Ruth Davidson launches pitch to become First Minister

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Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has called for an end to tax breaks for the wealthy and more open immigration under plans to make the party a “credible force” for government in Scotland.

A shift away from the more hardline approach of Tory right-wingers south of the Border was set out by the Edinburgh Central MSP in a keynote speech yesterday with a sweeping vision she hopes will pave the way for her to replace Nicola Sturgeon as First Minister.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson. Picture: John Devlin

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson. Picture: John Devlin

Ms Davidson admitted the Tories’ success in 2016 campaigning to be a “strong opposition” to the SNP will not work twice.

But the SNP said the Scottish Conservative leader’s blueprint simply shows that the UK is “not working for Scotland”.

Ms Davidson said the Tories must find a way to make capitalism work better for ordinary Scots, which would see assets “held more widely” than a disenfranchised generation has experienced since the financial crash.

“We need to rebuild consensus in our capitalist system, in our institutions and a liberal way of life,” Ms Davidson told an audience at Glasgow University.

She said she was “straying out of my brief as a politician of a devolved Parliament” as she called for an increase in NHS funding across the UK. Ms Davidson backed Prime Minister Theresa May’s recent pledge of multi-year funding for the NHS.

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Ms Davidson admitted the Tories’ success in 2016 campaigning to be a “strong opposition” to the SNP will not work twice.

But the SNP said the Scottish Conservative leader’s blueprint simply shows that the UK is “not working for Scotland”.

Ms Davidson said the Tories must find a way to make capitalism work better for ordinary Scots, which would see assets “held more widely” than a disenfranchised generation has experienced since the financial crash.

“We need to rebuild consensus in our capitalist system, in our institutions and a liberal way of life,” Ms Davidson told an audience at Glasgow University.

She said she was “straying out of my brief as a politician of a devolved Parliament” as she called for an increase in NHS funding across the UK. Ms Davidson backed Prime Minister Theresa May’s recent pledge of multi-year funding for the NHS.

But she said: “The obvious question is: ‘where should this money come from?’

“I have no doubt that this will be the source of major debate within our party and across parliament over the coming months. Indeed, it has already started.

“My view is this: the UK government has acted to reduce the tax burden on working families. It has honoured its promise to do so. Raising the income tax threshold has reduced taxes for millions of UK workers and has taken thousands out of taxation altogether.

“But the UK government has a choice to make. And, if that choice is between extra spending on the NHS or introducing further tax breaks beyond those already promised, I choose the NHS.”

Although the NHS is devolved to Scotland, extra funding for the service UK-wide would see Scotland receive a share of additional cash through Barnett consequentials.

Brexit raises the prospect of stricter immigration controls in the UK which could damage Scotland which is more reliant on immigrant workers to maintain population numbers.

The Tory leader warned a hardline approach, backed by right-wing Brexiteers in her own party, would be a mistake at a time of “near full employment” and skills shortages. “It’s been notable that, since the Brexit vote, polls have shown that concerns over immigration are actually reducing,” she points out.

“Brexit requires the country to make decisions at a UK level on aspects of immigration previously held by Brussels. As we have to shape those arrangements, I hope we can create a mature system, which leads to a more settled country.”

The Scottish Government has been calling for immigration to be devolved to Holyrood amid concerns that Scotland’s economy will be hit hard by stricter controls.

The Tory leader also laid out plans for the supply of extra housing through a new national Housing and Infrastructure Agency which would be tasked with capturing cash through the rise in land prices which occurs after planning permission is granted. This would also ensure new developments are no longer “dumped down carelessly but are about making Scotland more beautiful”, with a new generation of “garden villages and garden towns”.

But the SNP’s Gillian Martin claimed the Tory leader’s speech shows the “UK is simply not working for Scotland”.

The Aberdeenshire East MSP said: “Whether it comes to their damaging approach to Brexit, immigration, or austerity, the UK government are actively harming jobs, public services and living standards in Scotland.

“And while Ms Davidson is absolutely right when she says that the NHS has coped ‘brilliantly’ with the challenges of the last decade, her calls for more funding have no credibility given that just a few months ago she was demanding tax cuts for the rich that would have cost the health service in Scotland £550m.

But she said: “The obvious question is: ‘where should this money come from?’

“I have no doubt that this will be the source of major debate within our party and across parliament over the coming months. Indeed, it has already started.

“My view is this: the UK government has acted to reduce the tax burden on working families. It has honoured its promise to do so. Raising the income tax threshold has reduced taxes for millions of UK workers and has taken thousands out of taxation altogether.

“But the UK government has a choice to make. And, if that choice is between extra spending on the NHS or introducing further tax breaks beyond those already promised, I choose the NHS.”

Although the NHS is devolved to Scotland, extra funding for the service UK-wide would see Scotland receive a share of additional cash through Barnett consequentials.

Brexit raises the prospect of stricter immigration controls in the UK which could damage Scotland which is more reliant on immigrant workers to maintain population numbers.

The Tory leader warned a hardline approach, backed by right-wing Brexiteers in her own party, would be a mistake at a time of “near full employment” and skills shortages. “It’s been notable that, since the Brexit vote, polls have shown that concerns over immigration are actually reducing,” she points out.

“Brexit requires the country to make decisions at a UK level on aspects of immigration previously held by Brussels. As we have to shape those arrangements, I hope we can create a mature system, which leads to a more settled country.”

The Scottish Government has been calling for immigration to be devolved to Holyrood amid concerns that Scotland’s economy will be hit hard by stricter controls.

The Tory leader also laid out plans for the supply of extra housing through a new national Housing and Infrastructure Agency which would be tasked with capturing cash through the rise in land prices which occurs after planning permission is granted. This would also ensure new developments are no longer “dumped down carelessly but are about making Scotland more beautiful”, with a new generation of “garden villages and garden towns”.

But the SNP’s Gillian Martin claimed the Tory leader’s speech shows the “UK is simply not working for Scotland”.

The Aberdeenshire East MSP said: “Whether it comes to their damaging approach to Brexit, immigration, or austerity, the UK government are actively harming jobs, public services and living standards in Scotland.

“And while Ms Davidson is absolutely right when she says that the NHS has coped ‘brilliantly’ with the challenges of the last decade, her calls for more funding have no credibility given that just a few months ago she was demanding tax cuts for the rich that would have cost the health service in Scotland £550m.”