Conference last May we won a historic victory.
North, South, East and West people from all walks of life and many from other political parties voted for the SNP for the first time.
They voted for a competent SNP Government, for our record and for our vision. But they also did something else.
Conference, the people of Scotland who gave us the honour of a second term in government gave us a mandate to hold a referendum and the invitation to persuade them of independence.
That is an invitation that we must honour. It is an opportunity I know every single one of us will grasp with both hands. This is our opportunity to deliver Scottish independence.
Earlier this week Vince Cable said what everyone else, not just in Scotland but increasingly in the rest of the UK knows - that this UK Government has no vision for the economy beyond cuts.
Writing to the Prime Minister he identified the UK Government’s problem as a lack of a “compelling vision of where the country is heading beyond sorting out the financial mess and a clear and confident message about how we earn our living in the future.”
What he failed to identify is that that lack of vision is not just a problem for the Prime Minister, it is a problem for Cable, Clegg and the rest of the coalition.
And it is not just the UK Government that has no clear plan. No route through the economic problems we face and no ideas for the way out.
Their colleagues in Scotland’s opposition parties face the same problem. No ideas, no plans and no vision for the future.
Well, here at SNP Conference, in the SNP Government, in Glasgow it’s very different. We have a vision for our economy. We have a vision for our nation. Our ambition is independence and the creation of a better Scotland.
Our vision for Scotland, and our ambition for independence, is one that gives us the ability to grow our economy and take responsibility for our own affairs.
It is a vision that will see us invest in recovery, not cut our way further into an economic crisis.
With access to all of Scotland’s resources and the full powers of independence I would not be writing to the Chancellor asking for actions to boost employment opportunities, to support households with action on fuel duty or to back our industries with investment in bricks and mortar. We would be able to take those actions now to increase economic growth and meet our ambition for Scotland.
We can maintain a public sector that reflects the unique character, the skills and the values of the people of Scotland.
The kind of values that have protected the principle of education based on ability to learn not ability to pay and that will see the NHS remain in public hands.
And we can take our full place in the international community and global economy.
That is our vision for Scotland.
Conference today I want to leave you with two clear messages.
First, against the backdrop of global economic problems and UK mismanagement, Scotland is holding our own.
And second, when we no longer face the restrictions of working within limits set by the UK Chancellor I want to give you the evidence and the confidence that with independence, Scotland will not only stand on our own two feet and survive but our economy can and will thrive.
The current economic challenges we face will not disappear with independence but we are well placed – indeed better placed – to meet these challenges head on and to make the most of Scotland’s opportunities.
One of the oft repeated arguments on this point is that we should have the referendum sooner rather than later.
The argument that our economy is somehow being damaged by a supposed delay does not however reflect the reality of our experience.
In the last year companies like Amazon, Michelin, Dell, and Avaloq, among others, have announced major investments in Scotland.
We have seen major global players in renewables and manufacturing like Mitsubishi and Samsung make real commitments to Scotland that will deliver jobs and opportunities.
This week Dunfermline based company Burcote Wind announced plans for a billion pounds worth of renewable energy investment and the transformation of the Nigg Yard in the Highlands to a renewable energy hub is beginning.
According to leading accountants Ernst and Young, in a report now spread widely through Channel 4’s fact check blog, international inward investment is now more successful in Scotland than any other parts of these islands, including London.
The UK Government itself, in supporting and agreeing to our calls for the Green Investment Bank to be based in Edinburgh, has demonstrated that investment in Scotland, a Scotland on its way to independence, is a good investment.
The Financial Times described Westminster's pretext for accelerating the poll – that uncertainty is damaging the economy – as "disingenuous at best". They said that as threats go, any risks posed by a referendum were "as a fleabite compared with the all-devouring Eurozone crisis."
If there is any uncertainty facing Scotland’s economy, it comes not from the talk of a positive future with investment in the economy but
from the policies of austerity and negativity being pursued by the UK Government.
