Scottish Tories targeting budget gains to prove MPs' power

Scotland is set for new investment directly from the UK Government in next month's budget following lobbying from Scottish Conservative MPs, party sources have said.

Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson. Picture: AFP/Getty Images
Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

The group of 13 MPs is targeting areas that remain under the control of Whitehall to underline the benefit of the Union and cement gains in the northeast of Scotland and the Borders.

Specific areas where pressure is being exerted on the Treasury are understood to include rail infrastructure, support for decommissioning of North Sea oil infrastructure, and the Scottish whisky industry’s campaign to reverse the latest increase in spirit duty.

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By wielding its clout as a bloc within Theresa May’s minority government, the Scottish Conservative group has secured commitments ahead of November’s budget announcement by Philip Hammond, it has been claimed.

Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

A Scottish Conservative source said the group was prioritising specific investments rather than just creating Barnett consequentials in devolved areas like health, where the Scottish Government can take credit.

Ruth Davidson did not confirm any specific demands by Scottish Tory MPs, but said the Treasury “knows that it has to deliver for the whole of the UK”.

Speaking at the Conservative conference in Manchester, the party’s Scottish leader said: “We’re working hard to make sure that people understand the UK Government is delivering for the whole of the UK and the whole of Scotland.”

Ms Davidson met the Chancellor on his recent visit to Aberdeen, and said their talks were “about ensuring that he understands areas where the UK Government can make a real difference - and I think he does understand.”

Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson. Picture: AFP/Getty Images

A joint budget submission was handed into the Treasury by the Scottish Conservative group two weeks ago.

Scottish Conservatives at Westminster and Holyrood have been calling for a ‘Borderlands’ investment deal along the lines of city-region deals supported by successive Tory governments.

If approved by the Chancellor, the Borderlands initiative could boost the case for the extension of the Borders railway that runs from Edinburgh to Tweedbank to be extended to Carlisle.

John Lamont, the new MP for Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire has been campaigning for extension of the railway, and a feasibility study funded by Transport Scotland was announced earlier this year.

The Scottish Whisky Association has called for the reversal of a 3.9% increase in spirit duty imposed by Mr Hammond in March, arguing increased sales would boost tax revenue by £42 million per year.

Ms Davidson, whose father ran a distillery, said: “As a vodka drinker, spirits duty is something that’s very close to my own heart, and I always like to see it competitive.”

Yesterday the Scottish Conservative leader launched an expert commission that will feed ideas on stimulating the economy into her party’s ongoing policy review.

The Future Growth Council will focus on how to raise productivity in Scotland and will be chaired by Lord Dunlop, the peer who helped negotiate four city-region deals north of the border.

Members include Sir Iain McMillan, a former banker with TSB Group and director of CBI Scotland for 19 years, and leading Glasgow University economist Professor Ronald MacDonald, who has advised the IMF, the European Commission, and the World Bank.

Mr Dunlop, who stood down from his post as a junior Scotland Office minister in June, said the group would work with other parties to influence policy debate.

“The challenge is urgent,” he said. “Scottish public spending is now more reliant than ever on our own economic growth.

“And if we don’t keep the economy moving forward, we won’t have the money to pay for vital public services.”

Murdo Fraser, the shadow finance secretary, said the commission “demonstrates the scale of our ambition”.

“Having gone from being the 3rd party of Scottish politics to now looking to challenge the SNP to be in Government, Scottish Conservatives are looking to expand our policy offer in advance of the next Scottish elections.”