Many people have written to me regarding campaigns of interest to them. Below you can read my position on some of the most recent campaigns people have contacted me about.
If you would like to speak to me about anything specific then I am happy to hear from you. You can also sign up to hear from me through my regular newsletter. You can do either of these by signing up here.
Following new guidance released last week, all secondary school pupils will be required to wear face masks when moving around the school estate, and all pupils over the age of five will be required to wear masks when using school transport.
Protection of Workers Bill
I fully support the right of retail workers to work within a safe environment free from harm and the fear of harm.
Retail workers helped keep Scotland on its feet at the height of the pandemic so it is unacceptable that they face such high levels of threats, abuse and violence. The continued increase in retail crime and use of violence against retail workers is unacceptable, and I believe in large part down to the SNP’s soft touch approach to justice. In 2019, Nicola Sturgeon’s government passed a law which effectively banned prison sentences of less than a year, meaning those criminals would get a fine or community sentence instead. Only the Scottish Conservatives voted against these wrong-headed plans which will see more serious offenders let off the hook.
I am happy to promote better reporting of crime – the recently published Scottish Crime and Justice Survey found that nearly two thirds of all crime is not reported to the police. I also support a collaborative approach in dealing with offenders and working with organisations to provide additional rehabilitation programmes for the most prolific drug and/or alcohol dependant offenders.
I support the general principles of Daniel Johnson’s Bill. To demonstrate our commitment to the protection of people against assault, and to send a message that such treatment of retail workers is unacceptable, we will support this bill at Stage 1.
However, this bill is not without its flaws and we would like to see better enforcement of the existing law and more serious sentences handed down to punish any wrongdoing, protect public safety and properly rehabilitate the offender. First of all, his maximum punishment of 12 months in prison is flawed in light of the SNP’s ban on short prison sentences as discussed above. Secondly, the offences outlined in the bill are largely already covered in existing laws. The later stages of this bill’s passage through parliament are an opportunity to improve this bill.
Face Masks in Schools
Thank you for contacting me following the decision taken by the SNP Government to make the wearing of face masks in some school settings and on school transport compulsory. The first problem is that this is actually just guidance and was never voted on by Parliament. It has been unclear if this was statutory law or simply guidelines. Once again, schools are left to enforce things which are not legally enforceable.
Throughout this pandemic we have been supportive of any measures taken to protect the safety of children, parents and teachers, wherever these measures are justified and proportionate. But in this instance, there remain a number of unanswered questions about why this decision was necessary and how it is to be implemented and enforced. I hear your views as a parent on this, and these views are helpful in how we approach this matter.
There have been consistently mixed messages around this policy from the moment it was announced, with SNP Education Minister John Swinney initially explaining that rules concerning face masks will be ‘not mandatory but obligatory’, and then failing to offer further clarity when requested to do so. There are also outstanding issues around how this policy will impact pupils with additional support needs, including pupils who lip-read. Parents, pupils and teachers need further information on these issues, but the guidance they have been offered is, regrettably, as clear as mud. There remain unanswered questions about whether parents will be punished if they do not send their children to school if they disagree with the policy and also if head teachers have any flexibility in making local decisions.
Moreover, I am concerned that the decision to apply a single policy on face masks across the whole of Scotland is neither necessary nor proportionate. We have long believed that individual schools should have much greater decision-making powers, and given the current low prevalence of COVID-19 in Scotland, I believe the SNP need to spell out why this decision should not be left to head teachers, who know their schools best and are most aware of the issues impacting their staff and pupils.
Once again, I thank you for taking the time to contact me with your concerns on this issue – while we remain supportive of additional safety measures where necessary, I believe that in this instance, the SNP must do more to justify this decision and offer greater clarity to schools and more importantly parents. We will continue to press this issue in Parliament, I also encourage you to write to them and your local school if needs be.
Reopening of Amusements and Gaming Venues
Jobs should be protected in every sector up and down the country, and the amusement and gaming industry is no different. I fully understand the frustration felt at repeated delays to the reopening of amusement arcades and similar premises.
I, along with my Scottish Conservative colleagues, have pushed the SNP at every stage to be upfront about the scientific reasoning behind decision making. It is clear to me that every business, no matter the type, should have the information it needs to be able to plan for the future. Going forward I would again call on the SNP to do as much as possible to ensure that businesses like yours are able to reopen as soon as it is safe to do so.
The pressure is now on the SNP Government to take real action to protect the workers and businesses that rely the amusement and gaming sector. There has already been enough damage, we cannot afford any more confusion or delay like we have seen in the last few weeks and months.
The Scottish Conservatives are committed to protecting jobs and livelihoods in every sector and region across Scotland, and we will continue to urge both of Scotland’s governments to do all they can in that regard.
