The Scottish Conservatives have launched their 2024 election manifesto, in which leader Douglas Ross has pledged to be “laser-focused” on the public’s priorities.

The document sets out the party’s plans if it was to form a government.

The running theme throughout this manifesto is the Conservatives’ desire to beat the SNP.

It’s the strap-line on every page and there are 88 mentions of the nationalists in the 72 page document.

The party’s full title is the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party and standing up for the union is in its DNA.

Since the independence referendum, that has been to its electoral advantage at times, with the electorate voting tactically in some seats to signal opposition to independence.

Douglas Ross has been explicit. He wants what he calls the anti-independence majority to come together again to kick the SNP out.

In his speech, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak argued the issue of independence could be put on the back-burner for a generation if the SNP loses big.

He claimed voting Conservative was the way to beat the SNP, but while that might be the case in some key seats, in the majority the battle is actually between the SNP and the Labour party.

It doesn’t matter if the Conservatives win in Westminster, they will continue to be in opposition in Scotland.

And because health is a devolved issue, it means that bold promises in this manifesto by the Scottish Tories cannot be achieved.

The manifesto outlines plans to recruit 1000 additional GPs and ensure no-one waits over a week for an appointment. It says theatres and scanners will be used in the evening and weekends to cut down the record backlog waiting for care.

All of this will sound good to voters, but even if the Tories could make decisions on health in Scotland, it is hard to see how they could achieve their aims.

It takes around 10 years to fully train as a GP, and the numbers of full-time family doctors in Scotland has fallen slightly while demand has been going up. And to increase productivity in operating theatres would involve recruiting even more highly skilled staff.

Perhaps then, the Tories are attempting to shine a light on areas where they feel the SNP government in Holyrood is failing. Of course the SNP will blame the UK Conservative party for giving them less money to spend.

The manifesto reflects the Scottish Tory push against Holyrood centralisation, saying councils should have a guaranteed share of Holyrood’s budget (easily manipulated by handing over responsibilities too) and giving local authorities the final say on controversial housing and energy plans – a growing issue in the next Westminster Parliament.

Where immigration plays a significant part in the Britain-wide Tory pitch, it is adapted to address a different mood on the subject in Scotland. But not adapted by much. The document suggests Tories will look for ways to get immigrants to rural parts of Scotland facing de-population.

And on tax, they point towards a promise to re-align income tax in Scotland with that in the rest of the UK. Proposed abolition of the intermediate rate, worth up to £171 per taxpayer and only possible through the administration at Holyrood, is a signal of what would happen to other rates and threshholds. If that were to happen, it would effectively give away a key part of Holyrood’s budget flexibility.

This document is not required to add up. But if a Tory Chancellor were to apply the constraints signalled in the manifesto for the whole UK, it’s unlikely a Scottish Tory First Minister would have the funds to deliver on all that is promised.

And while much of this could only follow if the Tories won the next Holyrood election, there’s also the question of who will succeed Douglas Ross as Scottish Tory leader and as First Minister candidate in less than two years, as well as which direction and different priorities the new leader will set.

Education is a devolved matter. The buck stops at Holyrood when it comes to education policy and practice.

Yet two pages of the Scottish Conservative manifesto concern schools.

Their policies include providing a guarantee that all pupils should have the opportunity to study at least seven subjects in S4 – a response to concerns about how pupils at different schools can study for varying numbers of qualifications.

The manifesto also includes a commitment to improve teachers’ pay and conditions and give them more time to prepare for lessons.

All of this touches on an area where Westminster has no power in Scotland.

Rather, the Conservatives are hoping to highlight what they see as the SNP’s failures and what they would want to do at Holyrood after the 2026 election.

The borders between Scottish and UK politics can become blurred.

The Scottish Conservatives are desperate to show themselves as the party of the oil and gas sector but their manifesto repeats a now discredited figure around the future of jobs in the sector.

It suggests that Labour and the SNP are putting 100,000 Scottish jobs at risk by not fully backing future exploration licensing, as Tories are.

But the North Sea is a declining industry with oil rapidly running out and so jobs are continually being lost.

The industry’s own figures show that, at present, they employ about 60,000 people in Scotland, directly and indirectly. Even when you add in induced jobs like hospitality and retail, whose customers earn their crust from oil, that figure only jumps to 83,000.

Research from Robert Gordon University says the difference between the best and worst case scenarios is 27,000 oil and gas jobs – and that’s across the whole UK, not just Scotland.

Where the Conservatives agree with the other parties is on the need to ensure a fair energy transition for workers.

Culture and sport are last on the list in the Scottish Conservatives manifesto – but at least they get a mention – and recognition that they’re the core of national identity.

In it, they pledge to reopen heritage sites which have been closed since the pandemic and reverse cuts to Visit Scotland which would see all tourist information centres shut by 2026. They would also suspend the short term lets licensing scheme – which would please Edinburgh’s festivals which have struggled to find accommodation – but concern those campaigning for affordable housing all year round.

The Conservatives say they would launch a full review which they say would allow them to develop a new approach which would balance local housing needs with short term visitors.

They credit Tory tax incentives with the UK wide boom in film and high end television, and promise continued support for the entire creative sector but there’s little detail about how that would be achieved.

There are stern words for the BBC, with charter renewal not a done deal, and they pledge to introduce a new independent complaints process to prevent the BBC from “marking its own homework”.

The British press gets freer rein with a pledge to oppose state regulation and control of the press, including any attempt to bring forward a second Leveson enquiry or reopen a royal charter on self regulation of the press. The previous regulator, The Press Complaints commission was shut down before the previous Leveson report was published.

Newspapers are in decline and believe any regulation needs to focus on the vastly expanding digital media world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *