Speech to the Scottish Conservative Spring Conference
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It's good to be back here in Scotland and to be able to join you for what is an important conference for the Scottish Conservatives.
Could I say thank you straight away to everyone who has helped to pull this event together.
And I would like to thank you all. For your hard work. For your commitment. And for your all your efforts on behalf of the Conservative Party.
It's good to see such an enthusiastic group of people and to know that Conservatism is alive and well in Scotland.
We see this most clearly in the sensible and principled opposition provided by David McLetchie and his team in the Scottish Parliament.
At least Scottish people know that there is one party in Edinburgh determined to focus on the things that matter to them.
And I can assure you that their concerns are equally well represented in Westminster - with Jacqui Lait in the Shadow Cabinet, Peter Duncan harassing the Government whenever he can, the Duke of Montrose watching over things in the Upper House and Tom Strathclyde leading the opposition in the House of Lords.
That's a pretty formidable team I think you'll agree.
Of course, the focus of much of this conference will be on May's elections and the choice before the Scottish People then.
But we meet against the background of the serious situation developing in Iraq.
Only last weekend, I was with troops in Kuwait. I was very pleased to meet some of my old regiment, the Scots Guards who were serving with the paras and I know there are other Scots on the frontline.
Morale among the troops is good. They are overcoming the small equipment problems caused by the speed of their deployment.
Some of our equipment actually surpasses that of the Americans, and our training, as always, is second to none.
Having met and spoken to many servicemen, I have absolutely no doubt that should they be called upon to act - which, because of the continued evasions of Saddam Hussein, is increasingly likely - our troops will do the professional job we expect of them.
The main problem they raised is the problem of public support. One seaman on the Ark Royal told me that they just don't understand why some of the public, and sections of the press, are not backing them.
It is, of course, right that we should have the fullest debate in this country about any situation which could draw us into war.
I have made my position clear from the outset. I believe Saddam Hussein is an evil tyrant who inflicts pain and suffering on his own people, and he stands in breach of many United Nations resolutions calling on him to disarm.
Remember, this is not a case of calling for a second resolution. There have been 17 already. The next resolution will be the 18th.
Let us also remember that Saddam Hussein has the means, the mentality and the motive to cause just as much harm to people in this country through the Weapons of Mass Destruction he has built up over the years.
There is no question that the Conservative Party will give its full support to our troops.
Not for us the games that the Liberal Democrats play - they chase the tide of shifting public opinion.
Charles Kennedy has been:
* In favour of the UN route - then against it
* Certain of the need for a second resolution - then not so
* Anti-war then pro-war.
* Pro-American then anti-American.
* Pro-sanctions then anti-sanctions.
You can only face one way, which way is it Mr Kennedy?
Today as we stand on the threshold of war I say to our forces - the greatest in the world - our thoughts and prayers are with you and with your families. We wish you God Speed and a safe return.
But we cannot and should not forget the home front.
The problems in our public services are growing.
The economy is an increasing cause for concern.
And in many places, the divisions in our society are worse than ever.
You know that in Scotland. Over the past year I have seen it for myself.
I have seen poverty and deprivation.
And I have also seen how politics has failed so many of Scotland's most vulnerable people.
A few months ago on a housing scheme here in Glasgow, a young man of 22, addicted to drugs, was murdered by a pusher he owed £50.
He was killed as a warning to other debtors - and because the pusher was confident he would escape justice.
The circumstances of this murder are well known in the community, yet the dealer has not been arrested.
This is not simply a failure of policing. It is a failure of politics.
I'm sorry to say we have heard the Labour MSP Richard Simpson, a former deputy justice minister, say: 'The only time you will hear me use such terms as "War on Drugs" or "Just Say No" is to denigrate them.'
The only war Labour and the Liberal Democrats have waged is against the ability of the police to crack down on the drugs trade. The only thing they've said 'no' to is tough action against Scotland's drug dealers.
Scotland's police forces are fighting the drugs menace with one hand tied behind their back.
Of course the MSPs of Labour and the Liberal Democrats don't see much of the drugs menace that ravages Scotland.
They're too busy sitting in their cosy tax-payer paid-for offices full of glib talk, in sharp suits wearing false smiles while in Scotland's hard-pressed inner-city estates - a generation is being written off.
They just don't care.
Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians lack the imagination and resolve to take the decisions that Scotland needs. Each party is now just a pale reflection of the other.
In fact, I wonder why the Liberal Democrats are standing calling themselves the LibDems. Surely if they were honest they would re-name themselves the Labour Democrats - a branch office of Labour - after all, they back them all the time.
Issue by issue. Vote by vote. They meekly back their coalition partners and try to pretend that somehow they're delivering for Scotland.
Recently, they even suggested they might jump into bed with the SNP if the Nationalists were the biggest party - showing that they put Ministerial Mondeos before political principle.
Think about this - last week during their conference they didn't even hold a debate on rural affairs, yet Ross Finnie is the Rural Development Minister! He must know what we all know - his policy is damaging Scotland's rural community.
