By a Newsnet reporter
First Minister Alex Salmond’s keynote speech to the SNP conference on Saturday afternoon announced the party’s “message of hope” to Scotland. Speaking before a packed hall at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre in Glasgow, Mr Salmond’s speech was relayed to delegates in four overspill rooms.
He told delegates that even with the limited and restricted powers Scotland already has under devolution, the Scottish Government had “made Scotland a better place”.
But the First Minister stressed that with independence, Scotland could achieve even more, saying: “A little independence has been good for Scotland. But real independence will be even better.”
Listing the progress already made by the Scottish Government under devolution, he said that the difference with independence was that while a devolved government could only “demand”, an independent government could “deliver”.
The SNP leader told delegates in Glasgow that, in government, his party had delivered for Scotland through policies like protecting health spending, keeping education free and encouraging companies to do business there.
This, he said, had come against a backdrop of UK government spending cuts and almost universal opposition from Labour to the policies of his party.
Mr Salmond said that the days of politicians in London telling Scotland what to do “were over”. He added: “We should of course thank the prime minister – after his intervention SNP membership has surged, up over 2,400 in the weeks that followed. This support will continue to rise, because home rule with independence beats Tory rule from Westminster – any time and any day.”
The SNP leader criticised the anti-independence parties for their “negativity”. He condemned the Labour party for its blind opposition to any measure supported by the SNP government and said that Labour’s record was one of blocking apprenticeships, resisting the council tax freeze – yet cynically voting to support a council tax cut in alliance with the Tories in Stirling – and voting against an increase in police numbers.
He said: “The only consistent thing about Labour in Scotland is that they now vote with the Tories at every opportunity.
“That is why the people of Scotland now vote against Labour at every opportunity.”
With an eye on May’s local government elections Mr Salmond said voters had the chance call “time’s up” on Labour in its “local fiefdoms” saying that the party had lost its way. He added: “And if there is any place that needs relief from a Labour Party that has lost its way, it is this city of Glasgow.”
Glasgow is the prime target for the SNP in the forthcoming local authority elections. Glasgow and neighbouring North Lanarkshire are the only remaining local authorities under Labour majority control.
The First Minister unveiled a £5 million package which aims to ensure a further 2,500 young people are given the right support to help them towards the world of work. In December last year the Scottish Government appointed a dedicated Youth Employment Minister, the first in Europe. The new funding will assist the development of volunteering opportunities.
Mr Salmond said: “This will engage young people in volunteering opportunities in the international and national events Scotland will have the privilege to host over the next three years.
“Let me be clear conference – this government’s commitment to our young men and women is unwavering. We intend to create the conditions in this land which will see a life opportunity for every young Scot.”
With the Commonwealth Games and golf’s Ryder Cup due to come to Scotland in 2014, Mr Salmond announced a new £10 million fund to help communities across Scotland bring their sporting facilities into the 21st century. Mr Salmond said:
“Whether it be a renovation to a community hall, re-turfing of a bowling green or even a new multi-purpose sports field – our aim is to inspire Scots young and old to seize the opportunity presented by the games and its legacy to become a better nation.”
The First Minister also announced a new measure to improve nursery education for 2 to 4 year olds, promising that the Children’s Bill due to be introduced to Parliament next year will contain a statutory guarantee giving over 600 hours of free nursery educatoin for every 3 and 4 year old. The measure would give Scotland the best pre-school provision of any part of the UK.
Mr Salmond said: “We have long cherished the ambition to increase pre-school education. In our first term we moved it from 412 hours to 475 hours free pre-school per annum, benefiting 100,000 children a year.
“Now we intend to move further and to place it in statute so that families in every part of Scotland can share in the benefit.
“Conference, we will place into the new Children’s Bill introduced to Parliament next year a statutory guarantee of over 600 hours of free nursery education for every Scottish 3 and 4 year old and for every looked after 2 year old in our land.
“The best package of free nursery education on offer anywhere in the UK – a statement of faith and commitment to the future.”
Mr Salmond ended his speech with a call for independence, and for Scotland’s unique voice to be heard in the world. Scotland would seek a “partnership of equals” with the other nations of the British Isles.
Calling on Scots to “choose our own direction and contribute in our own distinct way”, Mr Salmond said: “With independence we stand on our own two feet, but we don’t stand on our own.
