The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, had the opportunity to speak to Scottish Conservatives earlier today by joining the virtual conference from Downing Street where he is still self-isolating.
This is what he said: “Thank you for that kind introduction and can I say what a pleasure it is to join you all for this virtual conference of the Scottish Conservative party.
Of course, it’s great that technology allows us to get together. But it’s not the real thing.
I have two key messages I want to share with you.
And the first of them is ‘thank you’.
‘Thank you’ to the people at this virtual conference, and to everyone in Scotland for all their efforts over this most extraordinary and trying of years.
Thank you to the staff of our wonderful NHS – the nurses and doctors, the porters and cleaners, the technicians and administrators – our healthcare heroes who have battled to keep us safe and to save our lives – so often at the risk of their own.
‘Thank you’ to Scotland’s key workers – teachers, bus drivers, farmers, supermarket staff, firefighters, delivery workers and so many, many more, who have kept us fed, our children educated, our public services running.
And ‘thank you’ to the people of Scotland – every one of you who is playing your own vital role in beating back this virus by following the guidance, and sticking to the rules. By wearing a face covering, by keeping a social distance and by washing your hands so often your arm now resembles that of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator.
It’s through all of us continuing to do our bit that we will – together – finally terminate this virus.
Now I know my comments on devolution have been widely reported this past week, but since no press were in the room, I’ll tell it to you straight: the way the SNP have handled devolution in Scotland has been a disaster – from plummeting education standards, low business confidence and the lowest satisfaction in public services ever – their record is abysmal.
The key is to have policies to show how devolution can work for Scotland, rather than the SNP obsession with making devolution work against the rest of the UK.
However, just because I criticise devolved performance, does not mean I want to end or undermine devolution. As a former Mayor of London, I know how effective devolved powers can be, for example in making transport greener and in tackling crime; devolution should not be used by politicians as a wall to break an area of the UK away from the rest, it should be used as a step, to pass power down to local communities and businesses to make their lives better.
It is this localism in which I believe and want to further, following the agreement made at the time of the Smith Commission in 2016 to not only devolve more powers to Edinburgh, which we have done, but devolve more powers from Edinburgh to the councils and communities across Scotland.
However, at this time there simply no room for division or distraction over the constitution.
In order for us to tackle the shared and common threat that is Covid-19, the focus separation must end – and for it to end, so must the division. So I would like to thank the Scottish Government for the way it has worked with the UK Government to try and tackle this virus over these past months and appeal to them to continue working with us, making use of the vaccine stocks, tests kits and new technology that come from being part of what is still one of the world’s leading scientific superpowers.
Covid-19 doesn’t care about constitutions and whatever our political differences, we all need to work together at this time to protect the health and jobs of people in Scotland.
And from our UK test and trace labs to supporting struggling businesses, working together is what we are doing.
That must be everyone’s priority right now.
So if my first message is ‘thank you’ for what you have done over the last very difficult eight months, my second is that there is hope on the horizon.
And that the best way to take that hope, and fashion it into the better, brighter future we all want to see, is to continue to work together.
The cut and thrust of normal political debate will return in full force when the threat of the virus has abated. And we will welcome that – all the clamour and vibrancy of a healthy democracy.
But when we take up the cudgels of political battle again, let’s never forget what we have achieved through cooperation – through working across the whole of our United Kingdom to face down a deadly threat that respects no tier of government or boundaries.
The unparalleled effort that has protected the jobs of over 900,000 Scottish workers through our furlough and self-employed support schemes, and which has helped almost 80,000 Scottish businesses that have been backed by Government grants and loans.
And it’s not just the heft of the UK Treasury that has supported us through this pandemic, it has been the collective endeavours of people across the UK.
From our world leading universities and businesses working together to accelerate Covid-19 vaccine research and production, to the British army supporting NHS staff in every corner of our United Kingdom, operating mobile testing centres and providing planners to work with local authorities to help them to deliver vital public services.
We’ve never seen a challenge quite like this in our lifetimes, and there are profound lessons to be learned.
