Douglas Ross to unveil Scots Tories' manifesto with call to halt 'reckless and dangerous' independence referendum

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Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross - PA
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross - PA

Douglas Ross will on Monday call on pro-UK voters to unite behind the Scottish Tories to prevent "reckless and dangerous" SNP plans for a new independence referendum.

The Scottish Tory leader will unveil pledges including a £600m one-off funding boost to the NHS to help the health service tackle a treatment and diagnosis backlog caused by the pandemic, when he unveils his manifesto for the Holyrood elections.

He will attack the SNP for presenting a “fantasy wish-list” to voters in their manifesto last week, which included free bikes for children, an end to NHS dentist charges and large increases to welfare payments. In contrast, Tory policies are expected to be fully-costed with a detailed breakdown of their price tags to be released alongside the manifesto.

Mr Ross will claim both Labour and the LibDems are too weak to stand up to Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP.

Writing in Monday’s Daily Telegraph, he also took a thinly veiled swipe at George Galloway’s All For Unity outfit, warning voters not to be taken in by “snake oil rhetoric from fringe parties which purport to be pro-union”.

The Tories have put their opposition to another independence referendum at the heart of their campaign in an attempt to repeat Ruth Davidson’s success in 2016, when the party more than doubled its seats, helping to deprive the SNP of a majority.

However, the SNP claimed Tory vows to block another referendum were “utterly undemocratic” and “betrays the weakness of their position” over the Union.

Mr Ross will claim the Tory manifesto would have a “laser-focus on Scotland’s recovery and what needs to happen to get the country back on track”.

He is expected to say: “This is a Scottish Conservative manifesto that, at its heart, secures and accelerates our recovery from coronavirus.

“It celebrates that we are Better Together, as the furlough scheme has proven by protecting a million Scottish jobs and the vaccine scheme is showing by putting life-changing jags in the arms of more than 2.6 million Scots.

“But we cannot rebuild Scotland if we are crippled by the threat of an independence referendum.”

Ms Sturgeon has said she wants to hold a new referendum by 2023 and has insisted Boris Johnson will cave in to demands to hold a new vote if a pro-independence parliament is elected next month.

However, Mr Ross will describe the SNP proposals as “the height of recklessness” and will say a new referendum “would derail Scotland’s recovery and send our economy spiralling into chaos, just when we need stability most”.

The manifesto will include proposals for a £600m one-off NHS boost over the next year to tackle the treatment backlog that has spiralled as a result of disruption caused by coronavirus, over and above a commitment to increase general health spending by at least £2bn.

The party will propose that the fund is managed independent of government, overseen entirely by a task force of clinicians.

In a pitch to rural Scotland, Mr Ross will also set out plans to outlaw “rip-off” delivery charges to more remote parts of the country and offer a series of Community Investment Deals worth up to £25million each to help rural areas bounce back after the pandemic.

The party will pledge to work in partnership with businesses to cut down on waste and promote recycling, proposing a new law that would set targets for reducing use of single use or non-recyclable materials. Overall, 15 proposed new laws will be included in the manifesto.

The Tories will also propose scrapping the SNP’s controversial hate crime bill, call for economic development agencies to be set up in every region, outline plans for the biggest social housebuilding drive since devolution and pledge to set up a national tutoring programme to tackle the attainment gap.

Mr Ross will add: “If pro-UK voters come together and unite to use their party list votes for the Scottish Conservatives, we will stop an SNP majority, stop them taking their eye off the ball any longer, and deliver a Scottish Parliament 100 per cent focussed on Covid recovery and rebuilding Scotland.”

Opinion polls suggest that the SNP is currently on course to comfortably win the May 6 election, although whether the party will claim an outright majority is in the balance.

Ms Sturgeon will claim a mandate for a new referendum even if the SNP falls short of a majority, as long as a pro-independence majority is returned with the help of the Scottish Greens or Alex Salmond’s Alba Party.

Keith Brown, the SNP’s deputy leader, said: “The Tory strategy for trying to block a referendum on independence is utterly undemocratic.

“It’s clear that Douglas Ross and his party have no route through the pandemic, no vision for recovery, no ambition, no intention of setting out a detailed plan on how they would run Scotland and offer no leadership.

"That is irresponsible and disrespectful to voters, who deserve better from the Tories than a long list of things they are against and virtually nothing about what they are for.”