"Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to start by thanking all the panellists, Nosheena, Shona and Dean, who have just participated, and to my good friend and colleague Gordon Lindhurst for his excellent chairing of the session.
Dean Lockhart and I have the pleasure of shadowing the great talent that is the SNP’s Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy, Derek Mackay, in the Scottish Parliament.
I have high hopes for Derek. I am sure that he will make a worthy successor to Nicola Sturgeon in due course, and I look forward to him fulfilling, after 2021, the vital role of Leader of the Opposition in the Scottish Parliament.
Our approach to the economy
I would also like to pay tribute to the excellent work done by Andrew Dunlop and his colleagues on the Scottish Future Growth Council, who have set out a range of detailed proposals about how we tackle the key issue of productivity in the Scottish economy.
Here we have a group of people from the fields of academia, economics, finance, and business, coming together to assist our party with policies on how we improve the economy, policies we can deliver on when we become the next government of Scotland.
We know that there are great strengths to the Scottish economy, but we could do better. And that is why we are working on a detailed policy platform which will ensure that, under our stewardship, the Scottish economy will lead the UK, rather than follow it.
As Dean Lockhart said, we want to have a TIGER economy and, in Government, we will deliver that.
And what a contrast that is to the SNP. Because where we have positive ideas to use the powers of the Scottish Parliament to grow our economy, what were they obsessing about at their conference last weekend? What the currency would be of an independent Scotland. As if that was the most vital issue that concerns people in business in Scotland right now.
Ladies and gentlemen, I have some breaking news from the SNP on that front. Scotland’s new currency is apparently going to be called “the Mackay”.
This might sound very attractive, but already a few pitfalls have been identified.
The Mackay, unfortunately, turns out to be not widely recognised, not accepted in all outlets, and regarded as intrinsically worthless. Sad to say, they are going to have to go back to the drawing board.
One of the key differences between us and the SNP in government is on the question of taxation.
Because we believe that we should be using the powers of devolution to create a competitive tax regime in Scotland, rather than making Scotland the highest taxed part of the United Kingdom.
The United Kingdom government has been doing great work in increasing the personal allowance, lifting millions out of tax altogether, and delivering a substantial tax cut to the lowest paid.
In contrast, we see the Scottish Government using income tax powers to ensure that everyone earning over £27,000 will pay more tax than those elsewhere in the UK.
It means that those earning between £43,430 and £50,000, will face a marginal tax rate of 53%.
It means that a police sergeant earning £45,942 will pay over £700 more in tax than his counterpart south of the border.
A senior nurse manager earning £49,000 will pay £1,350 more and a principal teacher earning £51,330 will pay over £1,500 more. That is the price of living in the SNP’s Scotland.
That’s not the rich, ladies and gentlemen, these are normal middle income households, and yet these are the people being punished in the SNP’s Scotland.
And there was no need to do this, because the SNP had more money in their budget, £950m more in Barnett Consequentials, coming from the Westminster government.
And yet they have managed to hike up taxes at the same point as they are slashing the money going to local government paying for the important local services that we all need.
But if that wasn’t bad enough, we have also had the SNP’s ludicrous plans for a new car park tax, a tax which could cost workers £500 a year, a tax which will be regressive and hit the poorest hardest, and a tax on which, by the SNP’s Finance Secretary’s own admission, absolutely no economic analysis has been done.
Conference, let us be in no doubt, the Scottish Conservatives will fight this unfair, regressive tax every inch of the way.
We need a more productive economy in Scotland, and to do that we need to be attracting people here, not driving them away with higher taxes.
And that means attracting people from elsewhere in the EU, from the rest of the world, and, yes, from the rest of the United Kingdom.
We need these people coming here to help grow our economy, and that means having an immigration system in the United Kingdom that is open and welcoming to all those who have the talents that we need here.
But there is one other issue that affects the economy, and that is the continual constitutional obsession of the SNP.
And don’t just take my word for that, listen to what one of the leading supporters of the Yes Campaign in 2014, the Edinburgh financier Peter De Vink, had to say just last week, when he slammed Nicola Sturgeon’s “socialist” tax plans and “laughable” economic policies.
He said: “She is only interested in soaking the rich and making sure taxes will go up and up and up… I will not consider myself a supporter of independence if we are going to have a very high tax economy, which is what she wants and what she has introduced”.
Ladies and gentlemen, if that is what supporters of independence are saying about Nicola Sturgeon’s economic policies, then she won’t be winning many converts.
Now Nicola Sturgeon will say, if you think the people are on your side, what are you afraid of?
Why not let’s have another referendum, let the people decide.
Well, First Minister, I lived through the 2014 referendum campaign.
I fought tooth and nail, as many of you here did, to keep Scotland in the United Kingdom.
And believe me, I don’t want to have to go through that again.
Listen to folk in the SNP, and they will tell you that 2014 was a joyous celebration of democracy.
Well it didn’t feel like that for me, and I bet it didn’t feel like that for you.
What we had were families divided, neighbours who stopped speaking to each other, communities split. It was a time of division and discord, when dark forces of bigotry and hatred were unleashed, when we were told we were quislings and traitors to Scotland just for having a different view on our constitutional future.
It is to the shame of Nicola Sturgeon that she still has people in her party, even in her own Cabinet, suggesting that in this party we are somehow traitors to Scotland for opposing the SNP.
I would say to her in all seriousness, First Minister, it is time to clean up your party, and stop the irresponsible, overblown rhetoric – because we know where that leads.
And let us make sure that we never have to go through again what we went through in 2014 as a country, and reject firmly the idea of another independence referendum.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are good in this Party at saying what we are against.
Between now and 2021, we need to set out what we stand for, and what we would do in government.
I hope we have had a flavour of that this morning. We stand for a dynamic Tiger economy, one leading the UK, not lagging behind it, one which will provide secure well-paid jobs for our young people, one which attracts people of talent, instead of driving them away, and one which has reformed, quality public services.
The choice in 2021 will be carrying on with another miserable five years with Nicola Sturgeon in charge, with a flat lining economy, our talent leaving, our public services crumbling, a busybody and interfering government telling us how to live our lives, and the inevitability of further division and discord. Or a new start under Ruth Davidson as First Minister, with a growing economy, improving public services, a government that is here to serve, not to dictate, and one where Scotland stands proudly and securely as part of the United Kingdom. That is the Scotland we want, and let us all work together to deliver it."