Below is the address given by SNP Depute Leader and Leader at Westminster, Angus Robertson MP. Check against delivery.
It is a huge honour to be able to report on the work of the SNP at Westminster – the strong, united and effective opposition to the Tories in the House of Commons.
Make no doubt that with Labour in disarray, it is only the SNP that will stand up for Scotland against this right-wing Tory UK Government.
As we sought the votes of the people of Scotland in last year’s General Election, we promised then that we would be stronger for Scotland. And that is exactly what we have done.
If you hadn’t already noticed, it is SNP MPs who are leading from the front when it comes to the campaigns and causes that really matter.
Ian Blackford took up the cause of the Brain Family – Gregg, Kathryn and son Lachlan – who moved to Dingwall in 2011 on Kathryn Brain’s student visa, who wanted to stay and contribute to Scotland’s economy – but were told by the UK Government that they were not welcome here.
Ian was a formidable opponent to this patent nonsense from the Home Office, and working with our Scottish Government and our First Minister – Ian was successful in his campaign to win the right for the Brains to stay.
I am proud that we have MPs like Ian fighting for the people of Scotland
And I am proud that Gregg, Kathryn and Lachlan are here with us at SNP Conference today.
Let us show the Brain family a warm Conference welcome.
World conflict has led to an unprecedented displacement of people that is now a huge global challenge. And SNP MPs Joanna Cherry and Stuart McDonald have been at the forefront of efforts to pressure the UK Government to do more to help alleviate this humanitarian crisis.
There are almost 90,000 refugee children in Europe alone, without their families. But the UK Government would not commit to putting a number on how many children they would give a home in the UK.
Joanna and Stuart have visited the camp at Calais and seen the faces affected by this crisis. They have been relentless in their efforts to secure protection for these children and I know that they will continue their hard work to ensure that the UK Government takes a more human approach to this crisis.
Just last week, SNP MPs delivered petitions to the House of Commons supporting thousands of women in Scotland who will be affected by the UK Government’s unfair pension changes.
When Mhairi Black took up the cause of the WASPI women, she delivered one of the most impassioned speeches in the House of Commons. She rightly accused this Tory Government of the wrong priorities – of choosing to find billions of pounds for new nuclear weapons, instead of choosing to provide some security and dignity to women in their retirement.
It is Mhairi Black and the SNP that have put fair solutions on the table and the UK Government must act. Conference, we will never stop fighting for a fairer deal for the WASPI women.
And Conference, let us contrast the hard work of SNP MPs with the shambles of the Labour Party.
As David Cameron sought approval for a bombing campaign in Syria, it was the SNP that secured and led cross-party opposition to the plans whilst Labour fought with itself.
As Labour let the Tories away with writing a blank cheque for the renewal of Trident, it was the SNP that have been the principled opposition in Parliament.
When Labour had the opportunity to vote down the Tory’s austerity charter, they were found wanting. Only the SNP are clear and consistent in their opposition to Tory austerity.
And as we approach next month’s Autumn Statement – the SNP will continue to argue for an end to austerity that is damaging economic growth and public services, meaningful fiscal stimulus to mitigate against the impact of leaving the EU, and tangible support for our oil and gas industry. This is the Brexit recovery plan that the UK Government must deliver.
Indeed, an effective opposition to the Tories is more important now than ever before.
Conference, we are in a bleak Brexit Britain. And we are in the eye of the storm with the worst still to come.
In contrast to the work taken by our First Minister and the Scottish Government to reassure EU nationals living in Scotland, the UK government has referred to them as cards to be bargained with.
Their plan to “name and shame” firms by making them reveal what proportion of their workforce is foreign is deplorable and xenophobic. As the First Minister says, the fact that they now want to keep this information in secret lists will be of no consolation to anybody. And as much as Theresa May wants to run and hide from her record, how can we forget her infamous “Go Home” foreigners vans?