“We gain a new, more modern relationship with the other nations of the UK – a true partnership of equals.”
Alex Salmond’s speech in full:
Almost a year ago to the day I stood on this very stage and spoke to you about Scotland’s future.
We were behind in the polls. The press did not give us a chance but we believed in our cause.
I said that if we worked hard, if we earned the trust and support of the Scottish people, then together we would make this nation a stronger, fairer and better place.
Just a few short weeks later, in the Scottish election, the people of Scotland placed their trust in us.
And they did so in record, overwhelming numbers.
Friends, since then our every action has been about repaying that trust,
About honouring our commitment to the people.
Today, in every town and every community, we are working as never before, to make Scotland the country we all know it can be.
And working for a Scotland that can truly prosper – the strong economy and the just society.
And what a difference those extra SNP votes have made, the special votes, the ones which built an absolute majority in our proportional Parliament.
This time last year we had just passed our final budget as a minority government.
Our plans scraping through despite Labour opposition.
Back then, Labour opposed, and almost stopped, our plans for 25,000 modern apprenticeships.
They rejected, and almost defeated, our plans to protect family budgets with the council tax freeze and to keep our streets safer with the 1,000 extra police.
A Labour party, yes, a Labour party, voting against work and training for young Scots.
Once upon a time, it is said, Labour were the ‘people’s party’, but delegates, in May last year the people spoke.
And they chose Scotland’s party.
What a difference a year makes.
That difference is not in the nature of the Labour opposition we face.
If we say black, Labour will still insist it is white.
If I say the sky is blue they say ‘No it isnae.’
As we move forward, they will still do all they can to hold Scotland back.
Even now, even in this year’s budget they couldn’t help themselves.
Voting against the 25,000 apprenticeships, again .
Voting against the council tax freeze, again.
Against the extra police, again.
Conference the Labour Party want everyone in Scotland to pay hundreds of pounds more Council Tax – despite the pressure on family budgets everyone is to pay hundreds more except in the case of Stirling Council where they voted with the Tories to reduce it by 23p a week.
That’s right a whole 23p – while they voted with the Tories in the Scottish Parliament against the freeze.
The only consistent thing about Labour in Scotland is that they now vote with the Tories at every opportunity.
That is why the people of Scotland now vote against Labour at every opportunity.
And just as last year’s election took away the power of the Labour party to block progress across Scotland. So too can these elections in May.
The people can call ‘time’s up’ on Labour’s local fiefdoms.
And if there is any place that needs relief from a Labour party that has lost its way, it is this city of Glasgow.
Friends, Scotland can flourish, and Glasgow will flourish, with the SNP.
Last year, I stood on this platform and spoke of Glasgow and how its influence has stretched across the world.
First as the workshop of the empire and now as a creative city – building a new empire of the mind.
I announced a £90m investment – Government and private sector – in Strathclyde University’s International Technology and Renewable Energy Zone. IT-REZ is what they call it.
This was a substantial announcement at the cutting edge of the green revolution and the knowledge economy. Combining Scotland’s great strengths – our environment, our people and our education.
It was a promise, a signal, of better days to come. A first step in the green re-industrialisation of this city, and of this country.
And it is a project that is already bearing fruit. Today, one year on, there are already over 100 jobs directly linked to the Innovation Centre.
100 high skill, high value jobs. Jobs in this city that will keep Scotland at the forefront of green energy research and create opportunities across the nation.
And it is just the start. Delegates, at IT-REZ we can expect a further 600 high-skill, high-value jobs will be created in the years to come.
It is just one investment among many – north, south, east and west.
Taqa, Avaloq, Samsung and more. Energy, finance, engineering. International companies making Scotland their home. Combining with Clyde Blowers, the Wood Group/PSN, Global Energy – Scottish companies making the world their oyster.
Jobs and opportunities – that is our priority.
Last December we appointed a Minister for Youth Employment, Angela Constance, the first such appointment anywhere in these islands.
Angela has an additional budget of £30 million and a clear instruction – to do all she can to improve the life chances of young Scots.
We have a clear commitment to all our young people who yearn to be productive.
No young person should go through school only to become, and stay, an unemployment statistic at the age of 16. We will not allow that in Scotland.
That’s why we’ve delivered 300,000 training opportunities since 2007 – including those record 25,000 Modern Apprenticeships this year.