Animals and Wildlife Bill
Thank you for contacting me regarding the Animals and Wildlife (Penalties, Protection and Powers)(Scotland) Bill, which was supported by the Scottish Conservatives, and specifically the amendment regarding the protection of mountain hares.
I know that the Government is currently working on the licensing scheme and the Scottish Conservatives will play our part in ensuring that this scheme is introduced quickly and reflects the decision made in the Parliament to make mountain hares a protected species.
Jobs at Scotland's Airports
Jobs and livelihoods across Scotland are under unprecedented pressure and I appreciate that the aviation sector is particularly vulnerable in the economic crisis in which we find ourselves.
We have all lived through months of lockdown which brought the aviation sector to a standstill. Now that restrictions are easing, and the SNP Government has finally got to grips with its plan for air bridges, I am hopeful that some progress can begin to be made. The Scottish Conservatives have repeatedly demanded scientific justification from the SNP for their restrictions on travel and those returning from abroad.
The pressure is now on the SNP Government to take real action to protect the workers and businesses that rely on a thriving aviation sector. Scotland's airports need clarity at this time in order to be able to plan for the future in a sustainable way. There has already been enough damage, we cannot afford any more confusion, delay or distraction like we have seen in the last few weeks.
Both myself and my Scottish Conservative colleagues are committed to protecting jobs and livelihoods in every sector and region across Scotland, and we will continue to urge both of Scotland's governments to do all they can in that regard.
It was deeply frustrating, though perhaps predictable, that the SNP Government used the COVID-19 crisis as an excuse to postpone the obligation for local authorities to offer parents 1,140 hours of free childcare provision. As had been exposed when we defeated the SNP in a Scottish Parliament debate on this issue earlier in the year, consistent mis-management of this target meant that it would likely have been missed anyway.
Since this cancellation was announced, we have consistently called for the SNP to reinstate a deadline for its implementation. Many parents are understandably concerned about the level of childcare they can expect to be entitled to in the coming months, and we are all too aware that parents need this certainty as soon as practicable.
It is therefore incredibly disappointing, though again, perhaps not surprising, that the SNP have announced that their 1,140 hours of childcare policy is unlikely to be delivered before the end of the coming academic year. Despite the construction industry having only been shut down for around three months, the SNP have decided not to even consult on a new deadline for this policy until December, and that local authorities will then have at least six months’ notice before the 1,140 hours obligation is introduced.
We are clear that this proposed timeline is unjustifiable, and unacceptable. COVID-19 does not excuse a delay of this magnitude, and we therefore want to see these plans brought forward by at least several months – with the appropriate level of ambition, this policy can still be in place well before the end of the coming academic year. Given the many other uncertainties that currently exist for parents, concerns around childcare provision is not a problem they should have to be dealing with.
Until the 1,140 hours obligation is reintroduced, it is ultimately a decision for each local authority as to whether they wish to continue their prior commitments to delivering 1,140 of hours childcare by August. However, I am aware that instead of providing councils with sufficient additional funds to deal with the ongoing costs of this pandemic, the SNP Government have encouraged councils to instead use the funding that was originally intended for the 1,140 hours rollout for this purpose. This continues a decade-long trend of Scottish local authorities being severely underfunded, and many councils have seemingly had little choice but to redirect their 1,140 hours funding to other priorities.
But the fact that councils have had to use their 1,140 hours funding to meet the ongoing costs of COVID-19 raises the issue of how 1,140 hours will be funded when this obligation is reintroduced. The SNP therefore need to provide assurances that councils will have the funding required to deliver this commitment, whenever it is finally reintroduced.
Both myself and my Scottish Conservative colleagues have always supported the increase to 1,140 hours of free childcare, and the importance of ensuring this policy is both funded properly, and delivered in a timely fashion, is not something we will let this SNP Government forget, regardless of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis
Tied Pubs Bill
We know that pubs play an important part of our cultural heritage and communities. We are sympathetic to the aims of Neil Bibby’s Bill, and want to create a thriving and diverse pub sector. We are also acutely aware of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the financial stability of the pub sector.
However, we have concerns about the operation of the statutory code in England and Wales and how this would be translated into Scots law. The pub sector in Scotland is very different to England and Wales. Figures from 2015 show that there are 4,900 pubs in Scotland: 64 per cent of these are independent free trades, 17 per cent are tied pubs, 13 per cent are managed, and the remaining 5 per cent operate on a free-of-tie tenant/lease basis. The figure for England are almost inverted as most pubs in England are tenanted and not freehold.
This means that the bill would only apply to around 17 per cent of pubs in Scotland, and even less if there was to be a threshold introduced. Additionally, tied pubs do have advantages such as making it easier to become a publican, and creating economies of scale. There is also a risk that moves in Scotland to regulate the tied tenant relationship could lead to reduced investment in the tied-pub sector and therefore our high-streets.
