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Leader of the Opposition Speech in Edinburgh
The Leader of the Opposition, and Shadow Secretary of State for Devolution and Communities, travelled to Edinburgh to discuss the IndyRef Campaign and the future of Scotland within the United Kingdom.
Ladies and gentlemen we only went and did it, it looked tight at one point but the Better Together campaign only went and did it! Scotland is staying in the United Kingdom and I can only thank each and every one of you for the hard work you put into making that happen. I spent every waking moment I had in Scotland knocking on doors and campaigning for this result but without the thousands of cross-party campaigners like yourselves it would have all been for nought, I'd have been left with very sore feet, a very tired arm, and most unfortunately of all a broken homeland. Scotland is a country near and dear to my heart, as an economist the writings of Adam Smith are very near and dear to my heart, but more than that Scotland is an inseparable part of the United Kingdom joined to us by 300yrs of common history. The future is looking ever brighter for Scotland, I am here to outline precisely what I believe that should mean for the people and for politics north of Hadrian's Wall.
One of the central campaign themes of the Better Together campaign was that Scotland would receive a new devolutionary settlement with lots of new tax powers and some constitutional measures to go with them, but the first thing I would like to touch on is perhaps the most important and is certainly the most commonly held across the political spectrum down in Westminster. The Better Together campaign was completely united in their desire to see Holyrood retained as a permanent fixture of the United Kingdom's constitution. To me this is far more than a buzzword it is a pledge that come rain or shine the Scottish people will retain control over key aspects of their day to day lives be that fishing, income tax, or any number of other powers. The Conservative Party believe that this should take the form of a constitutional double lock, what this would mean is that the Scottish Parliament could only be disbanded by a referendum of the Scottish people or by a two thirds majority vote of the Scottish Parliament itself. Such protections would be almost unprecedented in the history of the UK's constitution but it just goes to show how committed to the keeping of our key campaign pledges we are as a party, as a parliament, and as a country. The message is simple, Scotland is an equal and valued part of our family of nations and will not simply have its power taken from it by Westminster.
Moving on to another aspect of the constitution that needs to be looked at, under Conservative plans the Scottish Government will have the power to make pressing constitutional decisions for elections that happen solely in Scotland. Under plans endorsed by my party and by at least some in Better Together the Scottish Parliament shall have the power to alter the voting age in Scottish elections and they shall have the power to decide the voting system in those same votes. These powers shall be able to be exercised by the Scottish Parliament on a two-thirds majority vote at their discretion, if the Scottish people want Holyrood decided by Party List Proportional Representation or by First Past the Post then the Scottish people can vote for MSPs who will deliver that, if the Scottish people want 16 year olds to be able to vote in Council elections then they will be able to vote for candidates who will deliver that. A truly empowered Scottish Parliament will have the power to make these constitutional decisions and as Shadow Secretary of State for Devolution I will continue to make that argument to the Prime Minister herself, assuming she takes less time to get back from Scotland than she took to get to Scotland.
Moving swiftly on to my penultimate proposal for tonight I believe that the Scottish people deserve the right to choose what sort of Scotland they wish to live in, do they want to live in a low tax Scotland that allows them to keep more of their hard earned wages or do they wish to live in a high tax Scotland that can attempt to generate revenue for investment in areas that the Scottish people want investment. To this end it is my party's proposal that the Scottish Parliament shall have the power to fully differentiate Income Tax rates for Scottish taxpayers. If Scotland wants a tax cut, it can vote for it; if Scotland wants to fund investment in infrastructure, it can vote for it. This is a policy that gives Holyrood power and responsibility, it obviously devolves the power to change the tax regime and generate additional income but it will also mean that the Scottish Parliament has to get real with its fiscal responsibility. If the Scottish Parliament wants to have lower taxes than the rest of the UK then the Scottish Government will be required to make up the shortfall to retain an equitable settlement for the entire UK including the Scottish people. At the end of the day this sort of proposal is exactly the sort of proposal that Scotland needs to attract investors or to free up capital for some central government-led investment, at the end of the day it will be Scotland that chooses which is exactly the philosophy at the heart of my devolution plan.
Finally I would like to talk about Scottish business. Whilst the SNP wanted to put all their eggs in the massively over-hyped and over-inflated oil basket I believe that Scotland needs greater economic diversity if it is to truly thrive. Therefore the proposals my party has laid out include the power for the Scottish people to vote for MSPs who will have the power to alter the Corporation tax rate by plus or minus five percent from the UK baseline. What this means for Scottish business is that the Scottish Parliament will be able to set a lower rate of corporation tax for Scottish business if it would like bringing in investment and jobs, or it can set a higher rate of corporation tax and bring in revenue for even more investment, it will once again be the choice of the Scottish people when they elect their MSPs. This ambitious new corporation tax plan would have the power to revolutionise the Scottish economy along the lines that the Scottish people want, not simply being directed from Westminster in big tens of billions of pounds infrastructure spends.
My friends this plan is a bold new step for devolution in Scotland, it outlines ways in which the Scottish Parliament can be both protected and empowered in equal measure to create a force that is a true power and actually capable of influencing people's lives for the better. These proposals are not the end of the conversation they are only the beginning and I will be working with any parties who want to join me in fulfilling the referendum mandate in full. These proposals lay out the first steps of a new constitutional settlement that will have to be discussed across the United Kingdom with further powers being devolved to Cardiff, Belfast, and, pending referenda, potentially even parts of England. These reforms must also be met by answers to outstanding constitutional questions such as English Votes for English Laws to answer the eternal West Lothian question. These proposals have formed the bedrock of Conservative Party policy on devolution for the entirety of my leadership, from the days when I was Prime Minister all the way to the present, I am committed to seeing these policies delivered and I will work tirelessly to see that end reached. Thank you all for coming and thank you all again for all the hard work you did on the campaign trail, this victory was won by all of you, savour it and look forward to more powers and more choice for the Scottish people, you've earned it.
Conservative MP for North East Bedfordshire
Leader of the Opposition
Prime Minister (2014)
Parliamentary Experience: Unknown (14)
Media Experience: Capable (45)
Policy Experience: Unknown (13)