Apprenticeships, each and every one of them linked to a real job.
Friends, those 25,000 apprenticeships aren’t just for one year – they are for every year of this Parliament.
And we are taking forward opportunities for all – an initiative that will see every single 16 – 19 year old in Scotland offered a learning or training place if they are not in already in a job, a Modern Apprenticeship or education.
But more can and more must be done.
Today – I can announce a £5 million package which will ensure a further 2,500 young people are given the right support to help them towards the world of work. This will engage young people in volunteering opportunities in the international and national events Scotland will have the privilege to host over the next three years.
Let me be clear conference – this government’s commitment to our young men and women is unwavering. We intend to create the conditions in this land which will see a life opportunity for every young Scot.
Friends, today is about progress, about Scotland moving up a gear.
It is about the path and the opportunities that lie ahead.
In this land of possibilities, in this Scotland, we have much to look forward to.
In a little over two years this city will host the Commonwealth Games and preparations continue to be on track and on budget. Construction began last summer on the athletes’ village which will accommodate over 6,500 competitors. And once the games are done, that great facility will be used to provide affordable homes for local families.
Around this very Conference venue is being built the Scottish Hydro Arena, the venue for netball and gymnastics during the Games. The arena will seat 12,000 people and will become one of Europe’s busiest venues, contributing £131 million annually to the Scottish economy.
No longer will we be turning away big acts like Barbra Streisand and Beyonce.
Indeed if this party keeps growing at the current rate we might need it for our own Annual Conference!
As First Minister I’m committed to ensure we make these games the greatest sporting event our country has ever seen. I look forward to these Commonwealth Games, not only because Scotland competes in her own right, but also because I know they will put Scotland on a global stage, where we belong.
In 2014 our light will shine for the world to see, through the Commonwealth Games, the Ryder Cup, and the second Homecoming Year.
But as well as having great ambitions for Scotland’s sporting stars at the 2014 Games, this Government has great aspirations for the event to be a catalyst for economic and social regeneration.
With real benefits for communities and individuals. For our society as a whole.
And that is why I’m delighted to announce today a new legacy initiative.
The establishment of a £10 million fund that will allow communities to bring their local sports facilities across Scotland into the 21st century.
Whether it be a renovation to a community hall, re-turfing of a bowling green or even a new multi-purpose sports field – our aim is to inspire Scots young and old to seize the opportunity presented by the games and its legacy to become a better nation.
Yes – these are exciting times for Glasgow. Jobs are coming, the Commonwealth Games are coming and as far as May’s Local Elections are concerned – the SNP are coming!
Delegates – 2014 will also see another significant event for Scotland…
In January, the Prime Minister tried to lay down the law and dictate the terms of Scotland’s referendum.
Parties so long opposed to any referendum, now want to run the referendum.
But I’ve got a message for Messrs Cameron, Clegg and Miliband.
The days of politicians in London what to do and what to think are over.
Delegates, we should of course thank the Prime Minister. After his intervention SNP membership has surged – up over 2,400 in the weeks that followed.
As Robert Burns might have said: ‘The best laid plans of mice and the Tory party gang aft agley.’
And friends, this support will continue to rise.
Because home rule with independence beats Tory rule from Westminster. Any time and any day.
There is a simple and winning truth about independence.
It is fundamentally better for our nation if decisions about our future, about our success, are taken by the people who care most about Scotland. That is and always will be the people who live in Scotland.
We have the greatest stake in our nation’s wellbeing. In good times or bad, it is the people of Scotland who will work hardest and care most. No one will do a better job than the people living here.
With the people of Scotland in charge, speaking with our own voice, reflecting our own values and our priorities – we will make our country better.
This is our message of hope for this nation.
And how it contrasts with the London parties’ message of fear. They want to knock Scotland’s confidence and self-belief. They seek victory through negativity.
But friends, they are not even very good at that.
Since David Cameron’s blunder into Scotland’s constitutional debate we have been treated to some very bizarre contributions from the anti-independence parties.
William Hague said British embassies would no longer promote Scotch whisky, according to the Daily Mail.
But, I dug a little deeper and discovered Mr Hague actually charges the Scottish Government when we hold a Scotch whisky reception!
And the Daily Mirror reported a threat to take away our pandas!
