The Moray MP and Scottish Conservative leader reflects on the challenges and opportunities of the past year and the future
Douglas Ross, the MP for Moray and the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, has shared his thoughts on the year 2023 and his hopes for 2024 in an exclusive interview with our reporter. He spoke about the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the recovery of the economy, the constitutional debate, and his plans to make Scotland a better place to live, work, and raise a family.
Covid-19: A year of resilience and adaptation
Ross praised the efforts of the NHS staff, the key workers, and the volunteers who have been on the frontline of the fight against Covid-19, which has claimed more than 10,000 lives in Scotland since the outbreak began. He also acknowledged the sacrifices and hardships that people across the country have endured due to the lockdowns, restrictions, and social distancing measures.
“It has been a very difficult year for everyone, but I have been inspired by the resilience and adaptation of the Scottish people,” he said. “We have seen communities come together to support each other, businesses innovate and diversify, and individuals show kindness and compassion.”
He said that the vaccination programme, which has reached more than 90% of the adult population, has been a success story and a testament to the strength of the UK’s health service and scientific research. He also welcomed the easing of most Covid-19 rules in Scotland from December 27, which allowed people to celebrate Christmas and New Year with their loved ones.
However, he warned that the threat of the virus is not over yet, and urged people to remain cautious and follow the public health guidance. He said that the emergence of the new Omicron variant, which has been detected in more than 100 countries, poses a challenge for the global response to the pandemic.
“We cannot be complacent or take anything for granted. We have to be prepared for any changes in the situation and act accordingly,” he said. “We have to balance the need to protect lives and livelihoods, and ensure that our health service is not overwhelmed.”
He said that his party will continue to scrutinise the Scottish Government’s decisions and hold them to account for their handling of the pandemic. He also called for more transparency and consultation with the public and the parliament on any future measures.
“We have to make sure that the decisions are based on the best available evidence and data, and that they are proportionate and fair,” he said. “We have to avoid any unnecessary confusion and inconsistency, and give people and businesses as much clarity and certainty as possible.”
Economy: A year of recovery and growth
Ross said that one of his main priorities for 2024 is to support the recovery and growth of the Scottish economy, which has been severely hit by the pandemic. He said that the UK Government’s furlough scheme, which has supported more than one million jobs in Scotland, has been a lifeline for many workers and businesses. He also highlighted the UK Government’s investment in infrastructure, innovation, and skills, which has delivered more than £14 billion of additional funding for Scotland.
“We have seen the benefits of being part of a strong and stable United Kingdom, which has provided unprecedented levels of support and security for Scotland during this crisis,” he said. “We have also seen the opportunities of being part of a global Britain, which has secured trade deals with more than 80 countries, including Australia, Canada, and Japan.”
He said that his party will work to ensure that Scotland gets its fair share of the UK Government’s levelling up agenda, which aims to boost economic growth and social mobility across the country. He also said that his party will champion the interests of the key sectors of the Scottish economy, such as agriculture, fisheries, tourism, energy, and manufacturing.
“We have to make sure that Scotland is an attractive and competitive place to do business, and that we have the right policies and incentives to create jobs and wealth,” he said. “We have to support our rural and coastal communities, which have been neglected and ignored by the SNP. We have to harness our natural resources and our potential for renewable energy, and lead the transition to a net-zero economy.”
He said that his party will also focus on improving the skills and education of the Scottish workforce, which he said are essential for the future prosperity and wellbeing of the country. He said that his party will oppose any further cuts to college places, which have fallen by more than 120,000 since the SNP came to power. He also said that his party will address the decline in standards and attainment in Scottish schools, which have slipped behind the rest of the UK and the world.
“We have to invest in our human capital and our talent, and give people the opportunities and the tools to succeed,” he said. “We have to restore excellence and equity in our education system, and ensure that every child gets the best possible start in life.”
Constitution: A year of division and distraction
Ross said that another major challenge for 2024 is the constitutional debate, which he said has been a source of division and distraction for the Scottish Government and the Scottish people. He said that the SNP’s obsession with independence and a second referendum has undermined their focus and performance on the issues that matter most to the people, such as health, education, and justice.
“We have seen the SNP waste time and energy on their constitutional crusade, while failing to deliver on their promises and responsibilities,” he said. “We have seen them use the pandemic as an excuse to push their agenda, while ignoring the public’s priorities and preferences.”
He said that his party will continue to stand up for the majority of Scots who voted to remain part of the UK in 2014, and who do not want another divisive and disruptive referendum. He also said that his party will expose the flaws and risks of the SNP’s independence plans, which he said would entail higher taxes, deeper cuts, and a hard border with the rest of the UK.
“We have to make the positive and persuasive case for the Union, which has proven to be the best and most successful partnership of nations in history,” he said. “We have to show the benefits and advantages of being part of a family of nations that share values, interests, and opportunities.”
He said that his party will also seek to strengthen and enhance the devolution settlement, which he said has given Scotland more powers and autonomy than ever before. He said that his party will work constructively and cooperatively with the UK Government and the other devolved administrations to address the common challenges and opportunities that face the country.
“We have to make devolution work better for Scotland and the UK, and ensure that there is more collaboration and cooperation between the different levels of government,” he said. “We have to respect the democratic will of the people, and focus on the issues that unite us, not divide us.”
Vision: A year of change and hope
Ross said that his vision for 2024 is to make Scotland a better place to live, work, and raise a family. He said that his party will offer a positive and credible alternative to the SNP, and present a clear and comprehensive plan to improve the lives and livelihoods of the Scottish people.
“We have a vision of a Scotland that is strong, prosperous, and secure, within a United Kingdom that is strong, prosperous, and secure,” he said. “We have a vision of a Scotland that is confident, ambitious, and optimistic, and that plays a leading role in the world.”
He said that his party will listen to and represent the views and interests of all Scots, regardless of their background, beliefs, or preferences. He also said that his party will engage with and empower the civil society, the private sector, and the local authorities, and encourage more participation and involvement in the democratic process.
“We have a vision of a Scotland that is diverse, inclusive, and tolerant, and that respects and celebrates its rich and varied culture and heritage,” he said. “We have a vision of a Scotland that is compassionate, generous, and responsible, and that contributes to the common good and the global challenges.”
He said that his party will work hard to earn the trust and support of the Scottish people, and to deliver on their expectations and aspirations. He also said that his party will work with anyone who shares their vision and values, and who wants to make Scotland a better place.
“We have a vision of a Scotland that is ready for change and hope, and that deserves better than the SNP,” he said. “We have a vision of a Scotland that is the best place to be.”