James Bundy is the National Chairman of Conservative Future Scotland, and a student at the University of St Andrews.
June 9th was a day of mixed feelings for Scottish Conservatives. We were of course disappointed that we had lost our UK parliamentary majority, but ecstatic that we had went from a single Westminster representative in Scotland to thirteen MPs. After years in the wilderness of Scottish politics, we were back; however, it could have been all so different for the Scottish Conservatives were it not for the overarching constitutional question.
Whilst canvassing, it was clear that people had issues with Brexit, the NHS, schools and austerity, but independence was the main concern on their mind. They wanted to send the SNP a message, and therefore voted Scottish Conservative because they saw us as the party of the Union. With the SNP now losing momentum, the prospect of a second independence referendum in the short-term seems unlikely. This will result in voters not focusing on the constitution, but on the SNP’s record in Government. We must be ready to capitalise on this by telling then the truth.
We have a crisis within our education system. The latest studies show that, since 2007, illiteracy rates have doubled; numeracy, reading and writing skills have dropped in comparison to international standards; and the attainment gap in Scotland is the widest in the OCED.
We have a crisis with housing, and the problem is growing. The number of houses being built in Scotland each year has not been over 23,000, which the independent Commission on Housing and Wellbeing recommend, since 2007-08. Between 16-34 year olds, house ownership figures fallen from 46 per cent in 2007 to 30 per cent in 2017.
We have a problem social mobility within higher education. Despite free tuition, the percentage of entrants from the most disadvantaged background in Scotland is 10.4 per cent. This is compared to 19 per cent of entrants in England coming from the most disadvantage background. College places in Scotland have been slashed from over 379,000 in 2007/08 to 220,680 in 2015/16.
Conservatives have often been accused from the Left of taking opportunities away from recent generations, but this is simply not true. The Left see education, housing and social mobility as an easier target to attack us on because, whilst we are brave enough to make the difficult financial decisions, they just through money at the problem. Without the ability to borrow money for the majority of their time in Government, the SNP Government has demonstrated what happens to our public services under a left-wing ideology and without a magic money tree.
To end these growing problems in education, housing and social mobility, the policies of conservatism must be heard. The Scottish Conservatives must put together an ambitious and bold programme for Government and lead the national debate in Scotland all the way to 2021.
To halt the decline in Scotland’s national educational standards, we must overhaul the education system. The straightjacket of the Curriculum of Excellence must go. Pupils should be allowed to personalise their education experience by having an expanded choice of subjects. Teachers must have the freedom to teach ‘the best that has been thought and said’. We ought to also empower head teachers by placing them at the heart of the decision-making process at their own school.
To end the housing crisis, Scotland needs to start building more houses and encouraging more home ownership. To do this, new towns must be created to cope with the demand for housing. The right to buy must be reinstated to give ordinary families the chance to become home owners and the money raised from this programme should be used to build the next round of council housing. The Vacant and Derelict Land Fund must increase to encourage building on brownfield land to protect our greenbelt land and ensure their is enough supply for the demand for housing in our City Centres. Activity must also be brought back to the higher end of the market by reducing the Land Building and Transaction Tax.
To increase social mobility, we have to make the passionate case for pupils going into college and apprenticeships. University education has never been, and will never be, for everyone so we must ensure that pupils who do not go to university do not lose out. College and Apprenticeships will lead to an economy with higher skilled jobs, increased productivity and higher wages for workers. The cost of living whilst at university should not stop any young adult who is skilled for further academic education from attending. This would be done by increasing the amount of student bursaries to young adults from disadvantaged backgrounds. Of course, all these educational policies will cost money the middle class subsidy of free tuition could be replaced by a graduate tax.
The Scottish Conservatives are in our best position for 20 years, and our recent success proves that the electorate will listen to us. To take advantage of this, we must give people a choice between the SNP and Labour offering the same old, or the Scottish Conservatives offering hope and opportunity by providing real change. That is why we have to make a passionate case for conservatism over the next four years.