Sturgeon: Vote for an independent Scotland, and a better UK

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon set out her general election priorities before 3,000 SNP delegates at the SNP spring conference in Glasgow. Here Newsnet.scot presents edited highlights.

Sturgeon: keynote address at Glasgow's SECC
Sturgeon: keynote address at Glasgow’s SECC

“Six months ago, people across this nation – Yes and No voters – discovered what it felt like to be in charge. 

To hold the future of our country in our hands.

“We didn’t choose independence – this time.
 
But – make no mistake – September 18 2014 was a moment of liberation for this nation of ours. 

It was the moment when this simple truth became clear to all of us:

“We need not be powerless in the face of remote Westminster decisions.

 We can make Westminster sit up and take notice and, friends, that is exactly what we intend to do.

“On May 7, let us put the normal divisions of politics to one side.

 Let us come together on that day as one country. 

Let us seize this historic moment to shift the balance of power from the corridors of Westminster to the streets and communities of Scotland.

INFLUENCING WESTMINSTER

“Just a few short months ago, we had Labour, Tory and Lib Dem politicians falling over themselves to tell us that our voice really mattered.

 That Scotland was a valued member of the family of nations.

 Remember the slogan: Scotland shouldn’t leave the UK, we should lead the UK.

“But now, when it looks as if the people of Scotland might actually take them at their word, and vote for a party that will make Scotland’s voice heard, these same politicians throw their hands up in horror.
 
How dare we seek to influence the Westminster system they begged us to stay part of.

“I think any democratic, progressive party that frightens the life out of the Westminster establishment is good news for ordinary people in Scotland and right across these islands.

“When these politicians – outrageously – describe the prospect of the SNP winning a general election in Scotland as some kind of threat to democracy, what they mean is that we pose a threat to their vested interests.

“We pose a threat to the notion of democracy that has them turn up for election once every five years and take Scotland for granted the rest of the time.

 We challenge a parliamentary system that has more members in the unelected House of Lords than in the elected House of Commons.

COSY CONSENSUS

“And we rail against a cosy consensus that hits the poor with the bedroom tax and benefit sanctions, while turning a blind eye to the tax avoidance of the super-rich.

“So, yes, David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, if you are worried that a strong SNP is a threat to all that is deeply undemocratic and unfair about the Westminster notion of democracy, then all I can say to you is this -

 you had better believe we are.

“To ordinary people across these islands who feel just as let down by that out of touch Westminster system as we do, I have a very different message.

It is a message of friendship and solidarity.

“I won’t pretend that the SNP doesn’t still want Scotland to be independent.

 But at this General Election – with the power of the big parties weaker than ever before – I say this to people of progressive opinion all across the UK.

 As long as Scotland remains part of the Westminster system, we will be your allies in seeking to shake up and reform that outdated and discredited system once and for all.

“Westminster needs to change. To be more responsive to the needs and demands of ordinary people, wherever they are in the UK.

So to people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, I make this promise: The SNP stands ready to work with you in making that positive change for all of us.

“We will demand an alternative to slash and burn austerity.

Responsible deficit reduction, yes.

 But cuts that tear at the very fabric of our society, penalise the poor, threaten our public services and stifle economic growth, let me make it crystal clear – those will not be in our name.

NHS IN PUBLIC HANDS

Trident: replacement backed by Westminster
Trident: replacement backed by Westminster

“We will demand an NHS in public hands. 

A fair wage for all

. Pensions that protect our older people.

 And a decent welfare system that helps people into work.

“And let me also promise this: 

At a time when in-work poverty is on the rise and people are being forced to use food banks, when public services are under strain and conventional defence forces are being cut to the bone, we will stand firm and unwavering against a single brass penny – let alone £100 billion – being spent on the obscene status symbol that is a new generation of Trident nuclear weapons.

“Ours will also be a voice for democratic reform.

 We’ll push for a fair voting system to be back on the agenda.

 And as Labour, the Tories and Lib Dems prepare for another five years of empty rhetoric on reform of the House of Lords, we will take a more straightforward view. 

The House of Lords has no place in a democratic society.

“The House of Lords – which, remember, was voted for by no one – recently tried to stop 16 and 17 year olds getting the vote in Scotland.
 Its members are paid £300 a day for just showing up. And it’s totally tax free.
 That’s got to stop.
 People with no democratic mandate should not be writing the laws of the land. It is time to abolish the House of Lords.

“No matter what the polls say, we do have a mountain to climb.

We have six MPs.

 In most of the other 53 seats in Scotland, we face hefty majorities.

 The biggest number of MPs we have ever had at Westminster is 11.

Any seat we manage to win beyond 11 will be record breaking for the SNP.

“The Westminster parties will pull out all the stops to halt the SNP surge.

 We saw in the referendum that there is no fear and no smear they will not stoop to.

 Mind you, their tactics so far in this election seem more comical than scary.

“Just listening to them – in their blind panic – can make you dizzy.

