First Minister Alex Salmond addressed the SNP conference in Inverness:
A week is indeed a long time in politics.
On Thursday we announced the date of the independence referendum – Scotland’s date with destiny.
My advisers told me that within a few minutes of making the announcement, I was “trending” in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
Delegates, I was so disappointed – at first I thought they said I was “trendy” in Edinburgh and Glasgow!
Well friends. Meet cool Eck fae Buchan.
On 18 September 2014 we will have the opportunity to ensure that decisions about Scotland are taken by the people who care most about Scotland – the people who live and work here.
Few nations and very few generations are fortunate enough to make such an important decision – we are in every sense the lucky ones.
It’s a vote for the people of Scotland – every citizen aged 16 up – and rightly so. But do not underestimate the positive lesson to the wider world of a nation deciding its future by debate and democracy.
It was former President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, who last October described Scotland’s referendum as a “remarkable and wonderful phenomenon”.
Whether you are Yes, No – or like many at this stage a Dinnae Ken – we can all be proud that our nation is embarked on such an exciting journey in an impeccably democratic way.
The 18th September 2014 is the day when every one of us will be asked to take the future of our country into our hands.
And for years to come people will be asked to say by friends, neighbours, children and grandchildren to say how they voted on that day.
And when that question comes, as come it will, let us make sure that each one of us can proudly say Yes.
I was one of those who voted by majority for a new future for Scotland.
Friends, this party has never wavered from our commitment to trust the people to decide the issue of independence.
While the Westminster parties ganged up to block a referendum in the last parliament – when the SNP were a minority – we held fast to Scotland’s democratic rights.
The sovereignty of the Scottish people is in our DNA.
This moment – Scotland’s moment – was the life-work of dedicated servants of Scotland such as the much-missed Jimmy Halliday. When Jimmy led our party in the 1950s, a referendum to achieve an independent Scotland was just a dream – but one he never wavered from.
And the work of Jimmy and countless thousands others has made their dream our reality – we thank them now, and will thank them best by achieving that Yes vote in the referendum.
And because we have always trusted the people, I believe they will put their trust in the Yes campaign on the 18th of September next year – and vote with those of us who want to build a prosperous economy and a just society.
Next year will be a huge year for Scotland not just for politics but for a range of events which will focus the attention of the planet on our country – the Commonwealth Games, the Ryder Cup, the second Homecoming Year.
We will make sure that each of these events is a success for Scotland, but we also wish to see them as a catalyst for positive change.
Exactly a year ago I announced the establishment of a £10m fund to help local communities bring sports facilities across Scotland into the 21st century.
This year we are going further adding another £7m to this initiative, meaning that over 80 projects across Scotland will be completed in good time for the Commonwealth Games.
So whether its snowsports in Midlothian (for which there is plenty of raw material), Olympic swimming pools in Dundee and Aberdeen, 3G pitches in Dumfries and Galloway, or the outdoor community facility in Aviemore these facilities will provide real benefits.
Our aim is to inspire Scots young and old to seize the opportunity presented by the commonwealth games to become a better nation.
Friends – it is said that to govern is to choose but even more fundamental than that is to choose how you are governed.
That choice – the real choice – becomes clearer by the day – the opportunity to use our vast resources and talent to build a better country, or to continue with a Westminster system that simply isn’t working for Scotland – a system which has not worked in the past, is not working now and will not work in the future.
Take the big issues debated in the Scottish Parliament last week – they illustrate exactly why an independent Scotland is the right choice.
It is ten years since the Scottish Parliament first debated the Iraq war – when a catalogue of deception by a Labour Prime Minister – a Labour Prime Minister – led the UK into an illegal conflict that came at enormous human cost.
Almost 5,000 allied soldiers – 179 from the UK – and well over 100,000 Iraqi civilians lost their lives as a result of a foreign policy disaster which made Suez look like a picnic in the sun.
Now when our brave service men and women are sent into danger, we have a duty to give them our full support – and we have an equal duty to discuss the reasons why. The people who elected us to public office expect nothing less.
However, the No campaign parties in the Scottish Parliament actually tried to gag us from debating Iraq – Labour even claimed it was not a real issue.
Try telling the families who have lost a loved one to the war in Iraq that this is not a ‘real issue’. Try telling them it should be airbrushed away.
The reality of the situation is that our opponents want to avoid confronting their demons, because they know they backed an illegal war based on a lie – the myth of weapons of mass destruction.
In the Scottish Parliament, there are still eight of the Tory MSPs and 15 Labour MSPs who voted for the Iraq war – including their leader.
Eleven of the Scottish Labour MPs who voted for the war are still in the House of Commons – including No campaigner in chief, Alistair Darling.
