Friday, 08 June 2018 15:36

IAN BLACKFORD - SNP WESTMINSTER LEADER CONFERENCE ADDRESS

Friends 

We gather here today in this great city of Aberdeen at a time of immense challenge and change.

The past few years have been filled with political turbulence.

Brexit looms large with a clear risk to jobs and prosperity throughout Scotland.

Two years on from the Brexit vote, Theresa May’s Government is no closer to a plan to protect our trading relationship. 

It is a Government torn apart on Europe that is unable to provide leadership.

We will all pay a price due to the intransigence of May’s Government who have been hijacked by their own right wing Brexiteers.

Whilst Corbyn’s labour party flounders and refuses to recognise the need to stay in the single market, it is up to the SNP at Westminster to stand up for Scotland’s interests.

While we remain tied to Westminster for now, SNP MPs will continue to take on the Tories in defence of our national interests.

Conference I am proud that the SNP is the real opposition to the cruel, callous and chaotic Tory Government.

Opposition that is driving the case for fairness and equality. 

With MP’s like the unstoppable Mhairi Black campaigning for justice for the WASPI women denied their pension rights by the UK Government.

We have already won the moral argument – now it’s time to win the vote. 

As there is now a majority in Parliament to deliver for the 1950s women. Let’s end this injustice and finally deliver fairness in retirement.

Our MPs like Alison Thewliss are taking the Tories to task, by campaigning to end the scandal of millions of pounds of dirty money funnelled through Scottish Limited Partnerships. While our efforts have already pushed the UK Government into action by launching a consultation – they are still dragging their feet. Conference this criminality needs to stop and be rest assured, SNP MPs will keep that fight.

And conference with sterling MPs like Stephen Gethins not giving the Tory Government one inch as they try to steal back powers from Scotland and impose a hard Brexit – we can be confident that the SNP is providing the strongest voice for Scotland on the green benches.

Conference let me also appauld Kirsty Blackman who so ablely opened our conference this morning. Kirsty is a first class MP for Aberdeen, colleague, friend and our Westminster Deputy Leader.

Friends, it is the leadership of the Westminster Group, that drive for social justice and that ambition for Scotland that leaves us in no doubt - the SNP is the only party standing up for Scotland.

And that is why latest polls show a commanding lead for the SNP.

In Westminster voting intentions – a 13 point lead over the Tories.

And a 17 point lead over Labour.
   
Clearly conference, the broken promises of the UK Government are now glaring for everyone to see. 

Last year, the public went to the polls with the promise of better and more stable Government from Theresa May. 

What materialised conference, could not be further from the truth.

Theresa May has delivered absolutely nothing but further uncertainty and insecurity. 

The UK Government has failed at every hurdle with Theresa May's leadership left as one of the weakest for a generation. 

Not only, is the current Prime Minister a slave to the Brexiteers in her cabinet, she is constantly choked by the grip of her shady deal with the Democratic Unionist Party. 

Rather than show decisive leadership and political courage, the Prime Minister instead clings to power by a thread, too power hungry, Theresa May is numb to the suffering her Government inflicts across the UK.

But should we be surprised? 

The Prime Minister’s leadership has been engulfed by internal power struggles, scandal and cabinet resignations.

A year on Theresa May is undoubtedly a failed leader, lacking courage and ambition. 

Never was this more apparent than yesterday, when we saw the Tory cop out on the Back Stop. With David Davis breathing down the Prime Minister’s neck – rather than tackling the Brexit crisis head on – Theresa May choose to focus on tackling the crisis in the Tory party

While she may be a Prime Minister in office, she is not a Prime Minister in power.

Yet, the Prime Minister expects us in Scotland to simply take her word for it that her party has Scotland's interests at its core.

Conference, we won't be taking Theresa May's word on anything. 

The Tories think they can do anything they want to Scotland and get away with it.

Her Government has already slashed £2.6billion from Scotland's budget.

The same Tory Government who by the end of this decade, as the result of the cuts being imposed on Scotland since 2010 are expected to reduce welfare spending in Scotland by nearly £4 billion a year. 

Robbing the disadvantaged, the disabled and the sick of vital support. 

And still Theresa May’s Government continues to drag us down the catastrophic course of a hard Brexit, bluntly ignoring the will of the Scottish people.

Conference, we’ve had enough of their broken promises.

The SNP continues to defend Scotland’s national interests under the formidable leadership of Nicola Sturgeon.
In Scotland, the SNP is transforming lives. 

Our Government is bold and radical.

Delivering employment at record levels, protecting our NHS and using our new tax powers to fund public services while cutting bills for those on middle and low incomes.

Yet across the UK inequality is rife with wage stagnation, job inequality and poverty plaguing communities. 

A Tory Government completely distracted by internal power battles and ego wars. 

Theresa May, if you're listening, maybe it's time you got on with the day job.

Next week the Prime Minister will have the opportunity to change course – to finally face the reality that lays before her and stop a hard Brexit. 

On Tuesday the EU Withdrawal Bill returns to the House of Commons.

Conference SNP MPs will be working hard next week as the Lords amendments to the Withdrawal Bill return to the Commons. 

I can confirm to you all today that we will vote to keep Scotland and the UK in the Customs Union and the single market.

We will vote to secure jobs, the economy and EU citizens’ rights in Scotland.

