Last night, I was at an event in London, discussing the benefits of United Kingdom aid with Bill Gates. I have no idea where Mr Gates stands on our constitutional future, but here is what he said about the UK aid effort:
“You are the reason that malaria deaths are down in entire villages, and lifesaving vaccines are now reaching kids in the most remote parts of the world.”
We are about to fight a general election campaign in which we know what the Scottish National Party’s message will be; that living in the UK under a Conservative Government will be “hell on earth”. Given the work that this country does around the world and the conditions that people face in other parts of the world, I ask the First Minister at the start of this campaign: does she really think that that is a fair description of life in this country?
Like Ruth Davidson, I support whole-heartedly the commitment to spending 0.7 per cent of gross domestic product on helping the world’s poorest communities. It is something that the SNP argued for long before it was ever a Tory commitment.
I heard Bill Gates’s comment last night. I also heard him in a number of interviews, and I heard him express concern, as others have expressed, that the Tory manifesto for the forthcoming election will drop the 0.7 per cent commitment. I welcome Ruth Davidson’s commitment, but will she assure the chamber today that the commitment will be in the UK Tory manifesto for the next election? No Tory UK minister has yet been willing to give that.
On the wider issue of the election, I think that the key issue is: who is going to stand up for Scotland against an increasingly hardline Tory Government? The Prime Minister herself has made it very clear that in this election her objective is to crush dissent so that she can do whatever she wants. People across Scotland have to be clear: there is no safe tactical Tory vote at this election. We have seen the damage that Tories do with a small majority—[
.] I know that they do not want to hear this, but with a small majority, the Tories have cut Scotland’s budget, have imposed the bedroom tax, the rape clause and cuts to disabled support and have robbed women of their pension entitlement. Let us think about the damage that a Tory Government could do with a bigger majority. If the thought of a one-party Tory stranglehold at Westminster horrifies, and if we want effective opposition in Scotland, that opposition can come only from the SNP.
Let us get back to the SNP’s contribution. I quote:
“Hell on earth. Eternal damnation in a bottomless pit”.
Those are direct quotes from the First Minister’s back bencher Joan McAlpine, writing about life in the UK in a national newspaper this week. On the one hand, we have people such as Bill Gates talking about the brilliant work that his foundation is doing alongside British aid workers and the summit that his wife is hosting this summer with the UK Government to support millions more women and girls in getting access to contraception, and on the other, we have Nicola Sturgeon’s colleagues writing offensive and negative trash about our country. Who does the First Minister stand with: Bill Gates or Joan McAlpine?
I will say a number of things to that. First, Ruth Davidson says that Theresa May has given the commitment. Well, the morning after she called the general election, Theresa May was on the radio and was challenged to commit to putting the 0.7 per cent commitment in the manifesto. She would not do it. She was challenged to do something else; she was challenged to say that the Tories would have a commitment to the triple lock on pensions in the manifesto, and she would not do that, either. I think that we should look very closely at the commitments that the Tories make and those that they do not make at this election.
Secondly, I support the work that DFID does around the world, and I am proud of the work that this Government does in Malawi and other countries around the world, too, helping women to get contraception as well as many other things. But do you know what I find utterly abhorrent? That, as DFID does things like that overseas, at home the Tory Government is forcing women to prove that they have been raped before they get access to benefits for their children.
I will give Ruth Davidson a chance to do today what she has shamefully refused to do so far. Do not pass the buck. Stand up here today, tell the chamber and tell Scotland straight: do you support the rape clause in principle, or do you, like me, think it is utterly abhorrent? Answer the question.
The truth is that the First Minister is always happier complaining about the UK Government than she is doing anything herself. The way that the SNP is readying itself to pour negativity on this country at this election is shameful.
She might not like it, but Scotland is part of this United Kingdom. If the First Minister really wants to set out her stall at this election, is a practical vision of how she is governing Scotland not the very least that we should all expect—or, given how education and the economy are going, is she banking on the fact that Scots just will not buy it?
Shame—shame on Ruth Davidson and shame on the Conservatives. We have just seen the true colours of Ruth Davidson and the Conservatives. Given the opportunity to stand up and clearly join others in the chamber to say that the rape clause—a clause that forces a woman to prove that she has been raped before claiming benefits for her children—is morally and in principle wrong, Ruth Davidson refuses to do so. That is utterly shameful. It brings into sharp focus the key issue at the heart of the general election.
I ask people to think about this. The rape clause has been introduced by a Tory Government at Westminster with a tiny majority. If that is what a Tory Government can do with a tiny majority, let us just think of the damage that an unfettered, out-of-control Tory Government can do with a bigger majority. If people in Scotland want protection against a Tory Government—
I f people in Scotland want an effective, strong opposition to a Tory Government, th ey will not get it from unelectable Labour, and they will not get it from the Lib Dems, who still say that they would support a Tory Government; they will only get it from the SNP, and Scotland needs protection from the Tories.
In the weeks ahead, members on these benches will set out our vision of a United Kingdom that is a force for good in the world, and we will stand up for Scotland’s decision to stay in the United Kingdom. We will say no to a second referendum, so that Scotland can get on with building better schools and better public services.
What about the SNP’s plans? The First Minister’s very first intervention in the election has been to say that she would put Jeremy Corbyn in number 10. Is that because, uniquely, the First Minister sees in Mr Corbyn the wisdom, the foresight and the leadership skills that are needed in a Prime Minister, or could it possibly be because, in his own words, Jeremy Corbyn is “absolutely fine” with another referendum on independence? Is that the alliance that she was really seeking when she was down in London?
This is pretty tired stuff from the Tories. We only have to take one look at the polls to know that Jeremy Corbyn ain’t going anywhere near number 10 Downing Street—on his own or with the help of anybody else.
That brings us back to the core issue. Because of the unelectability of Labour, Scotland faces the prospect of an unfettered, out-of-control Tory Government, and we know the damage that that can do to Scotland, to our budget, to the vulnerable, to pensions and to our economy. That is the choice for Scotland—to vote SNP to make sure that Scotland’s voice is heard and that Scotland has protection against the Tories. The problem for Ruth Davidson, as she has clearly set out today, is that Scotland knows the Tory vision for Scotland—the rape clause, penalising the vulnerable, taking Motability vehicles away from disabled people. People across Scotland know the vision and the programme of the Tories, and that is why people in Scotland know that if they want protection against that Tory vision, they must vote SNP.