You see - only Labour Democrats can believe in everything and nothing at the same time.
It's no good - they share the jobs and the ministerial cars so now I say they'd better share the blame for the failure as well.
Because on May 1st when the people of Scotland go to cast their votes, these are the questions they should ask themselves.
Are things improving?
Have the first four years of devolution made any real difference to your life?
Is the Scottish Parliament doing what you were told it would do?
And if not, then who should you hold responsible?
Well, I prepared a few answers earlier:
Take the economy. Under Labour and the Labour Democrats, job creation in Scotland has been crippled.
Last year the Executive's punitive business rates helped push the Scottish economy into recession when the rest of Britain's economy was still growing.
Thousands of people lost their jobs.
And more jobs are going to be lost when Gordon Brown introduces his jobs tax next month. The higher national insurance costs that employers and employees will have to pay, amount to another 3p on income tax.
An extra £10,000 tax for the average business.
An extra £200 in tax for the average worker.
This is a Government that is about to hit 50 mph - £50 million tax per hour.
The Conservative Party believes in low tax and high enterprise.
That's why I say today - "Scrap the job's tax Gordon, you're only going to
waste it anyway."
But Labour is not satisfied with taxing you to the hilt today.
They want to steal your future, too.
Nothing has been more unfair than Labour's taxation of pensions.
People who've worked hard all of their lives.
People who've saved for their retirement have been robbed by this incompetent and short-sighted government.
Let's get the record straight. Labour has taken £5 Billion a year - £25 Billion since they have been in power - out of pensions funds as a result of their pensions tax.
As a result, someone retiring today will retire on half the level of pension they would have if they had retired in 1997.
On top of that the Government has increased the means test so that two - thirds of all pensioners will now be on a means test.
This means that a pensioner couple would have to have savings of £142,000 on top of their state pension to avoid the means test.
That from a party which in the 1997 Labour manifesto said they would bring "Dignity and security in retirement" and on last year's Treasury web-site they promised "Fairness for Pensioners".
More spin, no substance.
And what are they doing with that money? Can you, the voters of Scotland,
see how it's being spent?
Or do you share the view of the Secretary of State for Health, Alan Milburn, when he says that he fears this extra money - destined for a Health Service in England and Wales which already wastes tens of billions of pounds in useless inefficiencies -- is also going to be wasted?
Nor is it just tax that's the problem.
Labour in Scotland and in London pile regulation upon regulation onto business, hampering their efforts to save jobs and to create new ones.
Boots, I hear, plan to close their Airdrie factory with the loss of a thousand jobs.
But these closures and lay-offs should not surprise Scots when the Scottish Executive has decided to go even further than Gordon Brown by adding taxes and red tape of their own.
In much of rural Scotland, the fishing industry is one of the main employers.
With so many Scots in the Government, you would expect Labour to realise the
importance of fighting for the Scottish fishing industry.
Instead Elliot Morley, Tony Blair and the rest of the Government have compromised and capitulated in Europe.
Scotland is the loser.
The decline and demoralisation of the Scottish fishing industry is already ruining livelihoods and wrecking lives.
The industry is being destroyed because of the latest twists and turns of the disastrous Common Fisheries Policy.
A policy that scandalously ties up our white fish fleet but allows industrial fishing to devastate the marine food chain and produce a massive bye-catch.
Conservatives will bring fishing home from Europe.
With Struan Stevenson and Jamie McGrigor, fighting for our fishing industry - then let me be clear:
In government we will take the necessary legislative steps to return control of fishing policy to our nation - to our people.
Scotland has as much potential for economic growth as the rest of the UK - but not under Labour and the Labour Democrats. You might as well put lead in Henrik Larssen's boots.
Little wonder people are saying 'enough is enough'.
The Scottish Conservatives have the job-creating policies that will create a level playing field for Scottish business. Because Conservatives recognize that when taxes are low and regulations are kept to a necessary minimum, Scottish businesses and Scottish taxpayers can thrive.
Even by Labour's standards they are failing because all the extra tax and all the extra spending is not producing results.
Because more money is going into unreformed public services.
Let me go back to the health service.
£2 billion more has been spent on the NHS in Scotland since 1999.
But in the same period, waiting lists have gone up by over twenty per cent.
That means the average waiting time is 10 days longer now than it was then. And three weeks longer than it was when Labour came to power in 1997.
It's the usual Labour story, they tax you more, they spend more and they waste more.
We now have more administrators in the Health Service than beds to administer.
Labour want you to judge them on what they put in, I say you should judge them on what you get out - less treatment. That's not a record to be proud of.
In education the record's no better. Education in Scotland is divided into islands of privilege and ghettos of deprivation.
Glasgow's schools fare worst of all in public examinations.
But rather than delivering improvements, the man in charge of education in Glasgow blames league tables.
What the Scottish People want - what we want - is for those responsible for schools to stop whingeing and start improving children's education.
Labour and the Labour Democrats should concentrate on reversing falling standards of behaviour in schools.