Overall, we are positive about the aims and objectives of Neil Bibby’s bill, but are keen to learn more about the operation of the code in the rest of the UK and potential consequences of legislating in Scotland. We look forward to engaging with the sector and examining the evidence provided to the Committee, to determine appropriate action to support the pub trade.
Homelessness in Scotland
The issue that you have raised on homelessness in Scotland is a very important one. It has been vital that so many rough sleepers have been equipped with emergency accommodation during the coronavirus pandemic. But this provision must not just be ripped out from underneath them at the end of the month with no other plan in place.
The Scottish Conservatives welcome the new piece of research carried out by Shelter Scotland, the Chartered Institute of Housing and the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations which called for 53,000 new affordable homes in the next parliamentary term. As a party we are passionate about ending Scotland’s housing crisis and want to set ambitious housing targets ahead of the 2021 elections. The more people that have access to a safe and affordable home, the better a society we become.
Coronavirus legislation set in law provisions that would protect tenants from evictions. We believe that these measures are proportionate at present to protect tenants who are fearing evictions or struggling to make rent payments. We call on landlords to access mortgage holidays if their tenants are struggling to pay rent and to provide as much support to tenants as possible at this time of financial uncertainty. I would also encourage struggling tenants to access financial support such as the Council Tax Reduction Scheme, the Scottish Welfare Fund or discretionary housing payments.
We have already and continue to support calls for housing to be enshrined as a human right, supporting Shelter’s previous campaign ‘Are you with us?’. We will continue to hold the SNP Government to account so that more homes are built in Scotland, the funding towards ending homelessness rises and the number of people who have a safe place to call home increases.
Protection of Shop Workers
I fully support the right of shop workers to work within a safe environment free from harm and the fear of harm.
The continued increase in retail crime and use of violence against shop workers is unacceptable, and I believe in large part down to the SNP’s soft touch approach to justice. In 2019, Nicola Sturgeon’s government passed a law which effectively banned prison sentences of less than a year, meaning those criminals would get a fine or community sentence instead. Only the Scottish Conservatives voted against these wrong-headed plans which will see more serious offenders let off the hook.
I am happy to promote better reporting of crime – the recently published Scottish Crime and Justice Survey found that nearly two thirds of all crime is not reported to the police. I also support a collaborative approach in dealing with offenders and working with organisations to provide additional rehabilitation programmes for the most prolific drug and/or alcohol dependant offenders.
However, I cannot support Daniel Johnson’s Bill for two reasons. First of all, his maximum punishment of 12 months in prison is flawed in light of the SNP’s ban on short prison sentences as discussed above. Secondly, we are not convinced that creating a new, separate offence of assaulting a retail worker would lead to more criminals being punished. Instead we would like to see the existing law enforced and serious sentences handed down which punish the wrongdoing, protect public safety and properly rehabilitate the offender.
Blue (Mountain) Hares
The Scottish Conservatives are committed to the highest standards of animal welfare, and are determined to protect and enhance Scotland’s biodiversity.
I have considered this amendment and I do have some concerns with giving blue hares absolute protection.
Firstly, I would like to re-iterate that I believe that when managing the environment, we need to maintain a careful balance between all flora and fauna. I accept that blue hares play an important part in the upland habitats. In some areas where their numbers are low they need to be encouraged and in other areas where there numbers are high they need to be controlled. Being unable to do either, due to a blanket protection, is contrary to good and proactive management.
Secondly, the protection of a species needs very careful consideration. Amending this bill on this issue, without external scrutiny and advice from public agencies such as Scottish Natural Heritage, runs the risk of the wrong decision being made. I also believe that the evidence of all interested parties needs to be heard and considered. Unfortunately, this has not happened and it greatly concerns me.
Thirdly, I believe that good legislation needs to fully considered. To allow this to happen, this amendment should have been lodged at stage 2 so it could have been considered fully by the committee and evidence taken.
I will listen to the arguments next week during the Stage 3 debate and will seek clarity on the proposals. However, I don’t believe that this amendment has been sufficiently scrutinised or considered by all those with an interest, to allow me to support it.
I would also add that the Scottish Conservatives welcomed many of the principles in the recent Werritty Report. The report proposes licensing of grouse moors unless the situation relating to wildlife crime improves within a five-year period. In order for this proposal to work, proper base line data needs to be collected and the local productivity of habitats assessed. We believe that the industry should embrace this opportunity and promote best practice via an accreditation scheme.
The report also raises the issue of mountain hares. Werritty states that it is important to manage grazing pressure on moorland and woodland areas to allow a balance of vegetation. It is for this reason that we do not support extending the closed season.
