Scotland

Alex Salmond's speech to the SNP conference in Perth

  • 17 October 2010
  • From the section Scotland

Delegates, I have just returned from Delhi - our team did themselves and Scotland proud.

It's worth reflecting on why the Commonwealth Games are of such significance to Scotland. Of course one reason is because Glasgow is now the host city for the next games.

But the Games are special because it is the only multi sport event where Scotland takes part as a nation - in our own right.

There is no doubt what the team thinks of that.

They are the most highly motivated group it has been my pleasure to meet.

The other 70 nations of the Commonwealth have entrusted Scotland with the 2014 Games. In Delhi's magnificent closing ceremony the Scottish team, the Scottish presentation, Scotland itself, was cheered to the echo.

There is no doubt what other countries think of Scotland.

The question is whether that opinion - that high opinion - is shared by ourselves. Do we, all the people of Scotland, think this nation is good enough, bright enough, and rich enough to participate in our own right - not just in the sporting arena but across the range of human endeavour?

Delegates - one of our party founders Robert Cunningham Graeme once said:

"The problem for Scotland is not the English who are a great and noble people. The problem for Scotland is those Scots who are born without imagination"

In one sense he was wrong. People are not born without imagination - it is drummed out of them - often by political parties, who have a vested interest in lowering the expectations of the people.

Delegates your job, my job, our job - is to change the condition of our country by persuading our fellow citizens that by working together we can make Scotland better - our objective is to spread the vision of a fair society, built with the tools of an independent nation.

I know that you will do your job. After three and a half years of minority government we have come so far, so well, because of the hard work and loyalty of this party. Every Minister and every MSP are indebted to you. Without your support we could not have sustained this administration and its many successes.

But delegates, we are in new and trying times. The support of this party alone will not see Scotland come out of this crisis better and stronger.

For that, we need to work together across Scotland.

Remember we govern - not for the SNP, but for Scotland, and the welfare of this nation, and all of its five million people.

We face an election in a short while. To my mind, the choice is simple.

Either Scotland stays in the Westminster straightjacket of low growth, public sector cutbacks and blighted futures or we take responsibility and deliver the better society we all want.

Make no mistake delegates the people know where responsibility lies for this crisis.

Labour created it and the Tory/Lib coalition are making it worse.

I know that some people in the Labour Party hoped that now they are in opposition we would all engage in a form of collective amnesia. That we all would forget the appalling mess into which they led this country.

Unfortunately for them it hasn't worked out like that. This week's BBC Mori poll showed that 42% blamed Labour compared with 39% blaming the ConDem coalition - a mere 13% blamed us , and they were all Lord George Foulke's relatives.

*Someone - I can't exactly recall who - said recently that Ed Milliband gets Scotland.

Well Scotland gets Labour on responsibility for the economic crisis.*

Mind you, Labour are doing a good of keeping their heads down - polls show a mere 9% recognise their leader in Scotland.

I am reminded of a newspaper article some years ago that praised John, Nicola and the team under the title 'The Magnificent Seven'.

I was thinking what film title would work for Labour's Holyrood team

The Night of the living Dead?

And as to their leader?

It has to be The Invisible Man?

In tough times the nation needs clear leadership and a positive future. I stand before you offering just that.

We have demonstrated our credentials over the last three years.

Minority government places limits on what can be done. This much we know.

We have tried to compromise where possible, and will always put the people of Scotland's interests first. For that reason we shared our submission to the Ministry of Defence on the looming cuts to our airbases, ship yards and related employment. We will fight to save the carriers and the airbases - the more we stand united as a nation, the stronger our case will be. We have already lost 10,000 defence jobs in Scotland in recent years.

However on some things we draw the line. We will never desert the cause of unilateral nuclear disarmament. Spending £100bn we do not have on a weapons system we don't need, which takes much needed money from every other budget, is a criminal act.

The renewal of trident is an obscenity and this party will continue to oppose it tooth and nail.

Trident at least is a policy difference - Labour and Tory are for it. We are against it. The Liberals? Well they are both for and against it.

However, in general I do not believe the difference between the parties at Holyrood is so great we need to have many of the disputes that we do. It is - sad - that Labour set itself against minimum pricing for alcohol. I look through their arguments and find not the clear blue water of difference, but the sandy grit of opposition for opposition sake.

It is pathetic that when faced with a real challenge to public health which requires the collective will of the Parliament Labour ran away from the battle.

Minority administration we may have been but the SNP government has won many victories.

