Theresa May on Brexit, Scotland and the future of the UK
The overriding focus of this year’s Conservative Party conference in Birmingham will be on building a country that works for everyone – for the millions of ordinary, working people across the United Kingdom who want politicians to put them first. After all, we are the Conservative and Unionist Party, and we hold dearly the precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and all of our citizens.
At this conference, we will, of course, be talking about getting a better deal for the UK abroad as we exit the European Union. We will make a success of that, and that means protecting and advancing the needs of people from every part of Britain. As I told the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, when I met her at Bute House – my first visit outside London as Prime Minister, on only my second full day in the job – we will engage fully with and are willing to listen to options from the Scottish Government as we formulate our negotiating position for leaving the EU. There should be no doubt: we will get a deal that works for us all.
As we strike that deal, we have an exciting chance to forge a new role in the world. Scotland’s status will not be diminished by that; it will be enhanced. We will go out into the world with the aim of being a leader in global free trade, one that makes the most of our advantages, from the financial expertise of Edinburgh to the shipbuilding prowess of the Clyde and the globally renowned food and drink produce of Scotland’s countryside.
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It has become even clearer in recent months that the union which really matters to Scotland’s future is its union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland, our centuries-long ties of people, trade, history, culture and values. The fall in oil prices demonstrates just how crucial that relationship is financially: Scotland was able to weather that downturn because of the UK’s broad shoulders. Tax revenues from the North Sea collapsed, but funding for Scottish public services remained unscathed. That is how our union works: we share each other’s successes when times are good, and shoulder each other’s burdens when times are tough.
There is only one party north of the border which truly understands that and is committed to preserving it: the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party. Earlier this year we cemented our place as the second largest party in Scotland; we moved from being the de facto opposition to the official opposition, so at last the Scottish National Party will be held to account. In Birmingham we will be celebrating that fact, looking ahead to our next contests in Scotland, and hearing from a real shining light in British politics, our leader in Scotland, Ruth Davidson.
But the focus at our conference will not just be on striking a better deal with the rest of the world as we strengthen our own union here at home. It will be on getting a better deal for people in the UK. Because the EU referendum also exposed an underlying sense that people felt they have been ignored by politicians, at Westminster and Holyrood, for too long. These are the people who get up early, put in the hours, play by the rules, yet still feel like the wind is against them. They’re getting by – but only just. Meanwhile, those at the top seem to flourish with ease, and often flout the rules with impunity. That feeling is as strong in Scotland as it is anywhere else in the UK, and after nine years as the establishment party in Scotland, the SNP needs to accept its share of responsibility.
The government I lead will get to grips with that unfairness by giving these millions of people, all across Britain, the help they need – by building homes, opening great schools, curbing corporate irresponsibility, delivering high-quality training and introducing a proper UK industrial strategy that provides sustainable growth and good jobs.
In Scotland, responsibility for many of these matters lies with Holyrood. This year’s Scotland Act delivered on our commitments to more powers and made the Scottish Parliament one of the most powerful devolved legislatures anywhere in the world. For that reason, it is more important than ever for the UK Government and the Scottish Government to work together, in the best interests of the Scottish people, to get the best possible outcomes for our citizens. That is the approach I am committed to, and which David Mundell as Scottish Secretary is taking forward.
In fighting for a better deal at home and abroad, we will restore not only fairness to our society, but trust to our political system. We will demonstrate that politics can and must make a positive difference to people’s lives and that the Conservative Party is the modern-day force of progress, reforming our economy, society and politics so they work for ordinary working people. So, as we gather in Birmingham, I want the message to go out, from Bude to Bute: we are on your side, and we are delivering for you.