Thank you, Mr Speaker, for calling me to speak in this important debate. I am disappointed that time will not allow me to contribute to the debate on the intimidation of general election candidates. Nevertheless, I will contribute fully when the opportunity arises, drawing on my own experiences. I thank Pete Wishart, who is from a neighbouring constituency.
It is a great privilege to be here today, delivering my maiden speech and representing my home constituency of Angus. I pay tribute to my predecessor, Mike Weir, who served the people of Angus very well in his 16 years in the House. He was a prominent campaigner to save the local post offices in the constituency, and in the House he took on the role of Chief Whip for his party. I wish him all the very best in his future endeavours.
It would be remiss of me not to mention also the previous Conservative and Unionist MP for Angus, the late Lord Fraser of Carmyllie, as he was known after being ennobled in 1989. He was not just a great local voice for his area in this House, but had a remarkable legal career.
The diverse constituency of Angus, nestled north of Dundee and south of Aberdeenshire, incorporates the most beautiful, dramatic coastlines to the east and picturesque, tranquil glens to the north-west. The five main towns are Forfar, Kirriemuir, Montrose, Arbroath and Brechin, where I was born, brought up and educated. There are a number of villages and rural communities as well.
Unfortunately, it is the residents and businesses of those remote areas who have suffered most significantly from the lack of mobile and broadband coverage. With the current coverage roll-out being below the national average, it is unsurprising that this issue has emerged at every single constituency surgery I have held to date. I will use my voice here in Westminster to ensure that the Scottish Government deliver connectivity right across Angus, ensuring that residents and businesses are not left behind because of where they choose to reside and operate.
From my agricultural roots, I understand the importance of this industry to Angus and to Scotland. With the area producing 25% of Scottish soft fruit and 30% of the country’s potatoes, agriculture remains a significant contributor to the local economy. Local farmers understand the increasing importance of diversification and Angus is home to many successful projects, ranging from renewables to the first potato-based vodka, Ogilvy vodka, which is distilled locally near the village of Glamis.
Glamis itself incorporates the famous residence of Glamis castle, the childhood home of the late Queen Mother. I recently attended the annual Glamis prom, one of the many excellent events that are held in the grounds of the castle, attracting thousands of people from across Scotland.
Attractions across Angus entice tourists from far and wide, whether it is to visit the many historic houses and gardens, to try their hand at golf on some of the best known courses, or to get involved in a variety of outdoor pursuits. Montrose port will welcome its first cruise ship, which is due to dock next year—a further great boost for our local economy and tourism industry. Nevertheless, I am incredibly aware that there is a power of work to be done to further promote the area, to support the current offering and to ensure that no one slips north into Aberdeenshire without tasting a Forfar bridie en route.
The businesses throughout Angus range from the local to the global. We have engineering and manufacturing, oil and gas, textiles and a highly regarded food and drink offering. A host of global businesses operate across every corner of Angus in key sectors, including pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline; the Montrose textile manufacturer Wilkie in Kirriemuir; the marmalade, preserves and curds exporter Mackays in Arbroath; the textile innovator Don & Low in Forfar; and the design and engineering specialists Hydrus in Brechin. They are supported by a strong network of local businesses, which collectively are the lifeblood of our local economy, providing the jobs that Angus so desperately needs. As a Government, we must support them wherever possible, enabling both prosperity and longevity.
Angus has much to be proud of. However, like many places, it has concerns that my constituents have asked me to stand up and represent them on. The rate of unemployment, particularly among the youth, continues to lie above the national average due to several factors. The north-east oil and gas industry, which many residents in Angus rely on heavily, still has positivity, with new oil fields emerging, but the steady decline in recent years has had a large impact on the livelihoods of residents and on businesses throughout Angus. My north-east colleagues and I will work together with the industry wherever possible to support them.
As we face the challenge of Brexit, I am confident that the Scottish farming and fishing communities have the resilience to remain one of the key pillars of our economy. One of the greatest opportunities from Brexit is the chance to build a support system that works for Angus and for all areas of our United Kingdom.
The political landscape in Angus has demonstrated a clear shift in recent years. In the 2014 referendum on independence, we recorded an above average no vote. In the last three elections, there has been a considerable vote swing towards the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party. Those were strong messages to Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP that the time for constitutional trouble-making was over. Make no mistake, I and my Scottish Conservative, Scottish Labour and Scottish Liberal Democratic colleagues are as patriotic as my Scottish National party colleagues. We now need to ask them to remove the threat of uncertainty over Scotland’s economy and Scotland’s people. No ifs, no buts—a second divisive independence referendum should be taken off the table.
I remain optimistic for the future of Angus and the extensive Tay cities deal, which will directly support those who live and work in Angus. The planned £1.8 billion investment will include key programmes specifically for Angus, such as the Hospitalfield future plan; the Dundeecom public-private partnership, which will create a major decommissioning centre in Scotland; and, of course, the ambitious investment corridor from Montrose to the A90 that will enable the delivery of much-needed infrastructure, stimulating major economic growth in north Angus. I look forward to working with the UK Government and all stakeholders to drive forward the Tay cities deal and ensure that it delivers for Angus.
As the Member of Parliament for Angus, my mission is to ensure that I am the strongest of local champions, representing my home turf with the greatest of integrity and never with complacency. As a staunch Unionist, I will continue to fight with every fibre of my being to keep Scotland as part of our wonderful United Kingdom. Quite simply, we are stronger together and weaker apart. I would also like to make it clear that I am here to help all my constituents, no matter how or, indeed, if they voted. I very much look forward to standing up for Angus and for Scotland in this Chamber on many more occasions to come.