We have passed and are now implementing the most ambitious climate change legislation in the world. Why you may ask is Scotland entrusted with responsibility on the most serious issue facing the planet while denied the borrowing powers of a local authority?

The answer is simple. Back in 1997 Donald Dewar had a really great idea. The Scotland Act specified only those things which were to be reserved. Anything not listed was by definition devolved. Back then Climate change did not register as a major issue. It wasn't listed as reserved and therefore the Scottish Parliament has that responsibility.

And we have discharged it well, not only passing the world's leading legislation but doing so unanimously - demonstrating that when we act together - Scotland can excel.

We also lead the world in many renewable energy technologies. Fortune magazine, the business journal, carried an article with the headline:

Scotland rules the waves!

We are on course to exceed our previous renewables targets, and now aim to produce 80% of our energy needs from renewables by 2020. And the story does not end there. We now know that we have the marine renewable potential to generate 10 times Scotland's own electricity requirements from marine renewables just as at the peak of oil production we produced ten times our consumption of hydrocarbons.

In the next few weeks our government will be publishing a consultation paper on how Scotland and the communities of Scotland can benefit from the development of that vast renewable wealth. We all know what has happened thus far with oil and gas.

This time round Scotland must secure the resource benefit. There are many proposals but let me tell you about just one. The Crown Estate Commission, which controls the foreshores of Scotland, must be brought under the control of Scottish people.

World beating targets on climate change - agenda-setting goals in renewables - delegates, when I say we govern for all the people, that is what I mean - for all our citizens, and their children who will benefit from these policies. Not only that, but when given the responsibility to act in the best interests of the world, we act well.

And we act well for the people in our communities. Minority we may have been, but we have:

· Ended tuition fees

· Ended bridge tolls

· Frozen Council Tax

· Ended prescription charges

· Put a 1,000 extra policemen on our streets and an extra 1000 cleaners into our hospitals

These are all substantial advances for the nation.

And it doesn't stop there. Extra police is not about numbers it is about impact. Under this administration we now have the lowest crime rate for 32 years and the highest clear up rate in 30.

Public confidence in the police is high and fear of crime is falling.

Our opponents claimed that our common sense policies couldn't work. The facts tell a different story.

After 30 years of Tory and Labour dancing to the tabloid tune the - prisons were bursting at the seams and public confidence in the justice system was at a low.

Three years of the SNP has seen the police college bursting at the seams and now fear of crime is at a low.

However, in the current mood of crisis, there is a cry that we should get rid of the policies which make Scotland different - an assumption somehow that when times are tough, we should abandon our gains of the last decade.

It's the eBay approach - slap a price on everything and haggle your possessions away. To that, I say no.

Mr Cameron, hear me now and hear me well, Scotland is not for sale.

Let us reflect instead on the words of two great Scots who died this year - Jimmy Reid and Eddie Morgan.

In the 1970s Jimmy led not just the shipyards but the country in responding to a great challenge. But more than that he said that it was the job of human beings to control their circumstances not to allow them to devalue humanity.

"A rat race is for rats. We're not rats. We're human beings. Reject the insidious pressures in society that would blunt your critical faculties to all that is happening around you, that would caution silence in the face of injustice"

Conference, these and other inspiring words from Jimmy are now available to every schoolchild in Scotland - a promise I made at his funeral, which I am honoured to redeem.

And delegates - I am delighted that some of Jimmy's family are joining us at Conference today.

Eddie Morgan was a great poet and Scotland's national makar. Being a poet laureate is no easy task. You have to write to order for great occasions. It can prove beyond the powers of some. For example, when confronted with the news of the death of Edward V poet laureate, Alfred Austin, was moved to write:

"Along the electric wire the message came. The King is no better he is much the same"

Eddie Morgan was cast in a different mould. His poem to mark the opening of the new Parliament building got to the heart of what is required from MSPs.

"We give our deepest dearest wish to govern well - don't say we have no mandate to be so bold.

"We give you this great building - don't let your work and hope be other than great when you enter and begin.

"So now begin. Open the doors and begin."

Jimmy and Eddie were right. Now is the time to control our circumstances. Now is the time to be bold.

Our task is to take the diversity of the people of Scotland and weave together a single cloth. We now have to work together, united, to protect our jobs and families.

The Cameron-Clegg pact will see the greatest attack on public budgets ever.

For the Tories, this is something of a happy moment - a chance to cut the state back. According to their claims, the private sector will pick up the jobs lost in the public sector - despite the total failure to sort out bank lending.