We will vote to stay close to our European partners and allies, not to build walls based on empty promises of trade deals with a President more interested in trade wars.

Theresa May must now stop her charade and deliver in the interests of all across the UK.

The Tory Government’s own Brexit Department has already revealed that the government’s approach to exiting the EU could lead to food, fuel and medicine shortages.

An analysis published by Fraser of Allander revealed that an extreme Tory Brexit would cost up to 80,000 jobs in Scotland.

Another UK Government analysis revealed that GDP in Scotland could take a crippling hit of 9% with a no deal Brexit.

And just over the past few days – we have all heard the warnings from the Dutch Government telling their businesses not to risk buying UK products.

Conference – the Tories are not acting in Scotland’s interests – in fact they are acting against them.

But they are not alone in their reckless pursuant of a catastrophic Brexit. 

While we are tirelessly challenging the irresponsible approach to the UK exiting the EU - the leader of the so called opposition, Jeremy Corbyn is colluding with Theresa May.
 
The Labour Leader’s failure to recognise the critical need for these nations to remain in the Single Market – is ludicrous. 


Just a few days ago we saw the shameful stunt from the Labour Party – where it tabled an amendment to the EU Withdrawal Bill just to hide Jeremy Corbyn’s blushes on his failure to back the Lords’ amendment to keep us in the single market

The Labour Party’s weak and confusing position on Brexit is utterly embarrassing – but conference more than that it is completely dangerous.

So here’s the SNP’s message to Jeremy Corbyn – you might be fooling the few but you are not fooling the many.

The stakes are high, the votes next week could be defining for Scotland’s future. Instead of politicking – Labour must join with us and give full support to  staying in the single market and the customs union to mitigate against the risks of a hard Brexit.

Anything less and Labour will be just as responsible as the Tories for the damage that will follow.

Conference – our job is always to speak up for Scotland in Westminster. 

Scotland’s future must be safeguarded.

Right now one of the biggest battles we face at Westminster is to protect the powers of our Parliament.

Powers endorsed by the people of this country.

It is completely unacceptable that devolved powers over farming, fishing and the environment amongst others are at risk of being stolen back away from Scotland back to Westminster.

Conference that must be resisted.

And despite David Mundell’s previous claims that the Scottish Parliament should have more powers – his Government wants to side step Scotland. Well conference, I say it’s time Mr Mundell stepped aside.

Friends, I can confirm to you all today that the SNP Westminster group have tabled amendments to the legislation absolutely rejecting the Power Grab Clause. 

We will work with colleagues across the Commons to reject the Tory government’s attempted veto on our Parliament. We are now in unchartered territory. 

The Tories, who fought so hard against our Parliament’s reconvening, are now trying to dismantle the 1998 devolution settlement. 

We will never – never – let them get away with it. 

It’s plain and simple - the Tory Government cannot be trusted to protect our interests and next week we hope that others across the benches – whose parties joined the Scottish Government to oppose this power grab – will secure the support of their Westminster parties and back the SNP to ensure that our rights and our powers remain in Scotland’s hands.

While many will be daunted by the challenges that lie ahead - we do not despair.

Despite the damage Theresa May wants to inflict on Scotland - the SNP will not allow it on our watch.

Whether it’s challenging the Tories on immigration or on their punishment of the poor, SNP MPs will take on the Tories.

But we also know that just challenging is not good enough. 

That’s why conference, I am proud to be part of a party that is leading the way forward on driving home change. 

We have taken our vision and made it into progressive policies of Government. 

That friends is what we do, that is the job of the SNP.

Just last month, the SNP published the report from the Scottish Growth Commission, this friends kicks start a new debate on how our nation can move beyond the damage and despair of Brexit to a future where we can deliver hope and ambition.

The Growth Commission makes it clear that Scotland can match the richest countries in the world. 

Scotland is already thriving in medicine, life sciences, financial services and renewable energy

Conference, as we begin this crucial conversation about the future of our nation, we should be excited but determined. 

We know that the status quo is not good enough. 

We know that our ties to Westminster are not only holding us back but the Tories are harming our future economic prospects. 

We know we have to allow Scotland to reach its true potential of a future with higher living standards, greater prosperity and more opportunity.

For us delegates, equality isn't just a sound bite, social justice isn't a slogan and democracy isn't to be taken for granted - for us conference, these values are the necessities for any modern, progressive society.

Our politics is open, inclusive and welcoming - it's not narrow and exclusive.

Our nation is a home for all - not just a select few.

Our way is ambitious but not reckless.

Conference, today our thirst for change has never been greater. 

Our desire to build a new inclusive, fairer and more prosperous new Scotland has never been stronger.

Our aspiration for independence has never been more needed - and more reachable.

We will keep our shoulder to the wheel and with Nicola Sturgeon in the driving seat we will succeed.

At this time of critical change, be reassured that in Westminster we won’t be taking our foot of the peddle. 

At Holyrood our programme for government is making a difference to life chances to many in Scotland.

We know there is a better way.

We say to the people of Scotland, we can do more under the devolved settlement, we can do so much more with the powers of independence.

The people of Scotland, through the Scottish Parliament need the powers over our economy and welfare spending if we are to fully deliver on building a better Scotland.

Winnie Ewing at the time of the Hamilton by-election famously said “Stop the world Scotland wants to get on.” 

Conference, let’s get on.

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