The Prime Minister’s speech at the Conservative conference shows he “relishes” the chance to fight the next election, the party’s leader in Scotland has said.
Douglas Ross has praised Rishi Sunak’s rhetoric in his address on Wednesday, pointing to the benefits Scotland will receive from the scrapping of HS2 north of Birmingham and subsequent spending on upgrades to the A75.
The Prime Minister has been criticised by predecessors David Cameron and Boris Johnson over the HS2 announcement, which came during a speech which also included pledges to reform A-levels, effectively phase out smoking and restrict the access children have to vapes.
“It’s clear that he relishes the prospect of the next election, believes that the Conservatives have a strong programme to offer, and is not afraid to make decisive long-term choices that will create a better future.”
He drew comparisons between Mr Sunak and First Minister Humza Yousaf, who he claimed is “still peddling the continuity policies that have failed Scotland” since the SNP took power and pushing independence.
The Scottish Tories, Mr Ross added, is the “only party providing robust opposition” to the SNP.
In recent months, the Tories have been lagging behind Labour in the polls in Scotland ahead of the general election expected next year.
On the scrapping of the high speed rail line north of the Midlands, Mr Ross acknowledged that was a “difficult decision”, but the Prime Minister “has ensured that every penny of that spending commitment will still be going to projects that will make a significant difference to connectivity and opportunities for enterprise”.
Mr Sunak, meanwhile, was asked if he wanted to apologise to the people of the north of England following the HS2 announcement. In a pre-recorded interview with BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the PM said: “No. What I want to say to everybody is that what we’re doing is going to be better. It’s going to be better for our country.
“You keep using the word scrap but what we’re doing is replacing HS2 with something that’s going to benefit far more people in far more places and far quicker.
“Every penny that would have been spent on this project, £36 billion, is going to be reinvested in every form of transportation, not just heavy rail, and in every part of our country.”
Other than the pledge to upgrade the A75 – which links the ferry port at Cairnryan to the north of England – the Scottish Government is unlikely to see further funding increases related to Mr Sunak’s infrastructure announcements, given the Prime Minister said he would spend the money already allocated to HS2 extension on transport improvements.
Through the Barnett formula, spending increases in England that are under devolved competence elsewhere in the UK trigger an increase in funding – known as a Barnett consequential – to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, meaning the HS2 funding would come to the devolved administrations regardless of how it was spent.