Another ten have even been ‘elevated’ – if that is the right word – to the House of Lords.
Labour and the Tories, Tories and Labour – they were wrong together about the Iraq war ten years ago
And they should apologise together now.
Friends, the imposition of the Poll Tax by Margaret Thatcher persuaded the majority of people that we needed a parliament with the powers to stop such divisive social experiments being visited upon Scotland.
Instead of being just a good idea, a parliament became necessary if we were to protect Scotland’s social fabric, and ensure that domestic policy reflected the will of the people.
Tony Blair’s legacy is to demonstrate why Scotland needs to go further. The catastrophe of Iraq shows why our parliament needs to have the powers of independence – so that never again can Scotland be dragged into an illegal war on false pretences.
I’m certain that the lie that led to Iraq would not have been perpetrated by the government of an independent Scotland, of any political persuasion. But we have to be absolutely certain.
Other countries – including Denmark, the Netherlands and Ireland – have constitutional guarantees that they will not go to war without a proper process of parliamentary approval, and a similar such undertaking could be written into the constitution of an independent Scotland.
Friends, I believe it should be – indeed it has to be to demonstrate that our new Scotland is something worth voting for.
That is part of the why of independence.
The US/UK invasion of Iraq was about non-existent weapons of mass destruction.
But delegates, there are real weapons of mass destruction. Weapons inspectors would have had no problem finding them in Scotland.
Just one hundred and fifty miles from here the Trident missile system is based on the Clyde Estuary, just along the road from our most populous city, with an estimated cost for its renewal of up to one hundred billion pounds.
Trident was conceived by the Tories, presided over by Labour just as Polaris before it was conceived by Labour and presided over by the Tories.
The process of its renewal for another 50 years – another half century – is happening under a Tory/Lib Dem coalition supported by Labour.
Trident is Westminster’s ultimate vanity obscenity but now is entirely dependent on next year’s vote.
Because, delegates, it’s now clear that the only way, the only way, we can finally remove these weapons of mass destruction is with a Yes vote for independence.
That is also part of the why of independence.
Friends, I’m proud to lead a Government that has made the Scottish Parliament work for our people. That’s why the Scottish Social Attitudes survey showed that 71% of people trust Holyrood to act in Scotland’s best interests – four-times more than trust Westminster.
In the face of appalling financial pressures, we have have chosen a different path from Westminster – a path that reflects Scotland’s social democratic consensus, our shared progressive values, our priorities as a society.
On all the key domestic issues Scotland trumps Westminster.
Down south, the UK Government’s own figures reveal that England will see a 16,000 reduction in the number of police officers. And to compound this, the starting wage of new officers has been reduced.
South of the Border the thin blue line has just got a lot thinner.
In contrast, the SNP government has delivered and protected 1,000 extra police officers on our streets. A great achievement – and one that Labour said would take us 13 years!
Just next week, Scotland’s new national police force comes into place, along with Scotland’s new national fire and rescue service.
Friends this Government will always value the work of our emergency services – the people who have been mobilised all of last night helping our fellow citizens.
It is our approach to front line policing which has delivered not only a 37-year low in recorded crime but also a fall in the fear of crime that causes such misery.
That’s why Scotland’s Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill gets cheered to the rafters at the Police Federation conference. And why his Tory counterpart at Westminster gets booed off the stage.
On health, Scotland continues to protect frontline health spending, despite the Westminster cuts and the huge pressures on our budget.
Prescription charges – the tax on the sick – have been abolished in Scotland, even as they rise to £7.85 in England.
We have record patient satisfaction with our health service, the job our health professionals do, often in difficult circumstances.
We have maintained a genuine National Health Service in Scotland – free at the point of need – even as the NHS is being fragmented and privatised south of the Border, first under Labour and then by the Tories.
Professor Don Berwick is a world-renowned expert on patient safety, David Cameron’s new ‘health tsar’, and a former adviser to President Obama. This is what he says about the strength of the Scottish system:
“The Scottish Patient Safety Programme marks Scotland as a leader, second to no nation on earth, in its commitment to reducing harm to patients, dramatically and continually.”
That must always be our goal, in every aspect of our health service and national life – ‘second to no nation on earth’.
Four years ago at our conference we announced that we would drive out the privatisation of cleaning services in the National Health Service.
Since then healthcare acquired infections have dropped by 80%.
Is there any more vindication needed of Alex Neil’s determination to have a publicly run national health service free at the point of need.
The Scottish Parliament does not control the key economic levers but we do have economic powers. We have used them to deliver the best help for the small business sector – the backbone of our economy – available anywhere in these islands.
We have used them to win more jobs from inward investment compared to any other part of these islands – including London.
