Speech – Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
15:00- 15:35, Friday 11 April – SNP Conference
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We gather here in Aberdeen today with just over five months to go to the biggest and best opportunity we will ever have to build a better country. I doubt if our predecessors, presiding over the birth of our Party exactly 80 years ago this week, would have intended it to take us quite so long to get here. ut, friends, here we are, standing at last on the threshold of our nation's independence.
Of course, we wouldn't and couldn't have come this far without the toil, the occasional tears and the hard-won triumphs of generations of nationalists who have gone before us.
Last year, we said farewell to Aberdeen’s very own Brian Adam and to my dear friend and election agent, Allison Hunter - two nationalists who, in my book, are simply irreplaceable.
And just last week we lost an icon of our movement, the one and only Margo MacDonald. Margo electrified Scottish politics when she won Govan in 1973. Her contribution to Scotland and to our cause has been immeasurable. She was, truly, an independent spirit and we will not see her like again.
Conference, let us pay tribute to Margo MacDonald.
Brian, Allison and Margo - dear to us as they were - are three names amongst many. There are countless nationalists who paved the way but who didn't live to see the final stage of this journey. To each and every one of them who worked so hard for so long to give our generation the chance to see our dream realised, let us say a simple and heartfelt 'thank you'.
Of course, the best way to say 'thank you' is to win. So let us also make this declaration today.
On the 18 September, we do intend to win a Yes vote.
We are going to win our independence.
The momentum is now clearly and firmly with Yes. But if we are going to deliver on that declaration, we have much work still to do. Our job is to persuade our fellow Scots - with facts, with reason and with passion - what we know in our hearts and in our heads to be true.
The best way, the only way, to build a wealthier Scotland, a fairer Scotland and a more confident Scotland is to equip ourselves with the full powers of independence.
When the First Minister named the date of the referendum just over a year ago, I made a quiet but firm promise to myself. I resolved that I will not wake up on 19 September wishing I had done more or worked harder.
Let us all, today, make that same promise.
Over these next months, we will re-double our efforts.
We will work harder than we have ever done before.
We will go that extra mile.
Because the prize is this:
Not the end of the journey.
But the beginning of a better future.
Scotland – an independent, free and equal member of the family of nations.
I have no doubt that the energy, the commitment and the sheer numbers of people dedicated to winning a Yes vote will be a major factor in the outcome of this referendum.
Yes Scotland is already the biggest and most exciting grassroots campaign our country has ever seen and it is an absolute privilege to be part of it.
We have Women for Independence, Business for Scotland, National Collective, Generation Yes, Farming for Yes, Trade Unionists for Yes, Academics for Yes, Scots Asians for Yes, Seniors for Yes, Radical Independence, Wealthy Nation and many, many more.
We have local Yes campaign groups in every corner of our country.
Our positive movement for change is growing with every single day that passes and let me predict today that by the time we reach September, our momentum will be simply unstoppable.
Each and every one of us has a vital part to play.
And play it we must.
Because, make no mistake, the Westminster establishment is fighting hard too. There will be no scare, no threat, no smear that they will not deploy.
Just this week, we've been warned, by none other than our dear, old friend, Lord George Robertson, that independence will be 'cataclysmic' and a boost to the 'forces of darkness'.
According to George, we are now a threat to the stability of the entire Western world.
Which, you've got to admit, is no mean achievement for a party that was supposed to have been killed stone dead by devolution.
With friends like Lord George, it's no wonder the No campaign is in trouble. And it is in deep trouble.
We've had the currency confession.
I don't often quote UK government ministers, but I'm going to make an exception for the one who was caught telling the truth. 'Of course, there would be a currency union'.
That quote sent Alistair Darling into a tailspin. His response to it prompted a Downing Street source to say this: “I don’t know what thought process he was going through.”
I say, welcome to the club. It speaks volumes that the blame game in the No campaign has already begun. The Liberals say Labour isn’t working hard enough. Labour says no-one believes the Liberals anymore.
And the Tories?
Well, the lecture tour continues.
But I can report today that the Prime Minister, who promised to fight for the union with heart, head, body and soul, is still struggling to locate that part of his anatomy that will allow him to agree to a debate with Alex Salmond.