We do support the proper counting of hares and call upon moorland managers to continue to develop robust methodology to enable this.
Death of George Floyd in the US and ongoing protests
Like you, I was incredibly distressed by the footage of what happened to George Floyd in the lead up to his death in police-custody. I understand that the police officer involved in the incident has been charged with third-degree murder, and there will be a federal review.
I entirely understand the strength of feeling over this situation and of course fully support the right to peacefully protest. However, scenes across America of rioting and violence are very distressing and I urge all sides to de-escalate these tensions. We all want to see America come back together and not tear itself apart over this incredibly distressing incident.
Here in the UK, we have an important principle of policing by consent. In Scotland, the Police Investigations & Review Commissioner (PIRC) exists to provide independent oversight, investigating incidents involving the police and reviewing the way the police handle complaints from the public. Further information is available at https://pirc.scot/about-us/what-we-do/
Rubber bullets/tear gas sales which has been cleared by the Department for International Trade
I know the UK Government takes its export control responsibilities very seriously. Indeed, the UK operates one of the world’s most robust and transparent export control regimes. Each export licence application is considered on a case-by-case basis against the Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria. The Consolidated Criteria provide a thorough risk assessment framework, requiring the UK Government to think very carefully about the possible impact of providing equipment and its capabilities. My understanding is that the UK Government will not grant an export licence if doing so would be inconsistent with the criteria.
Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill
Intolerance, bigotry, racism and prejudice of any kind should not be accepted anywhere in a civilised society.
We must recognise the profound harm which hate crimes cause to the victim and the community they belong to, but in law there is a vital balance to be struck between freedom of expression and cracking down on prejudice. The Scottish Conservatives will therefore scrutinise this Bill closely at all stages and propose amendments where necessary.
In general, I support the findings of Lord Bracadale’s review in 2018 that the best way to punish hate crime is by aggravators which can be added to existing crimes, rather than standalone offences. Furthermore, Parliament should ensure there is no risk of diluting the meaning of hate crime by expanding the protected characteristics too far.
The proposed offences of ‘stirring up hatred’ will have to be looked at closely to ensure there are sufficient safeguards for freedom of speech built in, and that poorly drafted law does not create unintended consequences.
We will support the abolition of the common law offence of blasphemy, which hasn’t been used for over 175 years and is likely incompatible with international human rights law.
I am disappointed that the SNP Government have decided not to create an aggravator for criminals who target vulnerable persons. Tougher sentences for these sorts of offenders is something the Scottish Conservatives have campaigned on for a number of years and was recommended by Lord Bracadale. We also regard this Bill as a missed opportunity to make meaningful steps towards restorative justice – where the victim of crime is put at the heart of the justice process.
Legislation can’t solve all problems, and further to this Bill the SNP Government must demonstrate how they will tackle prejudice at its root, adequately punish and deter offenders, and stand up for victims of hate right across Scotland.
Deposit Return Scheme
The Scottish Conservatives supported Scotland setting the most ambitious climate change targets in the world and we believe Scotland and the UK should continue to hold the highest environmental standards.
We believe a Deposit Return Scheme could help to improve recycling rates, cut down on both waste to landfill and plastics in our waters, and ultimately help to protect the environment. We have called for a well-designed, accessible and fair scheme that encourages people and businesses to do the right thing and help cut down on litter and waste. We will continue to support the introduction of a Deposit Return Scheme in Scotland, although we share the concerns of businesses that a UK-wide scheme may be more appropriate and successful.
In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, we believe a slight delay to the Deposit Return Scheme is the right approach. Many companies are facing bankruptcy and workers are being laid off in unprecedented numbers. It is a very difficult time for small shops across Scotland, and we do not think it is fair to add to their burden at this precise moment. The Deposit Return Scheme will not be successful without the support of the business community and they have pressing concerns about their immediate future during this global crisis. To have the biggest impact on saving our environment, we believe a delay to the Deposit Return Scheme is necessary.
Climate Change Plan
The Scottish Conservatives are committed to tackling climate change and ensuring the highest standards of environmental protection. We have committed to promoting a secure and low-carbon based energy sector, supporting sustainable transport and to maximising Scotland’s resources; all of which can help achieve ambitious emissions reduction targets.
We work hard to champion the environment and continue to challenge the SNP to be ambitious in their Climate Change Plan review. Unfortunately, the SNP government have failed to meet their own tree planting targets in four out of the last five years. They have also failed to raise broad-leaf planting quickly enough, with planting levels remaining below 2014 levels.
