By Michelle Ballantyne

Just like hard working Scottish Conservative activists across the country, I put my shoulder to the wheel in the 2019 general election

With so much hard graft from so many volunteers, I found it devastating that in the early hours of the 13th of December we lost some truly outstanding colleagues such as Kirstene Hair, Paul Masterston, Luke Graham, Colin Clark and Stephen Kerr who, during their tenure as MPs, put their heart and soul in to representing Scottish interests at Westminster.   

Bearing this in mind, it would be wrong to pat ourselves on the back for a result that saw our vote share fall since 2017 and saw us lose half of our seats. Serious lessons need to be learned from that night. There is no room for continuity or complacency. Change is needed. 

The Labour vote across Scotland collapsed. Many people who had voted Labour previously felt more comfortable voting for the nationalists than they did for the Scottish Conservatives and as a party we need to address this issue.

So far we have been so focussed on fighting the SNP, but with the death of Scottish Labour it is hugely important that the Scottish Conservatives offer a new home for the working people of Scotland.

I don’t just talk blue-collar. I am blue-collar.

I have first-hand experience of working on the front line of our NHS as a nurse. That is why I have immense pride in and love for our NHS. It is unbearable to witness under the SNP Government longer waiting times, under resourced health boards, increasingly stressed nurses and doctors because of complete political mismanagement.

I worked in the voluntary sector and headed up a drug and alcohol service for young people and offenders. I have served on school boards and been a trustee of charities supporting vulnerable families. I served as a Flight Lieutenant in the RAF VRT, I am currently the patron of a food bank with which I have been involved since its inception as well as being the managing trustee of an estate that was left in trust for the benefit of the community.

In 1990, my husband and I embarked on the challenging journey - aside from raising six children - of building a manufacturing company, one that has gone on to provide opportunity and stable employment. As a businesswoman, I appreciate the unique challenges that small and large businesses, and the people whose livelihoods depend on them, face on a daily basis.

If I am elected leader of the Scottish Conservatives, my political priorities will be ensuring that we all have a level playing field when it comes to opportunity. 

I want a truly blue-collar revolution that reshapes the priorities of the Scottish Parliament so that it delivers for working people across Scotland. Whether it’s keeping our streets safe, reviving the NHS or getting our trains back on track, it’s time that politicians made sure that our public services are centred around those who depend on them. I know that being an entrepreneur is tough, and that’s why I want to tear down the barriers that businesses face in Scotland so we can promote innovation, growth and secure jobs.

In the 2019 general election we saw Boris Johnson triumph over the Marxist Jeremy Corbyn in Dudley North, Bassetlaw, Bolsover and Great Grimsby. Twenty-four Labour strong hold seats in England and Wales elected Conservative MPs for the first time in a generation.

Having lived in one of the most deprived areas in the East End of London, I know that despite the SNP’s narrative, working communities north and south of the border, other than their location, are not all that different. Post-industrial working class communities in Central Scotland face the same challenges and hold the same aspirations as communities in the North East of England.

The success across England and Wales can be our success too. In those areas where the Conservatives broke through the Labour red wall, we pitched a truly aspirational blue-collar policy offering, which we failed to do in Scotland. We never gave Labour voters a positive reason to vote for us. 

It’s time for a full blue-blooded, blue-collar, offering. 

I am not a career politician. Whether you’re a public service worker, a businessperson or a parent who’s concerned about their children’s future, I have walked a mile in your shoes and I have first-hand experience of the challenges we all have to deal with in our daily lives.

Therefore, I believe I can start to build the bridge between our party and working people across Scotland.

I appreciate that it may be quicker and easier to simply coronate a new leader; however, I passionately believe that members deserve a contest. Placing power in the hands of our members will give the new leader the legitimacy and authority needed to move the Scottish Conservatives forward.

If we’re serious about defeating Nicola Sturgeon in 2021, then, as the recent general glection has shown us we cannot afford to back track on the progress we made in 2016 and 2017.

As a new leader, I believe I am best-placed candidate to take our party forward. To take us from being simply a party of opposition to a party of Government. I’m up for the fight. Come and join me!

Michelle Ballantyne is a Scottish Conservative leadership contender