At the heart of the debate on independence is the question of our economic future. We must persuade Scotland of the strength of our country’s future. And we need to do that now because for year after year our country has been told that we can’t afford to be independent. So let’s look at the facts.
Last week the report on Government Expenditure and Revenue in Scotland was published – that’s the official breakdown of how much money is sent from Scotland to the Treasury and how much is spent in Scotland by this government and by the UK.
Ministers are not involved in the calculations. Statisticians do the work and I am told the details shortly before it is published.
Well conference, let me tell you what those figures show.
Last year Scotland’s fiscal position was stronger than that of the UK.
Scotland contributed 9.6 per cent of UK taxes, but we received only 9.3 per cent of UK spending in return.
With only 8.4% of the UK population we paid more than our share and got less back.
Two years ago in 2009-10 Scotland paid in 9.4% of UK taxes, but again only 9.3% came back.
Even when North Sea revenues fell by 50% Scotland paid in more money to the UK Treasury than came back.
Last year we had a £2.6 billion advantage over the UK. An advantage worth £510 for every man, woman and child in Scotland.
And over the last five years that advantage totals £8.6 billion
That’s over £1600 for every man woman and child in Scotland.
That’s the real story of Scotland’s finances. Scotland pays more to the UK than we get in return.
And it’s not just me that says that Scotland is strong enough to stand on our own two feet. Contrary to what we sometimes hear, a recent study by the independent Centre for Economics and Business Research confirmed that Scotland receives no net subsidy from the rest of the UK.
And they worked that out whilst allocating Scotland less than our full share of North Sea Oil and Gas.
These figures are in fact so compelling and so persuasive that some of the most strident opponents of independence now accept that there is no economic barrier standing between Scotland and independence
David Cameron - “It would be wrong to suggest that Scotland could not be another such successful, independent country."
Ruth Davidson – “I believe Scotland is big enough, rich enough and good enough to be an independent country.”
Scottish Labour deputy-leader Anas Sarwar – “Scotland would probably be a successful country if it was an independent country."
Iain Gray – “I do not think Scotland is too small, too poor or too stupid to stand on its own”
David McLetchie “An independent Scotland would be viable”
And who could forget Michael Moore “You’ll never hear me suggest that Scotland could not go its own way.”
And there’s more. Scotland’s strength is recognised by economists and investors. In reaction to this week’s figures Michael Saunders, Chief
Economist at Citigroup said “you have to get over any misconception that Scotland cannot be a viable economy because it clearly can be.”
Yet now, even though our opponents concede that Scotland could prosper with independence they just can help themselves. In an attempt to undermine the position on Scotland’s economy the Tories man in the Scotland Office claimed that because spending on pensions and benefits had risen by 27% over the last five years Scotland would be unsustainable. Well Mr Mundell, the UK’s spending rose by 28%.
These comments make clear even our opponents accept that Scotland can afford to be an independent country. Our opponents should stop misleading the public and accept that Scotland pays her way.
And then they highlight how much debt we would have or they question our ability to secure a strong credit rating.
Well conference, as a result of the mis-management of the public finances by successive UK Governments the UK has a considerable national debt and its credit rating has been questioned.
The suggestion that it is only with independence that Scotland would face the challenge of debt is ridiculous. Let’s be clear.
Scotland is already paying for the UK’s debt.
In ten days time we will find out if the UK’s long term debt has smashed the trillion pound barrier.
A trillion pounds that we are all liable for.
Debt that every citizen in Scotland will have to repay - independent or not. That’s the real story of the finances of the United Kingdom.
Under the current constitutional settlement the UK’s austerity programme means Scotland’s public spending faces a further seven years of cuts.
As part of the UK it could take 18 years before public spending returns to pre-recession levels and spending in Scotland could fall by £51 billion in the meantime.
That is the price we are paying for the mismanagement of our finances by the UK Government, for the failure to regulate our banking system properly, and for the profligacy of investment schemes like PFI.