It is a disgrace that race and religious hate crime has increased in some parts of the UK by over 40 per cent. And Conference, let us be clear – those politicians that fuel a climate of xenophobia with their damaging policies and reckless words must accept their share of responsibility for this.
The SNP will always stand up against prejudice and hatred, and stand by those EU nationals that do us the honour of making Scotland their home and make such a valued contribution to our society.
And so conference that is why today I can confirm the SNP will be using our opposition day debate in the House of Commons next week to demand the UK government end this unacceptable situation right now and give EU nationals a cast iron guarantee that their status will be protected.
I am proud to say that Scotland is a welcoming, outward looking country. There are thousands of EU nationals who study at Scottish universities and they make up around 5% of the NHS workforce in Scotland. EU citizens who come to live and work in Scotland are also critical to key sectors of our economy. In Scotland, where employment is high, we require more people to come and work in Scotland and help our economy prosper. Over 12% of the people who work in our agricultural sector and 11% of people who work in our of our food, fish and meat processing sector are EU citizens.
Conference, those who come to live and work in Scotland contribute to our economy, and they make us richer and more diverse. Scotland is their home, and they are welcome here.
On the issues that matter to Scotland – the Tories aren’t listening. When they sought the votes of the people of Scotland to take us out of the EU, they made all kinds of promises that more powers – currently held by the EU – would come to Scotland. But yesterday in Westminster, the Tory Environment Minister told us “these policies are devolved now…but the general consensus is that there needs to be a UK wide framework”.
Conference, this is not just failing to meet their promise – the Tories are now talking about reverse devolution, about taking powers away from Scotland as part of their Brexit powergrab. And in her Conference speech, Theresa May said there will be “no opt-out from Brexit”. She said the UK Government would negotiate its departure from the EU “as one United Kingdom and we will leave the European Union as one United Kingdom.”
And Ruth Davidson, the Scottish Tory leader, reiterated that Scotland has “no veto” over the UK leaving the EU. This is despite being told in 2014 that we were an equal partner in this United Kingdom – it is time for Theresa May to prove it.
Scotland’s membership of the Single Market of 500 million people is vital to Scotland’s interest. With a significant rural economy, retaining access to CAP payments matters. With a reputation for punching above our weight in research, ensuring access to competitive research funding and the global collaborations that flow from it, matters.
For a country that needs to grow its population to help address skills gaps and deal with an ageing population, free movement of people, matters. All of that is now at risk – and it will be people who pay the price of this in real life if jobs, investment and living standards suffer as a result.
Take our financial services sector. Scotland has a distinguished history in banking that dates back over 300 years. We are one of Europe’s leading financial centres and the second financial hub in the UK outside of London. Over 150,000 people in Scotland are employed in financial services. The success of this industry which brings big jobs and big revenue to Scotland relies upon our membership of the Single Market. We cannot allow that to be threatened by the reckless behaviour of Theresa May and her right-wing Tory Government.
The alternative, Conference, is economic vandalism. The report by the Fraser of Allander Institute published last week made for spine-chilling reading – the real impact of leaving the EU is between 30,000 and 80,000 Scottish jobs lost, and our GDP 5% lower. It is clear that the Tories represent a clear and present danger to Scotland’s interests.
Theresa May says that options for keeping Scotland in the EU are ‘impractical’, that we’ve ‘had our referendum’ and that there will be a ‘UK approach’ to Brexit. She refuses to accept that for Scotland, remain means remain.
My message to the Prime Minister is this: If you continue to ignore the expressed will of the people of Scotland, if you refuse to even consider how we might protect Scotland’s place in the EU then be in no doubt – your days as Prime Minister of a UNITED Kingdom are numbered.
So Conference, let our message to the people of Scotland be this – whether you voted yes or you voted no in 2014, and whether you voted remain or you voted leave in 2016 – we know that you just want what is best for you, for your community, for Scotland. The SNP – at Holyrood and at Westminster – will stand up for Scotland’s interests first.