First Minister Alex Salmond rose to address the Parliament this morning at 10.30am, and when he sat down considerably more than 20 minutes later, Scotland knew what its first SNP majority Government was going to do – plenty.
You can access the full speech here: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/News/Speeches/FM-Statement-26-05-11
The First Minister began with a ‘bigger picture’ address: “John Steinbeck famously referred to Scotland as an ‘unwon cause’ – it’s a nice phrase, and in my younger days I imagined that to prove him wrong, all we had to do was to become Independent.
“But every society is an ‘unwon cause’ – the struggle for fairness, equality, tolerance, rights of free speech and thought – these are struggles which are never won – they require constant vigilance and courage.
“But that doesn’t mean the cause should not be fought, and the values are not worth the fight – it is the quality of our society that is my cause.
“History shows that a truly equal, fair and kind society is built on good education and good health – it values happiness higher than money, and sees people share a bond to each other, connecting them not just from house to house or community to community but across the world.
“For the next five years, we shall champion the unwon.
“Devolution was born for a purpose – to let Scotland find peace with her herself, for our nation to become comfortable in her own skin.
“Yet much of what was held up as a problem needing a solution in 1999 stays that way – a problem. Over the last twelve years we have done much work. But not enough.
“I believe the resounding vote of confidence in this government is because the people want more. They want real powers for real change.
“The people of Scotland’s desire for their Parliament to have economic powers is not academic – it is no small thing – it is at the very core of our future.”
The FM contrasted the Scottish Government’s approach to that of leaders in other places: “Elsewhere on these isles, the tolerance of the poor is being tested – budgets slashed, priorities changed, hope crushed in the braying tones of people who claim to know best.
“We should aspire to be different.
“In Scotland the poor won’t be made to pick up the bill for the rich.
“When we control our natural assets as a sovereign power, the profit from the land shall go to all.
“Too many of them have been ill-served by the union as is currently stands. There is a better way.
“Scotland should have control of her destiny.
“What we choose to do with that control – the alliances we may forge, the bonds we make, the interests shared – are ours and ours alone to determine. That is what independence means.
“We are not rushing this journey, but don’t let our steady pace fool anyone into thinking we are not determined – we shall keep travelling, and so get ever closer to home.
First hurdle to be crossed is the Scotland Bill: “In that journey, it is important that we have a Scotland Bill worthy of the name. As such, it is too important to be left to Westminster.
“That is why we shall convene a Scotland Bill Committee, so the voice of Scotland’s Parliament can he heard. There is consensus across parties and across time for changes – and we shall ensure that the Bill incorporates them.
“So we will ensure that the Crown Estate comes under the control of this Parliament, so Scotland’s communities can share the vast offshore wealth of our nation.
“We shall see that we have borrowing powers appropriate to our size and ambition, with the prize not the power, but more jobs and the chance to protect our recovery.
“We shall demand that corporation tax be devolved, the logic of that is irresistible.
“If Northern Ireland is fit to control its own corporation tax rate, then so are we.
“If the Business Secretary says the logic of our case is solid, then who am I to argue with Vince Cable?
“He is a Liberal Democrat who has seen that the path to redemption out of the shame of the coalition is to claim traditional liberal values – so naturally he finds himself in agreement with a Scotland that wants more powers.
“We need control of excise duties so that we can tackle the problems of alcohol abuse and benefit the public purse. Many of our leading cultural figures have backed this Parliament’s call for a Scottish Digital Channel, and we need regulatory influence in broadcasting to take that forward.
“And of course our key industries would benefit from more influence over European policy.”
On the referendum, Mr Salmond said: “Constitutional issues are a priority for both this Government and Parliament in the short term and the medium term.
“In the short term, the immediate priority is to convert the current Scotland Bill into a worthy successor to Donald Dewar’s original, so that each member of this Parliament can honestly say of the new Bill, as he said of the previous Bill: “I like that!”
“That is why, as we promised to the Scottish electorate, our referendum on moving towards independence and full financial responsibility should be well into the second half of this Parliamentary session.”
