Douglas Ross will pledge to kickstart a skills revolution as he announces a new fund to help people get back into work or progress their career in a bid to fend off a “tsunami of unemployment” in the wake of coronavirus.
In his headline speech to the Scottish Conservative conference on Monday, Mr Ross will outline a manifesto pledge for May’s Scottish Parliament election that would see every Scot given access to an annual £500 ‘Retrain to Rebuild’ account.
The party would seek to roll out the scheme to 100,000 people for two years before expanding it to a universal offering in 2023.
In the first two years, the scheme would primarily target people who are currently unemployed, anyone facing redundancy, and people earning less than £30,000.
The proposals would bring businesses, colleges and skills providers together in new Institutes of Technology to deliver rapid retraining courses and identify potential employment opportunities.
The Scottish Conservatives said they would fund the proposal by streamlining some of the current Scottish Government skills and employment budget, topped up by some of the recent £1.2 billion additional Barnett funding from the UK Government.
A crisis for years to come
Addressing the conference on Monday, Mr Ross will say: “We may be nearing the end of the health crisis, thanks to the success of the vaccine scheme, but the economic crisis will loom over us for years to come.
“The UK furlough scheme has protected around a million Scottish jobs but to rebuild Scotland, we need to start focussing on the jobs of the future.
“Faced by a tsunami of unemployment, we need an emergency response that matches the scale of the problem. Our Retrain to Rebuild accounts would give people in work the support to learn new skills and progress.
“It would give people struggling for work the chance to rapidly retrain and get a new job or kickstart a new career.”
Mr Ross believes the benefits of the scheme would flow to all sectors of society by driving up productivity, attracting more investment, fostering new businesses and increasing funding to local services.
He will pitch his party as the alternative to the SNP, which he will claim “closes doors and limits opportunity, telling people that they have to wait for independence to achieve and get ahead”.
The latest policy announcement comes after the party pledged this weekend to repeal the SNP’s controversial Hate Crime Bill and “and only revive the universally-accepted parts that do not threaten freedom of speech”.
The Bill, described as the “most controversial in the Scottish Parliament’s history”, achieved majority support from MSPs last week, despite concerns it could lead to a potentially “chilling effect” on freedom of expression.
It would consolidate a number of laws into one piece of legislation but would also add the offence of “stirring up hatred” on the grounds of religion, sexual orientation, age, disability and transgender identity.
Mr Ross said: “Backed by Labour, the Lib Dems and Greens, the SNP have passed one of the most extreme and outrageous laws in the history of the Scottish Parliament.
“We opposed the SNP’s Hate Crime Bill and our manifesto will pledge to repeal it. We will seek to overturn the dangerous threats to freedom of speech and our fundamental rights that Humza Yousaf refused to remove.
“The SNP Government has no place criminalising what people say in their own homes.”
Leading the final debate on the bill in the Scottish Parliament last week, justice secretary Humza Yousaf said the legislation “will strengthen the law to tackle hate crime in a way that protects the rights of everyone to live their lives free of harm, while protecting the rights to freedom of expression”.
Mr Ross has also announced plans to bolster his party’s Victims Law by incorporating Suzanne’s Law, which would allow the authorities to refuse parole or temporary release to murderers who fail to disclose the location of their victims’ remains.
It is named after Suzanne Pilley, who was murdered in 2010 and buried in an undisclosed location in Argyll and Bute. Her family have campaigned for Suzanne’s Law ever since.
Mr Ross said: “Killers should be given a simple choice – fully disclose what they have done with remains or stay locked up until they do so.
“In some of these appalling cases, killers appear to take a perverse pleasure in prolonging the suffering of grieving relatives. The least that families of murder victims deserve is a proper burial, a chance to say goodbye and have some closure.”