The blunders of the No campaign are undoubtedly a bonus for Yes. But if I was a supporter of the Union, I would be in despair. Project Fear has not only failed to make a positive case for the Union. It has destroyed the very foundation on which that case might have been based.
In their attempts to scare and threaten the Scottish people, the No campaign has torn apart the notion of the UK as an equal partnership.
We are told that if we vote for independence, we'll have to stump up for a share of Westminster's debt. But we will have no right to any of the assets that we have helped to build and pay for through our taxes, our National Insurance contributions and our licence fees.
As long as we stay with Westminster, they will allow us to benefit.
But if we vote Yes they will decide what we are entitled to.
That attitude demonstrates precisely why Scotland must be independent. The idea of the UK as an equal partnership has been shown up to be a sham. To vote No is to endorse a partnership in which Westminster calls all the shots and Scotland knows her place.
We cannot - we must not - allow that to happen.
If we want a real partnership of equals between Scotland and the other nations of our islands, be in no doubt.
We must vote Yes.
We must choose independence.
I was struck earlier this week by these words:
"Our nations share a unique proximity. We also share a common narrative, woven through the manifold connections between our people and our heritage."
These words were spoken by Michael Higgins, the President of Ireland, during his state visit to the UK this week. And what they demonstrate - through the example of independent Ireland - is that political independence and a strong, enduring, social union can, and do, go hand in hand.
I joined the SNP back in the late 1980s. I was motivated to do so by the damage I saw being done to the community I lived in, by a government Scotland didn’t vote for. That government was eventually defeated by a Labour Party that had become little more than a pale imitation of the Tories it replaced. And now nearly 30 years later, the fabric of our society is again under threat from a government that has no mandate in Scotland.
The positive message at the heart of the Yes campaign is that it does not have to be this way. So let this ring out from our conference today.
Scotland can be independent.
Scotland should be independent.
And Scotland must be independent.
We are one of the wealthiest countries on the planet. No-one now seriously disputes that fact. If we were independent today, we would be the 14th richest country in the world. The UK would be 18th.
So the big question is not whether Scotland is wealthy enough to be independent.
The real question is why so many people in this rich nation of ours don’t feel the benefit of our great wealth.
And that is the burning question that should follow each and every Westminster politician every single day between now and 18 September. One of the most disgraceful and distressing developments of the past few years has been the rapid rise of food poverty in Scotland.
In 2010, the Trussell Trust - the country's biggest provider of food banks - gave emergency food parcels to just over 4,000 people.
By last year, that number had increased to more than 56,000. So many children are now reliant on food aid, that one provider in Glasgow includes nappies in its emergency parcels. The thought of that makes me want to cry.
In one of the richest countries in the world, we have parents - many of them in work - who can't afford the basics for their children.
That is an utter scandal.
And, make no mistake, there is a direct causal link between the growing reliance on food aid and the Tory welfare cuts.
The Tories actually seem quite proud of it. For them, cutting benefits for poor people is a moral crusade. Well, let us say this loudly and clearly to the Tories - your morality is not our morality. And with a Yes vote in September, we will put that beyond any shadow of doubt.
There is no silver lining to the cloud of food banks. But if there is anything at all to be optimistic about it is the way in which people across the country have pulled together to gather and distribute food for those in need.
I want today to pay tribute to all of those people and organisations - including some of our major supermarkets - who are doing this vital work.
The Scottish Government will continue to do all we can to mitigate the worst impact of the Tory assault on the poor and vulnerable.
I can announce today that we will provide an additional £1 million over the next two years to support the efforts of those working so hard to combat the scandal of food poverty in our country.
Earlier this week the Scottish Government published an analysis showing that the cumulative impact of Tory welfare cuts in Scotland is £6 billion.
The Tories pretend that the cuts are all directed at the so-called 'scroungers'. But in truth it is the working poor, children and the disabled who are hardest hit.
One of the services being affected is the Independent Living Fund. It provides financial support to disabled people so that they can live in the community and participate in work, training or education. Back in 2010, one of the first acts of a certain Maria Miller was to announce the closure of this Fund to new applicants.
