Working together to strengthen Union

ALONG with Scottish Conservative MP Group colleagues, I will cast my vote in a series of ballots that will decide who our next Prime Minister will be.

The next few weeks represent a real opportunity to strengthen Scotland’s place in the Union.

Whilst we will not all be backing the same candidate, we do share the same vision of how the next Prime Minister can and must build on Theresa May’s unwavering commitment to the Union.

At its heart, we want to see Whitehall develop processes to ensure that sustaining the Union is an important priority.

We also need visible support for Scotland’s economy, building on the success of the Government’s £1.3 billion city and growth deal programme.

We must create a flexible immigration system that works for Scottish business and uphold our Brexit promise to leave the Common Fisheries Policy by December 2020.

Delivering these priorities is the surest way to demonstrate that the UK Government is working for Scotland and to face down the SNP’s desperate attempts to drive support for independence as we leave the EU.

With Nicola Sturgeon threatening a second independence referendum in 18 months’ time, we believe all in the leadership race will sign up to this plan.

Firstly, we want the UK Government to work to strengthen the Union.

Too often there is a view in parts of Whitehall that we should devolve and forget because Scotland has been transferred its Barnett dues and that is enough.

The next Prime Minister must be prepared to challenge this. We also need to be robust in refusing SNP demands to hold a second independence referendum.

We want candidates to go further. Currently, it is rare for the UK Government to be involved in the cultural space in Scotland. There have been investments in recent years in significant projects, like the V&A Dundee, but we need to see more.

The UK Government has to be involved in investing directly in communities across Scotland. That means moving beyond the arguments of constitutional politics and instead onto doing what’s best for people and businesses.

The Scottish Government has already moved into the reserved space by having an international aid budget. It is time for the UK Government to do the same, by having a tangible role in local communities directly investing in projects.

This initiative would lay the foundations for an even better deal for Scotland than we already get from being part of the UK.

We also want to step up UK Government action to support key sections of the Scottish economy.

That means continuing the UK Government’s welcome tax relief for the oil and gas industry; listening carefully to the whisky industry’s proposals for a review of alcohol duties and intervening to ensure people can access cash and banking services in rural areas.

The successful city and growth deal programme, must be completed so that every part of Scotland benefits from a Deal, and, as we leave the EU, we want the replacement for European Structural Funds to put the Union at the heart of tackling inequality.

Also to boost the Scottish economy, we need a flexible immigration system that works.

The UK Government’s immigration white paper has raised a number of concerns for employers here but, equally, businesses are clear they want to retain a UK-wide system.

We want to see flexibility around the £30,000 earnings threshold for skilled workers. We also want the seasonal agricultural workers’ pilot scheme expanded and made permanent and student visas extended to four years in recognition of the traditional Scottish degree course.

Since the last election, we have campaigned effectively as a Scottish Conservative group.

It is no coincidence the last two Budgets have delivered strongly for Scotland, with freezes on spirits duty and rising funding for Holyrood-run services amongst highlights.

We’ve worked hard to land hundreds of millions of pounds for important city and growth deals.

As Ruth Davidson has put it, we’d all like to see 'more Union' from the UK Government, delivering for Scotland.

We are backing different candidates in the leadership election but there is no disagreement on what our new Prime Minister must do: put Scotland at the heart of the agenda and make our Union work even better.