They should ask themselves why head teachers feel helpless when they are prevented from excluding persistently disruptive pupils.
They should trust head teachers to run their own schools.
It's the same story, they tax you more, they spend more, they waste more. It is the hard-working parents, children and teachers who are short changed by Labour's failure.
Only the Scottish Conservatives have the determination to make Scotland's schools the best in the world.
Ambitious this may be - but Conservatives are ambitious for Scotland.
We are the Party that believes things can be better.
And we are the Party that knows how to make them better.
We will do it by applying the same principles in Scotland that we seek to apply elsewhere in Britain.
Policies may be different - that is what devolution is all about - but we share the same Conservative principles.
High quality public services for all.
An economy that gives every hard-working Scot the opportunity to provide for his or her family.
Unlike our opponents, we don't pretend politicians have all the answers.
We're interested in institutions that build society - not structures that bolster the state.
Communities and families, voluntary groups and local charities are finding effective solutions to social problems - solutions from which politicians can learn.
These are the things that have encouraged me when I've been north of the border. I've seen this work on the ground, communities providing exits from the conveyor belt to crime, fighting the breakdown of society.
I've seen the initiative and determination of compassionate Scotland.
Last November I met a man called Jim Doherty. Jim heads the Gallowgate Family Support Group.
Jim showed me round Parkhead Cross, a place in the grip of drugs.
Shops with their doors locked. Young addicts dealing on street corners, in full view of CCTV cameras.
At night, these streets are a no-go zone occupied by gangs, and surrendered to alcohol, drugs and violence.
Yet every year, on shoestring resources, the Gallowgate Support Group helps hundreds of families whose lives have been broken by drugs.
The work of these volunteers is characterised by a deep compassion, for addicts, and for their families... but also by a hard-headedness.
For Jim, the addicts' needs for food, shelter and rehabilitation must be balanced with the needs of their families.
Jim has four sons.
Two are addicts.
They have been in and out of prison many times.
Giving addicts numerous short spells in prison for their drug-related crime helps no one.
Jim is angry that his sons' jail time has cost the taxpayer hundreds of thousands of pounds, but achieved little.
He believes we should do things differently.
He says addicts have to know that, while they will be given every support to get off drugs, society cannot tolerate the damage they're doing to themselves and others.
He believes that if addicts won't accept immediate compulsory rehabilitation, they should be sent to prison.
He believes that is the only way to protect society from their destructive behaviour.
As I left Gallowgate, Jim told me: "We have already lost our children's generation to drugs.
The battle we're fighting now is to save our grandchildren."
I heard you then, Jim - You inspired me -
I still hear your words. Who can forget those harrowing stories from all those families.
I will not let you down.
In Easterhouse, Aberdeen and all over Britain, the story's the same.
Yet here, the Scottish Executive has thrown in the towel.
Conservatives have not.
Jim's view is the right one. He recognises that there is no contradiction between trying to help addicts and punishing them when they break the law. And that makes civil society - the people-sized groups between the individual and the state - crucial to this fight.
There are many excellent neighbourhood groups that are helping children avoid cycles of drug abuse and self- destructive behaviour.
I pledge to you Jim - we will free young people from the cycle of drugs.
We will help them into treatment to get them off drugs for good.
And in doing so, we will reclaim thousands of young people for decent society. There is no greater cause.
Conservatives are ambitious for Scotland.
Our theme, for the next two months, and from there to the General Election, is one of hope.
Hope for a better future for our country.
Hope for a peaceful nation and a better society.
Hope for an improved relationship between government and people.
Hope based on promises kept, and trust rewarded, and practical approaches that deliver real results for our people.
We can be confident and positive, because we know now, we realise once again, we have had it reconfirmed after six years of New Labour, that the Conservative Party offers the only credible alternative government.
Under Labour and the Labour Democrats, Scotland is so much less than it should be.
The SNP simply offer more of the same failed left-wing policies.
We have heard Scotland. We believe we know what Scotland wants.
Better public services.
A stronger economy.
A society built on social justice.
Only Conservatives have the policies to deliver these things.
Only Conservatives have the vision to work with the people of Scotland, and the champions of Scottish civil society - its teachers, its volunteers, its doctors and nurses and policemen - to achieve results.
The challenge for you - the challenge for David McLetchie, the challenge for me, is to show the people of Scotland there is an alternative.
If they're tired of a failing health service.
If they're tired of poor education for their children.
If they're tired of rising levels of crime and violence.
If they're tired of the growing number of bogus asylum seekers.
If they're tired of higher and higher tax.
If they're tired of growing government waste.
If they're tired of the way that Labour and the Labour Democrats have abandoned our young to drug addiction and crime.
Then they need an alternative.
It won't come from Labour and the Labour Democrats - they're responsible for the mess already.
It won't be the Scottish Nationalists - they just want more of the same but detached from Britain.
It must be the Conservatives - a genuine alternative that puts people first.
With David McLetchie you'll get that.
Let us give you back a Scotland we can all be proud of.