Then the decision was taken to close it altogether. But I can announce today that the Scottish Government will establish a Scottish Independent Living Fund. It will support the more than 3,000 people in Scotland who depend on the existing fund. And we will invest an extra £5m a year to open up the Fund to new applicants, so that people with disabilities can live full, active and independent lives.
Our Scottish Government will never walk by on the other side. But let me say this from the heart. I didn't come into politics to mitigate miserable Tory policies. Like you, I came into politics because I wanted to help build a better country.
And with independence, that is exactly what we will do.
Of course, there are still many people across our country who, despite its record, retain a loyalty to Labour and who believe that the answer to a Tory government is not independence, but another UK Labour government. I want to speak directly to them today. I ask them to look at the evidence.
For half the time since the end of the Second World War we have been saddled with governments we did not vote for. Even when Scotland votes Labour, there is no guarantee that we end up with a Labour government at Westminster. That decision is made by others. It is out of our hands.
And all too often even when there is a UK Labour government, it is the priorities of Westminster, not of Scotland, which prevail. That is why more and more Labour voters are voting Yes.
The chair of Yes Scotland is Dennis Canavan – a former Labour MP who has spent his life campaigning for social justice. Dennis is voting Yes. And, conference, let us thank him today for the outstanding job he is doing. And Dennis is not the only one.
Charles Gray, the former Labour leader of Strathclyde Regional Council is voting Yes.
Alex Mosson, a one time Labour Lord Provost of Glasgow is voting Yes.
Carol Fox, a former Labour candidate, is voting Yes.
Ian Newton, who used to be Alistair Darling's election agent, is voting Yes.
Bob Holman, a Labour member of 53 years standing, the founder of the Easterhouse Project and someone who has devoted his entire life to fighting poverty - he is voting Yes too.
To every Labour voter in the country, I say this. The Yes campaign is not asking you to leave your party. Instead, it offers you the chance to get your party back. A Labour Party free to make its own decisions. No longer dancing to a Westminster tune.
For everyone out there with Labour in your heart, the message is clear.
Don't vote No to stop the SNP.
Vote Yes to reclaim the Labour Party.
The Yes campaign is about hope and optimism. If we win a Yes vote on September 18, Scotland will become an independent country on 24 March 2016 Scottish Independence Day. How good does that sound? A few weeks ago, to mark two years to go to that date, Yes supporters took to social media to give their reasons for voting Yes. The indyreasons hashtag was born. It was truly inspiring. The determination to build a better, fairer country. The sense of ambition. Hundreds of different reasons but a common belief in independence. Not for its own sake - but because of what it will enable us to do. It is a belief founded on democracy.
As deputy leader of the SNP, I want the first government of an independent Scotland to be an SNP government and I will campaign with all my energy to make it so. But to everyone in Scotland, let us make this clear.
A vote for independence is not a vote for the SNP.
A vote for independence is a vote for democracy.
Since 1999, we’ve seen the real benefits of taking decisions here in Scotland.
We’ve passed world-leading climate change and housing legislation.
We've restored the principle of free education.
We've abolished prescription charges.
And we have protected the NHS as a public service.
And make no mistake. It is only because we hold the power to decide in our own hands that I can stand here proudly and say this: for as long as we are in government, there will be no privatisation of the NHS in Scotland.
These are big gains for families and communities. But there are too many things that we can’t do. We can't give our businesses the competitive edge they need to compete with the pull of London. We can't set an immigration policy that meets our priorities as a country.
We can't stop the destruction of our welfare state by a Tory government we didn't want.
And we can't rid our country of weapons of mass destruction.
Last weekend, I spoke at yet another rally in Glasgow, protesting against the presence of Trident nuclear weapons on the Clyde. I was proud to do so.But, friends,
I'm fed up protesting against Trident.
I want to see the back of Trident.
And just think about this.
In less than six months’ time, if we vote Yes, we won’t be in the protest business anymore. We'll be in the removal business. After years of campaigning, we will have the power.
And be in no doubt - we will use that power to remove Trident from Scotland once and for all.
