Ruth Davidson has set out Scottish Conservative plans to boost Scotland’s economy in a speech in Edinburgh today.
Speaking to the Scottish Entrepeneurs Lunch, Ruth said that – by ending plans for more referendums and the uncertainty they create for business – Scotland could benefit from a “post-referendum bounce”.
She also set out the party’s economic strategy, to be adopted if Ruth becomes First Minister in 2021 – to deliver a high-value, high-wage economy focussed on technology, innovation and global exports.
She also criticised the SNP’s tax proposals, saying they risk driving away talent and investment from Scotland, at a time when the country needs to attract skilled workers and capital to come here.
In the speech Ruth said:
“I believe that Scotland after 2021 can enjoy a post-referendum bounce.”
“That with the massive uncertainty of further constitutional division set to one side, business confidence and investment will return, enhancing the lives of all our citizens.”
“I want to lead a Government that takes advantage of that new chapter.”
On the SNP’s tax plans, Ruth added:
“I agree with the SNP that we need to attract more people to come to Scotland – indeed, I think it will be vital to our future prosperity.
“I just struggle to understand why the SNP thinks that a markedly higher tax regime for Scotland is going to achieve the goal we all want – to ensure the brightest and best make their home here.
“So I would say to Ministers – please be very careful about further tax rises. It risks driving away investment and jobs. And it risks damaging the very objectives you have set yourself.
Notes to editors:
See full text of the speech below –
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen.
Can I start by saying what a pleasure is to be able to come here today.
A special note of thanks to Tom Ponton for organising this fantastic event.
And also to our sponsors today: Lothian Leisure, Shepherd Charter Surveyors, Rooney Nimmo and Tempus IME.
I was delighted to receive Tom’s invitation. As a party we are desperately keen to engage more with the business community in Scotland over the coming months.
So I’m also very pleased today to have my shadow economy secretary Dean Lockhart with me.
Dean and I are here not just to speak, but to listen and to learn from you as we seek to propose a plan for government.
So, as you all know, I’ve just got back after six months of maternity leave.
It’s not been the quietest first couple of weeks back at work.
I had my party conference in Aberdeen. Brexit is still at an impasse. And across the aisle, the SNP is once again threatening a second referendum on independence.
Sometimes it feels like I’ve never been away.
People have asked me how I intend to cope with the challenge of having a baby at the same time as leading a political party
Actually I have to say that my political experience over the last seven years has helped.
Being at the beck and call of a demanding dependent yelling for attention, keeping me awake, with no respect for my own needs or wishes.
And despite the pervading cloud of gloom that hangs over politics in Britain right now, it is great to be back,
I still feel genuinely positive about the future, and optimistic that we can come through our current malaise a stronger country, more united, and better off.
It is, after all, worth remembering that unemployment is at its lowest level since before I was born. That employment across the UK is at the joint highest figure ever recorded. That wages are now rising consistently.
Whisper it, friends, but it is not all bad out there.
And call me naïve, but after six months away from the frontline, I still believe that – for all we aren’t exactly flavour of the month right now – mainstream politicians from mainstream parties still have what it takes to make a positive difference to all our lives.
So I’d like to talk today about how we in the Scottish Conservatives want to build on these solid foundations.
Potentially as a future Government of Scotland come 2021 when the next Holyrood elections are being held.
Doing so by emulating exactly the entrepreneurial model that all of you in this room are familiar with: seeing the opportunity that times of change bring, spotting it first, getting ahead of the competition, and then having a plan to exploit it to the full.
I’ll talk about our plans for Scotland in a minute, but since I’m here today speaking to you in Edinburgh, let me first just touch on the situation here in the capital.
Because, for me, it does illustrate both the reasons for optimism we can all have, but also where we are currently going wrong as a country and why we need to change.
This is a city that has the world at its feet. Its reputation is truly global. Bursting with talent, Edinburgh has so much going for it.
Yet it is also operating with one arm tied behind its back.
We have a council which, in my view, treats private development with the utmost suspicion, and which is not trusted by major investors.
Blocking major projects – like the Hyatt hotel at Granton Marina – even when developers have done everything they can to make plans acceptable.
And, taxing everything that moves and some things that don’t, without any promise of real improvements.
Whether it’s a Tourist Tax, turning every and guest house into a tax collection point.
Or a parking tax which could hit everyone from police officers to commuters.
Or even a Garden Tax, lumping a £25 fee on everyone who wants their brown bin emptied.
The truth is that Edinburgh is very definitely open for business, it’s just a shame the SNP-Labour administration in the City Chambers isn’t.
And for Edinburgh, read Scotland as a whole.
Whether it’s video games entrepreneurs in Dundee, the energy industry in Aberdeen, or financial services right here – I see people looking outwards, looking globally, who see no block in their ambition to become world leaders in their field.
Who want to take on the challenge of climate change, technology and an ageing population and find solutions.
While in politics, I find – among too many – a failure to grasp the basics.
That if you don’t create wealth, you don’t get the money to pay for our vital public services.
That if you’re going to create sustainable economic growth, you need a clear strategy that is designed to maximise our potential.
That if we get a reputation in Scotland as a high tax nation, it will only damage our ability to attract talent and investment.
I want to change that.
Now I know – opposition politicians like me aren’t just paid to analyse and criticise from the side-lines.