 The Tories say that if you vote SNP, you get Labour.

And Labour says that if you vote SNP, you’ll get the Tories.

 They can’t both be right, but they are both wrong.
 If you vote SNP on May 7th, what you will get is the SNP.

No one else.

“The SNP will never put the Tories into government.

 Not now. Not ever. 

And you won’t be letting the Tories in the back door either. 

You see, as long as there are more anti-Tory MPs – Labour or SNP – than there are Tory MPs in the House of Commons, we can keep them out of government.
 If there are more anti-Tory than Tory MPs after the election, the only way the Tories get back into power is if Labour lets them back in.

DEEP BUDGET CUTS

“The contrast between the SNP and the Westminster parties couldn’t be more stark. 

Last week, George Osborne’s budget laid bare the deep cuts planned for the next Parliament – £12 billion for Scotland alone.

“We have set out a clear alternative to that.

 Modest real terms spending increases in each year of the next parliament – instead of cuts – would see the deficit and debt fall as a share of national income.

 It is fiscally responsible.

 But it would also free up billions of pounds to invest in infrastructure and skills, public services and protecting the vulnerable.

“Labour has set its face against it.

 But just last week, the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that they could adopt our policy and still meet their fiscal targets.

 So I challenge Labour today to join us in opposing austerity – not in words, but in their spending plans.

“We will take whatever action we can to eradicate working practices that have no place in a decent, modern economy.

 And top of that list will be the zero hours contracts that demean and exploit far too many people

“Today I am setting a new target

: Within the next 12 months, we aim to have – not 150 – but 500 companies signed up and paying the Living Wage to all of their workers.

SC_2col“There is no service closer to our hearts than the National Health Service.

 I am proud of our Scottish NHS.

 The staff who work in our hospitals, communities and health centres do an amazing job – and they do it in often very difficult circumstances. I promise that my Government – for as long as we are in office – will continue to protect the budget of our National Health Service.

“No ifs, no buts – there must be an explicit protection for the NHS on the face of the TTIP agreement, the proposed new trade treaty between the US and the EU.
 SNP MPs – in order to protect Scotland’s budget – will vote at Westminster to halt the tide of NHS privatisation in England.

 We will use our voices and our votes to keep the NHS – north and south of the border – firmly in public hands.

“As long as I am your First Minister there will be no tuition fees in Scotland.

“But I want to do more than just keep education free. 
I want to make sure that a child born today in one of our most deprived communities, by the time he or she leaves school, has the same chance of going to university as a child from a wealthier background.

IMPROVING WOMEN”S LIVES

“As the first woman to hold the office of First Minister, I am determined that – unlike that other woman leader we once knew – I will use my time in this job to improve the lives of women across our country.

“I despair that, today, in 2015, there are only three gender-balanced Cabinets in the whole of the developed world.

 But I am really proud that mine is of one of them.

“There are many things that still stand in the way of gender equality.

Systemic and institutional barriers that we need to remove – the pay gap, occupational segregation, a lack of affordable childcare and, sometimes, just outdated attitudes.

“But for too many women, it is the violence and abuse they suffer in their own homes. 

Domestic abuse is a crime that affects one in six women in our country.
 We need to do more.

 That is why I am announcing today new funding of £20 million over the next three years to step up our work to tackle violence against women.

 We will invest that money to speed up the court process, give more support to victims, and expand schemes to help offenders change their behaviour.

FULL POWERS FOR SCOTLAND

“To the people of Scotland, I make this promise.

SNP MPs will not go to Westminster to settle down.

 SNP MPs will go to Westminster for one reason and one reason only – to do a good job for you and to win a better deal for Scotland.

 We will seek to use whatever influence you give us to call a halt to ever deeper austerity, to protect our NHS and to say loudly and clearly that the precious resources of our country should be invested in the future of our children, not in nuclear bombs.

“We will use our influence to win for our Scottish Parliament the full financial and social powers that it needs to grow our economy and create more jobs.

 And we will work in a spirit of friendship and co-operation with others who share our ideals – we will work with everyone, wherever they may be in the UK, who wants to see greater fairness and prosperity at the heart of their communities too.

“Over the next few weeks, there will continue to be talk of the deals that might be done after the election.

But from now until May 7 there is only one deal I am interested in.

 There is only one deal this party will seek to do – and that is with you, the people of Scotland.

 If you place your trust in us to be your advocates at Westminster, we will fight Scotland’s corner with passion, principle and conviction.

“We will stand up for Scotland’s interests, without fear or favour.

 We will represent you – to the best of our abilities – no matter your politics, your point of view and regardless of how you voted in the referendum last year.

 That is the deal we offer.
It is my pledge and my guarantee to each and every one of you.

“So, today, with humility but also with determination, I ask for your support on May 7 so that, together, we can make Scotland’s voice heard.

”

This speech has been edited from the complete speech supplied by Nicola Sturgeon’s party office.