By Martin Kelly
First Minister Alex Salmond has urged the people of Scotland to seize the moment and use the independence referendum to build a better nation.
In a speech to delegates at the SNP conference in Aberdeen, the SNP leader told his audience that the eyes of the world would be on Scotland on September 18th and that a Yes vote would ensure the world would keep watching as a new Scotland emerged.
“The eyes of the world will be on Scotland in September – watching, intently, to see how we will vote.” he told delegates, “When the polls are closed and the voting has been done, let’s resolve this, let’s keep the eyes of the world on Scotland.”
The First Minister said it was an opportunity for Scots to be seen with admiration as they set about “Building a new and better Scotland.”
In front of a packed hall, and with the world’s media in attendance, Mr Salmond ridiculed the negativity of the No campaign.
“They are the most miserable, negative, depressing and thoroughly boring campaign in modern political history.
“They are already out of touch with the people and are now losing touch with reality.”
Referring to Lord George Robertson’s recent speech in which the Labour peer claimed a Yes vote in September would be “cataclysmic” and would destabilise the west, Mr Salmond said:
“Lord Robertson told a startled Washington that the ‘forces of darkness’ are getting ready to celebrate a Yes vote.
Mocking the Labour peer, Mr Salmond added: “The forces of darkness!
“Darth Vader, Ming the Merciless, the Klingons and Lex Luthor must all be watching the campaign closely.”
As the Deputy First Minister had done in her speech the day before, the First Minister highlighted the massive grass roots movement that was underpinning the Yes campaign.
“Make no mistake – momentum is with this campaign. The people are coming towards us.
“Political public meetings are being revived, halls have been crowded across Scotland as we discuss our nation’s future.
“The messages from these meetings of hundreds are amplified a hundred times through social media and the campaign momentum continues.”
This, said Mr Salmond, was something the No campaign could not match. “The Yes campaign is positive, uplifting, hopeful and must always stay that way.”
The SNP leader underlined the message that the referendum was not a vote for a political party, but a vote for Scotland’s future.
The referendum, he said, was not a vote for the SNP, “Many people who have never voted for our party will be voting Yes.” he said, adding: “This referendum is not about this Party, or this First Minister, or even the wider Yes campaign.
“It’s a vote for a government in Scotland that the people of Scotland choose, pursuing policies the people of Scotland support.
“A government in control of tax, the economy, social security, employment, immigration, oil and gas revenues, European policy and a range of other areas currently under Westminster control.
“That may be the SNP. It may be Labour. It may be a coalition.”
Mr Salmond attacked the policies of the Conservative led coalition government and highlighted the fact the Tories have only one MP in the whole of Scotland.
To a rousing cheer he said: “In an independent Scotland we can give this guarantee, the era of Tory governments unelected by the people of Scotland handing out punishment to the poor and the disabled will be gone and gone for good.”
Mr Salmond accused the UK Labour party of backing many Conservative initiatives who he said had been, “Backed up all the way by a Labour Party leadership that has totally lost its way.”
This, said Mr Salmond was a party that had, “lost touch with the values of Labour voters.” Labour was now a party, he told delegates, “That supports illegal wars, a cuts commission to roll back the gains of devolution and the Tory assault on social security.”
The SNP leader claimed a Yes vote on September 18th would allow the Labour party in Scotland to return to its roots.
“Independence will be good for Scottish Labour.
“The Labour Party, freed from Westminster control, will have the chance to return to its core values: many of which we in this party agree with and share.”
Those who claimed Scotland could not govern themselves, said the First Minister had views which were not backed up by the facts.
Listing some of the nation’s huge pool of natural resources, he said Scotland had:
- More top universities, per head, than any other country.
- A hot bed of life sciences.
- Brilliance in creative industries.
- A world-class food and drink industry.
- Manufacturers exporting across the world.
- 25 per cent of Europe’s off-shore wind and tidal potential.
- 60 per cent of the EU’s oil reserves.
A Government would be 100 per cent committed to building a better future, he said. In defiant tone, he pledged: “We will not tell the people of Scotland that we’re not good enough to run our own country.”
In a reference to the wealth of Scotland, he added: “Scotland is a wealthy country, we more than pay our way.
“As an independent nation we would be the 14th richest country in the developed world. The UK are 18th.”
Challenging opponents of independence, he asked: “Is anyone seriously meant to believe that the 14th most prosperous country in the developed world cannot sustain itself as an independent country?”