We’re paid to come up with an alternative.
And with the Scottish elections due in less than two years’ time, the clock is ticking.
So my aim is this.
Come 2021 I want to be in a position where I can look at people like you in this room and convince you that we are the party to Scotland forward.
To show you that, as well as being a party that will stand by Scotland’s place in the Union, we’re also a party that has a plan to grow Scotland in the here and now – one that everybody in Scotland can get behind.
We’ve been using the last 18 months to put some thought into this.
At our conference last week, we set out some of the results.
One of the clear conclusions we reached is that Scotland needs a clear plan. It might seem obvious but the truth is that, right now, we don’t have one.
You can’t attack the Scottish Government for quantity: the truth is we have lots and lots of plans, and lots and lots of strategies.
But as a nation, we aren’t setting out a clear course. There’s no over-riding story about where we want to go.
That is what we want to bring: clarity of purpose.
And it was set out at a conference two weeks ago by my economy spokesman Dean Lockhart.
I’m afraid there is an acronym coming now of the kind that politicians love to use.
What we’re proposing is a TIGER model based on five key areas: technology, innovation, global exports, employment and regional growth across Scotland.
In a sentence, we want to focus on building a high-skilled, high-wage Scotland that looks outwards to the world, building on our traditional strengths to once again become the real powerhouse of the north.
Take those five areas in turn.
Technology – we all know that we are living through a technological revolution, as big and as profound as the revolutions in agriculture and industry that marked previous ages. We need to embrace it.
Yet currently just 9 % of our businesses embed digital in their operations – compared to nearly 50% in other competitor countries. So we plan to create a new Institute of Technoloy and E-Commerce to support firms to do so.
Innovation – Scotland is blessed with an array of world-leading Universities and Colleges, all of them producing cutting edge research. Where we’re failing is in getting those ideas to market. So we want to put innovators at the centre of our plans so we maximise the earning potential of Scotland’s grey matter.
Global Trade – Scotland’s focus should be to exploit the growing markets of the world – India, China, South America.
Only on Wednesday, I visited Deanston Distillery near Stirling and sat in on their plans to boost sales around the world – just one of many such businesses now seeking the huge opportunities in emerging markets.
Yes, Europe will always be our nearest international market, and an important one at that. But we want to massively expand our footprint globally – using the influence of Scotland’s global diaspora more effectively – to really boost worldwide sales.
Employment – as I set out in my conference speech two weeks ago, we need to equip our own workforce with the skills they need, and business needs, to thrive in the modern world.
By ending the hierarchy that places a University education on a pedestal above great vocational or technical training. And by giving people the chance to re-train throughout their careers, so they can move with the times.
And finally regional economic growth. Scotland is a quite remarkably diverse nation – from high density urban centres in our cities to some of the most remote communities in Europe. One of the unfortunate features of devolution these last 20 years has been to centralise too much power in Edinburgh. We want to push more power back out, so decisions are made closer to people and no matter where you live in Scotland, if you’ve got a good business idea, you’ll get the help and support you need to get started.
So that’s our thinking – with an ambitious aim, to restore Scotland’s economic growth to an annual 2%.
And to these five clear priorities, let me just add two more on top of them before I finish.
Firstly, on tax.
As Caroline Fairbairn, the director general of the CBI, said earlier this week, this issue all boils down to the message we want to send out to the rest of the world, about our openness and our desire to welcome investment.
I fear that the message on tax we are sending out right now is far from positive. And that if the divergence between us and the rest of the UK continues to grow, then it will only deter people and capital from coming here.
For example, I agree with the SNP that we need to attract more people to come to Scotland – indeed, I think it will be vital to our future prosperity.
I just struggle to understand why the SNP thinks that a markedly higher tax regime for Scotland is going to achieve the goal we all want – to ensure the brightest and best make their home here.
So I would say to Ministers – please be very careful about further tax rises. It risks driving away investment and jobs. And it risks damaging the very objectives you have set yourself.
And secondly – because this is Scotland – let me mention the constitution
As you know, we have another election next week. One we were told wouldn’t happen.
But, since we have not left the EU, it must now take place.
I am clear. I believe we should respect the results of both the referendums we’ve held in Scotland over the last few years.
I’ve won one, and lost one – and, look, I’m OK coming out of this with a score-draw.
I think binary referendums are divisive and damaging and don’t help solve knotty, thorny issues that cannot be reduced to a simple Yes/No answer
I hope I never have to fight a referendum again in my political life.
What I want is for us to now move on.
To secure an orderly and managed Brexit deal which allows us to leave the EU in good order, giving businesses the certainty they need to plan properly for the future.
So we can then get on with a new post-referendum phase in our history – in which, instead of focussing on what divides us, we focus instead on things we can unite around growing a sustainable economy, meeting the challenge of climate change, delivering a great education system for everyone.
I believe that Scotland after 2021 can enjoy a post-referendum bounce.
That with the massive uncertainty of further constitutional division set to one side, business confidence and investment will return, enhancing the lives of all our citizens.
I want to lead a Government that takes advantage of that new chapter.
And – baby or no baby – I’m going to spend the next two years trying to convince you all to back me too.
Let me end by thanking you all again for giving me the chance to speak to you today.
By thanking you for the work you do to drive economic growth in Scotland – delivering the high quality jobs on which we depend.
And by wishing you the very best for the future.