But don’t worry – Tian Tian and Yang Guang will be staying in Scotland. I’ve offered them political asylum, while reflecting of course that the UK Government did not contribute a single RMB to the cost of the pandas’ arrival in our capital city!
Friends, the people of Scotland have got wise to these scare-stories. It was a Westminster tactic tried before to stop devolution. It failed then because the people of Scotland saw it for what it was – empty, hollow, negative scaremongering.
It failed then, and it will fail now.
Because we know what has been achieved with the power Scotland already has. We have seen the progress that has been made in those areas where our nation already has some independence.
In our National Health Service . . .
Record low waiting times.
Record high satisfaction with the job our health professionals do.
Prescription charges abolished.
Nye Bevan once said that ‘no society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means.’
In this very spirit, the SNP in Government continues to protect frontline health spending, despite the Westminster cuts and despite the huge pressures on our budget.
Friends, with the people of Scotland in charge of Scotland’s health service we can choose, and have chosen, a different path.
A path that reflects Scotland’s social democratic consensus, our shared progressive values – our priorities as a society.
A Tory prime minister once told us that there was no alternative to her policies.
On the health service we are showing our friends in England there is an alternative.
And let me be absolutely clear – because of the independence we have over the NHS – this government, this SNP government, will ensure Scotland’s National Health Service is never for sale.
And in education . . .
I remember back to 1979 – just of course, I was a babe in arms – when some of the foremost sceptics about devolution were in our universities.
But is there anyone on campus now – student or academic – who would rather the Tories were in charge of our universities?
Free education would be a thing of the past.
Public funding would be slashed.
And tuition fees would, today, be creating an insurmountable barrier for thousands of young Scots – a barrier to aspiration and talent.
Our Universities are an international success – 5 in the world’s top 200 – more research papers per head than virtually any other nation on the face of this planet – with the protection and independence we have given them from the philistines in Whitehall.
Conference, with even just a taste of independence we have been able to deliver fairer policies than elsewhere in these islands.
In higher education and in further education.
Of that, we should be proud.
As a party, as a government, we will never kick away the ladder of opportunity. Never put a price on learning that undermines the value of learning.
The Tories’ decision to scrap the educational maintenance allowance is part of their same agenda. An agenda Scotland completely and rightly rejects.
And just as our Parliament stood firm against tuition fees so too do we stand full-square behind the Education Maintenance Allowance, and in support of proper support for our college students.
For 35,000 young Scots – with the SNP the EMA is here to stay.
Delegates, progress, in our NHS, in education and in creating safer communities.
Earlier this week, official statistics were published showing 17,343 police officers in Scotland.
For the fourth year in a row, the SNP government has delivered and protected the 1,000 extra police officers on our streets. A truly remarkable achievement given Westminster funding cuts and one which Labour said it would take us 13 years!
In this, another area of public life where we have independence, we can choose a better way.
As we work to keep police officers in our communities – delivering a 35 year low in recorded crime and a fear of crime that continues to fall.
Down south, they look to privatise, yes, privatise key police functions. Investigating crime, detaining suspects and even patrolling neighbourhoods – the traditional functions of the police now open not just to the highest bidder but to the lowest common denominator.
And now the UK Government’s own figures reveal that England will see a 16,000 reduction in the number of police.
Conference, the contrast is clear – more bobbies on the beat in Scotland or cuts to coppers under Cameron.
With a measure of independence on health, on education and on law and order we have made Scotland a better place.
Think what we could do with Scottish control of the economy, of international representation and of security.
Our economy needs capital spending and bank lending.
We have sent a list of shovel ready projects to London. We demand that they are now redeemed.
Our small and medium sized business need finance. We have major banks largely in the public sector. Why are they not instructed to lend to force the pace of recovery?
Of course last year we now know from the official figures that with control of our own finances Scotland would have been £2.6 billion better off – £510 for every man women and child in Scotland – money which could have been used to invest in the economy, to reduce borrowing, to save for the future.
In devolved Scotland we can demand. In an independent Scotland we can deliver.
On international representation, why would we wish to be isolated and ignored in Europe when we could be influential and respected?
On defence why would this nation of 5 million people elect to waste billions on weapons of mass destruction, when we have still have thousands waiting for a decent home and a life chance?
Independence means real security.
Westminster would spend on weapons which could destroy the world. Scotland should spend on social provision which could be the envy of the world.
Friends, our task is to transform Scotland – to change our nation for good.
