Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross has insisted it is “completely bonkers” that Holyrood’s first debate after the Christmas break will be about Scottish independence and not the “crisis” in the NHS.
The Scottish Conservative chief hit out at the SNP/Green Government in Edinburgh for making the first debate of 2023 about Scotland’s constitutional future.
It comes as he said the NHS in Scotland was in “the grip of a winter crisis” with waiting times “spiralling” and staff left “overworked”.
Mr Ross blasted: “As people are lying on hospital floors and dying because of the delays in being treated, the SNP’s negligence is quite frankly criminal.”
With the Supreme Court having ruled last year that the Scottish Government cannot stage a second referendum on independence without Westminster’s consent, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has vowed to make the next UK general election a de facto referendum.
More details of this strategy are to be disclosed at a special SNP conference in March.
Mr Ross, meanwhile, revealed Scottish Tories are planning their own special conference for the following month – saying he would use this event to set out a “vision that will deliver an end to the nationalism that has divided Scotland since 2007” – the year the SNP came to power at Holyrood.
The Conservative proposals will be “focused on making our nation more prosperous, better educated, with better public services,” he insisted.
Making his first major speech of 2023, the Scottish Conservative leader said this year presented a “golden opportunity to further develop our Scottish Conservative vision for Scotland’s future”.
His speech in Edinburgh took place just days before MSPs return to Holyrood on Tuesday, with the Scottish Parliament scheduled to discuss the independence issue then in a Government debate on “People’s Right to Choose – Respecting Scotland’s Democratic Mandate”.
But Mr Ross insisted: “It think that is completely bonkers, it is absolutely ridiculous.
“It’s not a priority, it’s not a priority for me, it’s not a priority for my party. There is so much more we can focus on.”
Mr Ross stated: “We’re starting right now with a crisis in our NHS, we know there’s the potential for our education system to suffer as a result of strike action, we know there is this real, cost-of-living crisis that is going to continue.
“We don’t know what’s going to happen in Ukraine, we don’t know what’s going to happen for the remainder of the year, we know public services are struggling, they need more support.
“Yet the first debate we’re having in Holyrood is independence. That’s the first thing the SNP/Green Government think is important to speak about in the Parliament just down the road just next week.”
He accused Sottish Labour of siding with the SNP on key issues such as reform of the gender recognition process, as she said the Tories would seek to use the next year to position themselves as the “real alternative” to Ms Sturgeon’s party.
Describing the Conservatives as being “Holyrood’s non-conformists” Mr Ross insisted that Labour would “only offer more of the same approach taken by the SNP.
“Where they all want to raise taxes even higher on Scottish workers, we want to make Scotland a more competitive place to work and do business,” the Scottish Tory leader said.
“Where they see nationalisation and higher spending as a mark of success, we see waste, longer waiting times and declining standards as marks of failure.”
His comments came as he conceded 2022 had been a “difficult” year for the Conservatives – with leadership changes in the UK seeing Liz Truss take over from Boris Johnson, only to be replaced soon after by Rishi Sunak.
This “political turbulence in London” has “impacted” on the party north of the border, Mr Ross said, adding this had been a “source of great frustration” to him.
However, he said the installation of former chancellor Mr Sunak into 10 Downing Street had brought “quiet stability and competency” to Westminster.
Speaking about the Conservative Government there, Mr Ross stated: “I believe we have turned a corner.
“Rishi Sunak is beginning to restore the Government’s reputation for competency and stability, and that he can win back the support of the British people.”