The FM then laid out the Government’s other priorities: Growing the economy, tackling sectarianism, addressing Scotland’s unhealthy relationship with alcohol, the reform of public services, putting a jobs agenda at the heart of the programme for Government, and internationalisation.
Mr Salmond said that action on these priorities was under way:
“Already within the Scottish Government, we have secured a no compulsory redundancy deal. Our commitment is to extend this first to the tens of thousands of workers in our NHS, before working to ensure no compulsory redundancies across the public sector.
“And the steps this Parliament has already taken: free personal care, the abolition of tuition fees, the scrapping of tolls and the delivery of free prescriptions are our side of the bargain. As are the next steps, including the freezing of the Council Tax until the end of this Parliament.
“We know the pressures on family budgets. We know that these tough times are forcing difficult decisions in homes the length and breadth of our nation. Many have accepted a wage freeze. People understand that public spending must be restrained.”
Mr Salmond then explained his concept of a ‘social wage’: “This is the pact, the promise, between politicians, public services and people. We shall deliver the social and economic circumstances that allow for people to dream, to aspire and to be ambitious – but it is for the individual to realise their dreams, to reach for their hopes, to meet their ambitions.
“For the sacrifices we must all make, there is a reward in the form of a society geared to our values. We do things differently here – not because we can, but because we want to.
“For Scotland’s patients, our commitment to protecting the health budget is all about delivering the better and faster treatment we know they seek.
“For victims in our society, we will take forward the necessary reforms to improve their rights and give them their proper place at the heart of our justice system.
“For our unpaid carers, men and women, young and old, who give so much of their lives to look after the people they love, we will work to ensure they are true partners in the delivery of care and their special role is fully recognised.
“For job-seekers, students, pupils and their parents, our commitment is clear. We will create opportunity. We will work to build the conditions here in Scotland where you and yours can flourish.
“These and others will be the living embodiment of our social contract, of the new partnership between this government and the people of our nation.”
A key pledge by the First Minister was commitment to a £250 million Scottish Futures Fund,that will support five separate initiatives each with the potential to reshape the nation.
A Youth Talent Fund; A Warm Homes Fund; A Future Transport Fund; A Next Generation Digital Fund; A Sure Start Fund, “that has at its heart the determination to transform the life chances of thousands of newborn Scots.”
Mr Salmond explained the Government’s view on the issues of sectarianism and alcohol.
“Part of the social wage is that we should work towards a safer society,” he said. “In the age of Twitter and texts, the dreams of a free-speaking world are contaminated by strains of bitterness.
Technology has given fresh energy to old hatreds and viral sectarianism again seeps across our land. It will be stopped. I will not have people living in fear of some idiotic 17th Century rivalry in the 21st Century.
“It must stop –not because it is embarrassing to our national image – though it is.
“Nor that it is embarrassing to ourselves – though it is that too – but because it is a pointless cause pursued by the pitiless.”
Mr Salmond said that sectarianism travels “at least in part, hand in hand with another scourge of our safety and happiness – the booze culture.”
He added: “I think that we have confused our appetite for fun with a hunger for self-destruction.
“We tolerate a race to the bottom of the bottle, which ruins our health, our judgement, our relationships, our safety and our dignity.
“The drink robs us of our personal and collective dignity. It makes infants of the wise, and victims of the young.
“Thus the first legislation this parliament will see in this term shall address bigotry and booze.”
Mr Salmond concluded: “This is a Government with ambition for Scotland.
“A Government that presses for new powers and responsibilities, not for their own sake, but as a means to achieve a nation of aspiration and achievement.
“A Government that seeks to work with all parties in this Parliament and all the people in this nation to create the Scotland that we all wish to see. The nation we all know Scotland can be.
“A Government that wants to build the foundations for success, from this day forward, for future generations to enjoy: built on a clear Scottish vision of a fair society, a promise between politicians and the people that together, we will make Scotland better.”
We’ll bring more coverage of the debate, including the opposition replies, later today.