Theresa May has attacked the SNP’s policies on tax and education, saying she is “concerned” about Scotland’s decline in international league tables and the rising tax burden on the middle class.
Speaking ahead of a speech in Aberdeen next weekend at the Scottish Conservative conference, the Prime Minister praised Ruth Davidson’s leadership and said she should be the next First Minister - but didn’t comment on her being tipped as a future occupant of 10 Downing Street.
Mrs May also restated her opposition to a second independence referendum, saying the 2014 vote was a “once-in-a-generation” choice.
In an interview with the Mail on Sunday, the Prime Minister said: “[The Union] is very important to me. I made that point when I first became Prime Minister in my speech in Downing Street outside No10.
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“We are genuinely stronger as a United Kingdom... we may be four nations but we are one people, and that holds us together and brings us together.”
She added: “Everybody was clear when the 2014 referendum happened that it was a once-in-a-generation decision and once-in-a-generation vote - and that people would abide by the result.
“Yet ever since we've seen the SNP with this tunnel vision just focusing on when they can have a second referendum.
“What I say to the SNP is, actually, it's time for them to take this off the table and just get on with the day job and the issues that matter to people in Scotland.”
The Prime Minister went on: “My paternal grandmother was Scottish but came down from Scotland and met my paternal grandfather.
“Even if people have no personal links to Scotland at all, or to Wales or to Northern Ireland - and, likewise, for people in Scotland who may have no personal links to England - as I say, we are one people.
“The UK can hold its head high in the world and plays a great role. Once we're outside the European Union, we will be out there, a more outward-looking country.”
Mrs May claimed it would be “good for the people of Scotland” if the Scottish Tories won the next Holyrood election in 2021.
“If they want these issues like the state of the economy, like education, to be sorted out, the person who's going to do it is Ruth and Scottish Conservatives in government in Holyrood,” she said.
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But she stopped short of endorsing the Scottish Tory leader as her successor, saying: “People ask me about a whole range of colleagues and whether or not they are likely to become Prime Minister, or would be Prime Minister.
“Ruth is not just a great politician, she's a great proponent for the Conservative cause. She's also somebody who, crucially, actually just gets on and delivers, and that's what people in Scotland want.”
Following the passage of the Scottish budget, which uses new tax powers to raise taxes for those earning more than £26,000, Mrs May said voters were entitled to ask: “Why are we paying more than the rest of the UK?”
“It's not just about the economy, because if they look around and they look at what's happened on Scottish education, for example, they've got a right to say, ‘Why are we paying more when we see that our education standards are slipping?
“That means our children aren't getting the same sort of opportunities and prospects that children across the rest of the UK have.’”
Mrs May added: “What I say to the SNP is, it's time for them to take this [push for separation] off the table and just get on with the day job and the issues that matter to people in Scotland.
“Are their kids getting a good quality of education? Will their children have an opportunity to get to university?
“Sadly, whereas in England we have seen more disadvantaged students going to university, in Scotland we are seeing fewer.
“This is not good. This is affecting people's life chances.
“As I say, the SNP needs to take independence off the table and just get on with the day job, and focus on the things that matter to people.”