Tories are launching a “fair deal” campaign for the north-east as they try to loosen the SNP’s hold.
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross unveiled his mini-manifesto knowing he has to build on the one seat held by the party in the region at the last Holyrood election in 2016.
“This has been a long-term issue we’ve seen over the last 14 years when the SNP have been in power,” the Moray MP said.
“When they came to power in 2007, they swept the boards in the north-east because people thought they would change things. They thought they would actually stand up for the north-east.
“Instead they ignored their heartlands and focused on the central belt of Scotland and the voters responded to that. They started to kick out the constituency MSPs and started to ensure more and more Conservatives elected on the second vote.”
The SNP still dominates in the region, as it does nationally. Nicola Sturgeon’s party points to recent major projects completed on their watch, such as the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route, as evidence of success. And the party accuses Tories under Boris Johnson of failing to give Scotland enough power.
There’s so much industry here, but it doesn’t get the support of central government.”
The Scottish Conservative election proposals focus on local government finances and support for business, but also highlight a series of major transport ideas.
The party signalled a “review” of reopening railways including the Formartine and Buchan line, which linked Aberdeen with Ellon, Peterhead and Fraserburgh. The party also wants to look again at Brechin and Newtonhill stations to see if they can “drive local economic growth”.
A “Freeport” with special tax status would also be supported in the north-east, Conservatives say. The UK-wide policy is currently stuck while UK and Scottish government officials work out how to set it up north of the border.
Long-held ambitions to dual the A96 between Aberdeen and Inverness and improving the A90 at Laurencekirk and Ellon feature prominently on the wish list.
But the central complaint is financial support, a call being made just as Aberdeen reacts to the shock plan by John Lewis to shut its city department store.
Mr Ross wants a protected percentage of government budget cash for councils, complaining Aberdeen in particular gets a raw deal.
In the coming year, Tories warned funding per head to Aberdeen City Council is the second lowest in Scotland.
“There is definitely a perception the north-east provides so much for Scotland, we’re the oil and gas capital,” he said.
“There’s so much industry here, but it doesn’t get the support of central government, and they feel ignored and let down by the SNP at Holyrood.”
Conservatives also argue businesses need more help with rates relief in a region hit by the pandemic and fall in oil prices.
Their proposals include a North East Enterprise agency backed by £1 billion over a decade.
‘Vision for Scotland’
Fergus Mutch, the SNP candidate for target seat Aberdeenshire West, said: “The Tories aren’t aspiring to be in government after May, so it will be the SNP who will deliver for the north-east.
“We have a vision for Scotland, while Douglas Ross and his party want to put a cap on our ambition. Only with the SNP were infrastructure improvements such as the AWPR, Inveramsay Bridge and Aberdeen-Inverness main line investment finally delivered.
“Let’s remember, it was Westminster that closed branch lines across this region in the first place, cutting off communities. The SNP, meanwhile, puts our money where our mouth is on reinstating railways.
“We’re building new, modern community schools and investing over £1bn in NHS Grampian this year alone.
“Frankly, the only thing holding the north-east back is the lack of ambition from the Tories, and their stubborn refusal to give Scotland the powers we need to invest properly for the future.”
Mr Ross, who is also a part-time football referee, does not intend to stand down from Westminster and he is not contesting his constituency. Instead, he hopes to gain a seat on the Highlands and Islands regional list, which covers almost all of Moray.
He said another candidate had already been put in place to contest the constituency, which is being defended by the SNP’s Richard Lochhead.
Asked if he should step down from Westminster if elected to Holyrood, Mr Ross said: “Every other party has had people who had what is called a dual mandate. I believe I can do both jobs.”