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Engagements

– in the Scottish Parliament on 16th March 2017.

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Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

1. To ask the First Minister what engagements she has planned for the rest of the day. (S5F-01028)

Photo of Nicola Sturgeon Nicola Sturgeon Scottish National Party

Following yesterday’s launch of the East Africa crisis appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee, the Scottish Government will donate £200,000 to the appeal. The funds will support agencies to provide vital food and water supplies and medical treatment to those who are affected by the famine in South Sudan that was declared by the United Nations on 20 February.

Later today, I will have engagements to take forward the Government’s programme for Scotland.

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

On behalf of my party and myself, I thank the First Minister for that answer and welcome the Scottish Government’s contribution.

How can the First Minister divert this country into another unwanted, divisive referendum when she cannot sort out issues in our local schools?

The First Minister:

The education secretary and I work to raise standards and close the attainment gap in our schools each and every single day. That will continue to be our priority.

On the wider issues, the reality here is quite simple: I want to give people in Scotland a choice over their own future. We know that change is coming; the European Union referendum last year made that change inevitable. We know that the Tories want to lead us off a hard Brexit cliff edge. The people of Scotland should not have to simply accept being told what their future should be by a Conservative Government that we do not support. Instead, we should have the chance to choose a better future, and that is a choice that I intend to give the people of Scotland.

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

I thank the First Minister for her answer to my question, but I wonder whether it would have been delivered in quite the same tone had she known that the question was not actually mine but was a question that was put to one of my MSPs earlier this week by a parent who contacted our office. That parent, like all parents at Deputy First Minister John Swinney’s local high school in Blairgowrie, received a letter from the school head earlier this week to see whether a relative could fill in to teach maths because of a lack of cover. The parent was furious to see, on the very same day, the First Minister of Scotland standing in Bute house, putting her job to one side and threatening to take Scotland back into another divisive referendum on independence.

When the First Minister meets parents who are frustrated with the decline in standards in schools, how does she explain to them that another referendum will help their child?

The First Minister:

Let me address the situation at Blairgowrie high school. As the education secretary has said many times in the chamber and outwith it, a number of different parts of the country and specific subjects are facing challenges with teacher recruitment. That is why we have increased the intake of students to initial teacher education and why we have expanded the range of routes into teaching to make the process faster for those individuals.

Blairgowrie high school is seeking to identify properly registered teachers to come in and teach maths; of course, the law says that teachers have to be properly registered.

We will continue to address the challenges in our education system, as we will continue to address challenges that exist in health, education or any other area. It is because the people of Scotland see us addressing those challenges that they continue to have confidence in this Government to run this country.

On the wider issue, I see it as part of my job to protect Scotland’s interests and to protect Scotland from the prospect of a hard Tory Brexit. The reality is that Ruth Davidson knows that Brexit will be a disaster. We know that because she told us that Brexit would be a disaster, but now she tells us that we simply have to accept Brexit—a hard Brexit—regardless of the consequences. Yesterday, we saw David Davis saying that the Tories have not even bothered to do an analysis of the costs of a hard Brexit. Luckily, analyses have been done by others, and we know that the path that the Tories are trying to take this country down could cost every household in the country more than £5,000.

The answer to Ruth Davidson’s questions about the impact on young people in our country is that the impact of Brexit on everybody in our country is going to be disastrous. That is why I have a duty to allow people the choice to opt for something better.

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

The truth is that a referendum will not help pupils in Scotland, it will not help patients to come off waiting lists, it will not help to solve the general practitioner crisis, and it will not cut violent crime; it will just take this Government away from the day job, which is supposed to be its focus.

Something else that parents are asking is how independence will help their school. This morning, we read that an independent Scotland would be £11 billion in the red and would need higher taxes, lower spending and increased borrowing just to fill the gap. The same warnings were given before 2014—warnings that the First Minister chose to ignore. Is it her policy to ignore the evidence once again and carry on regardless?

The First Minister:

Scotland has a deficit like the United Kingdom has a deficit. That is a deficit created on Westminster’s watch.

It is about time we had the tools and the ability to work our way out of deficits that Tory and Labour Governments have created in Scotland. [

Interruption

.]

Let us look at the alternative to independence, which is more Tory austerity, extending well into the next decade. Cuts to Scotland’s budget by the Tories by the end of this decade will be 10 per cent in real terms. Ruth Davidson talks about “the day job”. Yesterday, we saw the biggest U-turn from the Tories in decades, blowing a £2 billion hole in their budget. Because of Brexit, every household in the country could be facing a bill of £5,000.

I think that Scotland deserves a choice, and the choice is this: either to take control of our own finances to build, grow and innovate our way to a better future, or to allow the Tories to continue to make the same mistakes over and over again and make the situation worse.

Photo of Ruth Davidson Ruth Davidson Conservative

Earlier this week, the First Minister chose not to come before this Parliament to spell out her views on a referendum. I choose to put this Parliament first. [

Interruption

.]

The Scottish Conservatives reject the proposals that were set out by the First Minister on Monday. A referendum cannot happen when the people of Scotland have not been given the opportunity to see how our new relationship with the European Union is working, and should not take place when there is no clear political or public consent for it.

Our country does not want to go back to the divisions and uncertainty of the past few years. Another referendum campaign will not solve the challenges that this country will face. We do not want it; we do not need it. Why will she not listen? [

Interruption

.]

The First Minister:

I was elected as First Minister less than a year ago. [

Interruption

.]

Photo of Kenneth Macintosh Kenneth Macintosh Labour

That is enough, please. Order.

The First Minister:

They do not want to hear this, Presiding Officer.

I was elected as First Minister a year ago with the highest share of the constituency vote in the history of devolution, on a manifesto commitment that said that this Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum if the Tories tried to drag us out of Europe against our will. That 46 per cent share of the vote is 10 percentage points higher than the 36 per cent share that the Tories used to have the EU referendum in the first place. We hear from the Electoral Commission this morning that the vote share that they got in the 2015 election was rather dodgy. [

Interruption

.]

This Parliament has an independence majority in it. Ruth Davidson says that she wants to put this Parliament first. I issue a direct challenge to Ruth Davidson and to the Conservative Party: if, on Wednesday next week, this Parliament votes for an independence referendum to give the people of Scotland a choice over their own future, will the Conservatives respect the will of this Parliament, or are they running scared?