Douglas Ross praises Chancellor's tax U-turn in conference pitch to 'rural and working Scotland'
The Scottish Conservatives must be "the party to stand up for the communities of rural and working Scotland", Douglas Ross has said.
In a keynote speech to the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, Ross praised Kwasi Kwarteng's top rate tax U-turn and unveiled a new Rent to Own housing policy for those on lower incomes.
He stressed that he and MSP colleagues Russell Findlay and Pam Gosal, who also appeared, "do not have a typical Conservative background" and called his own Moray upbringing "about as far away from Eton and the City of London as possible".
Criticising the SNP's record in government, he said centralisation and lack of investment are harming rural communities, with his own area "last in the queue" for governments "focused on the cities".
He told delegates that many of his peers had to leave for education or work and "never returned", adding: "We have seen a continual brain drain away from villages and towns outside the Central Belt for years. Yet the SNP have done little to stop this. Instead, they call for more immigration. But what about roads, housing, transport, jobs, education and healthcare services?"
Ross said he had joined the Conservatives to fight for a "fair deal" for Moray, saying: "We knew what was best for us better than distant governments in both Holyrood and Westminster ever could. We just needed to be given that fair deal."
He said injustice is being "ingrained" under the SNP in education, pay and life expectancy thanks to a "one-size-fits all approach" by the Scottish Government and accused Nicola Sturgeon of having abandoned her "mission" to close the attainment gap.
Ross said his party would set up a National College of Scotland to deliver virtual further education and training and provide a guarantee of funding for training through a Right to Retrain plan.
A Rural Development Bank would provide access to investment, he said, while Rent to Own would see tenants given back one quarter of their rent by the government to allow them to purchase their properties.
On Kwarteng's U-turn, he said: "I think he has made the right decision. The best parts of the government's growth plans remain and the area that caused the most concern has gone. Politicians have to listen and respond and that's exactly what the chancellor has done."