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Scottish Conservative leader praises "everyday grafters" at conference and confirms pledge to scrap free prescriptions

The Scottish Conservative leader has said future prosperity will be built on a strong and growing working class.

Ruth Davidson singled out the efforts of "everyday grafters" in a party conference speech in which she confirmed a pledge to hire more nurses by scrapping universally free prescriptions.

She also reflected on her proposals to shake up education to end a system she says traps children into lives of low expectations.

It was part of a closing speech at the party's conference in Edinburgh intending to show Conservative values are held by a "majority" in Scotland.

Offering her full support to UK Government welfare reforms, she said most people want change.

She claimed popular support for cutting the deficit and keeping immigration numbers down.

"Our future prosperity will come from an economy built on a strong and growing working class," she said.

"And when I say a strong working class, I mean anyone who gets up, goes to a job and earns a wage to support themselves and their families.

"The everyday grafters of Scotland. Those hard working people who deserve a Scottish government that values them and their efforts, who deserve a government that believes in letting them keep as much as possible of what they have earned.

"And it's not just a question of economics. Just as importantly, more importantly, it's a question of values."

She coupled Tory values with the aspirations of the general public.

"On the referendum, we are fighting to keep our Kingdom united and are backed by the majority of this country," she said.

"On welfare, we say work should always pay and that's what Scotland thinks too.

"On the economy, we're cutting the deficit and controlling spending because it is immoral to shackle our children with our debts. The country's onside.

"On immigration, we want the numbers down, so does Scotland.

"And on Europe we say let the people decide - and the polls show the public supports us."

Offering further support to the UK Government, she said: "I don't resile from Iain Duncan Smith's reforms one bit. I back him all the way."

Miss Davidson also pledged to tear up the existing SNP fee-free prescriptions policy, if her party gained power at Holyrood.

Intolerable pressure is being put on the NHS, she warned.

"That's why today I am able to announce the Scottish Conservatives will pledge an extra 1,000 nurses and midwives for Scotland. And, once introduced, we will not let numbers drop below that mark," she said.

"And we'll pay for it by restoring the prescription charge. Not for the young, the pensioner, the pregnant or the poor - they'll stay exempt as they always were.

"But for people who're earning, who are overwhelmingly happy to make their contribution, they will know that their small sum will make a world of difference in wards across the country."

She also called for a radical shake-up of education, repeating proposals she made shortly after becoming party leader in Scotland.

"I'm not saying this reform would be easy. But I am saying that change, based on our constructive Conservative approach, is essential," she said.

"We want to end the monopoly of mediocrity that traps too many Scottish kids into lives of low expectations.

"Not all children learn the same and they shouldn't all be taught the same.

"I want more choice for pupils and more power for parents.

"More power to select the right type of school for their children - an end to the postcode lottery which locks thousands into failing schools."

She said her party's fortunes are being turned around.

"Scotland sees that we are fighting tooth and nail to keep our country together and more than 80,000 people have joined Conservative Friends fo the Union to stand with us," she said.

"We've taken our message of fairness, responsibility, hard work and just reward to the doorsteps of this country and seen more and more people putting their cross in the box."

Her conference was dominated by the independence referendum, due on September 18.

She said: "I want you to go from this place and to tell the world that you are proud of being Scottish, but proud of Britain too, and that our United Kingdom, the nation we have built through blood and toil and sweat, will not be broken."

The Scottish Government has criticised the Conservative proposal to scrap free prescriptions.

Health Secretary Alex Neil said: "This is a ludicrous idea from Ruth Davidson which shows how far out of touch with people in Scotland the Tories still are. It is clear the Tories cannot be trusted with Scotland's health system.

"Thousands of people are benefiting from the abolition of prescription charges including many with long term conditions who otherwise might not get the treatment they need.

"Prescription charges were a tax on ill health, they prevent people getting the medication they need, damage their ability to work and can lead to an increase in the workload for hospitals, nurses and GPs.

"It is not a case of funding either prescriptions or nurses. In Scotland's NHS we can and will provide free prescriptions, pay our NHS staff a fair wage and protect an NHS free at the point of need.

"Even the Tories' numbers don't add up as they seem to have forgotten the cost of deciding who will be eligible for free prescriptions."

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Local government

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