When I think of the choice we face on 18 September, I think first and foremost of children. Not of this generation but of the next. I think of the kids in my own life, my niece and nephews. I want them to grow up as confident citizens in a confident country. I want them to take the independence of their country for granted, to look back and wonder how we could ever have been anything but independent.
And if they choose to live and work overseas, I want it to be because that's what they've decided to do, not because they lack opportunities here at home. I think too of the children in my wonderful, multi-cultural constituency, learning in primary schools where upwards of 20 different languages are spoken. I want them, even though they may not have been born here, to feel that Scotland is where they belong.
And, let me be clear: I want the loudest voices they hear as they grow up to be voices of love and welcome, not those of Nigel Farage, UKIP and the Westminster politicians who so disgracefully pander to them.
With independence, we can do things differently. We can chart our own course. Sing our own song. That is the point. If we vote Yes, I will be as proud as anyone to see the Saltire fly above the United Nations. But, for me, that's not the purpose of independence.
The purpose is to make our country a better and fairer place to live.
I want us to rediscover the spirit that made us home to the great innovators, writers, philosophers and entrepreneurs of the world.
I want us to have the powers to energise our economy. To be a hotbed of enterprise so that we can create the jobs, the opportunities and the wealth that we need to build a better society.
I want us to have the ability to protect and sustain a welfare state that gives people a hand up and provides a safety net for the times when life knocks us down.
And I want us to demonstrate, not by our words, but by our actions, that giving our children the best start in life will alway be - must always be - a much higher priority than obscene and senseless weapons of mass destruction.
These are the essential differences between yes and no.
And these are the reasons we must vote Yes.
I am often asked to sum up why I believe that Scotland should be independent. The truth is there are many reasons. But when I boil it all down, it always comes back to my own life experience. I grew up in a working class family, in the west of Scotland, during the darkest days of Thatcherism. It wasn't inevitable that I would go to university, qualify as a lawyer and end up standing here before you as Deputy First Minister.
I was lucky. I had parents who escaped the misery of unemployment that affected so many others during those years; parents who encouraged and believed in me and who worked hard to make sure I wanted for nothing. And, of course, I had the benefit of a free university education.
And let me pause here just to say this: I will never, ever, in politics, be part of anything that robs future generations of the same access to university that I had. For me, that principle is personal. So I was lucky. But I was surrounded by people who weren't so lucky. Friends and classmates who were just as able as me and who worked just as hard but whose life circumstances conspired against them.
I want to live in a country where it doesn't just come down to luck.
I want to live in a country that uses its vast wealth to ensure that every child, regardless of their background, gets the chance to do what I did.
The chance to follow their dreams and reach their full potential - whatever that might be.
I know that voting yes won't achieve that by magic - we will have to work for it and earn it. We will have to make it happen. But I also know, from decades of experience, that voting No means we won't achieve it at all. And that, in a nutshell, is why I'll be voting Yes.
One of my favourite songs is the beautiful 'Wild Mountainside' sung by Eddi Reader at the opening of the Scottish Parliament building in 2004. I heard her sing it again, two weeks ago, at a memorial service in Govan for the late Hugh MacDonald, another stalwart of our movement. You'll be relieved to hear that I'm not going to sing it to you, but the song includes these words:
'The last mile is upon us. I'll carry you if you fall."
Well, my fellow nationalists, after 80 years of campaigning, the last mile of our journey to independence is upon us. It may well be the hardest mile of all. So we will encourage each other, cheer each other and, yes, if needs be, we will carry each other over the finishing line.
But, friends, we will not fall. I want you to hear this and believe it in your heart. As a tribute to those no longer with us, for everyone lucky enough to be alive at this moment in history and, above all else, for the sake of generations to come, we are going to win.
Scotland is going to be independent.
Or to paraphrase a very special lady, more than 40 years ago:
On 18 September this year, we are going to stop the world.
Scotland is going to get on.
And then, when we do, the next phase of our journey will begin. We will regain our strength, renew our resolve, and we will get on with the job of building a country that our children, our grandchildren and their children will be proud to call home.
A prosperous country.
A fair country.
A confident country.
An independent country.