Perthshire, like my own constituency of Moray, possesses magnificent landscapes, fantastic resources, strong culture, a rich history.
And good hard working people!
You know, it’s a privilege to be a member of a party that always puts the interests of our people first.
It’s an absolute honour to serve a Government that spends every hour of every day furthering the cause of Scotland.
And it’s hugely exciting to be involved in this great movement as we approach the historic moment of the independence referendum.
A moment that will unlock many more great moments.
When Scotland votes “yes”, our work on behalf of Scotland will only intensify because we will be empowered to build a better country for future generations.
Of course, our work for Scotland has never stopped since we were first elected in 2007.
And it’s been another busy year supporting rural Scotland and our nation’s outstanding natural environment.
We have seen some changes this year.
Paul Wheelhouse is already making an impact as the new Minister for the Environment and Climate Change – welcome Paul to your first Conference in your new role!
Paul takes over where Stewart Stevenson left off.
Stewart is a tremendous colleague and was a fantastic Minister who made such an impact in Scotland, and across the world, with his work on climate change and other issues.
I know Conference, you will want to join me in thanking Stewart for all of his hard work.
Tackling Climate Change is just one of the big challenges Scotland must deal with in the years ahead.
Thankfully, in many ways we are a very lucky nation.
We have the solutions not only to deal with the big issues we face, but to these great challenges into opportunities.
We just need the tools to get on with the work.
I have the good fortune to have a job that takes me round the country.
I get to see at first hand, the people, the businesses, the communities, the environment that make rural Scotland such a great place to live and work.
Everywhere I go, I see success and, importantly, potential for greater success.
Success in the midst of a world that faces many challenges this century.
Some talk of the perfect storm.
Globally, food, energy, water problems at a time of rising populations, and global warming.
Scotland is not immune. Any family struggling with rising fuel, food and heating bills will tell you that.
But there is a difference between Scotland and many other countries.
We have won the natural lottery and if we make the right choices we can provide our own people with security, and help our neighbours.
Because Scotland has a wealth of resources in water, land, food and drink and energy – many of the key resources of life.
And if we protect the rich natural environment that supplies us with these resources, this wealth will be around for ever, growing in value.
Our natural resources are already creating thousands of new jobs.
Food and drink sector
Because our rural communities are busy grasping the opportunities.
This is no-where more evident than in food and drink.
From new community-owned artisan bakeries to the farmers markets blossoming on our high streets, to the multi-national drinks companies, food and drink is now our best performing sector.
The target to break the £5 billion barrier in annual exports of food and drink by 2017 was achieved 6 years early!
A tremendous achievement by the industry supported by our Government.
Just think, soon food and drink could soon rival oil and gas as our biggest export.
Food is about jobs, but it’s about much, much more.
Increasingly, people want to know where the food on their plate comes from, how and where it was produced.
There is a growing awareness of how food impacts on our health and environment.
That’s why recently we provided a £2 million food education package to engage our young people on how what they eat impacts on their lives and environment.
Today, I want to announce two new measures to drive the food & drink agenda.
Firstly, I am going to establish a National Food Forum to investigate some of the big issues in the food debate.
For instance, I want to know how we can add more value to the fantastic raw materials we produce to capture the economic benefits.
I also want the Forum to look at Scotland and food security and to investigate our food supply chains.
Recently, our dairy farmers were being forced to supply milk at a loss.
There is something seriously wrong somewhere and I want to ensure our food supply chains are fit for purpose.
The new Food Forum will I believe help ensure Scotland makes the most of our ability to produce good food.
And promoting good food takes me to my next announcement.
Conference, just as I want people around the world to enjoy Scotland’s larder, I also want our own folk to enjoy the produce on their doorstep.
From the global to the local, because local food strengthens local economies, and encourages consumption of fresh and nutritional food.
And today, I can tell Conference that I am making available a further £2.5m to fund a new Think Local initiative with £1.5m of this going towards a new Community Food Fund to help people access local food – in their communities – in our cities, towns and villages in these tough times.
