The speech made by Alister Jack, the Secretary of State for Scotland, in Manchester on 1 October 2023.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
I’d like to thank a few people.
Firstly, obviously, Douglas who gave a very kind introduction, for his support at Westminster and most important of all for his strong leadership of the Scottish Conservatives in Holyrood.
Secondly, I’d like to thank my Scotland Office Ministers, Malcolm Offord and John Lamont, my ministerial team, they’re sitting here at the front of the auditorium, and they do excellent work for Scotland. I want to thank them for everything they do, thank you gentlemen.
Conference, I am here with a very clear message today.
The United Kingdom has never been stronger.
And that is not by accident.
Yes, it’s true the Nationalists are doing everything they can to strengthen the Union for us.
They have shredded whatever credibility they once had.
But I’m not going to comment on a live police investigation, however, I think we can all agree that the people of Scotland have been shocked by the investigation into the SNP’s finances; The arrests of leading SNP figures. The searches. The blue and white evidence tent in the garden. The campervan.
So, it is no surprise that people in Scotland have quite rightly become very angry at the abject failure of the Scottish Government to deliver on the things that matter most to them.
They are sick and tired of record NHS waiting times.
Of poor standards in our schools.
And then, of course, there’s the ferries, or lack of them.
The SNP and their Green coalition masters, are dragging Scotland down more and more every day and people have come to the obvious conclusion: if the Nationalists can’t even organise a Bottle Deposit Return Scheme properly, all their talk of removing Scotland from the United Kingdom is pure fantasy.
Ladies and gentlemen, the SNP are increasingly looking like a busted flush.
But that’s not the only reason why the United Kingdom is stronger than ever.
The Union is stronger than ever thanks to this Government – the most active and effective UK Government in Scotland in the devolution era.
And I am very proud of that.
And I’m very proud of that because we have a great story to tell.
We have delivered record funding for the Scottish Government, so they really have no excuses for their poor performance in areas such as health and education.
We have supported families across Scotland facing cost of living pressures.
We have pledged to halve inflation, to get the economy growing – creating better jobs – and to bring down the national debt.
We are reaching out across the world to maximise the benefits of Brexit, striking trade deals worth billions of pounds to our distillers, our salmon producers, and our defence industry.
And we’re not just seeing the benefits of Brexit for the UK with trade deals, either.
The Chancellor has introduced new financial services regulations.
We’re backing our fishing industry now it is out of the hated Common Fisheries Policy; and we’ve passed legislation allowing farmers to use cutting edge gene editing technology.
Cutting edge technology that has been pioneered in Scotland, but which is sadly banned in Scotland by the SNP-Green government of Holyrood, despite the wishes of our farmers and the NFU Scotland.
As Secretary of State, I’ve also been clear that we will use our post-Brexit internal market legislation to protect Scotland’s free flowing trade across the whole of the United Kingdom.
Because sixty per cent of our trade is with the rest of the UK and I will not allow the Nationalists to create unnecessary obstacles.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I am pleased to say we are also supporting our globally successful oil and gas industry.
This government is clear: we should continue to use our own North Sea resources as we move to Net Zero, our own resources as we bring down prices and improve our energy security.
Both Labour and the SNP are threatening to shut down our oil and gas industry prematurely and I believe that is sheer madness. It cannot be in Scotland or the United Kingdom’s best interests.
We must support oil and gas industry, just as we support renewables, as we transition to a much better future.
At a time of war in Europe and wider global uncertainty we’ve also backed our amazing Armed Forces to the hilt – so much of which is based in Scotland.
So perhaps now is a very good moment to pay tribute to my friend and fellow Scot, Ben Wallace, an outstanding Defence Secretary who has served this Party, this Government, and our country with the greatest distinction.
Ladies and gentlemen, there is more.
This Government is going further than any previous Government of the devolution era in delivering for Scotland.
As Secretary of State for Scotland it has been my privilege and passion to drive forward direct UK Government investment in Scotland.
It is now worth £2.5 billion, and that is over and above the Scottish Government’s record funding settlement.
I was absolutely delighted with the announcement today that seven towns in Scotland will receive around £20 million each as part of our Long-Term Plan for Towns.
