Referendum changed Scotland forever – Sturgeon

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First Minister-in-waiting Nicola Sturgeon MSP has started to set out her vision of a future Scotland and the task she faces when she takes over from Alex Salmond next month.

Sturgeon made the first of six planned keynote speeches at Edinburgh’s Corn Exchange tonight. Newsnet Scotland is reproducing key extracts to accompany our earlier report of her EU referendum initiative.

The new SNP leader was forthright in accepting the referendum result and pledging her commitment to working with everyone, Yes and No alike.

by Nicola Sturgeon MSP

The referendum changed Scotland forever.

Whatever politicians at Westminster might hope for, there’s no going back to business as usual. The challenge for us is to reflect that change in how we conduct ourselves.

We must use our new strength as a party to engage positively, intelligently, and respectfully with a population that is more engaged and better informed that ever before.

We must have the wisdom and humility to know when to put party interest aside and make common cause for the greater good. We must focus, not on what divides us as a nation but on what unites us.

If we do all of that, I believe we can create a momentum for change in our country that is unstoppable.

Of course, where that change leads us will not be dictated by politicians. It will be driven, in the words of the US Constitution, by ‘We the people’. Make no mistake, I know where I want that change to lead: To Scotland being an independent nation, and I believe it will.

Our political opponents say that my continued belief in independence means that I don’t accept the result of the referendum.That is nonsense and they know it.

I accept the result unreservedly. Yes didn’t win. And we didn’t win because we didn’t persuade enough people of the positive case for independence.

Whatever frustrations we might feel about the nature of the No campaign, the scaremongering, the negativity – the fact remains that it was our job to convince people to vote Yes. No-one else’s. We came close – very close – but we fell short.

And so Scotland will not become independent at this time. That is democracy. I accept that. But I reserve my right to keep making the case. To keep trying to persuade. Because that is democracy too.

I believe as strongly as I ever have that we should be independent, and that we will be independent.But only the Scottish people can decide it.

However much we might like it to be otherwise, there is no short cut to independence. No back door. No low road. There is only the high road of democracy. Our task now is as it has always been – to persuade a majority of our fellow citizens in a referendum that independence is the best future for our country.

Whether we succeed – I believe we will – and when, will depend on many different factors, events and circumstances. And it will depend – a lot – on how we conduct ourselves.

So let me set out for you how I intend to conduct myself as First Minister. And how, as leader of the SNP, I want us as a Party to face up to the opportunities that lie ahead.

Firstly, we must respect the views of those who voted No. We must understand their reasons – even if we don’t agree with them – and resolve to be more persuasive in the future. And we mustn’t allow our disagreement on independence to blind us to the many things we all agree on.

As First Minister, I will work to build as much unity and common cause in our country as I can. For me, One Scotland is not just a slogan – it is a principle that should guide us as a nation.

There are many who voted No in September who are open to persuasion in future. I know a few who have changed their minds already. But I also know there are those who will never be persuaded of the case for independence.

Their belief in the union is as strong as our belief in independence. I respect that. And as First Minister, I will serve them too.

Our differing views on independence don’t mean that there aren’t many other aspirations that we share for our country. There are aspirations of a healthy economy, strong public services, and a flourishing democracy.

And that is why, for each and every day that I hold office as First Minister, I will govern this country to the very best of my ability – and I will do so for all of Scotland. That is what the SNP was elected to do in 2007 and again in 2011.

And it is what I intend we will be re-elected to do in 2016.

I’m in public life to make Scotland a better place for everyone who lives here. That is my guiding principle. The reason I support independence is because I believe it better equips us to make Scotland a better place.

In other words, independence is the means, not an end in itself. The ends for me are better life chances for our children. A fairer, more prosperous society, where opportunity matches potential. A strong economy to underpin the better society we aspire to.

A country playing its part in building a more peaceful world. A country free of the moral and financial obscenity of Trident nuclear weapons.

Independence will give us so much more opportunity to deliver these objectives. There is no doubt about that.

But I am committed to these objectives in all constitutional circumstances. So I will use every power I have at my disposal at any time to deliver the best outcomes for the people I serve – and that is all of the people of Scotland.

Thanks, in part, to the work of the Scottish Government, Scotland now has lower unemployment and higher employment than the rest of the UK – including the lowest level of youth unemployment for six years.

We’ve seen a big boost in Scottish exports. In the face of Westminster austerity, our Scottish Welfare Fund has given support to more 100,000 vulnerable households. We’ve taken action to cancel out the impact of the bedroom tax. And we are protecting more than half-a-million low income households in Scotland from UK Government cuts to Council Tax Benefit.

These are all core areas of our government’s work and they matter to the livelihoods and wellbeingof hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens. So, wherever we progress to as a country in the future – and I believe it will be to independence – I pledge this:

If I am elected by Parliament to be First Minister, my government will have a relentless focus on the job in hand – on our public services, on the economy of Scotland and on tackling inequality.

Let me make particular mention of the National Health Service. Like everyone in Scotland – and as a former Health Secretary – there are few things I hold more dear than the NHS.

I am proud that the SNP has kept our NHS in public hands. And I am proud that in our budget earlier this month, we increased health funding by £80m more than planned.

But I also know from my experience as Health Secretary the challenges that those who deliver healthcare face each and every day. And I know the debt each and every one of us owes them for what they do.

My pledge to them and to all of Scotland is this: If I am First Minister, the NHS for me will continue to be a priority – a daily priority. I will work tirelessly to protect and improve it. And I promise that it will remain the publicly owned and publicly funded service that we all cherish so much.

Good government is important for its own sake. But it’s also true that good government and progress for Scotland go hand in hand.

I am regularly asked if I think there will be another independence referendum and when that might be.

My view on that is simple: It will be when the Scottish people decide the time is right.

But, you know, every time one of our political opponents suggests that I rule out a referendum, it seems to me that they miss this fundamental point Whether and when there is another referendum is not just down to what I do. It will also depend on what they do.

They’ll never persuade us that independence is not best for Scotland. But if they want to stem rising public demand for another referendum, there are some pretty obvious things they need to do.

They need to deliver – in full – on their promise of more powers for our Parliament. No ifs, no buts, no wriggling off the hook. Real powers on the economy, on tax, on welfare.

They need to stop cutting our budget and imposing policies that drive our children into poverty.

They need to make sure they don’t take us out of Europe against our will.

And they need to think again about using us as a dumping ground for a new generation of Trident nuclear weapons.

My over-riding message is this: Always look forward, never back.

We didn’t win the referendum and that is a deep disappointment. But we did move this country forward. Even our opponents now accept that Scotland is a sovereign nation.

We hold our future in our own hands. We have the ability to transform Scotland’s circumstances. In just a few months we can send a strengthened team of MPs to the Westminster parliament – possibly one where there is no overall majority.

The referendum was a watershed. There is no going back. We have the opportunity to lead our country into this new chapter in our journey.

Not by seeking to impose our will. Or by berating those who disagree with us. But by respecting what people want now, and working with them to achieve it. And by persuading, through our actions and the strength of our arguments that, in time, we should go further still, and become independent.