This is my first opportunity in the chamber since the cowardly attack in London last Saturday night to record my horror at what happened, and to offer my deepest sympathies to all those affected.
My thoughts and, I am sure, the thoughts of the whole Parliament are with those who lost their loved ones on Saturday night, and all those who sustained injuries.
Later today I will have engagements to take forward the Government’s programme for Scotland.
Actually, I do believe that. Of course, the conversation that Ruth Davidson is alluding to was taken from the private sphere into the public sphere not by me, but by Kezia Dugdale. The fact of the conversation and a very selective account of its content were first put in the public domain on 23 February in
, which said
“Ms Dugdale reveals she held secret talks with” the First Minister. That is what gave me the ability to talk about it. Of course, the part of the conversation that Kezia Dugdale did not refer to was the part that I spoke about last night, which I stand by 100 per cent.
Let me get to the nub of the matter. The nub of the matter is that all the Opposition parties in this Parliament have tried in this election campaign to use the issue of an independence referendum as a smokescreen. In the Tories’ case, it is because they do not want to talk about their toxic policies—toxic policies such as the rape clause, which made Ruth Davidson squirm so much last night, and toxic policies such as austerity cuts, extreme Brexit and, of course, removal of the rights of pensioners.
The key question tomorrow is how we stop the Tories getting a stronger hand to do more damage to Scotland. Let us make sure that we do not boost Theresa May’s majority; let us make sure that we send strong SNP MPs to stand up for Scotland.
She is rolling back today, but everybody now knows not to have a private chat with the First Minister, because if it suits her purposes, everybody will get to hear about it.
We are still left with the big question. The First Minister says that Kezia Dugdale told her that she would drop Labour’s opposition to an independence referendum, and Kezia Dugdale says that it is all a pack of lies. They cannot both be right, so which one is it?
People should think twice, of course, about having any conversation with Ruth Davidson, because if her Twitter account is anything to go by, she records it for later use—although I note that that tweet was hastily deleted overnight.
I stand by what I said last night 100 per cent. In fact, if anybody reads what Labour and Kezia Dugdale were saying in public around that time, they will hear the ring of truth about what I said: Labour itself was saying that all options, including an independence referendum, were under consideration. That is the reality; it is on the record. There is an article on Labour’s website even today confirming that.
This comes back to the heart of the matter. All the other parties in the Parliament want to avoid the real issue in the election tomorrow. The real issue is this: the only way in Scotland to stop the Tories tightening their grip and getting a bigger majority to do what they want in Scotland, is to vote SNP. Labour is not strong enough to take on the Tories, any more. It is not so long ago that Kezia Dugdale seemed to be advising people in parts of Scotland to vote Tory in the election. Anyone who wants to take on the Tories and ensure that Scotland has, in the House of Commons, strong voices standing against austerity and standing up for Scotland, should vote SNP tomorrow.
The truth is that we do not need the First Minister to tell us what we already know, which is that the Labour Party cannot be trusted to stand up to the SNP. It is not just Kezia Dugdale—Jeremy Corbyn is even worse. She says, “You can have your indyref,” and he says, “Absolutely fine.”
The First Minister has dragged Kezia Dugdale on to her ground. Given what she has seen of Mr Corbyn, how would she rate her chances of success with him?
My focus today and tomorrow is to persuade as many people across Scotland as I can of this: the only way to stop Theresa May—who is on the ropes in this election—getting a bigger majority is to make sure that we do not send Tory MPs to boost that majority and strengthen her hand. Let us make sure tomorrow that we send SNP MPs to the House of Commons to stand up for Scotland and make our voice heard.
The past 24 hours have set out the choice that people face at the polls. With the SNP, it is straight back to another divisive referendum on independence; with Labour, it is, “I’m not sure; I’ll phone a friend and see what she says”; and with us, it is clear: no to a second referendum, no to more uncertainty and no to the division that it would cause our country.
I have listened to the people of Scotland, and they do not want the First Minister’s referendum. For pity’s sake, let it go.
Actually, there is something that I can at last agree with Ruth Davidson on. The past 24 hours—indeed, the duration of this election campaign—have set out clearly the choice for the people of Scotland. If people in Scotland vote for Tory MPs tomorrow, they are voting for MPs who will go to the House of Commons and vote for policies including the rape clause, who will vote for more benefit cuts, for more austerity cuts and for the dementia tax. They will vote to take away the winter fuel allowance and to take away the pension triple lock. That is what people will get if they send Tory MPs to Westminster.
On the other hand, if we send strong SNP voices to Westminster, we will get MPs who will stand against austerity, who will stand up for pensioners and who will stand against more cuts that punish the poorest people in our society. The only way to stop the Tories in Scotland is to vote SNP tomorrow.