Ruth Davidson

Ruth Davidson is the leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party. She is a Member of the Scottish Parliament for Glasgow.

Understandably, attention at Westminster has centred on the small matter of the EU referendum campaign these past two weeks.

It has somewhat overshadowed one of the more significant political stories of the year – which came about as a consequence of the last referendum held in the UK, the one on Scottish independence.

I refer to the deal agreed last week by the UK Government and the SNP Scottish Government in Edinburgh on the economic underpinning – or financial framework – for the Scotland bill.

This deal – whose complexity makes the Schleswig-Holstein question appear relatively simple – has taken months to agree, and busy readers of ConservativeHome are not advised to spend their valuable time catching up on the detail.

The upshot, however, is simple: from next year, the SNP Government will no longer rely wholly on a block grant from Westminster, and will instead take full responsibility for raising and spending income tax receipts in Scotland. This, allied to powers over business taxes, property taxation, environmental taxes and VAT assignmemts is a major change to how Scotland works.

The longer-term political impact of this deal will be huge: as I have argued at length, the SNP has prospered in Scotland by taking all the credit for spending money, and frequently and repetitively blamed Westminster for not having enough to keep spending. Under the new plans, they will have to look taxpayers in the eye for the first time.

It will be interesting to see how the populist Nationalist bandwagon fares when it finally collides with the thrifty Scottish taxpayer.

That is for next year. More immediately, the deal has also provided a fresh insight into the new prevailing dynamic in Scottish politics. Because it is now clear that there are now only two parties in Scotland which really count: the SNP and the Conservatives. Labour has simply been cut out of the picture.

The best way to illustrate this is to look at the way last week’s deal came to fruition. It has its genesis nearly two years ago when our own Commission of Devolution, led by Lord Strathclyde, backed a more responsible Scottish Parliament. Its central recommendation was for the full devolution of income tax, plus the adoption of more responsibility over welfare.

After the independence referendum, this blueprint was adopted almost wholesale by the five-party Smith Agreement. And then after last year’s general election, one of the very first acts of the new UK Conservative government was to legislate to pass it into law. Last week’s financial deal, brokered by the Chancellor, will ensure that legislation comes to pass.

It has rather silenced the Nationalist grievance-mongers who were waiting eagerly for Westminster to poke them in the eye. They now know it: we have delivered on what was promised.

And where was the Labour party in all of this? You might well ask. For two years, the party’s input into this historic process has been risible.

Firstly, Ed Miliband and Ed Balls watered down their own reforms to devolution. The party then u-turned a few months later as its position became unsustainable. Finally, last week, it was a bystander as the deal was done.

This from the party which, nearly twenty years ago, claimed to be the party of Home Rule. In fact, we are beginning to learn in Scotland that Labour’s devotion to Home Rule was always based on the presumption that it would be doing the ruling. Now that this is no longer the case, it no longer seems to know what it thinks.

At every step of the way over the last two years, the Scottish Conservatives have been the only pro-UK party which has offered a credible vision to take Scottish devolution forward.

Scottish Labour has repeatedly shown itself to be utterly incapable of delivering, as it struggles to cope with its internal divisions.

Indeed, they may not want to admit it, but this new chapter in Scottish politics has had precious little to do with Labour at all.

Now that the deal is done, I want the Scottish Conservatives to continue to lead the debate – and to finally ensure that there is a credible and organised opposition party which can hold the SNP to account.

The SNP runs a Government which has vast resources at its disposal, huge new powers over tax and welfare on the way, and the full power of the civil service at its beck and call. As I told Nicola Sturgeon in the Scottish Parliament last week, the buck now stops with her.

Depressingly, Labour’s response has been as weak as it is predictable: demanding that the SNP use its new powers to increase taxes in Scotland above those in the rest of the UK.

My own call is different.

The SNP now needs to buckle down and focus not on their dream of a second independence referendum, but on the vastly more important day job. And that means using these new powers to ensure Scotland can compete with the rest of the United Kingdom and, indeed, the rest of the world.

I’ll be setting out that vision later this week when, on Friday, we hold our Scottish conference in Edinburgh.

My message will be clear. Just as we have delivered on devolution over the last two years, we now intend to ensure there is a strong opposition to the Scottish Government into the future.

We set ourselves the job before the independence referendum of delivering a stronger Scottish Parliament. Last week, we made good on that.

We now set ourselves the task of delivering a strong, competent, credible opposition to the Scottish Government.

I can assure everyone in Scotland, particularly people who have lost faith in Labour’s ability to take on the SNP, that we will be true to that as well.

66 comments for: Ruth Davidson: There are now only two parties in Scotland which really count: the SNP and the Conservatives

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