And we now have lower unemployment – including youth unemployment – than the UK as a whole.
One year ago youth unemployment was almost 25% as young people bore the brunt of the Labour/Tory recession.
Then we appointed Scotland’s first Minister for Youth Employment, gathered together our stakeholders from the STUC and from business, almost doubled the number of apprenticeships, focussed college courses on full time preparation for employment, introduced the youth guarantee for 16-19 year olds.
What has been the result?
In one year youth unemployment has gone down by one third, from 103,000 to 68,000. Still far too high, but a dramatic difference to the lives of thousands of youngsters.
On this week’s figures all of the UK fall of 34,000 over the year in youth unemployment took place in Scotland.
Friends, what a demonstration of the work of Angela Constance as Scotland’s minister for youth employment.
We cannot allow these successes to be blown away in an eternal economic winter of Westminster austerity.
This week’s Westminster Budget is following a familiar pattern, fizz on the day, a hangover the day after.
Even the fizz only lasted until we found they had swiped another £50m from the Scottish Budget for this coming year, without so much as a by your leave.
But there is much more bad news in this Budget. Analysis by the Institute of Fiscal Studies shows that from 2016 the Westminster Budget means either £500 tax rises for every family or further cuts in public services which they describe as “eye watering”.
That is the grim future for Scottish families under Westminster rule.
And would there be a different prospectus from Labour? – not a chance.
At Westminster they dance to the Tory tune. In Scotland they are preparing to rip up the social gains of devolution.
This week was one of Labour abstention in votes in Holyrood and Westminster.
They abstained on the war, they abstained on Trident, they abstained on bus passes, they even abstained on workfare at Westminster.
Labour – the great abstainers on everything – except minimum pricing for alcohol which they opposed!
The SNP offer a different future.
At Holyrood we will defend the social gains – policies such as free personal care and bus passes for our older folk – who have paid their taxes, powered our economy, raised the children, and deserve something back from society. That is what it means to be a society.
And the rocks will melt with the sun before we allow Tory or Labour to take away the right to free education in Scotland.
Delegates, the Yes campaign is predicated on the compelling truth that decisions about Scotland are best made by the people who live and work here. That was once a theory, but is now an indisputable fact.
Since the restoration of our parliament in 1999, we have demonstrated that in law & order, health, education, business support, and the great social services of Scotland – our parliament delivers the policies that are right for Scotland, and reflect the views and votes of the people.
That is the very prize and purpose of self-government.
And if it is true in these devolved areas, it is equally true in all areas of public life.
That is the prize and purpose of an independent Scotland.
With each passing day it becomes clearer that the Westminster system is not fit for any purpose – it is further away than ever from Scotland’s values, and past its time.
The iniquitous Bedroom Tax is the latest example – in a House of Commons debate led by the SNP and Plaid Cymru, over 90% of Scottish MPs voted against it.
We know from Scottish Government research that the extra costs the Bedroom Tax impose on the Scottish economy will outweigh any savings the UK Government makes – even before we factor in the wider social costs and the distress and disruption it will cause.
But still it is imposed on Scotland. And to add insult to injury, the architect of this shambles – Iain Duncan Smith – has to be dragged kicking and screaming to deign to defend his policy to a committee of the Scottish Parliament.
Friends this is an iniquitous, unfair, anti-family imposition conceived because of runaway rent levels in the south.
Why should people who would impose such iniquity have any power and authority over the Scottish people?
Friends we have acted to mitigate the worst impacts of welfare changes. Acting with COSLA we have sheltered hundreds of thousands of families from council tax rises, we have established loan funds, increased support for advice centres.
And today I can announce that all SNP-led local authorities will follow the lead of Dundee in halting the threat of evictions from this disgraceful tax for those struggling to pay.
However what Scotland needs is not mitigation but power, not just a defence against Westminster but a removal of Westminster authority over Scotland.
Delegates last year I made a speech pointing out the opportunities to grow the Scottish economy with control over our taxation policy. No-one in this world owes Scotland a living, every policy we articulate needs to focus on our competitiveness as a country.
That is part of the why of Independence.
Today I want to illustrate why social change can also release the untapped potential of Scotland and make us not just a prosperous economy but a just society and why these concepts go hand in hand – a prosperous economy and a just society.
Last week the unemployment figures showed Scots unemployment below the UK average. However look behind these figures and see a glaring inequality which holds the nation back.
66% of women are in employment compared to 76% of men.
Now that is not down to lack of talent. Women now make up 55% of entrants into higher education and the number of Modern Apprenticeship starts for women has increased from 27% to 43%.
But in terms of lower numbers of women in employment it really doesn’t have to be like that. Elsewhere in Europe the gender gap is much, much less.
