Scotland politics

Ruth Davidson: Tories face Brexit 'wake-up call'

Ruth Davidson Image copyright PA
Image caption Ruth Davidson has returned to politics after spending the past seven months on maternity leave

Ruth Davidson has warned that the two main Westminster parties will suffer the wrath of voters in the EU elections unless they "get Brexit sorted".

The Scottish Conservative leader admitted that the Tories and Labour had been given an "almighty kicking" in English local elections.

But she predicted that they will be given an even bigger "wake-up call" in the European election on 23 May.

She urged the two parties to find a compromise so the UK can "move on".

Her speech to the conference was her first major public appearance since the birth of her son Finn in October.

The Conservatives lost more than 1,300 seats in the council election and Labour lost 82 as the Liberal Democrats, Greens and independents surged across England.

The two major UK parties have been locked in talks aimed at finding a way forward on Brexit for the past month, but it is not clear how much progress has been made.

Speaking at the Scottish Conservative conference in Aberdeen, Ms Davidson said the solution lay in finding a compromise that respects the result of the EU referendum.

She told delegates: "The solution doesn't lie in the trenches of one extreme or another - of overturning the referendum, or of crashing out with no deal.

"It lies in those colleagues currently round the table, taking the difficult first steps towards each other.

"So I say to the negotiating teams of our party and the Labour Party, who are currently locked in talks - get Brexit sorted, get a deal over the line and let Britain move on."

Ms Davidson added: "If we thought yesterday's results were a wake up call, just wait for the European elections on 23 May.

"A vote the public was promised would never take place, to elect people to a parliament they were told we would already have left. You don't have to be John Curtice to foresee what could happen."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Theresa May made her keynote speech to the conference on Friday

Ms Davidson was a staunch Remainer ahead of the referendum, but argued it would be undemocratic hold another vote on EU membership.

She said that if a decision was so big that it had to be handed to the people to decide, then "we have to listen to the answer they give" and politicians "don't get to pick and choose" which votes are upheld and are ignored.

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she wants to hold a second independence referendum in the next two years if the UK leaves the EU.

But Ms Davidson argued that the country is not being held back as part of the UK, and is already capable of "taking on the world".

She also accused the SNP of using the constitution as an excuse for inaction, and pledged to "build a better Scotland now" if her party wins the next Holyrood election.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Nicola Sturgeon says she wants another independence referendum within the next two years

She told delegates that the country has had enough of the SNP's "agitating for independence" as she accused the party of "searching the horizon for a dark cloud and then blaming it on Westminster".

Ms Davidson added: "I have a more positive view of Scotland's future. I reject their mantra that says we have to have a break-up before we can possibly hope to prosper. I don't see Scotland as subjugated, put upon or as held back.

"Our message is that we can prosper now. That we can back our businesses, build up our institutions and give future generations the skills to take on all comers.

"That right here, right now, Scotland can take on the world. There's nothing stopping us."

Ms Sturgeon's SNP won 63 seats in the last Scottish Parliament election and the Conservatives won 31 - with opinion polls suggesting the SNP continues to hold a commanding lead ahead of the next vote in 2021.

But Ms Davidson insisted it is realistic for her party to win the election and form the next Scottish government.

'Firm guarantee'

She said: "As first minister, I won't use every engagement with the UK government as a chance to sow division. I'll use it as a chance to deliver better government for the people who live here.

"And I'll make a firm guarantee now: If I am elected Scotland's next first minister, there will be no more constitutional games and no more referenda. We've had enough to last a lifetime.

"So we're not fighting each other - but fighting for each other."

Ms Davidson was overheard questioning whether she needed to mention the European elections as she rehearsed her speech in the conference hall on Friday evening.

The rehearsal was apparently caught on a live microphone without Ms Davidson realising, and has since appeared online.

Ms Davidson joked in her conference speech that the recording was made after she told her baby son that "this is the button that broadcasts mummy's rehearsal to the whole press room".

The conference heard from Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday, who told delegates that she remained determined to deliver a Brexit deal despite facing fresh calls to quit.

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