Well I have news for Cameron; this is a question of economics, not crossed-fingers. The cuts are too fast and too deep - we said that at the beginning, we say it now, though I notice many more agree with us as time goes by.

Do not sacrifice the public services to appease your ideological gods. Do not let the people suffer for attitudes forged on the playing fields of Eton.

As for Clegg - never has a politician turned so fast on so many promises. There was a survey once which claimed that a majority of people couldn't remember voting Liberal from one election to the next.

Now the entire Liberal party can't remember why they voted Liberal at the last election.

So let me tell you what we will do as the storm clouds gather.

Our first duty is to protect the people of Scotland.

On Wednesday the Tory Chancellor, cheered on by his Liberal deputy, will announce the most ferocious series of cuts witnessed in a lifetime. There is nothing to be gained from sugar-coating this - it will be hard, it will be deep and it will hurt.

It risks ripping the social fabric of our nation.

But we will not let that occur.

So let me tell you what we shall do.

As John has made clear, there will have to be pay restraint. We have a fixed budget, we must balance our books. To do that, we must restrict our spending. Pay will certainly be a part of that.

And that is why, when households are under pressure I do not want to land people with a tax punch.

Through the Concordat, we have worked with Local Authorities in a manner never before thought possible. We have struck a new deal between the tiers of government; I believe that to be a success. And we have done so while freezing Council Tax.

While inflation goes up, VAT goes up and times are uncertain, there is no way that the households of Scotland should suffer more. For the next two years, the freeze is on.

Council tax bills doubled under first Tory then Labour but they have not risen under the SNP. And if this is to be a defining issue of the election then so be it.

But I wish to do more.

I cannot declare a Living wage for every Scot, much as I'd like to. But where our powers extend, I can act.

As of August this year, every core worker in the Scottish government was paid over the Living Wage target of £7.15 an hour. We took that decision because it was right.

Conference, I can announce that we shall approach this pay round seeking to ensure that every wage packet controlled directly by the Scottish government - through the NHS and the government agencies - will meet the living wage target.

Where we have the powers to protect when times are tough, we shall always protect the most vulnerable.

And people tell me, no matter where I am in this nation, that the one thing they dread is the thought of feeling vulnerable in their own communities. People deserve to feel safe in their homes, on their streets and in their lives.

So it was a source of great pride when we delivered 1,000 extra policemen to the streets of Scotland.

1,000 more bobbies.

With crime at a 32 year low - that has worked.

But I will not see that security evaporate in the heat of Cameron and Clegg's cuts.

25% of police expenditure goes on headquarters functions. We have eight forces in Scotland one of which covers almost half of the population. In times like these we must protect the frontline and so I make this pledge.

If it comes down to a choice between cops and bureaucracy, between Bobbies on the beat and the boundaries of police authorities, then with me it's simple - It's policemen first - safety first - communities first - bobbies before boundaries.

And the number one service in any society is health.

Much of our ill health is not through personal mistakes - it is because of a lottery of poverty, poor chances and low opportunities. Nobody chooses to be ill - and that is why nobody should choose to make the ill suffer more.

Therefore it is a source of great national pride that we will protect the NHS revenue budget.

A third of the banknotes in the Scottish Block have the promise to pay the NHS - and I am not about to break that promise.

Under the SNP the NHS gets the entire NHS budget.

So we will protect the values that I believe are shared by all the people of Scotland.

That means we have to be clever. Smart. Adaptable.

We will economise on police bureaucracy to protect the frontline. We will economise on NHS management to protect the frontline. I understand that for some that news will be tough.

But I am clear that when it comes to protecting our people, and to protecting our values, then we have to protect the nurse on the ward the police officer in the community.

So conference, we can protect, and we can act and we can innovate.

Scottish Water is one such innovation. The cry was either to sell it, or keep it public. That's it.

That's not good enough. You can't govern by black and white, by either/or - leadership is more complicated.

So Scottish Water will be developed. This is not just a utility - successful as it is - but an agency which can develop and utilize our precious water resources for commercial and humanitarian benefit.

So let me tell you now.

Our water will not be privatised - not a tap, not a drop.

Instead, our water will drive our economy, drive our international duties, protect our environment for the foreseeable future.

It will become a dynamic agency, linking the economic potential of water and renewables such that we develop a publicly owned company commanding respect around the world.

Now is the time for fresh thinking.

One man who grasps this is one of the world's most famous economists, Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz.

He's the one who recently said that the UK state squandered its oil when it should have invested for the future - sounds like a smart man.

He's the one who argues that to get out of crisis governments should now be taking advantage of the low cost of capital to invest in the future - sounds like a very smart guy.