If we closed the opportunity gap we would add to our national wealth and to our taxation base by mobilising the skills of women into our workforce.
But there would be another change – a fundamental opportunity to improve the life chances of many of our children.
We have long cherished the ambition to increase pre-school education. In our first term, we moved it from 412 to 475 free nursery hours per annum, benefiting 100,000 children a year.
And last year I announced a step further – a statutory guarantee of over 600 hours of free nursery education for every 3 and 4 year old, and for every looked after 2 year old in our land.
This is a statement of faith and commitment to the future and it is being carried forward without the fears of lower standards now prevalent in the south of the border.
Flexible in its delivery, using the wisdom of the Early Years Taskforce to help us, but definite in our intent.
For every young mum and dad juggling work and parenthood, this SNP Government is here for you and your family.
This is what we can achieve with a devolved Parliament. But devolution can only take Scotland so far. We don’t have the financial freedom to give us the biggest bang for our buck – to invest in areas where Scotland could make huge social and economic strides.
So let us consider what more we could achieve in an independent Scotland.
I have asked the council of economic advisers to produce an analysis of the economic and social impact on Scotland moving to the levels of support for childcare commonplace across European countries.
Our ambitions for childcare are the hallmark of our approach to social and economic policy – we promote the measures we do because they advance both our economy and our society.
Some argue there is a contradiction between the two, but the reality is that a progressive social policy boosts the economy, and a dynamic economy enables us to build the fairer society we want. Each is the handmaiden of the other.
It will not be done in a day, or a year, or even completed in the first term of an independent parliament.
But I believe a transformational shift towards childcare should be one of the first tasks of an independent Scotland.
That too is part of the why of independence.
Friends ours is a noble cause because we are arguing for the rights and responsibilities, not of ourselves, but of our country.
We are arguing for something bigger than any individual, any party, any campaign – the benefits of which will endure for generations to come.
The biggest advantage of the Yes campaign is that we put no limits on the abilities of this nation to build prosperity and wellbeing for all the people.
The biggest problem for the No campaign is their fear and scorn of a Scotland aspiring to equality of status among the nations of the world.
Our opponents in the No campaign will say and do anything to keep Scotland where they think it should be.
In terms of GDP per head, right now an independent Scotland would be the 8th wealthiest country in the league table of the world’s most developed nations.
If the No campaign believe Scotland doesn’t have what it takes to be an independent country, they must think that only the 7 countries above Scotland can be independent – and the UK wouldn’t be one of them, because it trails at number 17 overtaken this year once again by Iceland!
Delegates, our opponents often say we cannot afford to be independent. I say Scotland can’t afford not to be independent.
To listen to the No campaign, they’d have you believe that a new generation of Trident nuclear weapons on the Clyde was a fantastic asset – and having generations of oil and gas revenues to come was a big problem!
That is the looking glass fantasy they want Scotland to believe.
But the people aren’t daft – they know that Scottish energy resources are the asset, Trident is the problem, and Westminster the liability.
Combining the natural and human resources of Scotland is the way to fairness and prosperity.
Our call for the 18th of September next year is one to optimism and progress.
There was a referendum opnce when Scotland was cheated out of our right to self-government.
Listen to just this one example – among the tirade of scare stories – used to frighten people into voting No to self-government in 1979. It was a Daily Express editorial 10 days before the referendum:
“How much of Scotland’s economy will be left intact if a Scottish Assembly gets the go-ahead on March 1? Will our coal mines go gaily on? Will Ravenscraig or Linwood thrive? Will Bathgate flourish and Dounreay prosper?”
No assembly came in 1979 – and every plant and facility listed by the Express closed under Westminster-rule – all gone, every one.
We will not be conned again.
We achieved a Parliament in 1997 – overcoming a welter of scaremongering in a referendum. And we have never looked back. The latest survey shows that only 6% of Scots want to turn the clock back to having no parliament. It will be exactly the same with independence.
All of the things they say about independence now were said about devolution then. And we know they were wrong, because as a nation we have proved them wrong together these past 14 years.
We can now look back and say that thanks to having a parliament, Scotland has a National Health Service worthy of the name, free education for young Scots, and personal care for our older citizens.
None of these things exist south of the Border, and none would exist in Scotland today without self-government.
I believe in ten years time we will look back and say that thanks to independence we will have a thriving economy, a welfare state worthy of the name, the best childcare system anywhere in these islands, and the obscenity of Trident nuclear weapons on the Clyde will be but a distant memory.
Friends, the referendum for an independent Scotland is a precious opportunity – one given to no previous generation. We do not know if we will pass this way again.
I believe Scotland will vote Yes next September – and give a renewed purpose to this old nation.
A ‘new sang’ to sound a better Scotland.