Delegates, we are entering a new chapter in our nation’s history.
In less than one year’s time the people of Scotland will have the opportunity of a generation.
That opportunity on September the 18th 2014 is this:
TO BUILD A PROSPEROUS COUNTRY
TO CREATE A JUST SOCIETY.
TO BECOME AN INDEPENDENT COUNTRY.
Now for supporters across the land this is the campaign we have been working towards all our lives.
It is a time for both anticipation and also for reflection.
To reflect on the efforts of those who gave so much. Great colleagues who have died in recent years such as Billy Wolfe, Allan Macartney, Margaret Ewing, Neil MacCormick, Bashir Ahmad and Jimmy Reid and many others.
And even more recently Kay Matheson, Allison Hunter and Brian Adam MSP.
It was an honour to speak at Brian’s funeral in Aberdeen in the summer as we celebrated the contribution of an outstanding human being.
We all know Brian did a huge amount to encourage and inspire young people, particularly those from overseas, to come to Scotland and get involved in politics.
Conference, I’m therefore delighted to announce that the SNP’s internship programme in the Scottish Parliament will now be dedicated in Brian Adam’s memory.
We are standing on the shoulders of giants who kept Scotland’s flame alive.
And how they would have relished the next eleven months.
So let’s keep our colleagues in our hearts as we remember how lucky, how lucky we are to live in this moment.
And let’s use their inspiration to secure Scotland’s place as a full and independent member of the family of nations.
But friends - a Yes vote is not about a victory for the SNP.
Or even a victory for the Yes campaign.
Or even for the huge coalition of interests and enthusiasm that supports a Yes vote.
It will be, above all, an act of national self-confidence and self-belief.
We - the people of Scotland - have - by far - the greatest stake in its success and we are - by far – best placed to take decisions about our future.
I know people at home watching right now and across the country want to know more about independence.
They want to hear more about the benefits. They are hungry for information.
And we have undertaken to provide that information
Because delegates – we know that the more people know about independence the more likely they are to vote YES.
Last month broadcast debates were held to mark a year to go to the referendum.
The audience was balanced between those in favour of independence, those against and those undecided.
The significant thing is this - at the end of a couple of the debates, having heard the arguments, people were then asked how they would vote.
The result on both occasions – a majority for independence.
WHY? BECAUSE WHEN PEOPLE HEAR THE CAN-DO OPTIMISM OF THE YES CAMPAIGN UP AGAINST THE CAN’T-DO DIRGE OF THE NO CAMPAIGN THEN THEY CHOOSE YES.
A few weeks ago students at Abertay University were invited to listen to Stewart Hosie debate Lord George Robertson – I’m told around 200 turned up – Stewart’s clearly a big draw!
At the start of that debate 59 per cent were No voters and 21 per cent Yes.
After hearing Stewart and Lord George: 51 per cent Yes and 38 per cent No.
A swing by my calculations of 25 per cent!
It must have been quite a shock for Lord George.
After all didn’t he once predict that devolution would kill the SNP “stone dead.”
According to George, we should all be past tense by now.
WELL, I HAVE A MESSAGE FOR LORD GEORGE AND THE NO CAMPAIGN: THE SNP ARE THE MAJORITY GOVERNMENT OF SCOTLAND. THE MOVEMENT FOR NATIONAL SELF DETERMINATION IS ALIVE AND WELL
AND WE INTEND TO WIN THIS REFERENDUM.
For many people, of all the arguments, it is the economic issues – bread and butter issues - that matter the most.
We’ve all heard the question - can Scotland afford to be independent?
The independence debate will always be hard-fought on both sides but on this central issue of whether Scotland could become a successful independent country there is, in fact, no longer any real debate.
Just ask the most senior figures in the No Campaign:
The Prime Minister says: “It would be wrong to suggest that Scotland could not be another successful, independent country.”
Alistair Darling says - the question is not whether Scotland can survive as an independent country. “Of course it could,” he says.
I don’t make a habit of agreeing with the Prime Minister and Mr Darling - these days I leave them to agree with each other - but on this issue they are correct.
