The Tories have let down rural Scotland

By , 04/02/18

Following last year’s General Election, Scottish Tories were quick to proclaim that they would “champion the Scottish national interest” at Westminster. The reality has been very different.


The Scottish Secretary has failed to deliver on promise after promise to Scotland. In Westminster, as in Holyrood, the Tories have shown that they will hold the party line whatever the cost to Scotland.


Here are just some of the ways the Tories have let down rural Scotland.


1. Failing rural communities on mobile internet coverage.


Mobile connectivity is reserved to Westminster. A new report has found that just 17 per cent of Scotland’s landmass has 4G coverage, compared to 60 per cent across the UK.


Many countries, like Germany, have required companies to prioritise rural areas through licensing but the Tory government has refused SNP demands to take this approach here.


2. Slow progress on broadband - with the Scottish government picking up the slack


Broadband is reserved to Westminster but Scotland wouldn’t have made significant progress without the Scottish Government’s efforts.


Without the SNP government’s investment in broadband, fibre coverage would have covered just 66 per cent of Scottish premises - with just 21 per cent coverage in the Highlands and
no coverage at all on Na H-Eileanan an Iar, Orkney or Shetland.


In reality, by the end of 2017, 95 per cent of premises in Scotland had access to fibre broadband. We will now go further. Over the next four years we will invest £600 million in delivering superfast broadband to 100 per cent of properties by 2021.


3. Putting jobs in the food sector at risk in Brexit talks


Scotland didn’t vote for Brexit but if the UK is to leave Europe, we want the best deal for Scotland. So far it looks like the UK government will get a bad deal, or no deal at all. That would put thousands of jobs at risk across Scotland, particularly in our food and drink sector.


Norway’s deal with the EU points the way forward. Norway is not a member of the EU but, in almost all areas, Norwegian businesses trade across the EU without extra charges or barriers. The UK government should take this approach and keep the UK in the Single Market.


4. No action to support the South of Scotland economy


While the Scottish Government is investing £10 million to set up a new agency to support businesses and jobs in the South of Scotland - the UK government has promised nothing more than talks on a region deal.


5. Sitting on their hands as RBS close the last bank in town


RBS plans to close 62 branches across Scotland, leaving 13 Scottish towns with no local bank at all. While taxpayers still own the majority of shares in RBS, the Prime Minister has refused to intervene.


6. Slow progress on rip-off delivery charges


People living in rural Scotland, particularly in the Highlands and Islands, face unfair additional delivery charges.


For too long the UK government has dragged its feet on the issue. Now, thanks to the campaigning of Richard Lochhead MSP and Drew Hendry MP, the UK government has pledged a review of rip-off delivery charges.


7. Failure to defend Scotland’s farming and fishing powers


Some powers that will be returned from the EU after Brexit, like support for farmers or control of our seas, fall within areas that are the responsibility of Holyrood.


The EU Withdrawal Bill will return powers solely to Westminster and prevent Holyrood passing laws in areas where powers are returned - and would even allow UK Ministers to make changes in devolved areas without consulting Holyrood.


The Scottish Secretary promised that amendments would be debated in the House of Commons so that the Bill respected devolution. This promise has been broken but that didn’t stop all 13 Scottish Tory MPs voting for the Bill.


8. Selling out our fishing industry


When the Tories took the UK into the European Community, our fishing industry was treated as ‘expendable’. We will not allow the Tories to do the same as they negotiate Brexit.


We will continue in all circumstances to demand the scrapping or fundamental reform of the Common Fisheries Policy and support Scottish control of Scottish fisheries.


9. Cutting the money available for public services


Whether we live in Wick or Wigtown, we all rely on public services every day. Yet this year, the Tory government at Westminster chose to continue cuts to funding for public services in Scotland.


By making Income Tax fairer, the SNP Scottish budget will reverse these cuts and invest in our schools and local health services. And we will continue to reject Scottish Tory proposals for tax cuts for the rich, which would require a cut to public services of half a billion.


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