Let’s unite to take Scotland forward

My message to voters across Scotland is this: if you want to build a better Scotland, if you want to beat the SNP, and if you want to put the divisions of the past few years behind us, the party I plan to lead is one you can unite behind, and one that can win.

I can say this with confidence because of my track record. I have beaten the SNP – twice. First, by taking the Moray constituency from them in the 2017 general election. Then, and in the middle of a SNP landslide, by successfully retaining it in December last year. I know what is needed to take them on and win. It’s not enough to speak to a small section of society on a single issue. Instead, you need to stand up for all those – No, Yes, Leave, Remain – who want the focus in Scotland to be on the things that really matter: schools, jobs, crime, not the distraction of constitutional division. I know there are many, many people who feel like this – patriotic Scots who just want government to provide practical, pragmatic answers to the challenges we face. I know the Scottish Conservatives have the ideas and the team to provide them. So – unlike some – I’m not running up the white flag in the contest against the SNP at next year’s Holyrood elections: far from it. I believe with all my head and heart that we can knock the SNP off their perch. I know that, first and foremost, serious and strong leadership is required to do that. That is why I am stepping up.

To do this, I need a strong team behind me. That’s why my first act on Thursday evening after Jackson Carlaw honourably announced his resignation was to speak to Ruth Davidson and ask her to support me in my plans. Ruth transformed our party during her 8 years as party leader. She showed us how to reach out and speak to all voters in Scotland, no matter their background or party allegiance. I want her back on the park, so we have the best chance of setting out a positive, strong message to all Scotland. So if I’m elected, this will very much be a “joint ticket”. As an MP, I will continue to represent my constituents in the House of Commons, while also running for election to the Scottish Parliament next year. In the meantime, I’ve asked Ruth to go back to her old job taking on Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions every Thursday. If I’m elected leader, I am delighted to say she has agreed to do so. We will get our best striker back on the pitch.

Ruth and I then intend to bust a gut over these next few months to do exactly as we promised when elected – to provide a strong opposition to the SNP every single week. Even more importantly, we intend to lay a platform for success in next year’s Holyrood elections. Our message is going to be a new one. As some in my party have rightly said in recent months, we can’t keep going back to the arguments of the past especially not after the Coronavirus pandemic the contry is still navigating its way through. So while our opposition to a second independence referendum will remain as firm as ever, our focus is going to move on from the 6 year old contest of No v Yes. The real dividing line now is this: it’s between those in the SNP who would take us back to that old sterile debate, and the majority of non-nationalist Scots who want to move forward, with the whole country focused on the key challenges we face.

Even Nicola Sturgeon currently acknowledges now isn’t the right time to be dragging independence back to the top of the agenda. Most Scots agree, but we know the SNP will return for more just as soon as they think they can. Ruth and I will be calling on all voters across the country who want a Scotland that finally moves on from the deadlock of division – when division between Scots has dominated – and who want the focus to be on what we can all achieve together, right here, right now. Our message will be: unite behind us, and together, let’s get Scotland going forward.

The Coronavirus Pandemic has shown just how important it is that we focus exclusively on this task: lives and livelihoods literally depend on it. Scotland has pulled together brilliantly these last few months but the truth is that we are likely only at the beginning of what promises to be a long and difficult path back to normality. It is therefore essential that we stay the course, stick to a plan, and keep on track. The full focus of everyone in Scotland must be on rising to meet those challenges.

Because they are vast. As we face the economic backlash of the pandemic like we have never seen before, we need to confront the emergency response required. I believe we need both our Governments working together on this – utilising both the powers of devolution, and the strength of the Union to protect jobs. And we need a vision from the Scottish Government that doesn’t just apply sticking plaster to our economy, but sets out a plan for our children and grandchildren, so Scotland really does build back better. Central to that is the empowerment of the Scottish regions and towns that have been forgotten by the SNP – like my own Highlands area. As leader I will get their agenda put on the tables of Ministers in Edinburgh.

I also believe the Pandemic provides us with a moment to change course from some of the failed approaches of the past. To stop the slow decline of our education system. To dump the failed Curriculum for Excellence experiment, and instead to restore Scotland’s once great reputation as the best place to educate your child, anywhere in the world. To correct the SNP’s erosion of our justice system – currently exemplified by the sinister Hate Crime Bill. To ensure workers who lose their job have a guarantee that they’ll get reskilled, not dumped on the dole for the rest of their careers.

That’s the debate I want to have – not a debate about where power lies, but about how power is used. And I think most Scots agree with me.

These last few months have been a difficult and testing time for us all – and we all know that more tough days may lie ahead. But the way Scotland has pulled together and shown such resilience and spirit during the pandemic, can give us great heart too. It has shown that, for all the divisions we’ve had over the last few years, we remain fundamentally a united country. It has shown that we can go forward together, debating the issues that matter most to us, not diverted down a nationalist cul de sack.

Under my leadership, the Scottish Conservatives will fight every day to take our country forward and keep this progress on track, not allow it to be broken by a return to the old ways.