And “Think Local” will also celebrate local food and use the 2014 Games and Ryder Cup as showcases for our larder.
Conference, Scottish food is a great success story so let’s ensure we do all we can to ensure it benefits our economy, health and environment.
Let’s encourage the world and Scots to buy Scottish.
Promoting local food also benefits our primary producers - the fishermen, farmers, and crofters that help underpin the success of our food and drink industry – the men and women who toil the land and men who go to sea even in the toughest of conditions as we have seen lately!
Delegates on Sunday, I travel to the Council of Ministers in Luxembourg.
The bad news is that I’ll miss Nicola Sturgeon’s speech.
The good news is that our farmers and fishermen will have someone there to speak up on their behalf at a crucial stage in the Common Agricultural Policy and Common Fisheries Policy negotiations.
I’ve lost count of the number of UK farming and fishing ministers that have come and gone since 2007.
But for generations, the UK’s track record in standing up for Scotland in Europe has been utterly appalling.
That’s one reason why Scotland receives the lowest level of rural development funding in not just the UK but the whole of Europe.
And we receive the lowest level of farming payments in the UK and 4th lowest in Europe.
But not content with that, the UK is now calling for a substantial cut in the farming budget against the wishes of the Scottish industry.
Conference, the UK Government is not listening to Scotland.
Without adequate support, hill farms throughout the Highlands & Islands won’t survive and others will struggle.
Yet, it could all be so different, and better.
A new funding formula is being proposed for farming payments that could eventually deliver a massive uplift of £150m a year for Scotland – that’s nearly £6000 for every farm in Scotland.
But there’s a catch.
Scotland would only qualify for this uplift if we were a Member State in our own right.
Conference, that’s a heavy price for our farmers and crofters to pay for being represented by the UK in Europe.
In the meantime, UK Ministers must pull the finger out and deliver for Scotland in these vital talks.
I have to fight for Scotland’s farmers with one arm behind my back!
Up to now, they might let us join the UK delegation some of the time but never all of the time.
UK Ministers still deny the Scottish Government access to farming negotiations when they reach the end game, when the real political horse trading takes place.
Scottish Ministers should be part of the UK delegation throughout the process not just when it suits UK Ministers.
I am therefore writing to the new DEFRA Secretary of State requesting access to all stages of the negotiations.
Thousands of livelihoods will be stake and these negotiations are too important for Scotland to be left standing in the corridors.
The UK often refuses to listen to Scotland, to put our case, to deliver a fair share of the budgets, or to even let us in the room.
Conference, this illustrates why every farmer and crofter, all of Scotland, needs to vote “yes” to having our own seat at the top table in Europe!
An independent Scotland would strength the voice of all these islands.
We would be supportive allies when there was common interest but have our own sovereign voice to push our own priorities at all times!
Our fishermen also need a strong voice in Europe.
We also have a critical year ahead for our fishing communities as we negotiate the new European fisheries policy.
Fishing makes a massive contribution to our economy to the tune of half a billion pounds worth of landings alone.
And all this when, day in, day out, our fishermen have to cope with a discredited CFP that over decades has wrecked communities, destroyed jobs and damaged our seas.
The CFP’s mismanagement of a valuable Scottish industry is the result of one size fits all micro-management by Brussels.
That’s why, along with our SNP MEPs, we’ve been working hard to bring decision making closer to home.
Thanks in no small part to Scotland’s input, there is finally the prospect of radical reform.
We will be working hard to deliver that in the crucial months ahead.
We have also been working in partnership with our fishermen to promote sustainable fishing and now we are leading Europe with Scotland accounting for 5% of the global total of stock with Marine Stewardship accreditation!
But Conference, whilst Scotland promotes sustainability, Europe’s policy promotes obscene waste.
Europe must now commit to ending the disgraceful practice of discarding – the throwing of good fish, dead back into the sea.
Scotland’s fishermen are already acting responsibly and have reduced discards by more than 60% across many fisheries – the rest of Europe must follow our lead!
Conference, your Government is working hard to make discards history and we call on Europe to clean up its act and bring the shameful practice of discarding to an end, across all of Europe’s seas.