So this is my promise, my offer – my commitment for the months and years ahead.
A partnership for shared stability and prosperity.
Just as we have come together to beat back – and we hope, and believe, soon defeat – coronavirus, so we must stick together, and work together, to rebuild from its ravages.
Of course, we can’t magic away the deep differences of opinion over Scotland’s future as an integral part of the United Kingdom.
My view is clear – nobody could be more proud than I am of our United Kingdom and the vital contribution Scotland makes to it. Too often this conversation becomes about pounds and pence, but what I know, and many others believe also, is that our United Kingdom goes much further than that.
And in my friend Douglas Ross, you have a leader of our party in Scotland who is the very personification of Unionism – someone who believes deeply in the United Kingdom and in fighting for Scotland’s best interests within that Union.
The bottom line is this: whatever the differences the SNP and I have on our shared future, I’m clear that none of it should get in the way of giving you and your children the opportunities and the quality of life you deserve. Not when we’ve all got a stake in this. And especially not when we’ve got a pandemic to beat.
Where we can differ over constitutional issues, we also can – and must – unite in our efforts to give Scotland that better, brighter future.
There’s a role for everyone to play here – and it’s a job too big and important to let political partisanship, from whatever quarter – get in the way.
If we want – as we must – to boost Scotland’s economy and create more and better paid jobs for Scottish workers – let’s unite and work together to do it.
If we want – as is vital – to improve Scotland transport connections to other parts of the UK, then let’s unite and work together to deliver them.
If we want – as the needs of future generations demands of us – to lead the world in building a net-zero economy, then let’s unite and work together to ensure that cleaner, greener future.
I am an optimist by nature.
I am optimistic that, with a continued and sustained effort we can defeat the coronavirus.
That we can turn the page on this troubled chapter of our history.
That we can build back better from it.
But I am a realist too.
I know that we can only achieve this if we resolve to work together for that better, brighter future we all want for Scotland and the whole of our United Kingdom.
I’ll play my part. I know you will play yours. I ask everyone in Scotland to do the same.
And we’ll come through the other side of this – together, united, ready to face whatever other challenges the 21st Century has in store for us.
And prepared to build that better future for everyone.”
The UK Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, also spoke to Scottish Conservatives today at their online conference.
Here is what Mr Sunak said: “Hi, it is fantastic to have the opportunity to speak to you as part of your virtual conference today.
At a time when our new leader Douglas Ross is re-energising the Scottish Conservative Party. At last month’s Conservative Conference, I said that the overwhelming might of the UK Treasury would be placed at the service of every single individual in our country. And that is just as true for Scots as it is for people anywhere else in the United Kingdom.
This UK Conservative Government has taken unprecedented action to support all of Scotland through this pandemic.
We have protected over a million Scottish jobs through the Furlough and Self-Employment Income Support schemes.
We have delivered Bounce Back Loans to 79,000 Scottish businesses.
We have increased Universal Credit by £1,000, to help Scots on low or no income.
And we have given an additional £8.2 billion to the Scottish Government to support your public services at this vital time. That is what pooling and sharing our resources across our four nations means.
It means that when we are facing a global pandemic, the Scottish people know that they have the strength and security of the whole of the United Kingdom behind them.
This virus does not recognise the boundaries between our nations. It affects us all. We share the challenge of a global pandemic together.
Just as I said that you have the backing of the rest of the UK, I value and appreciate the vital contribution Scots make to help support those living in other parts of our country.
Controlling this virus and supporting those who have been affected by it is a collective endeavour, one that we all have a role in.
The enduring principle that when we come together as one United Kingdom, we can achieve far more than we do as four separate nations.
Is as relevant today, in the most difficult time in many of our lives, as it has ever been. But if we come together then we can beat this virus. The restrictions that we are facing, the sacrifices that we have had to make,
They are tough now and they will remain tough for some time. But the threat of this pandemic will pass.
And when it does we will then need to take that spirit of collective endeavour onto the task of rebuilding Scotland and the rest of our country together.