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Davidson: our future depends on working class

SCOTTISH Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has reached out to "the everyday grafters of Scotland" in an attempt to broaden the appeal of her party among working-class voters.

REACH OUT: Scots Tory leader Ruth Davidson used her speech to rally the party faithful. Picture: Gordon Terris
REACH OUT: Scots Tory leader Ruth Davidson used her speech to rally the party faithful. Picture: Gordon Terris

In her keynote address to the party conference in Edinburgh yesterday she said the country's future depended on a strong working class and vowed to design policies for "hard-working people" if the Tories attained power at Holyrood.

Ms Davidson put reform of the country's education system at the top of her list of priorities but also confirmed a widely-trailed plan to recruit 1000 extra nurses, to be paid for by restoring prescription charges.

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The Conservatives will fight the next Holyrood election in 2016 on a pledge to charge £3 for prescriptions initially, rising eventually to £6.85, the level when they were abolished in 2011. The 50% of people who were exempt under the old system would continue to receive free medicines, she said.

But, rather than policy announcements, Ms Davidson devoted the bulk of her 30-minute speech at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre to rallying the party faithful and reaching out to potential new recruits.

She told an audience of about 400 supporters: "Our future prosperity will come from an economy built on a strong and growing working class.

"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 grafers of Scotland. Those hard working people who deserve a Scottish government that values them and their efforts."

In a reference to the Tories' long-standing pledge to use Holyrood tax-varying powers due to come into force in 2016 to cut income tax, she said people should be allowed to "keep as much as possible of what they have earned".

She also claimed Tory policies were in touch with working-class values. Inviting voters to discover their inner-Tory, she said: "If you believe in sound finances you're a Conservative. If you believe in personal freedom, personal choice and personal responsibility, you're a Conservative.

"If you believe in aspiration, in opportunity - that ambition and success are not dirty words but something worth striving for, then you're a Conservative.

"And if you value, cherish and believe unashamedly in family, country, in community."

She said anyone who believed in "rolling up your sleeves and getting stuck in" was a natural Conservative voter.

Urging them to join the party, she added: "More than just your vote, I want you."

The pitch came as Tory strategists are aiming to use the independence referendum campaign as a springboard to revitalise the party north of the border.

Unlike down south, working-class support for the Conservatives has been in steady decline since the 1950s but party chiefs hope robust Tory opposition to independence will attract new voters.

Rejecting a list of SNP policies at Holyrood, including moves to end the need for corroborating evidence in trials, she said: "Conservative common sense has never been more needed. We're here to fight for you."

She also defended Iain Duncan Smith's controversial welfare reforms, saying: "I back him all the way."

On education she called for families to be given greater choice over schooling and more rigorous exams.

Launching a fierce attack on the SNP Government's record she vowed to end "the monopoly of mediocrity," adding: "That means reforms to Scottish education of a scale not seen in our lifetime."

The Tories say the 1000 extra nurses and midwives would cost £30 million to £36m annually, and would be phased in from 2016. The remaining cash will be plugged into the party's plans to provide more access to health visitors.

Miss Davidson said: "Under the SNP, the number of nurses and midwives in Scotland has gone up and down like a fiddler's elbow.

"Two thousand posts gone over two years."

SNP Health Secretary Alex Neil claimed Ms Davidson's pledge to cut taxes while reintroducing prescription charges was "confused and contradictory".

"This speech was lost in its own contradictions," he said.

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