So while sticking with the UK comes with debts soon to be over a trillion pounds Scotland’s share of that debt is something we can and will deal with.
The figures out this week show that this year Scotland ran a deficit of 4.4% of our GDP. A deficit yes but considerably less than the 6.6% of GDP run up by the UK.
Over the last five years including our long term investments the deficit in Scotland is 7.4% or £10 billion. That is a lot of money for many. But against the UK with a debt of 9% of GDP and £136 billion we are once again in a more sustainable, more manageable position.
And the resources that remain in the North Sea are worth more than 10 times Scotland’s share of the debt run up by the UK Government.
North Sea Oil and Gas is a great resource for Scotland. As the First Minister has said we have not just won the natural lottery once with the North Sea, but twice with the potential of our renewable industry.
The resources in the North Sea are resources we must cherish. Looking back if Scotland had been independent in 1979 oil revenues would have brought our debt down to zero by 1984 and allowed Scotland to be in surplus in the late 80s when we began to face some of our toughest economic challenges.
Right now there are an estimated 24 billion barrels of oil left to be extracted from the North Sea. Contrast that trillion pounds worth of assets with UK debt heading through the trillion pound barrier.
Conference there can no longer be any argument about whether Scotland can afford to be independent. The answer is yes and the case is closed. The question our opponents have to answer is can we afford the consequences of remaining part of the UK.
Balancing the budget and being fiscally responsible is not something anyone will be able to say of the Chancellors budget in ten days time.
In fact it isn’t something that could have been said of any UK budget for a long time.
Last month the Scottish parliament passed this government’s budget. For the fifth year in a row we have balanced the books and we are living within our means.
That is a record of which we should be rightly proud.
In 2007 we said we would take a responsible approach to government and we have kept that promise.
Our competence is the means by which we have met our ambitions in the first term of this Parliament - a council tax freeze, free education, protecting concessionary travel and abolishing prescription charges.
It’s not just in the Government where we have brought some discipline where none had existed before. In cities like Edinburgh and
Aberdeen where we inherited councils that had overspent and emptied the reserves, the books are once again back in balance, good government has been restored and the residents of those cities have recognised the difficult decisions we have taken.
In Holyrood we have taken no action that cannot be financially sustained. That is our record in government and the record we will continue with independence.
Conference running a manageable economy is not an imposition.
Fiscal responsibility is not a constraint on Scotland’s ambitions it is essential for our ambitions. That is part of our obligation to the people of Scotland.
And strong economic foundations are essential.
Paying our way is not just about being in a stronger position than the UK when it comes to the annual accounts. Independence is also about being able to take the opportunities available to us, to tailor policies to match the preferences of the Scottish people.
I have spoken at conference before about the jobs that could be created with the responsibility for corporation tax. But it is not just about the headline rate of tax.
With independence we can be smarter in the way we use tax powers.
For example, we could offer tax advantages for the computer games industry by putting developers of these games in Scotland at a distinct advantage.
It’s no wonder the Computer Games industry body Tiga say that independence “could absolutely reshape games industry policy across Scotland”.
With the powers of independence we could target and incentivise our renewables industry. We have already put in place investment in our ports infrastructure to capitalise on the potential of offshore renewables but we could do more to see wave and tidal power reach their full potential.
And we could reach out internationally. Scotland has secured new international connections with flights to the Middle East and interest from China, but our airports and our airlines are hampered by a system of charging that makes new routes hard to start up and makes it tough to compete with our European neighbours.
The power over Air Pasenger Duty could enable us to attract new direct international flights and make more of our global connections for trade and tourism.
Being smarter with our powers is not just about how we raise our taxes or invest in our industries.
With the powers of independence we could re-invest the costs saved by getting young people into Modern Apprenticeships by having as truly integrated tax and benefits system.
Conference, our country has a strong economic base. We pay our way in the United Kingdom. We need the powers of Independence to ensure we reach our potential. We have a powerful case to make to the people – let’s go and persuade Scotland of Independence