Alex Salmond: Hugo Young Lecture 2012
Extract from Alex Salmond’s Hugo Young lecture (see video here):
I want to reflect on the astonishing, and increasing, pace of change in Scotland. Devolution took a century to be delivered. The last decade embedded the Scottish Parliament as the focal point of public life and Scottish democracy. We now have a Scotland Bill changing by the day and overtaken by events before it even reaches the statute book. The momentum and direction of the people of Scotland is unmistakable.
It is therefore right that in 2014, people in Scotland should have the opportunity to vote on whether to become independent.
During the 2011 Holyrood election campaign I made two key commitments in relation to the constitution. I promised that in the first half of any new SNP administration, we would work with the UK Government to strengthen the Scotland Bill to give it economic teeth and powers.
My second commitment was that we would legislate for a referendum having made constructive proposals, and hopefully secured additional powers, during the Scotland Bill process, we would then stage a referendum on independence in the second half of the Scottish Parliament’s five year term.
These commitments were endorsed overwhelmingly by the Scottish people, and I consider them binding.
The argument currently being adopted by some people –people who have always opposed a referendum full stop – that because independence is such an important issue, a referendum should be rushed, simply does not stand up to scrutiny. It is precisely because independence is important that we intend all stages of the process leading up to a referendum – from the consultation on its enabling legislation to the referendum campaign itself – to take place over a timescale which allows the Scottish people to reach an informed decision.
The further argument that Scotland’s economy is being damaged by a supposed delay does not resonate with voters in Scotland who in the last year have seen Amazon, Michelin, Dell, Gamesa, and Aveloq, among others, announce major investments.
As the Financial Times said two weeks ago Westminster’s “pretext for accelerating the poll – that uncertainty is damaging the economy – looks disingenuous at best. As threats go, the risks posed by separatism are as a fleabite compared with the all-devouring Eurozone crisis.”
This has been endorsed by the great arbiter of accuracy in current UK politics – the Channel 4 fact check – which pointed out that international inward investment is now more successful in Scotland than any other parts of these islands, including London.
In addition to dictating on timescales, the UK Government also appears to want to close off discussion about other key elements of the referendum. As someone who strongly believes that independence would be preferable to enhanced devolution, I believe that the argument for independence could and would be won on a yes/no basis.
However I recognise that there is a significant strand of opinion in the country which might want to consider an alternative for Scotland which lies between the status quo and outright independence.
To consider an additional referendum question which takes account of popular opinion is simply being democratic. The fact that such an option might be popular isn’t a good reason for denying people the right to choose it.
The Scottish Government’s consultation paper on a referendum, which will be published tomorrow, will encourage a wide debate on this issue – involving all of Scotland’s political parties, but crucially also civic Scotland, that is the organisations and communities which make up the fabric of the community of the realm of Scotland.
The paper will also make clear that we intend the referendum to be overseen, impartially and independently, in a way which leaves no possible room for doubt about the integrity of the result.
But our starting point in all of this is that the Scottish Parliament ultimately has the mandate to determine the referendum process. Westminster legislation which dictates rather than enables would not just be unacceptable to the Scottish government. It would be contrary to the rights of the people of Scotland.
Why independence is the best option for Scotland
The Scottish National Party will campaign confidently for independence not just as an end in itself, but as the means by which the Scottish economy can grow more strongly and sustainably; by which Scotland can take its rightful place as a responsible member of the world community; and by which the Scottish people can best fulfil their potential and realise their aspirations.
For much of the postwar period, people in Scotland largely embraced the great social reforms which were implemented by Clement Atlee’s government and sustained through much of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. National insurance, housing for all and the establishment of a national health service commanded a consensus which spanned political boundaries and national borders.
There is a view that some of these postwar institutions – perhaps the NHS above all – fostered a sense of cohesion and common purpose among the people of these islands. Professor Tom Devine, for example, has expressed the view that in the postwar period the welfare state became “the real anchor of the union state”.
I am not sure that the welfare state was, in truth, ever a direct consequence of the union. As the Nordic countries show very clearly, common aims in social policy do not require a common state. But it probably is the case that Scotland subscribed particularly strongly to the values of the post-war consensus.
There is a revealing account in The Hugo Young Papers of a discussion with John Smith in which Smith “volunteered with pride that Scotland had always been consensual… that there was this sense of community unriven by so much class segregation, without seeming to see that this made his English task possibly harder.”