We recognise the global climate emergency we face and agree with the UK Committee on Climate Change that more it needed from all sectors in order to fight the ongoing effects to our environment. To this end, we understand the interconnected relationship between the climate and biodiversity crises and have pledged to create 15,000 hectares of new woodland per year, establish a biodiversity baseline for surveying and modelling species and tackle invasive species, such as rhododendron, through an Invasive Species Action Fund.
Furthermore, the Scottish Conservatives’ Green Cities Plan pledges to create a network of green vegetation corridors in urban areas aimed at: improving air quality, increasing biomass to boost biodiversity and create ecological corridors across our cities enabling animal migration, and assist in the beautification of cities to increase property values, tourist appeal and general wellbeing for residents and businesses.
The Scottish Conservatives will continue to stand up for the best interests of the planet and hold the SNP government to account on these key environment and climate change issues.
The Scottish Conservatives recognise that single-use plastics present a global threat to the environment and natural wildlife. We have been working hard to hold the SNP government to account on their pledge to introduce a Circular Economy Bill to reduce the impact of single use plastics across Scotland.
We therefore welcome the recent announcement of a consultation on the Circular Economy Bill. This consultation proposes legislation to charge for items such as single-use disposable cups; it also proposes mandatory reporting of waste and unwanted surplus, and the strengthening of household recycling collection services.
A more circular economy can cut waste and reduce carbon emissions while helping the economy and communities. We will continue to hold the SNP to account on their commitments.
Disabled Children and Young People (Transitions)(Scotland) Bill
The proposed Disabled Children and Young People (Transitions)(Scotland) Bill aims to provide a supported transition into adulthood for disabled children. The Bill aims to improve the outcomes of disabled children as they move into adulthood, and puts a statutory duty on local authorities to introduce transition plans for every individual.
The Scottish Conservatives fully support the principle of improving support for children as they face the transition into adulthood. This is a vital stage for children, and we know that children with disabilities may face acute changes in their routines, lifestyle and care – and public services need to recognise and respond to their needs.
We will carefully consider the details of the Bill, scrutinising the practical implications and operation of the positive principles it sets out. We look forward to engaging in that process and analysing the findings of the recently published consultation, so that people living with disabilities can be supported in the best possible way.
Scottish National Investment Bank
The Scottish Conservatives are committed to getting the economy growing again. This is not the first time Scotland has been promised a new investment bank by the SNP government – but despite these false starts, we will support the principle of the Scottish National Investment Bank.
Along with other Scottish Conservatives I am committed to the highest standards of environmental protection. We want to promote a secure and low-carbon based energy sector, support sustainable transport, and maximise Scotland’s natural advantages, all of which can help achieve ambitious emissions reduction targets. We have set out our policies for this in our environment and climate change position paper, which can be found here.
I agree that investment in industries with a vision for a low-carbon future for Scotland is important. I believe that this transition should be focussed on the creation of jobs, support for innovation, and investment in technology. However, we need to be careful not to inadvertently withdraw investment from future technologies. Some of the biggest investors in renewable energy, for example, are firms with a background in fossil fuels, but diversifying into newer technology and supporting an increasingly diverse range of energy sources. Blanket withdrawal by the new bank could be counterproductive.
I believe that the new Scottish National Investment Bank should embody these values in order to ensure that Scotland’s economy grows in a sustainable way.
Short Term Lets
The Scottish Conservatives support the right of homeowners and tenants to enjoy the use of their property. Airbnb and similar services are legal, and we acknowledge that they can provide a useful source of occasional income and support tourism.
However, we recognise that the rise of short term tenancies in concentrated areas has rapidly changed the character of communities in recent years. There is the clear potential for homes that could have been owner-occupied to instead become short-term lets, and place further pressure on families and individuals already experiencing a housing crisis. We also recognise the concerns that owners and tenants within a block of flats have in relation to living near Airbnb flats, with people having to deal with anti-social behaviour.
The Scottish Conservatives have been integral in addressing this issue. We submitted an amendment to the Planning Bill, that was subsequently passed, which gives councils the powers to create short term let control areas. We believe this flexible approach is the right one, allowing local authorities that are saturated by short term lets to regulate but allows for those councils who do not have that burden to not be legally bound by regulation.
We encourage local authorities to exert this power where necessary so that short term lets can co-exist successfully alongside Scottish communities.
I understand that, following their investigation into US rendition flights, Police Scotland’s organised crime and counter terrorism unit has now submitted its report to the Crown Office & Procurator Fiscal Service and that the Crown is currently considering this. You may wish to follow up the progress of the Crown’s enquiries by contacting the Lord Advocate: https://www.gov.scot/about/who-runs-government/cabinet-and-ministers/lord-advocate/. One point that may factor into the Crown’s decision is that, as I understand it, there is no evidence that detainees were on board these flights when they landed in the UK.