It is the latest in a long line of Levelling Up initiatives reaching every corner of the country.
It is creating jobs, transforming communities, and delivering high profile projects that people really care about.
We are backing small-scale, grassroots initiatives; high profile arts projects; cutting edge research in our universities; and more.
We’ve also led the way creating Freeports based around the Firth of Forth and the Cromarty Firth.
The Prime Minister and I visited the Cromarty Firth when the news was announced and I know that he, as a long-time champion of Freeports, is as excited as I am about the impact this will have on the Highland economy.
We’re following up that by creating Investment Zones in Aberdeen and Glasgow.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we recognised some time ago we had to change the damaging old philosophy of ‘devolve and forget’ – leaving too much in the hands of the devolved administration in Holyrood and allowing the role of the UK Government to fade into the background.
Well, today, I can announce the era of ‘devolve and forget’ is well and truly over.
It is dead. It is Finished. And I promise you, it is not coming back under my watch.
On scores of projects, we are now working directly with local councils and other responsible delivery partners, and I call that real devolution.
No longer can the failing SNP-Green administration hoard decision-making powers and resources in Holyrood, using it for their own political purposes, rather than the priorities of most people in Scotland.
My view of devolution is straightforward.
It is about Scotland’s two governments at Westminster and Holyrood respecting each other’s roles and working together where we can.
We know that is how devolution works best and we know it is what the vast majority of Scots want and what they expect.
But unfortunately, my view is not shared by the Nationalists.
Time and time again they have sought to undermine the devolution settlement in order to provoke unnecessary disagreement between the two governments.
When they took Nicola Sturgeon’s Referendum Bill to the Supreme Court, they wasted taxpayers’ money confirming what everyone already knew:
the constitution and the Union are matters reserved to Westminster.
When they tried to introduce a new system of self-ID for trans people – their Gender Recognition Reform Bill – they ignored the harmful impact on safeguards for women and girls in existing reserved legislation.
And when they tried to bring a Bottle Deposit Return Scheme, they failed to consider the impact of cross-border trade.
In each case, I felt it was my duty as Secretary of State for Scotland, to step in.
I will not stand by, and I will not allow Nationalist ministers to undermine, or abuse, the devolution settlement for their own political purposes.
Not now, not ever.
Sadly, I am not surprised by the Nationalists’ approach.
They do not support devolution so why would they respect it?
But what concerns me are the consequences.
The waste of time, money and resources that should be focused on people’s real priorities in Scotland.
Struggling businesses left out of pocket by the collapse of that shambolic Bottle Deposit Return Scheme.
The anxiety felt by so many women at the potential erosion of safeguards afforded by the Equality Act.
The Scottish Government need to understand their political game-playing causes real damage and as Douglas Ross said so forcefully earlier this afternoon, they need to drop their narrow obsession with breaking up Britain and do the job they were elected to do.
They need to respect devolution; they need to take that record budget they receive from the Treasury, and they must use it to deliver public services that Scots can rely on.
So, ladies and gentlemen, in conclusion:
We know this Union – this great, enduring partnership between Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland – creates opportunity and drives success for us all.
Quite simply, we achieve more together.
And that is why I’m so proud to play my part in a UK Government that has done more than any other to strengthen the United Kingdom.
And we are doing it daily, right across Scotland, investing directly in projects that create jobs and level up communities.
We are doing it by supporting our key industries, by protecting cross-Border trade and boosting the economy.
And we are doing it by defending devolution robustly against the Nationalists’ attempts to bend and twist it for their own, narrow political purposes.
There could not be a clearer contrast between a Nationalist, SNP Scottish Government that is in chaos, that is failing, and that is letting people down by putting their obsession with leaving the UK above everything it does. And this United Kingdom Government, under the outstanding leadership of Rishi Sunak, that is 100 per cent focused on the issues that really matter most to the people in Scotland and across the whole of the United Kingdom.
More and more, people in Scotland are seeing the benefits of having a United Kingdom that is energetically and visibly on their side because that is what people want.
It is what’s best for Scotland.
And it is what we will continue to deliver.
Thank you very much.