by Ben Borland
ALEX SALMOND told more than 600,000 public sector workers that their jobs will be safe under the SNP yesterday as he set out his vision for the next four years.
The highlight of the First Minister’s speech to the SNP conference in Glasgow was a promise of no compulsory redundancies for all teachers, nurses, police, firefighters, civil servants and council employees.
He also ruled out the introduction of university tuition fees, pledged to turn Scotland into a green energy powerhouse and demanded a fuel duty regulator to cut petrol costs.
And in a move away from the usual dry Holyrood politics he described his dream of an independent nation, a “global citizen acting to help the world where it can”.
The SNP leader was given a standing ovation the SECC, but critics questioned how the Nationalists will be able to pay for another bold set of election pledges.
Mr Salmond’s key announcement was his promise to the one in four working Scots who are employed in the public sector – 604,000 people at the end of last year.
Scottish civil servants already have a ‘no compulsory redundancy’ guarantee and he vowed to expand it to every state employee in exchange for a nationwide pay freeze.
He said: “If people have the fear of compulsory redundancy removed then they are able to plan and to spend for the future of themselves and their families – that preserves jobs and helps the wider economy.
“That is why as First Minister I will spend every day securing our agreement with the Scottish Government unions and then seeking to see it expanded across the public sector.
“As a candidate I will campaign for it and if the people return me as First Minister then I will secure that prize of no compulsory redundancies and the economic security that it brings.”
After an opening message of condolence to the people of Japan, he began by saying that Scotland was in “the rapids of a new energy revolution” that could be worth at least £30billion by 2020 and create 130,000 jobs.
He added: “We intend that this nation – this Scotland – researches and develops, constructs and fabricates and then supplies and maintains the new green energy systems that will dominate this century.”
Mr Salmond also said record prices meant that North Sea oil revenues would rise by £4billion this year – £3,000 for every man, woman and child in Scotland.
He added: “If you applied even half that £4billion windfall to cutting fuel tax you could reduce it by 50p per litre in Scotland and 5p per litre in the UK.
“We have had enough humming and hawing on this. The case for a fuel tax regulator is made. Let the message go out loud and clear from this conference to the Chancellor – cut fuel duty and cut it now.” He also promised to close the £93million funding gap faced by Scottish universities without the introduction of tuition fees and to bring the 2015 World Water Forum to Glasgow.
Much of the speech concentrated on what he said the SNP still regarded as the “big prize” – independence.
He said: “It is time we put the wealth of the land to the good of the people, and delivered a nation that looks after its own and does good for the world.”
However, some observers questioned why there was no mention of the Referendum Bill that would be the first step in dissolving the Union. John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, said it showed that Mr Salmond may be willing to let the referendum stay on the back burner in exchange for another four years of minority rule.
He said: “The striking inclusion was the commitment to no public sector redundancies. The striking omission was that there was no talk about the pathway to independence, about the referendum.”
But Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon later insisted the party was still committed to a referendum and that Mr Salmond had been concentrating on the “bigger picture”.
She added that all the promises, including the commitment to no compulsory redundancies, could be paid for despite the enormous cuts in Scotland’s budget.
“The Scottish Government has no choice but to balance the books,” she said. “We have done it every year in this term of office and we will continue to do it.”
Opposition parties criticised the speech as “desperate” and “irrelevant” and claimed the SNP would not be able to fulfill the headline jobs promise.
Dr Richard Simpson, Labour MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife, said: “It was a speech out of ideas from a man out of steam. He was trying to convince himself more than the people watching.
“He even forgot to mention his plan for a referendum on independence. Last time he promised that no-one in Scotland would lose their job, it collapsed before the day was out.”
And Liberal Democrat campaign manager George Lyon noted: “He conveniently missed out any mention of Ireland or Iceland, both small countries crippled by irresponsible bankers running up huge debts.”
This article is published with thanks to the Sunday Express Scotland