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Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross hinted his party could seek a coalition with Labour in a bid to oust the SNP from power at Holyrood. Mr Ross, who replaced Jackson Carlaw as party leader in August, said he would be willing to “work with anyone and everyone” to get Tory policies enacted.
The Scottish Conservatives won a record 31 MSPs in the 2016 Scottish elections, helping deny Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP a majority at Holyrood.
But Mr Ross said he wanted to take his party to “new heights in next year’s Scottish Parliament election” which will take place on May 6.
Speaking during the Scottish Conservative Conference, he stressed after being asked about a partnership: “I want to ensure that as many of the policies I am developing with my team right now can be enacted.
“I want to work with anyone and everyone to deliver the policies that will improve our education, will ensure our justice system is far fairer on the victims rather than the criminals, on ensuring it produces the jobs that people in Scotland need right now and will definitely need as we continue to face the consequences of this global pandemic.
“I will work with anyone and everyone on that issue.”
His comments came in an interview at the start of the Scottish Conservative conference, with Mr Ross telling the virtual event that nationalism was a greater threat to the union than socialism.
He said that Nicola Sturgeon and her party “want to separate Scotland from the rest of the United Kingdom”, making them “absolutely” a greater threat.
Speaking about the SNP, he said: “They want to tear us apart from our friends, our family and our colleagues in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
“This is a union that has delivered so much in the last 300 years, the most powerful economic and political union the world has seen. This is a union that delivers in times of crisis and in normal times as well.
“This is a union I am passionate about.
“This is a union that two million Scots voted to remain part of just six years ago, this is a union that can continue to deliver for Scotland and Scotland can continue to benefit from being part of.”
During a later speech, Mr Ross branded the SNP led Scottish Government a “false friend to devolution” and stressed they should hand money to councils.
As he outlined his vision for Scotland, he promised his party would bring forward legislation at Holyrood after next year’s election to ensure councils receive a “fair” share of the cash the Scottish Government gets.
This was part of a commitment to “stand up for those communities, villages and towns that have been left behind” by the SNP.”
He insisted that after 13 years in power in Edinburgh, the SNP had “produced slogans not policy” and “divided communities rather than empowered people”.
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Mr Ross said: “People across Scotland are looking at the state of our country and hoping things can be different.”
He criticised the Scottish Government for “constantly” complaining to the UK Government about cash and powers at the same time as they had “shamelessly grabbed both from local government for years.”
Mr Ross said: “From 2007 to 2019, the SNP Government’s budget increased by 16 percent but the grant they gave to councils increased by less than half of this, 7 percent, over the same period.
“This matters, because it means money taken away from local services like schools, roads and housing.”
As well as promising a new funding deal for Scotland’s 32 councils, he told the Scottish Conservative virtual conference that his party wanted to recruit 3,000 new teachers to improve education.
The Tories are also vowing to scrap Scotland’s controversial not proven verdict in trials and bring in tougher sentences for those who assault emergency service workers.
Mr Ross promised a series of community investment deals for Scotland, which would “build new partnerships between the UK and Scottish governments, councils and business to create good jobs”.
The Tory MP, who is hoping to return to Holyrood after the 2021 Scottish elections, insisted his party could represent the whole of the country.
He also noted that some in Ms Sturgeon’s party had said that a second independence referendum “could happen as early as next year”, despite “everything we have gone through and are still going through” as a result of COVID-19.
Criticising the SNP, he added: “They want Scottish politics to go back to the same old, worn-out arguments that we have been having for the last 13 years, to forget how we all pulled together in a time of crisis and focused on the things that really matter.”
But he argued: “Surely if ever there was a time to draw a line in our politics and to rethink our priorities, it is now.”
With communities “struggling” after more than a decade of SNP rule, the new Scottish Tory leader vowed: “Rebuilding our communities will be at the heart of my party’s agenda as we recover from this pandemic.”
On the partnership offer, Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard, however, dismissed Mr Ross and said: “In the week we learned that Boris Johnson and the Tories think devolution is a ‘disaster’, Douglas Ross has got a nerve to even suggest this.
“Boris Johnson and the Tories are the biggest threat to the future of the UK, and the biggest threat to everyone struggling as a result of their toxic policies.
“Under my leadership, Scottish Labour will be working to oppose Tory policies – and certainly not helping deliver them.”
Responding, SNP Depute Leader Keith Brown MSP, said: “This was an astonishing exercise in the denial of reality. In the fantasy world of the Scottish Tories, the past decade of calamitous Westminster austerity apparently did not happen.
“Douglas Ross also failed to recognise the unfolding disaster that is Brexit.
“His party are wholly responsible for dragging Scotland out of the EU – against our democratically expressed wishes – in the midst of unprecedented health and economic crises.
“Douglas Ross knows the union has failed Scotland and that’s why independence is becoming the settled will of the Scottish people.
“While voters across Scotland continue to place their trust in the SNP to deliver in their interests, the Tories continue to behave like Donald Trump – but they cannot stand in the way of democracy and the right of the Scottish people to choose our own future.”
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