Nigel Farage has said his new party Reform UK is now “up and running” in Scotland, with the appointment of former Tory MSP Michelle Ballantyne as leader north of the border.
Ballantyne, a former Scottish Conservatives leadership hopeful, has been announced as the new head of Reform UK Scotland.
She described her new party as being “pro-Scotland and pro the UK”, adding that this was “simply the best choice for the people of these islands”.
Farage, whose Brexit Party has now been rebranded as Reform UK, described the former Conservative, who quit the party less than two months ago in November 2020, as being someone who would stand up to the “woke agenda” of the SNP.
Reform UK Scotland is looking to run candidates in the regional list ballot in May’s Holyrood elections, though Farage did say he did not believe the vote would take place.
Farage, a former MEP, said: “The Brexit Party is no more, it did its job I am very pleased to say.
“Reform, that’s about a much bigger agenda, it’s about how we’re governed but it’s also about the fact that we don’t have enough debate.
“There is no opposition coming from the Scottish Conservatives or anybody else to the SNP’s woke agenda.
“Somebody who is prepared to stand up, quite fearlessly, and have open, genuine, democratic debate and conversation is Michelle Ballantyne.”
Farage said he was “delighted” she was joining his party and would “spearhead” its campaign in the Scottish elections – although he added: “I don’t really think those elections are going to happen.”
As Ballantyne was announced as the party’s Scottish leader, Reform UK chairman Richard Tice spoke out against the prospect of a second independence referendum.
He insisted: “There is no need for any referendum for a generation – far better that existing powers, including those repatriated from the EU are used to better effect than create further bitter division between Scots and within the UK.”
Tice added that the UK’s response to coronavirus had been affected by “shocking levels of incompetence and centralised bureaucracy” from politicians.
He said: “By all means let’s have a grown-up debate about what reforms will make genuine improvements – such as devolving from Holyrood down to communities – but all within the context of the solidarity and security of the United Kingdom.”
Ballantyne said her new party would make the “positive case for the Union” as she told independence supporters their “dream will deliver chaos” for Scotland.
The MSP had stood for the leadership of the Scottish Conservatives after Ruth Davidson quit in 2019, but lost out to Jackson Carlaw.
She quit the party in November 2020, saying after Douglas Ross took over as leader that she was no longer a “good fit” with the Scottish Tories’ political direction.
Speaking about the party – which intends to field candidates on the regional list section of May’s Holyrood election – Ballantyne said: “We are pro Scotland and pro the UK because we believe it is simply the best choice for the people of these islands. Why? Because it is the most successful union ever created.
“It has served us well for over 300 years and never so well as in the last few months as the combined power of the Union has brought us financial aid and the first and fastest vaccination programme in Europe.”
Speaking about the Covid-19 pandemic, she added: “Scotland needs an exit strategy not just out of Covid but to recover from lockdowns.
“Children need to get back to school, healthcare needs to fully open and human beings need to be able to interact socially.
“But we must not forget that even before Covid struck there were deep-rooted problems within the public sector services in Scotland. Here are a few reminders: Curriculum for excellence; Edinburgh Sick Kids Hospital; NHS Waiting times targets; BiFAb; Ferguson Shipyards; Prestwick Airport.
“It is clear to many of us that government and service delivery in Scotland needs reforming. Scotland needs a reform party.”
She stated: “We will make the positive case for the Union but I would also say to those who dream of an independent Scotland that without an economically strong base and a public sector that is both affordable and effective, your dream will deliver chaos to the things you value.
“Unionists and Nationalists can and must come together now for the shared goal of rebuilding Scotland.
“Reform UK Scotland will champion personal choice, community response and local networks. Our policies will reflect these values and respect the basic rights of freedom of thought, speech and worship.”