of course, our expectations of people don’t just stop with the responsibility they have to themselves.

We also have a responsibility to the people around us.

The most important of these is our family.

Family is the place where a person’s identity is shaped and values are formed where they understand what it means to live in community with others and first learn to act responsibly.

So when families break down and fall apart, so too can the people within them.

For this reason, we cannot remain neutral on this issue.

Let me be clear: I get the modern world – I’m a child of it.

I know sometimes two people just grow apart and sadly there is nothing that can be done.

But I also know that it’s right not just right, but absolutely crucial, if we want to build the responsible society that we do everything we can to help couples stay together.

So I want us to be the party that really gets being family-friendly.

That looks at every aspect of a family’s life and asks: how can we make it stronger?

That looks at the benefits system and says: the destructive couple penalty, that pays parents to live apart, has got to go.

That looks at the tax system and says: it’s got to recognise marriage.

That looks at home life and says: families want time together so we will give every parent the right to request flexible working.

And that looks at our media companies and says: you’re introducing children to emotional dilemmas at too young an age and you’ve got to be more responsible.

That’s how we are going to build strong and responsible families.

LOCAL RESPONSIBILITY

But we are not just responsible to those we know and love.

We have obligations to those beyond our front door – to our neighbours and in our community.

And we know people will only start connecting to the world outside their windows once they know that they can make a real difference.

When you say to local people ‘this is your street, this is your neighbourhood, if you want to make it better we’ll help you and we won’t stand in your way’, they respond by doing just that.

Community is born through common purpose – and we’re going to give people the power and control to drive that common purpose.

That’s why today, we’re the party of radical decentralisation – of a control shift in power from the centre down to local people.

And we’re the only ones who can carry out this agenda because we’re the only ones who genuinely believe in it.

Labour are top-down.

Always have been. Always will be.

We’re bottom-up.

Labour trusts the state.

We trust society.

Labour believe in themselves.

We believe in people.

DEVOLUTION

That’s why in this, the Fair City and in this auspicious year - the tenth anniversary of devolution I stand here, the leader of the Conservative Party, and say loudly and proudly, we support devolution, we back it heart and soul, and we will make it work for everyone.

That’s precisely what the Scottish Conservatives are doing.

We’re winning the arguments in the Scottish Parliament.

During the Budget negotiations, when the Liberal Democrats, Labour, Greens and Scottish Nationalists were reduced to petty squabbling, point scoring and picking fights it was Annabel Goldie – who else? - who showed unstinting leadership and secured a package worth over £230 million for the benefit of Scotland’s businesses and families.

And we’re winning the arguments on the future of devolution and how to keep the Union together.

I have said that if we win the General Election, one of the first things I will do is come to Scotland and meet with the First Minister.

And I can announce today that if I become Prime Minister and if the Scottish Parliament so wishes I will come to Holyrood once a year and answer questions from MSPs on any subject – from Scotland to the wider world.

I mean it when I say I want the U.K. Government and the Scottish Government, Westminster and Holyrood to work together.

That’s why with the Conservatives, this kind of cooperation will be extended across all levels of government.

My Treasury Ministers will explain to Holyrood, in person, what the Budget and Pre-Budget Reports mean for Scotland.

And my Scottish Secretary would seek a meeting with the First Minister every month – and explain the implications of the Queen’s Speech for the devolved areas at the start of the Parliamentary session.

In the end, this commitment to making devolution work is all about our values.

Thrift – because money that is spent closer to people is money that is spent wiser.

And responsibility – because when people know they have real power over the decisions that affect them, the bigger and better part they play in their community.

ALEX SALMOND

And when that truly happens, we can end the politics of division in Scotland, and start a new one of unity.

So, let me send a very clear message to Alex Salmond.

I know you’ve got a plan.

I know you think a Conservative government at Westminster will ignore what Scotland wants and needs, and that you will use such claims to promote your separatist agenda.

Well, think again.

Whatever the outcome in Scotland of the next General Election, a Conservative Government will govern the whole of the United Kingdom, including Scotland, with respect.

Whoever is Scotland’s First Minister, I would be a Prime Minister who acts on the voice of the Scottish people and works tirelessly for consent and consensus.

And whenever the precious Union between our two countries is challenged, we – the Party of the Union – will respond by defending that Union with every ounce of passion in our body.

I’ve said it before.

I’ll say it again.

I want to be Prime Minister of the United Kingdom – all of it.

Stronger together, weaker apart. Let’s make sure that’s the way it’s always going to be.

CONCLUSION

So that’s what we’re fighting for.

And while all that may seem a long way from Labour’s Britain, I believe that a new government can bring new hope.

So to everyone in this room: I ask you to come together, work together like never before to deliver the change that our country so desperately needs.

And to everyone beyond these walls, to the disillusioned, the despondent, the detached: I say you might have lost faith in individual politicians, but don’t lose faith in politics – because it is still our best hope to effect meaningful change.

To the young, old, rich, poor – you’re looking for leadership, we’re ready to lead.

To those who voted for Labour, to those who trusted the SNP, to everyone who’s been let down, you want things to be different, so help us make a difference.

Now is the time for change.

In place of a government that is casual with money, a government of thrift.

In place of the irresponsible, the responsible society.

In place of the politics of personal destruction, the politics of thrift and personal responsibility.

In place of a grim life under Labour, a good life for all.

In place of drift, leadership.

In place of despair, hope.

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