In general terms, I believe we must condemn all forms of torture as an abhorrent act which is contrary to international law and human rights. Where concerns exist over the possible use of torture, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office should never be afraid to make their opposition known at the highest levels, as they have done in the past.
The Crown’s consideration of evidence is ongoing and I do not wish to pre-empt this. I have confidence in the justice system to summon and assess evidence and to conclude and recommend as it finds appropriate. While political and government figures should assist this process where appropriate, they must never attempt to impinge upon it.
National Minimum Allowance for Foster Carers
The Scottish Conservatives share your belief that foster carers need to be championed in society for the care and commitment that they show to so many vulnerable children across Scotland.
The SNP made the introduction of a national minimum allowance for foster carers a manifesto pledge in 2016 and yet are still to make meaningful change.
Whilst we acknowledge the value of the National Review of Care Allowance that was published last summer, we agree that more needs to be done and steps need to be made to introduce a national minimum allowance for foster carers. As highlighted in your email, Scotland is the only part of the UK without a statutory minimum standard of financial support for foster carers, and too many councils are shunning their responsibilities in this area. We cannot have a situation in which foster carers potentially have to subsidise their fostering.
As we await this year’s Programme for Government which will outline the SNP’s policy focus for the coming parliamentary year, the Scottish Conservatives will hold the SNP to account over this delayed and ignored manifesto pledge.
Foster carers make an enormous commitment to children and young people and it is important that this is represented through a commitment to properly financially fund them.
Skills Participation Age
The Scottish Conservative propose to introduce a new skills participation age of 18, so every young person in Scotland has the opportunity to develop the skills they need to achieve their full potential, be ready for the world of work and find a great job.
The Scottish Conservatives believe strongly in freedom of choice and the pursuit of each individual young adult’s skills and strengths. Therefore, our policy would guarantee everyone in Scotland receives their chosen form of education or training that best suits their talents and desires until at least the age of 18.
We would ask schools to make it clear that there is no hierarchy. There is no sign in the corridors saying smart kids one way, poor kids another. Instead, we would make it clear to pupils that they have a series of equally positive options. Yes, university is a great option, but there’s another path towards a great job if they want to choose that route instead.
In practice, our policy would mean more young people going on to apprenticeships, college, training, university or obtaining further school qualifications. In order to maintain existing choices for young people, we would consult on a range of exemptions, including joining the armed forces; assuming a full-time unpaid caring role; launching a business; or becoming a parent on leave.
Our proposal is already in operation in several countries across Europe, including some nations who have comparatively highly skilled workforces by global rankings. In Scotland, our policy been championed by the IPPR think tank as a means to ‘to increase skills levels and instil a habit of learning among young people that we hope would be continued throughout their lives.’
Only Ruth and the Scottish Conservatives are focusing on providing opportunities for young people, delivering high-quality jobs and ultimately, strengthening Scotland’s economy.
SNP Car Parking Tax
The SNP’s block grant is increasing by more than £500 million next year thanks to the Conservatives and the UK Government. As a result, we will not support an SNP Budget that slashes public services and punishes hard workers.
The SNP’s car parking tax could see workers paying hundreds of pounds just to park at their place of work. Hard workers and small businesses would suffer, and the SNP have so far even refused to exempt teachers from paying this charge. It is no surprise that the SNP didn’t consult a single person about such a damaging and ill-considered proposal.
This new levy is the latest in a long line of tax hikes from Nicola Sturgeon. She has already broken two manifesto promises: to not raise tax on basic rate payers, and to cap council tax rises at three per cent. Only the Scottish Conservatives would deliver a fair deal for taxpayers across Scotland.
Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill
The Scottish Conservatives welcome the publication of the Census (Amendment) (Scotland) Bill.
As you are aware, the Census has not previously included questions about sexual orientation or gender identity.
The bill intends to make the new questions voluntary, and will not remove the existing mandatory questions. It is also important to note that the wider issue of gender assignment, and how people legally define their gender, will not be affected by this bill.
We therefore intend to support the bill, but will seek to introduce amendments that will clarify the distinction between mandatory and voluntary questions. This will include looking at how the census will define, structure and communicate the voluntary questions on gender identity.
We believe this will achieve the intended aim of providing the most accurate and effective data, but make sure that it is done clearly and consistently and without undermining existing information the census provides.
Reintroduction and Management of Beavers
The Scottish Conservatives are committed to the highest standards of animal welfare, and are determined to protect and enhance Scotland’s biodiversity. We believe that we must ensure that the re-introduction of any species does not damage our existing flora and fauna. It must also be done in such a way as to avoid conflict with existing land uses, which are not only important to our environment but also to the economy.
