Scottish Conservatives launch policy assault they hope will topple SNP at Holyrood

Douglas Ross has launched a charm offensive on unionist and disillusioned SNP voters at the start of the Scottish Conservative conference.

Senior Conservatives including Douglas Ross will speak at the Scottish Conservative's conference tomorrow.

Mr Ross, speaking on Friday, said his party will commit to the removal of the ‘not proven’ verdict in the criminal courts and is expected to announce further policies later today.

Among them include the power for local communities to block unwanted planning proposals and a watering down of the ability of the Scottish Government to overturn decisions following an appeal.

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He will also announce the details of so-called ‘Community Investment Deals’ which could lead to business rates-free zones in town and city centres.

The conference, held virtually over the weekend for the first time due to Covid-19 restrictions, will also see keynote speeches from the Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the chancellor Rishi Sunak.

The Secretary of State for Scotland, Alister Jack, will also call on the Scottish Government to work more closely with the UK Government in helping the country recover economically from Covid-19.

Those speeches follow Mr Ross, speaking at event on Friday afternoon, continuing in his attempts to distance the Scottish arm of the party and himself from the Prime Minister.

Speaking during an interview with The Courier’s political editor Paul Malik, Mr Ross said it was “healthy” for different parts of a political party to disagree.

Responding to questions on Mr Johnson’s comments that devolution had been a “disaster”, Mr Ross insisted that the Prime Minister “believes in devolution”.

Mr Ross said: “He has frustrations that a lot of people in Scotland share about how our country has been run after 13 and a half years of the SNP being in power

"I don’t think it is the worst thing in the world for people to see and understand that people in the same party can look at things in different ways and actually we can work together, but it’s in the best interests of Scotland that we can challenge each other if we don’t think we’ve taken the right approach for Scotland.”

He also defended the Prime Minister’s and UK Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and said that both Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson’s popularity has plunged throughout the Covid-19 pandemic while the public’s view of Nicola Sturgeon’s handling of coronavirus has seen a surge in support for both independence and the SNP.

A YouGov survey last week saw a total of 79 per cent of Scots saying the First Minister has handled the pandemic well, while the same proportion said Mr Johnson has handled it badly.

Asked about his Prime Minister’s plunging popularity in Scotland, Mr Ross said both leaders had seen their approval ratings drop in recent months and said it was a reflection of the “tough” restrictions facing Scots.

Ahead of the conference, in an email to Scottish Conservative members, Mr Johnson said that Mr Ross is the “very personification of unionism”.

Mr Johnson is expected to call on Scots to back the Scottish Conservatives to stop the SNP and independence in his speech today.

In the email he said: "I’ll be thanking all the people of Scotland for their effort to tackle the virus, conveying my commitment to devolution despite the SNP’s abysmal handling of devolved powers and most importantly urging us all to come together to defeat the virus and build back better.

"In Douglas Ross we have a leader of our party in Scotland who is the very personification of unionism, someone who believes deeply in the United Kingdom and in fighting for Scotland’s best interests within that union.

"Under his leadership, the Scottish Conservatives will help to put aside the focus on separation and build the better and brighter future we all want for Scotland and the whole United Kingdom.”

In his keynote speech later today, Mr Ross will announce plans to give more power to local communities amid criticism that the SNP takes a too centralised view to Scotland which he will say has “undermined local decision making”.

He will say: “While they constantly complain to the UK about powers and cash, they have shamelessly grabbed both from local areas for 13 years.

“We need to target our investment towards creating good jobs in every part of our country.

“Which is why we would deliver a programme of Community Investment Deals to build new partnerships between communities and the UK and Scottish governments, partnerships where local people call more of the shots.”

Speaking on his plans to provide more power to communities on issues around planning, Mr Ross will say that new developments must be “improving, not damaging” communities.

He will say: “We would also give communities the power to prevent Scottish Ministers forcing a development on them that they don’t want. At the moment, there are too many examples where hundreds of local objections are dismissed.

“This is not about preventing development, it is about promoting development that benefits local areas.”

Scotland Secretary Alister Jack will also call on the SNP to honour its “once in a generation” independence referendum promise and for the Scottish Government to work more closely with their UK counterparts.

Labelling independence an “ideological obsession”, he will claim the SNP want to retain the Common Fisheries Policy and “hand back control to Brussels”.

He will say: “There are huge opportunities ahead of us. But to take full advantage of these we need the Scottish Government to match our ambition.

“Nationalist ministers continue to snub the Union Connectivity Review, claiming wrongly that it undermines devolution.

“And they are also dragging their heels in backing our Freeports plan, despite interest from a number of sites in Scotland.

“Sadly, it seems the SNP’s determination to start a row with Westminster outstrips their desire to support Scotland’s economy and Scottish jobs.

“SNP ministers need to take the batteries out of the grievance machine, stop stirring conflict with the UK Government, and seek to work with us instead."

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