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9 north-east election battlegrounds Scottish Tories hope to exploit at party conference

Conservatives will gear up for a tough general election contest at their conference in Aberdeen this weekend.

The north-east is a target for the Conservatives. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson.
The north-east is a target for the Conservatives. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson.

The Scottish Tories have drawn up a nine-point plan to target key north-east election battlegrounds at the general election.

The region is firmly in the sights of Conservatives and the SNP, with First Minister Humza Yousaf already making two election-focused visits in the last fortnight.

Tory supporters gathering for their conference at the P&J Live in Aberdeen this weekend will focus on their plan at a “fair deal for the north-east” event.

Here are details and analysis of the nine areas where the party believes there is a gulf between its policies and those of the SNP and Labour.

1. Supporting oil and gas workers

Furious political debate ignited between the SNP, Tories and Labour over their plans for the future of the North Sea and controversy around the windfall tax.

The Conservatives gave their full-throated support to continued drilling in the North Sea with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announcing annual licensing rounds.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced Track 2 funding for the Scottish Cluster during a visit to St Fergus, near Peterhead, in July.
Rishi Sunak has railed against 15-minute cities. Image: PA.

But it was the Conservative government that introduced the controversial windfall tax on oil and gas firms in May 2022 when profits were soaring.

The party has also been accused of “climate denial” for approving 100 new oil and gas licences and dropping their green pledges.

2. Business rates relief

Aberdeen business leaders warned new firms won’t move to crisis-hit Union Street without business rates relief.

They want the Scottish Government to introduce a 75% rates relief like that extended in England.

So far the SNP has failed to replicate the scheme, with the Tories calling for it to be passed on to all businesses across the north-east.

However, Scottish ministers say replicating this scheme would mean less cash for investing in the NHS and schools due to challenging budget pressures.

3. Fair funding for north-east councils

The Conservatives want local taxes raised in the north-east to be used to maintain local services.

Councils across the region are having to consider wide-ranging cuts to local services, owing to the budget pressures.

The Scottish Government laid the blame with Westminster for the challenging fiscal situation they face.

Local authorities south of the border are also grappling with the budget crisis.

Labour-run Birmingham City Council effectively declared bankruptcy last year due to a £30 million budget gap.

4. Tackling crime

The Tories like to talk tough on crime and say they want to “properly fund” Police Scotland and recruit 1,000 additional officers, much like Alex Salmond did previously.

However, budgets are tight with police stations closing to claw back savings.

anti-social behaviour
Police Scotland  Image: PA.

In the north-east, there is also controversy around a recent pilot in the region which saw some minor crimes no longer investigated.

Police Scotland said it wants to give officers more time to focus on responding to emergencies and keeping people safe from harm.

5. Full fibre broadband by 2027

The party wants to work with the UK Government to roll out full fibre broadband across Scotland by 2027.

The R100 scheme was supposed to bring faster internet to 60,000 properties across the north and north-east by the end of 2021.

But it is not expected to be delivered until 2028, with more than 51,000 properties still to be connected.

6. Dualling A96 and improving A90

The SNP promised to fully dual the A96 between Aberdeen and Inverness by 2030 more than a decade ago.

But the future of the scheme is being reviewed after the party joined a power-sharing deal with the Greens.

Traffic travelling on the A96 Inverness and Aberdeen road. A96 crash Nairn
The SNP promised to fully dual the A96. Image: Sandy McCook/DC Thomson.

That review is now more than a year late with Transport Secretary Fiona Hyslop only promising an update “imminently”.

The Tories want to see the route fully dualled and improvements carried out to the A90 at Laurencekirk and Ellon.

7. Reopening train stations

Cove and Newtonhill could finally be connected via rail at a cost of £40 million, says regional transport partnership Nestrans.

The Conservatives back the plan and want to review reopening lines and stations across the north-east.

But budget pressures are affecting infrastructure projects across Scotland.

A train passing Cove in Aberdeen. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson.

8. Agriculture funding

The party wants to ring-fence funding for farming and fishing communities.

Scottish farmers are still waiting on £33 million which was promised as part of the 2019 Bew Review into the fair allocation of farm support across the UK.

But Scottish ministers re-assigned the extra funding to help plug a budget blackhole.

Brexit upended EU funds, leaving the UK in charge of its own subsidies.

One north-east fishing leader told the P&J last year that Brexit has “delivered nothing” for the industry despite fishermen being the “poster boys” for Brexit.

SNP Gordon MP Richard Thomson said successive Tory governments have “sold out our fishing sector and badly let down our farmers.”

9. Better local healthcare facilities

The NHS faces unprecedented challenges with budget pressures leaving the service unable to progress with new capital projects.

In the north-east, this includes plans for a new National Treatment Centre for Grampian, which would have helped cut waiting times.

Douglas Ross, leader of the Scottish Tories, wants to see a ban on GP closures, and the potential reversal of decisions to shut health centres.

GP surgeries such as Burghead and Hopeman in his Moray constituency have closed their doors.