Conference I can tell you today that Joe Stiglitz has agreed to advise the Scottish government on our country's economic future. A Nobel prize winning economist backing Scotland.

But I know we have to start a bigger job, the job of re-imagining our society. For the money that flowed in the last ten years will take a long time to flow again, and the shift of age and people and demands continues, and the idea that we can just stay the same is not on. We need new ideas for this new century.

That is why I am delighted to announce a new commission, the commission into the future of public services.

Much has been said about the Big Society. I am more concerned by the Fair Society. And I am concerned that in the rush to adapt, good things will be lost. So I have turned to Campbell Christie, former head of the STUC, and asked him to chair a commission into our public services. I do not believe that on a question so great, an issue so important, it should fall to party political positioning alone. I do believe that Campbell will offer an independent, considered and wise view of how we go forward. He will look at how we deliver services in the new financial landscape while maintaining our social democratic ethos.

Now, I make a judgment here. I think you wanted Nobel Prize winning advice?

I think you wanted Scottish Water to stay in public hands?

I think you wanted the NHS protected?

I think you thought the low paid should have a living wage?

I think you wanted the ill to have free prescriptions?

I think you live in communities where people should feel safe from crime?

We can protect the front line, and we can act to protect precious parts of our society, but we can not do all that we would wish.

At the opening of parliament, I said that the first age of devolution is over.

No one has challenged that since. Everyone knows that the money has run out. People are beginning to see the parliaments' powers have run their course.

There is no point it being a pocket money parliament when the pocket money stops.

Now is the time for new economic growth, and new powers.

We know thanks to the work of Andrew Hughes Hallett and Drew Scott that with economic powers we could grow the Scottish economy by an extra 1% a year.

That doesn't sound a lot but year on year it would replace with extra revenue up to half of the cuts coming from Westminster.

We are not helpless agents of globalisation, but free citizens of a wealthy land. We are not slaves to the banking system or vassals to the lords of high finance.

And nor are we the tartan clichés of media myth, or the historical poetry of yesterday. We are the prose of today, the facts of here and now, the truth of Scotland.

And when we look to our neighbours, we can all see the family who can't quite make ends meet, the child you needs some extra help, the grandmother alone who needs a hand, the mother struggling with hands full, the man at the end of his tether - for we are all the people who choose to live on this land, and by our shared values, we are the welfare of everyone in our community.

We must never make the mistake of confusing having a national parliament with having a national purpose.

I stand before you now NOT saying that independence is everything but saying that to protect our values is absolutely all, and to do this, within ourselves, is - all. And that is why having the powers are all.

And perhaps when we have spoken of independence, we have assumed everyone else knew what we meant.

Well, should there be any doubt, then what I mean by independence is the profound right to enjoy the same equality of opportunity, and to live in more equal communities. What I mean by independence is jobs - to protect and create them.

Is this a grand dream? Yes. But that is the difference between us and the other parties in this coming election. We have the vision, and we have the means to deliver it. For be assured. I do not want Independence for its own sake, but for the sake of the people here and now and those to come.

I will not be a manager of Westminster directed cuts nor part of a parliament which acts as a message boy for decisions made elsewhere.

I want to see a better nation. I want us to act together, in common purpose, to deliver that better land. I want you and everyone here in Perth, in this land, to know that having a parliament in itself is not enough.

We need a purpose - and it is my purpose to get the powers to address our problems.

I believe our people want a better society. Not a bit better, not a wee change, not some tinkering at the edges, but a better land full stop.

Perhaps from now on I should explain it thus -

The referendum we wish to have is first and foremost a jobs referendum. The Independence I seek is the independence to create jobs. The powers I wish for us all are powers to protect us all. This is not an arcane question removed from the people - it is the people, you and me, and how we protect our society, and grow our economy.

That is what I mean by Independence. I fight not for flags and anthems, but fairness and compassion. I fight for a generation that is not burdened by the mistakes of this one.

And as you know, I fight and I do not give up. I fight for this party, because I believe in our hearts we have nothing but goodness, and I fight for this nation because I think the people of Scotland will choose a better way, a better society, and a fairer society as their way.

And I fight in the knowledge that is a big fight. The cuts will be bad. The pain will be great. But I fight because I know how we should act.

And I know where we are going - I am the First Minister of Scotland, and I intend to continue to be, not because I have all the answers, but because I have the absolute commitment, the experience and above all that sense of national purpose.

I, we, have the purpose to make this a better land. Join us, be part of this, be part of better.

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