Conservative leader Douglas Ross has said Scotland can have a “better 2021 and beyond” as he outlined his alternative vision for the country.
He promised his party would bring forward legislation at Holyrood after next year’s election to ensure councils receive a “fair” share of the cash the Scottish Government gets.
This was part of a commitment to “stand up for those communities, villages and towns that have been left behind” by the SNP, with Mr Ross – who only became the party’s Scottish leader in August – saying the Tories would be focused on “rebuilding our communities” in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.
As well as promising a new funding deal for Scotland’s 32 councils, he told the Scottish Conservative virtual conference that his party wanted to recruit 3,000 new teachers to improve education.
The Tories are also vowing to scrap Scotland’s controversial not proven verdict in trials and bring in tougher sentences for those who assault emergency service workers.
Mr Ross promised a series of community investment deals for Scotland, which would “build new partnerships between the UK and Scottish governments, councils and business to create good jobs”.
He also told how delivering universal full fibre broadband to “every single home and business” in Scotland by 2027 would be a priority for the Conservatives.
“We are coming up with the ideas that Scotland needs after 13 years of the SNP being in power,” Mr Ross said.
“While the nationalist focus is on separation, our focus is on Scotland.”
After the Scottish Conservatives won a record 31 MSPs in the 2016 Scottish elections, helping deny Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP a majority at Holyrood, Mr Ross said he wanted to take his party to “new heights in next year’s Scottish Parliament election”.
Mr Ross, speaking at the Scottish Conservative’s virtual conference, promised that his party would “stand up for those communities, villages and towns that have been left behind”.
He insisted that after 13 years in power in Edinburgh, the SNP had “produced slogans not policy” and “divided communities rather than empowered people”.
Mr Ross said: “People across Scotland are looking at the state of our country and hoping things can be different.”
He criticised the Scottish Government for “constantly” complaining to the UK Government about cash and powers at the same time as they had “shamelessly grabbed both from local government for years”.
Mr Ross said: “From 2007 to 2019, the SNP Government’s budget increased by 16% but the grant they gave to councils increased by less than half of this, 7%, over the same period.
“This matters, because it means money taken away from local services like schools, roads and housing.”
He said: “Why should the SNP be able to raid our council budgets on a whim?
“To put an end to this, the Scottish Conservatives will bring forward legislation in the next parliament to enshrine fair funding for councils in law. Ensuring that local government is entitled to a set proportion of the Scottish Government budget each year.”
He stressed: “Rebuilding our communities must start by ensuring that our councils have the necessary resources to properly deliver local services.”
The Scottish Tory leader hit out at the SNP for its “pursuit of separation” despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Ross noted that some in Ms Sturgeon’s party had said that a second independence referendum “could happen as early as next year”, despite “everything we have gone through and are still going through” as a result of Covid-19.
Criticising the SNP, he added: “They want Scottish politics to go back to the same old, worn out arguments that we have been having for the last 13 years, to forget how we all pulled together in a time of crisis and focused on the things that really matter.”
But he argued: “Surely, if ever there was a time to draw a line in our politics and to rethink our priorities, it is now.”
With communities “struggling” after more than a decade of SNP rule, the new Scottish Tory leader vowed: “Rebuilding our communities will be at the heart of my party’s agenda as we recover from this pandemic.”