Scotland politics

Prime Minister David Cameron in Union 'fight' pledge

Conservative leader David Cameron has made a passionate defence of the Union, saying his party will "fight for the UK with everything we've got".

The prime minister said people could be prouder of their Scottish rather than their British heritage and still believe in keeping Britain together.

Mr Cameron's remarks came as he addressed the Scottish Tory conference.

He told first minister Alex Salmond to "stop dithering and start delivering" on an independence referendum.

Mr Cameron also used his speech to call for a turnaround in the Tories' Scottish electoral fortunes, telling supporters to end the hand-wringing and timidity and "come back stronger".

The Scottish government wants to hold the vote in autumn 2014, but UK ministers say the delay is causing uncertainty for the country.

Making the case for Scotland remaining part of the Union, the prime minister told the Troon conference: "We walk taller, stand prouder, shout louder together.

"That's why not only can you love Scotland and love the United Kingdom, not only can you drape yourself in the Saltire and the Union Jack, but you can be prouder of your Scottish heritage than your British heritage - as many in Scotland are - and still believe that Scotland is better off in Britain.

"And all this is why this prime minister and this party is going to fight for the United Kingdom with everything we've got".

Mr Cameron said he was keen to get on with the independence debate, but described Mr Salmond as a "roadblock", standing in the way of the referendum.

The prime minister said: "At the last election, Alex Salmond asked for a mandate for a vote on independence.

"He won that election. He got his mandate. I offered him his referendum, and now he won't take it - what on earth is going on?"

Mr Cameron said the Scottish first minister had gone from wanting a referendum in 2010 with a single question, to "flirting" with a second question on the ballot paper, asking people for more Holyrood powers, short of independence.

He told the conference: "Delay creates uncertainty, for businesses, investors and families.

"People need to know one way or the other, so my message to the first minister is this - stop dithering and start delivering.

"Let's give the Scottish people the clear choice about their future."

Mr Cameron also sought to rally support for the Scottish Conservatives and their recently elected leader, Ruth Davidson.

Despite leading the UK coalition government, the Conservatives have just one Scottish MP, and 15 MSPs.

Mr Cameron said: "Let's be frank, we aren't where we want to be in Scotland - nowhere near it.

"There are those who think this is just a fact of life, that a small Conservative presence north of the border is inevitable - I am resolutely not one of them.

"I'm here today to argue that this is our moment - if we are bold enough - to come back stronger."

Mr Cameron said millions of people across Scotland believed in Conservative values, like looking after the less fortunate, helping talent grow and backing families, adding: "Our challenge is to reach out to these people, to reconnect their beliefs with ours."

He said this week's Budget - which has attracted strong criticism over support for pensioners - had cut income tax for 25 million people, taking almost two million people out of income tax altogether.

And Mr Cameron sought to paint the Scottish Conservatives as "distinctly Scottish" and "passionately patriotic".

He said: "We've got to show that a love of Scotland does not belong to one party.

"For too long, we've let the SNP claim ownership of patriotism - the Saltire is the flag of a proud nation - not the symbol of one party.

"And that's the thing about the SNP - they've spread the idea that, if you love your country, you have no choice but to go it alone, that believing in the Union is somehow treasonous."

Mr Cameron said he saw no reason why a "moderate, sensible, centre-right" party could not represent the people of Scotland.

The prime minister said the Tories were now on the "front foot" with the referendum, by calling for it to be held sooner, rather than later.

He went on: "We need to show that same fight right across the board, on all the issues that really matter."

Mr Cameron declared: "The time for timidity is over.

"Enough of the hand-wringing and trying to be all things to all people.

"Let's be clear about what we stand for - and what we won't put up with."

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