By Martin Kelly
The SNP will cut energy bills by five per cent if Scotland becomes independent, Nicola Sturgeon has told delegates at the SNP’s party conference in Perth.
Addressing delegates, the SNP’s Depute Leader said the measure would save households £70 per year and would remain in place every year.
Ms Sturgeon explained the measure would be paid for by replacing the current climate change levy, imposed by Westminster on power companies, which is passed on to consumers.
Describing the current system as “disjointed” the SNP Depute Leader criticised the current system saying, “… it doesn’t take account of Scottish priorities and it’s not as efficient as it could be.”
She said: “Independence will allow us to tackle fuel poverty much more directly, delivering Scottish solutions to Scottish problems, and ensuring that energy companies always behave in a socially responsible way to protect vulnerable customers.
“I can announce today that an SNP government in an independent Scotland will remove the cost of energy saving measures and the warm home discount from energy bills. We will provide that funding from central government resources.
“That will mean direct government funding for fuel poverty schemes of at least £200 million per year.”
Ms Sturgeon added: “We estimate that it will cut energy bills by around 5% – or £70 a year. Not a short term measure – but a real and lasting cut in Scottish energy bills.”
The speech began with praise for SNP candidate in the Dunfermline by-election campaign Shirley-Anne Somerville who Ms Sturgeon said would be “an outstanding champion for the people of Dunfermline.”
“She is standing up for the hard won gains of our Scottish government. To protect them from a Labour Party that describes bus passes for pensioners and free medicine for the sick as a ‘something for nothing’ culture.”
Ms Sturgeon had harsh words for the official No campaign, reminding delegates that the anti-independence group Better Together had themselves used the term Project Fear to describe the nature of their campaign.
She called it, “intellectually and politically bankrupt.” which was she said, “an insult to the intelligence of the Scottish people.”
UK Prime Minister David Cameron was she said, “running scared” of a debate with Alex Salmond.
“The Prime Minister says he will fight against independence with his head, heart, body and soul.
“So there you have it, Scotland – it is only David Cameron’s guts that are letting him down.”
On the economic argument for independence, the senior SNP figure said Scotland was already: “one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
“We’ve generated more tax per head than the UK in each and every one of the last 30 years. The question is not could Scotland be independent but should Scotland be independent.” She told the audience.”
Ms Sturgeon criticised the current Westminster coalition’s handling of Scotland’s natural resources and attacked its welfare reform policies
“They’ve taken our oil revenues and slashed our budget. They’ve imposed the despicable bedroom tax.
“They’ve widened the gap between rich and poor and sentenced 50,000 more Scottish children to a life of poverty with their welfare cuts.
“They’ve taken money from the disabled to give tax cuts to millionaires and they spend tens of billions of pounds on pointless and immoral weapons of mass destruction.”
To rousing applause she told delegates: “That’s how Westminster behaves and we can put a stop to it for good when we say Yes to independence.”
Sturgeon launched a scathing attack on Scottish Labour’s stance on welfare, criticising Labour MSP Jackie Baillie’s recent claim that Scotland should not be allowed to run a devolved social security system.
“Just think about that for a moment. We could be in charge of social security – but we shouldn’t be. We should leave it in the hands of the Tories instead.” she added.
The SNP Depute leader said she believed even Labour voters would want to remove control over welfare from the Conservatives.
She said: “If Scotland could stop the Tories from cutting the income of the lowest paid then we should. If Scotland could stop the attacks on the disabled then we should and if Scotland could abolish the bedroom tax, then we most definitely should.”
Accusing Johann Lamont’s Scottish Labour party of defending the wrong people, she said: “Stop defending the Tories and start defending the working people of Scotland.”
The message had been made several times before, and it was made again. The best people to look after Scotland’s interests were the people who live here.
Westminster is “destroying” the social security system she told delegates. Far from protecting vulnerable Scots by “pooling the risks” and “sharing the burden” as opponents of independence claim, the vulnerable are suffering.
Maintaining her attack on Westminster reforms and the effect they were having on ordinary people, she told of her anger after a food bank based in her constituency – catering for people in just one part of Glasgow – dealt with 1400 referrals in the first six months of this year.
“1400 families and individuals in just one part of the city of Glasgow unable to feed themselves.” she said:
“That makes me deeply sad but it makes me even more angry. We are one of the richest countries on this planet.
“That there are children going hungry is unacceptable. It is a disgrace.”
There was also an announcement of a further £20 million for next year in order help mitigate the effects of the Bedroom tax, along with a reminder that only independence would see the policy scrapped.
The Scottish NHS, she insisted had been protected by devolution, but even devolution could not protect it forever, Ms Sturgeon said pointing to recent comments from Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary who called for a UK wide approach to the NHS.
Addressing those wo ask what Scotland will look like after a Yes vote, she said:
“People often ask what an independent Scotland will look like, in five years, ten years, twenty years. The answer is that it will look the way the Scottish people want it to.
“It will be the country we choose to build.
“That is the point of independence – to shape our country, to chart our future and to make decisions for ourselves.”
She reminded people that a Yes vote was not a vote for the SNP, but a vote “for the power to take decisions in Scotland”
Sturgeon added: “The government of Scotland will be the government elected by Scotland. That is the power of independence.”
Having independence said the SNP Depute leader would mean having the power to – bring Scotland’s postal service – our Royal Mail – back into public hands, abolish the bedroom tax, protect the state pension and make sure it keeps pace with the cost of living and remove Trident weapons of mass destruction from Scotland once and for all.
In a rousing finale, she said:
“Next year, we have a once in a generation opportunity to chart a new course for our country. To take our own future, and that of our children and grandchildren, into our own hands.
“To all those yet to decide, I say this. Cast your mind forward and imagine how you will feel on the 19th September.
“What outcome will make you feel more proud? What outcome will make you more hopeful for the future?
“Will it be knowing that nothing has changed? That we had a precious opportunity to do things differently but, with the eyes of the world upon us, we opted to leave them as they are?
“Or will it be knowing that we have taken the chance to build a better country and a new relationship with our friends across these islands.
“That we have chosen hope over fear. That we have believed in ourselves.”
“The choice we have been given is one of two futures.
“Scotland’s future in Westminster’s hands or Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands.”
“That’s what’s at stake.
“Not for our party, but for our country.
“For those who work hard to get on in life but who are held back by the gulf between rich and poor.
“For those with talent and potential who deserve the opportunity to succeed.
“For the vulnerable and disabled who are paying the price of things as they are.
“And for the children who will get the chance to grow up in a country where independence is not something to be argued over – but something to be celebrated and cherished.
“Think about those two futures.
“And then resolve to do everything you can to ensure that on 18 September next year the people of our country say a resounding Yes to an independent Scotland.”
See Nicola Sturgeon’s speech in full HERE