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Alister Jack: the Scottish Tory MPs are making a difference in Westminster

Image credit: PA

Alister Jack: the Scottish Tory MPs are making a difference in Westminster

The Conservative Party conference will be my first as Secretary of State for Scotland.

I’m looking forward to it. I was immensely honoured to be handed the job, but I’m under no illusions about the challenge. I’ve taken on the role at a critical moment for Scotland and the whole of the UK.

The big issues we face will dominate not just our gathering in Manchester but the direction of our nation over the coming weeks and months.

Rightly, there will be an intense focus on Brexit, and the steps we are taking to leave the EU on October 31.

There will also be much talk of an upcoming general election.

Like all my Conservative colleagues, I watched in astonishment as Jeremy Corbyn and Ian Blackford – men who have been demanding an election for months if not years – ran from the chance when it was offered to them in Parliament.

But they cannot sustain their opposition.

Sooner or later, we will all face a choice – a choice between the Conservatives or Jeremy Corbyn and Nicola Sturgeon.

I’m confident the Scottish Conservatives will make a compelling case to return to government with a fresh and strong mandate to move Britain forward.

We can do that because we are the only party that is determined to honour the result of the 2016 EU referendum and deliver a Brexit that works for the whole of the UK.

Compare that to the position of our opponents.

Jeremy Corbyn seeks further, unnecessary, delay – pointless, unless of course it is to conceal his party’s complete confusion.

Nicola Sturgeon seeks, first and foremost, an unwanted and divisive second referendum on separation.

She has only ever seen Brexit as an opportunity to advance her party’s goal of tearing Scotland out of the UK.

How else could her MPs rail against no deal yet refuse to vote for a deal which fulfilled the bulk of their claimed objectives?

We are the only party offering what most people want: to respect the democratic outcome of the referendum and to get Brexit sorted so we can move on and seize the opportunities it will bring.

Since becoming secretary of state I’ve sat down with fishing industry leaders at Peterhead’s bustling fish market. I’ve visited farms and I’ve talked to business leaders from other key sectors.

Their message to me has been clear. We need to end the uncertainty, not create more.

I’m with them on that.

The second thing we promise is this: we will fight heart and soul to defend our union.

We are the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party and we do what it says on the tin.

Scotland benefits hugely from being at the heart of a strong United Kingdom.

The facts and figures speak for themselves. Our trade with the rest of the UK is worth nearly four times that with the rest of the EU put together. The Scottish Government’s own figures point to a Union dividend worth nearly £2,000 for every Scot.

But for us it goes deeper than that. Our sense of belonging is based on inseparable ties of family and history with our closest neighbours and greatest friends.

Nicola Sturgeon has warned that before the year is out, she will formally demand the power to hold her second independence referendum.

The Prime Minister and I are resolute in our view. In 2014, Scots voted decisively to remain part of the UK, in what the proponents of separation insisted was a once in a generation decision.

We respect that verdict of the Scottish people and so should Nicola Sturgeon.

Lastly – but certainly not least – is our record in government of delivering for Scotland.

In recent days, we have announced a £1.25 billion contract to build the Royal Navy’s new Type 31 frigates. The work will secure hundreds of jobs in Fife.

We are bringing the COP26 climate conference to Scotland’s biggest city. The visit by world leaders will put a global spotlight on Glasgow – and bring a multi-million-pound economic boost.

We are also reintroducing post-study work visas in a move that will attract the brightest and best to settle here and strengthen Scotland’s world-renowned universities.

And as the Prime Minister announced during a recent visit to Aberdeenshire, we are providing an extra £211 million of support for Scottish farmers.

That includes £160 million to settle a long-running dispute over Common Agriculture Policy allocations. This is an issue I raised as a newly elected backbencher. As Secretary of State for Scotland, I’m extremely proud to have seen it resolved by a Conservative government.

That’s just in the past few weeks.

Since a strong group of 13 Conservative MPs arrived at Westminster in 2017, determined to fight Scotland’s corner, the whole country has noticed the difference.

We are investing £1.4 billion in our exciting city and growth deals programme, which will create tens of thousands of jobs over the next 10 to 15 years. And there is the promise of more to come: three more deals will be signed, ensuring all of Scotland benefits.

The last two Conservative budgets have frozen duty on spirits, backing our biggest exporter, the whisky industry, and on fuel, giving motorists, especially in rural areas, a helping hand.

We saved tens of millions of pounds for Police Scotland by lifting their requirement to pay VAT, clearing up a mess of the Scottish Government’s making. We’ve also ended the unfairness of serving military personnel having to pay higher income tax simply for being stationed in Nicola Sturgeon’s high tax Scotland.

The Scottish Government’s budget has also increased by billions of pounds, as a result of extra spending on education and health in England.

It should improve our public services and I know my colleagues at Holyrood will hold Nicola Sturgeon to account on how it is spent.

At a time when satisfaction with Scotland’s schools, healthcare and public transport has fallen to an all-time low, they will challenge the Scottish Government to do better.

I’m proud of how our MPs have worked tirelessly to help secure these vital wins for Scotland.

As a group, the Scottish Conservative MPs have lobbied hard, speaking to ministers and making our case.

Individually, we’ve been proud to become the true voice of our communities.

No one could have fought harder than Stirling’s Stephen Kerr, Moray’s Douglas Ross or Ochil and South Perthshire’s Luke Graham for the growth deals that will benefit their areas for years to come.

No one has fought harder for the fishermen he represents than Banff and Buchan’s David Duguid. No one has stood up for their farming communities as effectively as Angus’s Kirstene Hair or Gordon’s Colin Clark.

All our MPs are can-do local champions working with a can-do Conservative government.

It is a far cry from the noisy but ineffective Nationalists who sit on the benches opposite. For them, Westminster is about stunts and grievances.

We are there to get things done.

That’s why we are approaching our conference and events that will follow in a positive mood.

We are determined to deliver Brexit on time, and ensure the whole country benefits. We will continue to oppose Nicola Sturgeon’s efforts to break up the UK. And we will shout from the rooftops about our record in government delivering for Scotland.

I really am looking forward to it.

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