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Scottish Tory leader Ruth Davidson challenges Theresa May to fund NHS and scrap migration targets


Leading Conservative Ruth Davidson has given a major speech calling for increased taxation to fund the NHS, the end of Theresa Mays immigration target and more help for young people to buy homes.

The leader of the Scottish Tories is the latest senior Conservative to push for more NHS money, as Ms May formulates a long-term plan for the cash-strapped health service.

Ms Davidsons fresh call to scrap the target of reducing net migration to the tens of thousands, flying in the face of Ms Mays position, and her push for Tory policy to help generation rent, will also renew speculation about her leadership ambitions.

But while her speech comes after days in which fanciful talk of a plot involving Michael Gove circulated in Westminster, it is largely focussed on her agenda for the 2021 Scottish elections.

Recent days have seen senior Tory MPs and even Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt push for more NHS funding from the Treasury, saying the public would accept tax rises if they believed the money would be well spent.

Increasing the pressure, Ms Davidson said: The UK government has acted to reduce the tax burden on working families. It has honoured its promise to do so, raising the income tax threshold has reduced taxes for millions of UK workers and has taken thousands out of taxation altogether.

But the UK government has a choice to make. And, if that choice is between extra spending on the NHS or introducing further tax breaks beyond those already promised, I choose the NHS.

Ms May has promised to produce a long-term NHS funding plan and suggested fresh cash could be earmarked for the service later this year, but is also under pressure to hit Tory deficit targets and protect voters from tax rises.

The intervention from Ms Davidson follows an analysis from the Institute of Fiscal Studies setting out how necessary NHS funding increases will require taxes to rise by up to between 2.6 per cent of GDP or 2,000 per household.

The Scottish leader also doubled down on her demand to scrap the tens of thousands migration target, initiated during Ms Mays time at the Home Office and still doggedly defended by the prime minister.

But in a markedly different tone on immigration than that often taken in Westminster, Ms Davidson said: I see neither the sense nor the need to stick to an immigration figure devised nearly a decade ago, which has never been met and does not fit the requirements of the country.

Setting an immigration target reduced to the tens of thousands is one thing when unemployment is running at eight per cent. Refusing to review it when the country nears full employment and sectors are reporting skills shortages is quite another.

Even if that target were to stay, I see no reason why overseas students should be included within the numbers counted.

Ms Davidson, who recently announced she is expecting her first child with her Irish partner Jen Wilson, added: We want EU citizens who live here to stay. I have an interest here, I speak as someone who is about to marry one and to assure EU citizens and others of that wish, we need to do more.

On housing, she backed a plan for support a new Scottish Housing and Infrastructure Agency to boost housing supply.

But she also appeared to pitch ideas to voters as far as London and framed them as a rallying call to centre-ground politicians who do believe in markets and liberal values.

She said: While its all very well for me, or other centrist politicians to espouse the merits of a market economy, how does that work for a teenager growing up in a pit town with no pit, a steel town with no steel, or a factory town where the factory closed its doors more than a decade ago?

How does that feel to a member of generation rent, moving to London for their best shot, living in Zone 6, paying half their stagnant salary on a commute, knowing all the while there is no chance of saving enough to ever own their front door?

Ms Davidsons team said the speech is a response to the SNPs Growth Commission report published last week, which aimed to show how the Scottish economy could thrive independently from the UK.

Instead of focussing on independence, the Scottish Tory leader is trying to concentrate on domestic policy ideas that Holyrood could implement to boost growth from within the UK.

One friend of Ms Davidson told The Independent: None of what is in the speech is removed from a push to make Ruth first minister of Scotland in 2021.

Its all about getting Ruth into Bute House [the first ministers official residence].

Yet it follows media reports earlier this week that some Tories are plotting to replace Ms May as Prime Minister with Michael Gove in a caretaker capacity and eventually with Ms Davidson in the next three years.

The speculation, broadly dismissed, came after the pair appeared together at the launch of a new policy think tank called Onward.

The friend of Ms Davidson added: Michael and Ruth are actually quite close politically. If you take Brexit out, theyre very close and they have a shared understanding, more then with many other senior people.

But theres nothing more than that. Dont buy the idea that theres some plot.



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