This also means that before any re-introduction of a species is undertaken there must be extensive consultation, which should be led by impartial experts and not purely pressure groups. It also means that before any reintroductions occur that we develop sensible pragmatic management plans that cover all aspects of any reintroduction including an ‘exit strategy’ should it be required.
We know the population of beavers has tripled in the past six years; there are now over 400 beavers in more than 100 active territories in Scotland. This includes a large population in Tayside, where they were illegally released. I believe the activists who released these beavers illegally, should be caught and prosecuted. I also believe that any species that are illegally translocated must be immediately removed. This is the only way that we can ensure that the reintroduction of species is undertaken in a controlled and managed way.
I will be working with my Conservative colleagues to ensure that the future national management of beavers is done in an informed way and that the plan for doing this supports not only beavers but also the environment they are in. Whilst I do not support a licensing regime for the control of beavers, if we are to have one it must be simple and easy to use with no onerous conditions or additional costs placed on farmers and land managers. It must also be proactive and quick. I also believe where it disadvantages or creates hardship for farmers and landowners such as undermining river banks causing their collapse and erosion there should be an acceptance that compensation will be required.
We all, including this SNP Government must act responsibly to protect rural Scotland. We must recognise the damage that the reintroduction of species, such as beavers, can be very detrimental if undertaken in an uncontrolled way.
Let me very clear about the Scottish Conservative position: as a party, we are very supportive of all measures to ensure schools provide an inclusive environment that supports all of our young people and allows them to reach their full potential regardless of background or gender. Likewise, we are clear that schools must tackle all forms of discrimination and this includes where it has resulted from gender reassignment or sexual orientation. In this respect, we are supportive of the work being done to end homophobia, biphobia and transphobia (HBT) in schools and to ensure that every pupil has a happy and safe experience in school.
We are however, unhappy about proposals which could see very young children being “taught” about gender recognition. This would be an inappropriate move given the fact that these young children could not possibly be expected to understand many of the issues involved or take responsibility for decisions they might make at a very early age. We believe the vast majority of parents agree with us on this.
With regard to the recent debate in the media, the Scottish Government has informed us that the documents are not yet formal guidelines, or proposals. They are part of ongoing work led by NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde that also involves local authorities and health board partners. It is therefore important that there is further debate and that schools, with the support of teachers and parents, are able to decide the most appropriate and necessary policies to put in place for their pupils.
Communities vs Blood Cancer
I believe it is important to increase the number of stem cell (cord blood and bone marrow) donors in Scotland and I welcome the vital work undertaken by Anthony Nolan.
In 2015 the UK Government announced an extra £3 million in additional funding for stem cell services, part of £19 million in additional investment that the UK Government has committed since 2010 to improve the provision of cells in the UK. This funding is being used to encourage young adult donors as well as those from under-represented populations, such as black, Asian and ethnic minority communities who find it difficult to secure a suitable match.
No patient should be denied a stem cell transplant due to the availability of a lifesaving donor. The Scottish Conservatives know the importance of the stem cell donor register and support its expansion.
I am unable to attend the Anthony Nolan’s parliamentary drop-in, however I fully support this campaign and will highlight its importance to parliament.
When considering amendments to the Transport Bill, we have prioritised accessibility. The current rules on pavement and double parking are inadequate for many pedestrians, especially those with mobility issues, and I welcome the intent behind the Transport Bill to improve protections for pedestrians.
At the same time, taxicabs, community bus services, delivery vehicles, and some private cars can also help to improve connectivity for less mobile individuals. Scotland also has a huge variety of towns and villages, with different street and pavement widths. I therefore believe in giving local authorities the power to determine where parking should be permitted.
Throughout the Transport Bill, Scottish Conservative MSPs have made constructive proposals on topics including low emission zones, bus services, and community transport. I therefore regret deeply that the SNP have chosen to add provisions for a workplace parking levy to this bill. These would, if enacted, hinder the ability of low-paid workers, job-seekers, and workers in vital public services to access travel and work. The levy would particularly hit small businesses and town centres. Unless the provisions regarding the workplace parking levy are removed, I will not be able to support the bill.
The Scottish Conservatives are committed to the highest standards of environmental protection. Last year, we won cross-party support to enact stronger energy efficiency targets for homes by 2030. We have committed to promoting a secure and low-carbon based energy sector, supporting sustainable transport and to maximising Scotland’s resources; all of which can help achieve ambitious emissions reduction targets. Our policy paper outlines the specific areas we would like to see more progress on.
The Scottish Conservatives will continue to stand up for the best interests of the planet and hold the Scottish Government to account on climate change issues. We will work to champion the environment and push the Scottish Government to be more ambitious in their Climate Change Bill as it progresses through Parliament. As always, we will take an evidence-based approach.
