Scotland Election 2016

Holyrood 2016: Conservative manifesto pledges 'strong opposition' to SNP

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Media captionScottish Conservatives publish manifesto for Holyrood election

The Scottish Conservatives have pledged to provide "strong opposition" to the SNP as the party launched its manifesto for the Holyrood election.

The manifesto accuses the SNP of "trying to drag the country backwards" and says it is time to move on from the independence referendum.

It also sets out plans to build 100,000 new homes across Scotland over the next five years.

And it includes a £1bn pledge to improve energy efficiency in homes.

The Conservatives have set their sights on replacing Labour as Holyrood's main opposition party on 5 May, with polls suggesting the SNP is on course for a third successive term in government.

Speaking as she launched the manifesto at an event in Glasgow, Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said she knew the chances of her becoming first minister after the election were "next to nil" and that the SNP

But she insisted she was the "only one who can stand up to the SNP", and argued that Labour had had "nine years, six leaders, and no success in holding the SNP to account".

Image copyright PA
Image caption Ruth Davidson with Scottish Conservative Party candidates for Holyrood 2016

Instead, she said: "I seek to lead a strong opposition to the SNP. And this manifesto today sets out how.

"So it isn't a programme for government - it is a programme for that strong opposition. It sets out how we intend to challenge the SNP in the event that they are returned for a third term in office."

Ms Davidson claimed the SNP was "arrogantly passing bad laws" knowing Labour would complain but ultimately "bend the knee".

She said she would start a positive and "patient" campaign for Scotland to stay in the UK, with no more "Project Fear" tactics - a reference to criticism of methods used by the Better Together campaign ahead of the 2014 referendum.

'The case for independence is dead'

Ms Davidson insisted there were no "so-called indyref triggers that justify another referendum", but admitted: "Too often we have failed to make the case for why our family of nations works.

"And the legacy from the referendum is that we on the pro-UK side have allowed 'No thanks' to be seen as a constant negative.

"If we are to counter the SNP's misinformation, this must change. The case for independence is dead. The case for the Union must now be made.

"Our aim must be clear - we want to listen, to learn and to convince people who voted to leave the United Kingdom that a Scotland within it can meet their aspirations and ambitions."

Ms Davidson also stated her belief that strong opposition leads to better government, and that her party could be a "new voice in the land".

Analysis by BBC Scotland political reporter Philip Sim

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Ruth Davidson's name was a common theme at the Tory manifesto launch

Attendees might have been forgiven for thinking they had attended the launch of the Ruth Davidson Party.

The Scottish Conservatives clearly know their leader is popular, and a key selling point for them in May's election.

On the backdrop, on the lectern, projected on the walls and emblazoned on every manifesto - 'Ruth Davidson' was absolutely everywhere at the Tory manifesto launch, with the name of the party she leads noticeably more absent.

It might have looked more like a presidential campaign launch than a party one, but when Ms Davidson addressed her candidates and activists, she wasn't making a pitch for the top job in Scottish politics.

Whereas Kezia Dugdale insists she wants Nicola Sturgeon's chair, Ms Davidson is more eager to take the Labour leader's place at the head of the official opposition.

To that end, she was open about setting out a programme for opposition, rather than one for government.

Her opponents say this is simply a cop-out, to avoid having to come up with detailed plans for how Scotland would be run under a Tory government.

As for Ms Davidson, she might have had her eye on future sparring sessions at First Minister's Questions when she said she wouldn't "carp from the sidelines" - a favourite rebuttal of Ms Sturgeon's during recent Thursday encounters - but rather offer real scrutiny and alternatives to what she says will inevitably be an SNP administration.

The Conservative manifesto underlines the party's commitment to ensuring taxes in Scotland are no higher than elsewhere in the UK.

This a key fault line between the Tories and the other main Holyrood parties, who have all called for income tax rates to be increased to varying degrees once powers are handed to the Scottish Parliament next year.

The manifesto also pledges to scrap the Scottish government's controversial named person scheme, with Ms Davidson predicting opponents of the scheme would "win ground" over the summer.

It commits the party to opposing a second referendum on independence over the course of the next parliament.

And it opposes the current policies of free university tuition - instead favouring a graduate contribution system - and free prescriptions, with the Conservatives proposing a gradual reintroduction of charges.

Energy efficiency

Ms Davidson said warm housing should be a key priority for the Scottish government, with her party calling for £1bn of funding to go towards meeting a fresh target for every home to have an energy efficiency rating of "C" or better by the end of the decade.

The Conservatives said more than six in 10 homes in Scotland are ranked average or worse in energy efficiency, which Ms Davidson said was adding hundreds of pounds to energy bills.

Speaking ahead of the launch event, the Tory leader said: "We believe that making every home a warm home should be one of the Scottish government's key priorities for infrastructure over the next five years.

"A real focus on this would cut fuel poverty, increase jobs, and would do so much to help us meet our carbon reduction obligations.

"It's an example of the kind of positive contribution we want to make to Scotland over the next five years."

The Scottish Greens and UKIP have published their manifestos already, with the Liberal Democrats, Labour and the SNP to follow.

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