And here’s why:
Scotland is a country rich and fortunate in both human talent and natural resources.
· We have more top universities per head than any other country in the world.
· Our food and drink industry is entering a golden era.
· Scotland has been declared the world’s top travel destination
· Foreign investment is at a 15 year high.
· Wind, wave and tidal energy can make Scotland the green powerhouse of Europe for decades to come.
· We are a hotbed of life science innovation.
Delegates, let’s resolve this over the next year:
LET’S NEVER EVER ALLOW ANY OF THE OPPONENTS OF INDEPENDENCE DIMINISH OR TALK DOWN THE PROSPECTS OF THIS COUNTRY OR THE ABILITIES OF OUR PEOPLE.
And let us look and laugh at a’ that day tripping of UK Cabinet Ministers coming up to tell us that the ten plagues of Egypt would descend on an independent Scotland.
Mind you - you don’t need to be a London Minister to make a fool of yourself on Scottish geography. I’m grateful to the Herald newspaper for pointing out that Danny Alexander yesterday announced a fuel discount scheme for two Highland villages. The problem is these villages no longer have filling stations! Only the Liberal Democrats...
However, in terms of the Westminster barrage the Prime Minister’s position is untenable.
He promised a respectful debate but then turns the full guns of the Whitehall machine on Scotland.
He wants to dictate the terms of the debate without of course debating himself. He wants the power without the democratic responsibility and that is simply not on.
SO HERE’S THE DEAL PRIME MINISTER.
WE’LL PUBLISH THE WHITE PAPER THEN YOU AND I MUST DEBATE. FIRST MINISTER TO PRIME MINISTER.
THE CHOICE IS YOURS. STEP UP TO THE PLATE – OR STEP OUT OF THIS DEBATE!
After that I will take on whichever of your substitutes you care to put up.
And here are some facts that are certainly worth debating:
For every one of the last 30 years Scotland has generated more tax per head than the UK as a whole.
And without a single penny from the North Sea our national income, per head, is virtually the same as the UK’s.
With oil, our economy is almost one-fifth bigger. And we produce six times as much oil as we need.
North Sea oil and gas is a huge bonus.
Not, however, according to the No campaign.
They depict the continuing asset with a wholesale value of 1 and a half TRILLION POUNDS as something else. As a national catastrophe.
Perhaps it’s because they are embarrassed. Well so they should be.
There are only two countries in the world with the great fortune of having huge oil resources who have failed to establish a savings fund to benefit future generations.
The UK and the Republic of Iraq.
Vast oil wealth is not a problem for Scotland.
THE PROBLEM FOR SCOTLAND IS THAT FOR FORTY YEARS WESTMINSTER HAS SQUANDERED THAT VAST OIL WEALTH.
And this – friends - gets to the very heart of the independence debate.
No-one really doubts that Scotland could be independent.
This debate is about whether Scotland should be independent.
Those running the official campaign against that proposition call themselves “Project Fear”. For the term “Project Fear” is not some insult dreamed up by the Yes campaign.
It is a self-description.
That’s right - the No Campaign actually described themselves as Project Fear.
Labour’s UK Health spokesman, Andy Burnham, captured the mood of that project.
Last month he actually said he is opposed to independence because he doesn’t want to drive up the M6, get out his passport and start driving on the right when he comes to Scotland.
Mind you, I thought Labour has been driving on the right for some time.
Mr Burnham’s suggestion is a worthy addition to all the rest – the mobile phone charges, the annexation of Faslane, embassies refusing to hold whisky receptions!
Project Fear? More like Project Farce.
The central question of the coming referendum campaign is who should be taking decisions about Scotland – those who live and work here or Westminster politicians.
IT IS A COMMON-SENSE ARGUMENT BASED ON OUR EXPERIENCE.
The record of Scotland’s Parliament has demonstrated that is undeniably the case.
Free personal care supported unanimously by every party in the Parliament.
The ground-breaking ban on smoking in public places.
Protecting the NHS from privatisation.
Access to education based on the ability to learn not the ability to pay.
A 39 year low in crime and a record number of police officers on our streets.
