I listened to Alex Salmond’s speech yesterday along with hundreds of others sat inside the Inverness conference hall as well as those packed into the five – yes five – over flow areas.
They say elections are won in moments of brilliance or lost in one scene of calamity. If that holds for Scotland’s independence referendum then that moment was yesterday.
Like most, I’ve learned to accept the excellence of Alex Salmond’s oratory, his mastery of detail and confidence in delivery are now blithely accepted by supporters and opponents alike.
However, yesterday’s speech was on a whole new level – sitting in the hall one could feel the raw emotion and the electrifying atmosphere – Salmond delivered not a speech, but a homily that ranks amongst one of the best political speeches ever witnessed in Scotland, if not the UK.
The comparison with recent rival speeches was stark with little mention of political opponents. This was a speech that had evolved from the SNP election campaign. The central pillars of hope, positivity and vision underpinned a confidence in the journey that Scotland undertook on May 6th.
However, that isn’t to say that there were no attacks on the opposition. The so called ‘quad’ of David Cameron, George Osborne, Danny Alexander and Nick Clegg were left in no doubt that they had best think twice when it came to attacking Scottish aspiration.
Negative attacks were the exception though as Scotland’s clean energy potential was again highlighted. Scotland had lost out when our wind generation advantage had been allowed to be snapped up by Denmark and Germany.
This, said the First Minister would not be allowed to happen again with wave and tidal. An £80 million injection will increase Scotland’s European offshore quota from sixty per cent to seventy five per cent.
The Longannet decision was savaged amid roars of approval as the First Minister attacked the scrapping of the world leading carbon capture project by London.
Young Scotland was not forgotten and there was an announcement that every single young person from 16-19 will be offered an apprenticeship or a training opportunity and was followed by a pledge to create an extra 1000 flexible training places for youngsters. This was an acknowledgement that youth unemployment is a cancer that lies in wait ready to destroy future society.
The economy was addressed as the First Minister confirmed that the small business bonus will stay. He highlighted the scandal that was PFI and commended the role played by the Scottish Futures Trust in building and refurbishing schools, with more now planned.
Fuel poverty was highlighted as news that the scheme that has thus far saw half a million poorer families helped with fuel bills is to be extended to include a further 200,000 homes. The First Minster labelled the situation where people in Scotland scared to turn on their heating due to rising fuel costs “a miserable, disgraceful Westminster legacy for our energy rich nation.”
An announcement that Scotland’s ‘Claim of Right’, that places the Scottish people at the very core of power is to be renewed in the Scottish parliament, brought one of the biggest roars of the conference.
There was also a sober warning to London that meddling in Scotland’s future will not be tolerated. The people of Scotland, said Mr Salmond, were in the driving seat and the days of Westminster telling Scotland what to do were over.
The Calman inspired ‘Scotland Bill’ is already in the past, said Mr Salmond. In a reference to ‘devo-max’ the SNP leader reminded the audience that full fiscal autonomy, whilst welcome, would still leave the Trident Nuclear system on the Clyde and young Scots soldiers sent to participate in illegal wars.
The furtherance of Scotland was in the DNA of the SNP, “Scotland’s cause is great and we know Scotland’s need is great.” He said.
In a speech that married pragmatic necessity with visionary leadership Salmond’s speech was inspirational stuff. The summing up said it all:
“And we shall prevail – because we share a vision. A vision of a land without boundaries, of a people unshackled from low ambition and poor chances, of a society unlimited in its efforts to be fair and free, of a Scotland unbound.
“Nae limits for Scotland – Let us be strong.”