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.
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.
Devolution after Brexit
I understand there are concerns about the status of the devolution settlement during Brexit. Brexit allows powers returning from the EU to come to the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Parliament will therefore be more powerful than ever before due to Brexit. The Scottish Conservatives have been consistently clear that Clause 11 of the UK Government’s EU (Withdrawal) Bill, as introduced, did not reflect the presumption of devolution.
I am satisfied with amendments to the Bill, which presume devolution for returning powers. As a party, the Scottish Conservatives support ongoing discussions between the Scottish and UK Governments on this matter. I and my Scottish Conservative colleagues have been consistent and vocal in our support for a strong devolved settlement, and will continue to be so.
The Scottish Conservatives have been clear that powers over farming and fisheries must be devolved where possible and that we also need to protect our UK internal market so that our farmers, fishermen and food producers do not face new barriers to business with Scotland’s most important market. So there are also areas where common frameworks are necessary.
We should also think of the current EU regulations on the environment as the floor, not the ceiling for our own new system.
When the UK becomes an independent Coastal State in 2020, we have the opportunity to take back control of waters and deciding who can access our waters and on what terms. The SNP, by contrast, is determined, at any cost, to get back into the EU, which under Article 38 of the Lisbon Treaty, means we would have to join the CFP.