And the Council Tax Freeze – saving hard-pressed families in Scotland £1,200 when just about every other household bill is rising.
Friends, where we have the power we have chosen a different path.
A path that reflects Scotland’s social democratic consensus, our shared progressive values - our priorities as a society.
Now Labour and Tory dismiss these gains as the luxuries of a something for nothing country – really? Personal care for older people, free tuition for young people, to be cast aside as something for nothing?
THIS IS NOT A SOMETHING FOR NOTHING COUNTRY BUT A SOMETHING FOR SOMETHING SOCIETY AND THIS PARTY SHALL DEFEND THAT SOCIAL PROGRESS MADE BY OUR PARLIAMENT.
Conference, with even just a taste of independence we have been able to deliver fairer policies than elsewhere in these islands.
With a measure of independence on health, on education and on law and order we have made Scotland a better place.
So let us consider what we can achieve by extending our powers over the things we don’t currently control.
Over our welfare system, our economy, our energy supplies and our international security.
Because there is no doubt we are paying a heavy price for Westminster decisions.
On Wednesday I met with the Prime Minister in London at the Joint Ministerial Committee.
Let me give you a taste of three aspects of that meeting to see the difference of perspective between the Governments – not just Governments but political cultures- of these islands.
Youth unemployment – a fundamental issue facing society as we move out of recession.
Scotland is the only country in Europe with a dedicated Youth Employment Minister in Angela Constance. We have a youth guarantee in Scotland that any youngster between 16-19 without a job, education or training gets the offer of help within 4 months.
It is quick intervention and it works.
There is a European proposal to extend this. Westminster opposes it not because it is not a good idea but basically because it is European.
We need the freedom to respond to European initiatives in the best way for Scotland, not to have a proposal on training for youngsters distorted through a Eurosceptic lens.
I’m delighted to announce one such further initiative today.
THE ALLOCATION OF A 60 MILLION POUND PACKAGE SUPPORTING 43 PROJECTS ACROSS THE COUNTRY CREATING MORE THAN 3,000 JOBS.
FRIENDS – FROM THE DEVELOPMENT OF A NEW GATEWAY TO WESTER ROSS TO AN INVESTMENT FUND IN FIFE, ALL OF THESE PROJECTS WILL SUPPORT VITAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR OUR YOUNG PEOPLE.
And you know what? The fact that it comes from European initiative is something which will not concern the young people who are benefiting - not one jot.
WE WILL NOT ALLOW ACTION ON YOUTH UNEMPLOYMENT TO BE RESTRICTED BY THE PAROCHIAL INSULARITY OF WESTMINSTER.
Then we had a discussion on the great sporting and cultural events being held in these islands.
The Olympic Games was a great event, the Derry/Londonderry cultural city is a great event. The Commonwealth Games will be a great event.
But one reason we all feel positive about Glasgow 2014 is that we are not financing a great Games out money which should be going to good causes.
More than a year after the Olympics Scottish good causes are still waiting for the promised return of £114 million of lottery funding which was diverted to fund the London Games.
IN CONTRAST EVERY PENNY PIECE OF FUNDING FOR THE COMMONWEALTH GAMES AND ITS LEGACY IS BEING DELIVERED BY THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT, THE CITY OF GLASGOW AND COMMERCIAL SPONSORSHIP – AND IT WILL BE THE GREATEST SPORTING EVENT THAT SCOTLAND HAS EVER SEEN.
The third subject was the bedroom tax - unforgivably targeted at some of the most vulnerable in our society.
Delegates, in the 1990s, the Poll Tax became a symbol of why devolution was necessary. The Bedroom Tax is becoming a symbol of why independence is necessary.
Remember - the Bedroom Tax was opposed by 90% of Scottish MPs in the House of Commons - yet it still passed and now penalises 80,000 households in Scotland – 80% include a disabled person.
In August it was condemned by a special rapporteur for the United Nations.
The Chairman of the Conservative Party said it was “disgraceful” that she was commenting.
THAT IS NOT THE DISGRACE. THE DISGRACE IS THAT A UNITED NATIONS REPRESENTATIVE WAS FORCED TO COMMENT ON AN INJUSTICE IN 21ST CENTURY SCOTLAND.
