Ruth Davidson is the leader of the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party. She is a Member of the Scottish Parliament for Glasgow.
Talking about an election in May at this time of year is a little like buying a Christmas tree in September. People (rightly) have not yet turned their mind to yet another election coming round the corner.
This week, however, marks just 150 days until the Holyrood poll on May 5th next year. As soon as Christmas and New Year are out of the way, the campaign will begin in earnest. So – at the risk of sounding premature – I opted to use that milestone yesterday to set out some of my own thoughts on that coming campaign with a speech in Edinburgh.
The backdrop to this campaign is already clear.
Despite yet another embarrassing financial story engulfing another of its MPs at the weekend, support for the SNP continues to ride at unprecedentedly high levels. In the face of this, my speech sought to respond to some of the concerns of the many thousands of Scots who do not vote SNP – and there are, trust me, many, many thousands.
Knocking on doors in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Angus over the last few weeks, I have been struck by some of their views.
These people can see Nicola Sturgeon re-measuring the curtains at the Scottish Government’s Bute House HQ; they are not daft.
They do not hold much personal animus to the First Minister. But many of them are worried that it isn’t good for our country to have one political party in such a dominant position. Bluntly, they fear a one party state.
Furthermore, they are concerned – deeply – that there is no escape from the divisions and rancour of the last few years in Scotland.
They look on as – only last week – independence campaigners took a caravan and a group of tents and moved onto the lawn outside the Scottish Parliament, vowing not to leave until a Yes vote had been delivered.
Many people in Scotland are wondering when on earth this division is going to be over.
They don’t recognise the SNP’s characterisation of the independence referendum as a “joyous” outpouring of democracy. They recollect the family rows and are struck by public bitterness which still flares up.
They’d prefer it – greatly – if we could have a Scottish Government which, while fighting Scotland’s corner, put the divisiveness of the last few years behind us.
Perhaps, I’d suggest, for a generation.
My speech yesterday was an attempt to respond to their concerns.
I too desperately want this constitutional battle to be over. Too often it has poisoned the well , and the obsession with the constitution has damaged our politics. And as I have already said, if Nicola Sturgeon simply declares any time before the election that the referendum was a “once in a generation” event, I will happily – very happily – leave the issue alone.
But, equally, I believe that while the prospect of yet another referendum remains very real (and the SNP continues to dangle that prospect to its supporters and in the press) I believe head, heart, body and soul that we cannot stop putting the case for Scotland’s place in the UK.
Pro-UK parties in Scotland must set out a plan to show how the country can come together as part of the United Kingdom. They need to show that there’s some certainty for Scottish families, not the prospect of endless insecurity.
So this is what I want to spell out over the coming months.
We should forget the SNP spin: independence isn’t “inevitable”. Independence – on the SNP model – is an increasingly discredited idea which Scots didn’t vote for and they don’t want.
I believe people are looking for a Scottish alternative – a Holyrood parliament with real powers, but one that is rooted within the United Kingdom.
So, if people can excuse the premature election pitch, I will say this: a vote for us is a vote that makes it clear – no to separation, yes to a united future.
As leader of the Scottish Conservatives, my aim will be to craft a One Nation Conservatism – in both senses of the term – where we use our strong foundations as part of the United Kingdom to set out a moderate centre-ground plan for Scotland.
Not bowing to the big state on the one hand or genuflecting to the unbridled free market on the other – but of an active and energetic government which seeks to create a more level playing field, and a better quality of life for us all.
If the SNP, Labour and the LibDems want to spell out how this new politics can work, then I welcome them onto this ground.
I fear they can’t.
The SNP, because it is trapped by the need to drive its independence obsession ever further forward. Whether she wants to or not, Nicola Sturgeon is tied to the independence caravan – and now she only need look out of her office window at the Scottish Parliament to see it.
Labour can’t because its leadership can’t presently agree how to peel a banana, never mind run a country.
And the LibDems can’t because they are now too weak.
In the face of so many threats and uncertainty, people across Britain are making it clear that they want governments that can provide security to them and their families. I believe the majority Scots are no different in that respect.
The question facing us over the coming five months is whether we are going to entrench the divisions of the last five years, or move forward together, secure in our future?
The party that can answer that question the best will, I believe, be the one that is most in line with working families.
That party is the Scottish Conservatives – the real Scottish alternative.