Mr Salmond also cited a recent report by ratings agency Standard & Poor’s, which he remined delegates were “not known for their unbridled optimism on any country’s prospects”
Quoting from the report, he said: “Even excluding North Sea output……. Scotland would qualify for our highest economic assessment.”
“Even excluding North Sea output”, he repeated in order to underline the point that Scotland is wealthy without north sea oil.
The speech also highlighted the SNP’s proposal for revolutionary childcare, “a plan put to me first by the late Professor Ailsa McKay of Glasgow Caledonian University” said Mr Salmond, “a woman who was passionate in her belief that independence could change Scotland for the better.”
The SNP leader said such policies would be made possible by first “transferring money from Westminster’s priorities to Scotland’s priorities.”
“For us,” he said, “childcare for all families is the priority”.
There were more cheers when the SNP leader emphasised perhaps the party’s most fundamental principle, next to independence itself, its opposition to nuclear weapons.
“Spending £100 billion over a generation on a new generation of nuclear weapons is obscene.
“We give this cast iron guarantee.
“A Yes vote on September 18th is a vote to remove these weapons of mass destruction from Scotland once and for all.”
The referendum, he said, was a choice between two futures.
“Westminster wants to renew a weapons system that can destroy the world.
“In an independent Scotland we will build a system that will be the envy of the world.”
Mr Salmond dismissed claims that such a revolutionary childcare policy could be introduced under the present system of devolution.
“Some people say that it could be done under devolution. But under devolution nearly 90 per cent of the tax generated on women’s employment earnings go straight to the Westminster Exchequer not to Scotland.
“In an independent Scotland, with control of our budget, our resources and taxation, we can invest far more in our children’s future.”
He added: “High quality universal childcare and early learning – for all of Scotland’s children, that’s the independence pledge.”
“Transforming childcare”, said Mr Salmond, “will open up opportunities for many more women in Scotland.”
“But our ambitions must go further,” he told the audience.
“An equal opportunity to join the workforce – and an equal opportunity within the workforce.
“In an independent Scotland we will want our companies to aspire to at least 40 per cent female participation on their boards.
“And we will have the power to enforce the Equal Pay Act.”
The SNP leader also revealed that plans were already in place for the assembly of a ‘Team Scotland’ to represent the nation following a Yes vote in September. The group would be inclusive, said Mr Salmond.
“There are many different colours and threads woven in to the Scottish tartan and we celebrate them all. We need to mobilise all the talents and the potential of all of our people.
“And we have to reflect that in how we will proceed after September the 18th, in the approach we will take to bring Scotland together as we prepare to move forward.
“With a Yes vote on September 18, that work will begin.”
“An all-party “Team Scotland” negotiating group, including non-SNP members will be convened. It will secure expertise from across the political spectrum and beyond and indeed from Scotland and beyond.
“That group will begin negotiations with Westminster before the end of September, the discussions will be held in accordance with the principles of the Edinburgh Agreement.
“That means with respect and in the interests of everyone in Scotland and indeed the rest of the UK.”
Underlining the fact that campaigning and negotiations post Yes will be separate, he said: “The campaigning rhetoric will be over. The real work will begin.”
Near the end of his speech, Mr Salmond talked about the late Margo MacDonald, who died just over one week ago.
“Last week as the great life of Margo MacDonald was celebrated, many pictures were posted showing Margo out campaigning for independence down the years.
“In one, which is on the cover of Holyrood Magazine, a young
“Margo was outside the old Royal High School in Edinburgh, holding a big poster of a loveheart with the words: ‘Yes, We Love you Scotland.'”
Margo, he told delegates, loved Scotland, Scots and people.
Mr Salmond finished his speech by urging the people of Scotland to sezie the opportunity the referendum had presented.
“The eyes of the world will be on Scotland in September – watching, intently, to see how we will vote.
“When the polls are closed and the voting has been done, let’s resolve this, let’s keep the eyes of the world on Scotland.
“Not to see how we are voting but to watch in admiration at what we will be building, building a new and better Scotland.
“Let’s take all our ideals, all our talent, all our commitment and our energy. Let us build a nation that carries itself with pride and humility in equal measure.
“That looks to its own but which gives of itself to the world as much as it possibly can.
“Which yields to no one in compassion and to no-one in ambition.
“And that, come independence day, walks tall among the nations of the Earth – on that day, and on every day thereafter.
“This is our moment,” he said, “To be a beacon of hope, a land of achievement.
“Our country, our Scotland, our independence”