Andrew Stephenson is Conservative Party Chairman and MP for Pendle.
With the hustings tour last week bringing us to Scotland and Northern Ireland, the topic of our Union was front of mind. With fresh agitation from Nicola Sturgeon for a second independence referendum and Sinn Fein winning the most seats at the last Stormont elections, the future of our Union is under constant threat. As the Conservative and Unionist Party, we must never stop banging the drum for the benefits of our Union, the most successful political union in history. Indeed, that was why we felt it important to bring the hustings in person to Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales.
And indeed just this week, the latest Government Expenditure & Revenue Scotland figures show the Union dividend, the combined value of Scotland’s higher spending against its lower revenues, hit a record high of £2,184 per person, once again showing the benefits of being part of our UK.
I spent two days in Scotland last week, visiting David Duguid MP in Banff and Buchan, the Conservative constituency furthest away from Westminster; Andrew Bowie MP in West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine, and our Scottish leader Douglas Ross MP MSP in Clochan, where we spoke about his work to hold the SNP’s government to account and bring down the unacceptably high number of drug deaths in Scotland.
I was also out on the campaign trail in Edinburgh with our Scottish Party Chairman Craig Hoy MSP and newly elected Councillor Christopher Cowdy in Craiglockhart. I saw first hand the good work our MPs, MSPs, councillors, and activists are doing on the ground in Scotland and why it is so important we continue to fight to have as big a presence as possible north of the border, holding the SNP to account. And we are making progress – in local elections in May, the Scottish Conservatives stood more candidates than ever before in a single transferable vote election and was the only party to contest every ward in mainland Scotland – securing gains in local authorities such as Dumfries & Galloway, Moray and Aberdeenshire.
And we recently launched our UK-wide 80/20 target seats campaign for Scotland in Edinburgh to ensure we can win more seats at the next General Election. Because on everything from health to education, Scotland is being let down by the nationalists.
On the topic of Scottish nationalists, I must condemn the disgusting behaviour of nationalist protestors outside our hustings in Perth. I witnessed ‘scum’ being screamed at pensioners and young women, an elderly lady hit with an egg, and other members have reported being spat at when walking in. It was utterly vile, and while I notice Nicola Sturgeon has apologised for the abuse a BBC journalist suffered at the hands of her supporters in Perth, she has refused to utter a word of condemnation of the abuse hurled at our members simply for attending a hustings. Her silence is tacit approval and she should be ashamed. Typical of the character of our members in Scotland, they refused to be cowed by such repulsive tactics.
In Northern Ireland, our members were in good voice and put both the candidates through their paces with good questions. This builds on the successful conventions being organised by the Party for our members in Northern Ireland, and a reception held with the Prime Minister. While we don’t yet have any MPs elected here, we will never turn our back on Northern Ireland and will keep building our presence, recently establishing the role of Head of Field Operations for Northern Ireland. With next year marking the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, it is incumbent on all of us to work together to ensure continued peace and prosperity for all communities there.
In Wales, where I was out campaigning over the weekend, we have been getting on with the work of implementing the recommendations from Lord McInnes’ review. We’ve opened a new and improved, bigger HQ in Cardiff as well as a brand new office in Abergele, North Wales. Just as with the SNP in Scotland, Labour’s administration in Wales is failing Welsh people. From the health service to Labour’s absurd proposals for a tourism tax, the Welsh Conservatives are rightfully holding Mark Drakeford to account. It was great to join Dr James Davies MP and Sarah Atherton MP out on the doorstep in their constituencies and Fay Jones MP and James Evans MS at the Llyswen and Boughrood Show.
While voices of separation attempt to split us apart, there are matters more pressing to ordinary people’s lives that we can and must work on together. Energy prices will be at the forefront of everyone’s mind at the moment, and Scotland and Wales have a long history in energy production. Whether it be joint investments in offshore wind in the Highlands or new floating offshore technology at Pembroke Dock, UK government investment in Scotland and Wales’ tidal power to new licenses for gas extraction in the North Sea, working together we can and will improve our energy security for years to come.
My time spent last week across the countries of our United Kingdom illustrated once again the importance of our Union and why we as Conservatives, from activists to councillors to MPs, must never stop knocking those doors and making the case for our precious partnership of nations.