This is vital to ensure that Scotland can make real progress instead of the unfortunate position we are in whereby the SNP Government have consistently overpromised and underperformed on key environmental targets. Their poor performance means transport emissions have not seen any sizeable reduction, we are seeing our wildlife impacted, recycling targets are on course to be achieved 12 years late and their target for increasing cycle journeys will not be achieved for an astonishing 239 years.
However, I was pleased to see that both the UK and Scottish Governments wrote to the Committee on Climate Change to ask advice on setting more ambitious emissions target following the publication of the IPCC’s special report. When this advice is published, I will be able to come to an informed view on this matter.
It’s time to protect free speech in Scotland
I agree with the Scottish Law Commission's conclusion that there is an important balance to be struck between freedom of speech and press on the one hand and the right to restore one's reputation swiftly when it has been unfairly tarnished on the other.
It is for the Scottish Government to bring forward legislative proposals based upon the Law Commission's recommendations, and when that happens the Scottish Conservatives will ensure any reform to the law receives the rigorous scrutiny it deserves.
Communications Act 2003
There is clearly a balance to be struck in our society between freedom of expression and courts having the ability to prosecute the most vile online content. It is incumbent upon all of us in public life to get this balance right.
However, when cases are tried, the decision arrived at is for the court alone. Having an independent judiciary free from political influence is an important part of a liberal democracy and so I will not comment directly on any particular decision. Each situation is different and judges are best placed to take into account the full range of factors that relate to any particular crime. That is not to say that I will instinctively agree with any particular sentencing.
Religious Observance in Schools
The Scottish Conservatives consider the current right of parents to request their children opt out of any religious ceremony is appropriate and we support its continuation.
We believe that this issue is a matter for each school – following consultation with parents, staff, and pupils – to decide the most appropriate form of religious observance, bearing in mind the particular ethos of the school and its local community. We are also comfortable that school assemblies can include time for reflection which is inclusive of all pupils, whether or not they have a religious faith.
Moreover, we support religious and moral education as an important part of the school curriculum. It enables pupils to learn about a whole range of religious beliefs, as well as to understand why some people do not have a religious belief.
Budget for Better
The Scottish Conservatives welcome the publication of the Independent Review of Student Support since it focuses on some key principles which must underpin future reform. We need to ensure a more sustainable approach in the future given the increasing financial pressures upon students and the commitment to widening access.
We also believe that there is a very important debate to be had about the financial restructuring of tertiary education so that costs of tuition and student support are not seen in isolation. International studies reveal some interesting trends if there is a more strategic approach to funding - something that has been pointed out by Audit Scotland.
We agree with the NUS that a priority should be better provision of bursary support and have long argued that this could be achieved by a fairer balance of funding between taxpayers and graduates. We are mindful of the statistics which show that Scotland lags behind other parts of the UK when it comes to the extent of bursary support. That is just one reason why we are in favour of a modest graduate contribution to university education.
We are also mindful of the recent statistics published by SAAS which tell us that the poorest university students in Scotland are borrowing the most. We have supported a higher loan repayment threshold in past manifestos and will work with other parties in the Scottish Parliament to deliver this as soon as practicable.
We have also long campaigned on improved mental health support in Scotland. The provision across our colleges and universities is patchy and more needs to be done. We will consider the NUS calls for a universal counselling service carefully.
Life in Limbo
I am passionate about improving our housing supply and working towards eradication of homelessness in Scotland. I have spoken with, and heard evidence from, many individuals with lived experiences of homelessness in the aim to fully understand the deep seated causes of homelessness – and how as a society we can change this. I have also visited various homeless services across the nation. I am dedicated to resolving this social issue.
The Homelessness in Scotland: Bi-annual update highlighted that between 1 April and 30 September 2017, local authorities received 17,797 homelessness applications, an increase of 330 (2%) over the same period in the previous year. There were 6,581 children in temporary accommodation on 30 September 2017, an increase of 594 (+10%) compared to 30 September 2016 (National Statistics for Scotland: Homelessness in Scotland: Bi-annual update 1 April to 30 September 2017, Link).
I support the ambition and many of the ideas in the Programme for Government on homelessness set out by the Scottish Government. Currently, the Scottish Parliament is examining the different approaches to eradicating homelessness so that we have a multi-layered approach to combating this social evil.
This issue is fundamentally one of housing supply and the SNP has repeatedly failed to meet housing targets. The number of new homes completed has fallen by more than a third under the SNP.
The Scottish Conservatives have proposed a range of ideas to increase the housing stock available, from planning reform through innovative infrastructure funding to meaningful action on empty homes. We urge the SNP to back these ideas.
The future direction of temporary accommodation in the coming years in Scotland, depends on the policy implementation of the SNP and future Scottish Government legislation.