A Sustainable Scotland
The public’s revulsion over the waste of our fish stocks, a valuable food resource, reminds us that we now have a duty to safeguard the planet’s precious resources.
We need sustainable societies and we want our children to inherit a sustainable Scotland.
That’s why I’m proud of the SNP’s drive towards a zero waste Scotland.
We’re already being help up as an exemplar by other countries.
Since the SNP took office, recycling has reached 41% of household waste and we’ve reduced the amount of waste going to landfill by over a third.
Until only recently, virtually every home put food waste in the bucket along with everything else.
But soon three quarters of a million homes will have a food waste collection service.
We’ll soon announce our response to the consultation on charging for single use disposable bags and we are investing in anti-litter, anti-waste policies.
We are absolutely determined to make Scotland one of the world’s cleanest countries.
A Sustainable Scotland is good for our economy, good for our environment.
It also helps our transformation to a low carbon society.
Conference, Scotland now has an international reputation for leadership on climate change.
Our support for renewables, our ambitious climate change targets, the country’s sense of purpose, are winning plaudits from around the world.
We are already more than half way to our 2020 target but there is much to do.
The transition to a low carbon society is already delivering dividends in terms of jobs and investment as well as building a sustainable future for our children.
And to harness the enthusiasm of our communities, we have supported initiatives such as the Climate Challenge Fund to enable communities to come up with their own solutions to reduce emissions,
Since 2008, that has delivered over £44 million of funds to 394 communities across Scotland.
This kind of grassroots action is exactly what we need to build a better Scotland.
Conference, that’s why we want to empower communities to have more say over their own destinies.
We want our people to share in the wealth of natural resources we have on our doorstep.
That’s the philosophy behind the Climate Challenge Fund, and why we have supported over 300 community owned renewable energy projects.
Conference, that’s why we have also launched a Land Reform Review.
Land Reform Review
Land reform is an important part of Scotland’s story. From the Crofting Acts of the 1880s to the more recent right-to-buy legislation and support for community land purchase, good progress has been made.
By further improving the relationship between our land and people, we can create stronger communities and deliver the economic growth and fairer society that Scotland rightly expects.
It’s time to do more.
That’s why we set up a Land Reform Review – to deliver radical recommendations that can make sure that our land supports rather than hinders economic development and that our communities are empowered to take more control of their own futures.
Delegates, we can’t rewrite history but we can rewrite the rules for a fairer country.
And if we are to truly empower our communities and hold those with undue influence to account, we also need control over the Crown Estate passed to the people of Scotland.
It’s outrageous but not surprising that the Crown Estate is not being devolved to Scotland as promised by the Lib Dems.
They view keeping the Tories on side as more important than keeping the people of Scotland on side.
Conference, it’s now clear that the only solution to sort out the Crown Estate is to vote “yes” in the independence referendum.
Independence is about much more than transferring powers from one Parliament to another.
And it’s not just about what we’ll inherit from the UK on any one day when pens are put to paper to sign historic documents.
It’s about what we create thereafter and the new choices we are able to make.
As is the case with any sovereign nation, it is about having an elected Parliament able to make decisions that are always first and foremost for the benefit of that nation.
Last year, a former civil servant who had held senior posts north and south of the border summed up the problem.
He told me:
“You know when I worked in Scotland I used to get enormously frustrated about how Whitehall forgot about us up here.
Then I went to work in London, and I found I quickly forgot about Scotland.”
No UK Government will ever make Scotland its number one priority.
And since 1999, we have had our own Parliament that always will.
Conference, if our Parliament can take decisions on health and education, we can take decisions on all the issues that will determine our nation’s success.
Following this week’s agreement signed by the First Minister and the Prime Minister, it’s game on.
The choice in Autumn 2014 is not between the status quo and independence- it’s a choice between two futures.
A future where we take responsibility for shaping our own destiny
or a future that will be determined by others with different priorities to our own.
So together, we must work hard to persuade the people of Scotland to join us in being the authors of the next chapter in our country’s story
and it‘ll be the most exciting chapter so far!