At the local elections in May we can take the next steps on that journey. We can elect a strong team of SNP councillors who will put their communities first.
Conference, these elections are about local services.
About help for hard-pressed families, with the Council tax freeze.
About safer streets and keeping the 1,000 extra police.
About giving our unpaid carers more of the support they need.
Every vote for the SNP is a vote to build recovery with investment in new homes and new schools, investment in jobs and training.
We hear and we understand the pressures individuals and families are facing across our nation.
And step by step we will deliver.
We will use the powers we have today and, together, we shall make Scotland better.
That is right and good in itself. But friends, it is more. It is a statement of intent – a signal of the nation we can be, and we will be, with the powers of independence.
For parents and for young Scots, we know where our nation must be, with world-class childcare.
And we know how we can get there.
Already, new investment in children’s centres through the Sure Start Fund.
A re-targetting of resources through the Early Years Fund.
And at these elections, a new step forward.
We have long cherished the ambition to increase pre-school education. In our first term we moved it from 412 hours to 475 hours free pre-school per annum, benefiting 100,000 children a year.
Now we intend to move further and to place it in statute so that families in every part of Scotland can share in the benefit.
Conference, we will place into the new Children’s Bill introduced to Parliament next year a statutory guarantee of over 600 hours of free nursery education for every Scottish 3 and 4 year old and for every looked after 2 year old in our land.
The best package of free nursery education on offer anywhere in the UK – a statement of faith and commitment to the future.
Flexible in its delivery, using the wisdom of the Early Years Taskforce to help us but definite in our intent.
For every young mum or dad juggling work and parenthood – our message is clear. The SNP is here for you and for your family.
And, friends, the SNP is here to build a fairer Scotland.
My ambition to reduce inequality, to give all Scots a fair chance in life. Across the world the evidence is clear – the more equal our society the better it will be for all of us.
I want a Scotland where a fair wage is a living wage – where work pays. And that is what we can achieve with independence.
We have taken the first steps already, with every employee of the Scottish Government, the NHS and our agencies, guaranteed from this year at least the living wage of £7.20 an hour.
Two thirds of the thousands who have benefited have been women.
Delegates, where we have the power we shall act.
I can announce today that every SNP led council elected in May will also introduce the living wage.
Thousands more of our lowest paid workers will receive fair pay and fair play with the SNP.
Putting more money in their pockets.
Boosting local economies.
As we build towards a Scotland that is a living wage nation.
Conference, by our deeds we shall be known.
If we make the right choices for our universities and for fairness and families, who can doubt that we will, also, make the right choices on the economy and on Scotland’s place in the world.
Scotland’s social democracy can survive, survive, can flourish, but only where we have the power.
We can be a beacon for social justice but only if we allow our light to shine.
Delegates, the lesson is a simple one. A little independence has been good for Scotland. But real independence will be even better.
We can put our vast resources to work for the benefit of Scotland, creating a competitive economy and in doing so creating new opportunities and new jobs.
Saving and investing our offshore wealth as the guarantee of a safer, more secure future.
Scotland, not just a nation of promise, but of potential fulfilled.
Standing taller in the world, speaking with our own voice.
A partner for justice and for peace.
Friends, these things and more are just a ‘Yes’ vote away.
When the United Nations was formed there were just over 50 independent countries in the world. Today, that figure has risen to almost 200.
Some still say independence is difficult. But, conference, these numbers don’t lie.
Of the 10 countries that joined the European Union in 2004, a majority have become independent since 1990, and Scotland is bigger than six of them. Each and every one of these nations now has a seat at Europe’s top table: a right they cherish – a right Scotland too should embrace.
Because being independent is the most natural thing in the world.
It is what we seek as individuals – for our own families.
It is the point we take responsibility for our own future and our own success.
We are able to speak with our own voice, choose our own direction and contribute in our own distinct way.
With independence we stand on our own two feet, but we don’t stand on our own.
We gain a new, more modern relationship with the other nations of the UK – a true partnership of equals.
A 21st century social union, replacing a political union that is long past its sell by date.
It will require effort and commitment to make our country as good as we know it can be.
A Scotland that is better than what we have today: a more successful Scotland that we can pass on proudly to the next generation.
So, let us heed the words of Fletcher of Saltoun and: ‘Go forward into the community of nations to lend our own, independent weight to the world.’