DELEGATES – LET ME BE CLEAR - ONE OF THE FIRST ACTS OF THE SNP IN A GOVERNMENT OF AN INDEPENDENT SCOTLAND WILL BE TO SCRAP THE BEDROOM TAX.
The Edinburgh playwright David Greig says the independence debate allows us to explore every aspect of our national life and ask ourselves the question – ‘does it have to be like this?’
I don’t believe it does.
Four years ago the previous Labour Westminster government attempted to sell-off the Royal Mail.
The plans were fiercely resisted in Scotland and rightly so.
But this month we were reminded of a painful lesson.
Regardless of what people in Scotland think or believe if Westminster is determined to sell off Scotland’s public assets then it will find a way.
In the face of massive public opposition and ignoring the wishes of almost all Scottish MPs our postal service was privatised by a government we didn’t elect.
They hailed the sale of a profitable business at a knock-down price as a good thing.
It is the equivalent of selling off £10 notes for a fiver and calling it a success!
And it’s the latest instalment in Westminster’s privatisation obsession.
Now where we – as a government - have the powers to protect our services we have succeeded.
Despite privatisation elsewhere in the UK, Scottish Water remains in public hands and now Scotland has the lowest average household water bills in these Islands.
Conference - If we can make a success of Scottish Water we can make a success of the Royal Mail.
If elected in an independent Scotland I give this pledge:
An SNP government will bring our Royal Mail back into public hands.
In a properly run democracy governments exist to reconcile collective action and individual aspiration.
An effective water service and a socially committed postal service are essential platforms which allow business to grow and communities to prosper.
Scots are famed across the world for our entrepreneurial spirit.
But the Westminster economic system is not working for Scotland.
The difference in economic performance between areas is greater in the UK than any other European Union nation.
It has created one of the biggest gaps between rich and poor in the developed world – the fourth most unequal society in the OECD.
That means people from ordinary backgrounds find it harder to get on and to get good jobs.
And it means something else.
This level of inequality offends the very basis of a good society.
IT FOSTERS DIVISION. IT STIFLES AMBITION.
AND NO INDEPENDENT SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT WOULD EVER ACCEPT SUCH AN APPALLING WASTE OF TALENT AND POTENTIAL.
So there is a choice. A choice between two futures:
Accept our status as an economic region of an unbalanced and unequal system.
Or embrace the powers of a national economy.
The powers to compete; to grow businesses here in Scotland; to attract headquarters and to ensure our best and brightest can realise their ambitions in their own country.
THAT IS THE ECONOMIC PRIZE OF INDEPENDENCE.
Friends the Grangemouth refinery has been in existence for 90 years.
I grew up in Linlithgow and I have been conscious of the fires of Grangemouth all of my life but right now that plant is idle and cold.
And as the standoff continues the threat to Grangemouth grows. So let us inject some commonsense into this position.
To the union drop any strike threat To the management fire up the plant and then negotiate against the background of a working facility not one which is in mortal danger. Find common ground.
So let me be quite clear.
SCOTLAND WANTS TO SEE GRANGEMOUTH OPERATING AND THE PEOPLE OF GRANGEMOUTH WORKING.
FIRE UP THE PLANT AND DO IT NOW.
Friends, no-one in this party claims that an independent Scotland will be able to wish away global competition. We will still be affected by it, influenced by it and often challenged by it. No-one in this world owes Scotland a living.
But there is a difference that will make the difference. An independent Scotland will have a Parliament with the full range of powers and the people will have a Government which is on their side.
Delegates – right now a Westminster Government that people in Scotland overwhelmingly rejected is giving tax cuts to millionaires at the same time as cutting the income of the low paid.
In contrast - almost exactly a year ago the Scottish Government announced it was bringing in a new living wage of £7.45 per hour.
This covers the 160,000 people in Scotland working for central government, its agencies and the NHS.
This is part of what we call the “social wage” - the contract between the people of Scotland and their Government.
It affords people the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families.
