WE have invited all of the major political parties in Scotland to take part in an interview ahead of the Scottish Parliament elections on May 6. In this instalment, we spoke to Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross.
Q. What is your party planning to do for the Borders, in particular?
A. We are very keen to see voices across Scotland heard, because I think after the last 14 years of the SNP being in charge we have seen decisions taken that suit the central belt of Scotland, but not the south of Scotland.
Areas such as Peeblesshire have largely been ignored. I said when I became leader of the Scottish Conservatives, probably because I represent an area outwith the central belt, I want to make sure that the voices of communities that haven’t been heard are finally heard in the Scottish Parliament.
With a local candidate like Shona Haslam, we have got an excellent local advocate who is passionate about the local community, who will drive for more local services to be delivered locally and more investment for local communities.
I have done a lot about ensuring carer funding for local authorities, recruiting new teachers right across the country, investing in businesses to protect people’s jobs and I think as we come out of this pandemic, it’s really important that the focus of the Scottish Parliament and every MSP is on recovery and rebuilding after the most difficult 12 months we have had – rather than the SNP’s plans for another referendum.
Q. We have run stories about local businesses being hurt by the impact of Brexit. What assurances can you give them?
A. I don’t underestimate the challenge that businesses have faced and those who have raised concerns directly with me, I have treated them really seriously and we’ve got to resolve them.
I welcome the fact that there was a compensation scheme, particularly for fishing.
The £23 million was important, but I said at the time that won’t be enough if we still have the underlying problems with added bureaucracy and delays in getting produce out to Europe.
From the conversations I have had, there have been improvements, but there are still challenges that we have got to navigate.
That’s why Lord Frost has been appointed to look at these issues in detail and get them resolved so we can have a far smoother process.
That means reducing the number and length of forms, the bureaucracy that there is and allowing businesses to do what they do best which is getting our great produce out and into the European Union market.
Q. Scottish Borders Council has declared a climate emergency. What are the Scottish Conservatives doing in terms of the climate?
A. I think the climate/ the environment/ the green agenda will go through all parties’ manifestos over the next few weeks, because the UK is hosting the COP26 conference in Glasgow.
It’s a real opportunity for us to showcase to the whole world the lengths Scotland has gone to with renewable energy and the progress we’ve made in terms of development of new, renewable technologies and the investment we can make. We saw the budget a couple of weeks ago put in considerable investment.
I think it was £32 million into the north east for a transition from the traditional oil and gas into a green transition.
It’s important that we recognise the environment as a key issue in this election, for particularly young people, but voters of all ages and that’s why the green agenda will be woven through our party’s manifesto and it’s a top priority for us going into these elections.
Q. Why do you think your party, traditionally, hasn’t been as successful in Scotland as it has in England?
A. If you just look at the last few election campaigns, we have made significant gains. In the 2016 election we more than doubled the number of our MSPs and it was because the Scottish Conservatives more than doubled in size that we prevented the SNP from getting a majority and prevented them holding another independence referendum.
It’s absolutely clear if we’re to stop the SNP again, only by using votes for the Scottish Conservatives can people be assured of that outcome.
We have made progress at every election in recent years, both at Holyrood, Westminster and local authorities and we are clearly the strongest challengers to the SNP right across the country.
I don’t put a limit on my ambitions for the party. We’ve got great local candidates like Shona [Haslam] and great representatives like David Mundell. People can see that the Conservatives deliver for the communities they represent.
Readers’ questions (contributed through Facebook)
Q. If everyone apart from you voted for the SNP, would you still refuse to back another independence referendum?
A. I am a Scottish Conservative and Unionist, so I will never support another independence referendum. I think the division that caused in our country in 2014 is still in our society right now. It’s damaging.
But we are still dealing with a global pandemic and we will be dealing with the effects of COVID-19 on our economy for years to come.
It is the height of irresponsibility for the SNP to say they are going to push ahead with another independence referendum, rather than focus on our recovery rebuilding as a country and mending the division that has distracted Scotland for so long.
Q. What is your opinion of the allegations of ‘chumocracy’ over the awarding of PPE contracts by the UK Conservative government?
A. These things are all investigated by the Public Accounts Committee in the UK Parliament, which is chaired by a member of the opposition who will look into these details.
The Cabinet Office will also look into it. I think overall we’ve got to look at how the country responded to COVID-19 and in terms of getting PPE into the country at a vital time and ensuring our NHS is not overwhelmed when we saw other countries in Europe such as Spain and Italy seeing their NHS overwhelmed.
We’ve seen an outstanding roll-out of the vaccination programme. That’s only been possible here in Scotland because the UK Government procured and developed vaccines at an early stage in the pandemic.
And we’ve seen the support in terms of the furlough scheme to protect almost one million jobs in Scotland, the support for self-employed, and the support for businesses.
All that has been possible because of the strength of the United Kingdom. That’s the area that most people focus on in terms of the COVID pandemic with me – just how we have all worked together during the most difficult 12 months where the sacrifices people have made would’ve been unimaginable a year ago.
I think we can see light at the end of the tunnel and one day this will all be a very bad and distant memory.
Q. As a Westminster MP, why are you calling for a vote of no confidence in the leader of another parliament [Nicola Sturgeon], when the UK’s [Conservative] home secretary has broken the ministerial code and the health secretary has acted unlawfully?
*Please note: Our interview with Mr Ross took place on Friday, March 19. Since then, a vote of no confidence in Ms Sturgeon has been held – it failed by 31-65 (27 abstained). The First Minister has also been cleared by an independent investigation, conducted by James Hamilton QC, following allegations she broke the Scottish Ministerial Code. Welcoming the report’s findings, Ms Sturgeon said: “Mr Hamilton has considered all of the allegations against me, and I am happy that his report’s findings clear me of any breach of the ministerial code.”
A. Because I am the leader of the main opposition party in Scotland and it’s the role of the leader of the opposition party to scrutinise the conduct of the Scottish Government, ministers and First Minister.
We have seen in the evidence to the parliamentary enquiry that Nicola Sturgeon has breached the ministerial code, she has misled parliament and there is no way anyone can continue as First Minister having misled parliament.
It’s my role as leader of the main opposition party to highlight that and I believe there is a strong case that Nicola Sturgeon should resign.