With independence we should have the aspiration to achieve a living wage for all workers – not just those under the responsibility of government. Yesterday Nicola explained how we intend to encourage the private sector to move towards the living wage.
And today I can announce further steps toward achieving that ambition.
Around 70,000 people currently receive the minimum wage in Scotland.
In real terms the minimum wage has failed to increase in almost a decade.
Indeed in every single year since the recession of 2008 that minimum wage has failed to keep up with the cost of living.
If elected, on independence - this Scottish Government will establish a Fair Work Commission.
THE CENTRAL PILLAR OF THAT COMMISSION WILL BE TO SET A MINIMUM WAGE GUARANTEE.
I CAN ANNOUNCE THAT THIS GUARANTEE WILL ENSURE A MINIMUM WAGE THAT RISES - AT THE VERY LEAST - IN LINE WITH INFLATION.
LET US PLEDGE THAT NEVER AGAIN WILL WAGES OF THE LOWEST PAID IN SCOTLAND FAIL TO KEEP UP WITH THE COST OF LIVING.
If this had been in force in the last five years – the lowest paid Scots would today be a total of almost £675 better off.
FRIENDS WORK SHOULD PAY – AND WE MUST ENSURE THAT WORK PAYS BY RAISING THE SKILLS AND REWARDS OF LABOUR NOT BY REDUCING PEOPLE TO PENURY AND DESPAIR.
As we move into this crucial year for Scotland we accept - indeed relish - the challenge to furnish the people of Scotland with the information necessary to assess the opportunities of independence.
I CAN THEREFORE ANNOUNCE THE SCOTTISH GOVERNMENT WILL PUBLISH THE WHITE PAPER ON INDEPENDENCE ON TUESDAY 26 NOVEMBER.
IT SHALL DO TWO THINGS:
First, it will spell out the platform that we will establish for Scotland between the referendum next year and the first elections for an independent Scottish Parliament in the spring of 2016.
It will therefore be clear that independence is not at its heart about this party or this administration or this First Minister but about fundamental democratic choice for Scotland - the peoples’ right to choose a Government of our own.
And secondly the White Paper will set out the why of independence, our vision of Scotland – the Scotland that we seek.
We seek a country with a written constitution protecting not just the liberties for the people but enunciating the rights of the citizen.
We seek a country where we make work pay not by humiliating those with disabilities but by strengthening the minimum wage.
We seek a country where key public services remain in public hands.
We seek a country where business prospers but where the public are protected against the abuse of monopoly power.
We seek a country where the right to health and education are based on human need and ability not on the size of your wallet.
We seek a country which understands its contribution to culture and creativity as part of an international framework.
And we seek a country which judges its contribution on how useful it can be to the rest of humanity not on how many warheads it can balance on a Trident submarine.
The late, great Iain Banks, said independence will boost the morale of the nation.
He wrote of what he believed would be the “sheer energisation of a whole people.”
That energy can already be felt across Scotland.
People are starting to imagine a better life, better communities and a better country.
We are truly privileged.
Because in less than one year’s time we can stop imagining.
And we can start building.
Building the Scotland we know is possible.
We should remember that Scotland has been on a Home Rule journey for well over a century
Twice in the more recent chapters of that story have the people been asked the question: “Yes or No?”
And twice already they have said “Yes”, once narrowly and then overwhelmingly.
So it is our privilege in this generation to determine the next chapter of Scotland’s story.
And when the pages of books yet unwritten speak to generations yet unborn of this time and this place, of our Scotland today, what is the story they will tell?
They can say that we who lived at this special time recognised a priceless moment for what it was.
That those who saw this chance did not baulk at it.
That those who were given this moment did not let it pass by.
And that we, Scotland’s independence generation, reached out and grasped the opportunity of a lifetime when it came our way.
We will NOT wake up on the morning of 19 September next year and think to ourselves what might have been.
We WILL wake up on that morning filled with hope and expectation – ready to build a new nation both prosperous and just.
After almost a century of Scotland moving forward to this very moment – let us ask ourselves these simple questions:
If not us - then who?
If not now - then when?
Friends - we ARE Scotland’s independence generation.
And our time is now.