SNP Conference address by Kenny MacAskill MSP

Fellow delegates

What a pleasure to be back in the fair city of Perth. The work of Government has been on-going since we last met and the different ways in which members of the Government contribute continues.

For example, the First Minister went to the Premiere of the movie Brave in Hollywood. He was joined by the Culture Secretary at its premiere in Edinburgh. I went to a special showing of the move The Angels’ Share –
At Polmont Young Offenders.

However, I was the privileged one. It was being shown to inmates with the star of the show young Paul Brannigan present. He spoke after about how he had spent 2 years incarcerated there. That he had made a decision to turn his life around, and he had. It was humbling to be there.

I wish Paul well in his future career. I know he has already appeared since in a movie with Scarlett Johannsen. I am hoping for an introduction– mair chance from him than my cabinet colleagues!

The Angels’ Share is an outstanding movie. Set in Scotland, it has its dark side and its violent moments. But it’s arguably a template for what can be done. It shows that, given a chance, people can change. Good can triumph over evil. Hope can triumph over adversity.

Our policies are working. Progress is being made. Good things are happening on the ground. There is still a considerable journey to go, but we can take comfort in the distance travelled to date.

It’s not only me that is saying that. Just last week newspaper headlines declared “that over the past 6 years the number of under 16s carrying a knife had fallen by an extraordinary 75% in Strathclyde. That in Glasgow, assaults involving a knife had fallen by a third since 2006 and there had been a 41% drop in the number of people of all ages found with a knife”.

There are many more such statistics, and they tell a similar tale.

We have a 37 year low in recorded crime.

The clear up rate for all recorded crimes is at its lowest level for over 35 years.

Violent crime is down by just under a third, and offences involving a firearm by almost half since the SNP came to office.

Fear of crime is down and the risk of becoming a victim of crime continues to fall.

And we are turning people around from a life of crime. The one year reconviction rate has dropped to his lowest level in thirteen years. The new community payback order imposes tough community punishments and today I can announce we are investing £7.5 million over 3 years to help break the cycle of re-offending.

And we are diverting people from crime - ploughing the proceeds of crime back into communities. £46 million seized from criminals has been invested in community projects, benefitting over 600,000 young people.
From the Borders to the islands. Last week I saw youngsters in Milton benefitting from fitness sessions through Amateur Boxing Scotland. A few months back it was young musicians at a studio in North Edinburgh. Earlier in the year it was the opening the 3G training pitch for Brora Rangers. And there is so much more on-going through cash back. There’s something there for every child whether sport, music or drama.

It’s not just in police and crime. But, also in other areas of community safety which Roseanna deals with. Thanks to her outstanding work and the efforts of all those who serve with her house fires are at a ten year low. Illicit drug use has fallen every year since this Government came to power. Self-reported drug use was down 3.5% from 2006. There is still an issue on methadone. So Roseanna has asked clinical experts to consider it further.
Delegates, the opposition keeps talking Scotland down. But the statistics keep showing Scotland on the up.
Those impressive statistics come about, not by chance, but by design. We’ve always said that a visible police presence reassures good citizens and deters bad. A record number of police officers and a 37 year low in recorded crime. They are not unrelated but correlated. I thank them for their work and their service.

However, Police officers don’t serve alone. They are part of a wider Justice family. Credit must go to all whether police support staff, fire or prison officers; Procurator Fiscals or Social Workers; front line staff or back office workers. Each and every one has played their part. I thank them too for their dedication and commitment.

When we next meet there will be a new single police service under Chief Constable Stephen House. That new Police Service will maintain the ethos of the former constabularies and deliver an even better service for all our communities. It allows us to maintain that visible police presence when south of the Border almost as many officers will be lost as we have here. For those who serve, there will be no attack upon the terms and conditions under which they serve as is being imposed down there. It will neither be the Police Force nor the Police Business but the Police Service of Scotland. There will be no privatisation as is being contemplated south of the Border. Nor will there be any political interference as is feared with Police Commissioners in England and Wales. I’m sure communities there would prefer a bobby on the beat not John Prescott with further trappings of office. Better together? You don’t have to be a detective to work that one out but if you’re looking for a witness ask the Scottish Police Federation.

Perhaps, that’s why friends, I have been asked to make an opening address at a Conference next week. It’s a Police Conference. It’s the Association of Chief Police Officers – of England and Wales.
I don’t care if they are patrician or plebeian. I will treat them with the respect and courtesy that those who serve their communities are entitled to receive. The same respect I showed a few weeks ago when I attended Police National Memorial Day in York. I did so to pay tribute to those officers, not just north of the border, but in other parts of the UK, who have lost their lives. Whether the tragedy of PC David Rathband or the atrocity on the two female officers in Manchester. We remember them all.
I’ll assure them that in an independent Scotland we’ll continue to remember those who have given their lives and co-operate across the Border in tackling crime wherever it may be. Mutual aid will continue to be given by Scottish Police as with supporting the Olympic Games or tackling rioting in English cities. Mutual aid will continue to be reciprocated here by English and Welsh officers as for the Commonwealth Games in 2014. Mutual aid will continue whenever it is felt necessary and appropriate by our Chief Constable. But, in an Independent Scotland we can show them how policing can really be done. Properly resourced, devoid of political interference and respectful to those who serve.

But it’s not just on police and fire reform that we are legislating or taking action. We never forget that those who suffer as victims of crime must be treated with dignity and respect. That the same must apply to those who are witnesses to a crime. It is for that reason that we are introducing a Victim and Witnesses Bill, building on the outstanding work of the former Lord Advocate Dame Eilish Angiolini and continued by her successor Frank Mulholland.
We will be making a radical overhaul of criminal procedure based on the report of Lord Carloway our new Lord Justice Clerk. There is a split in the Judiciary. Other Judges have disagreed with his opinion on the law of corroboration. It’s hardly unprecedented for there to be a divide in legal opinions amongst learned friends. I’ll give significant weight to their opinion. It divides the Police as well as the judicial family with ACPOS being for abolition and the SPF against. But, this is not just about the legal profession or law enforcement agencies. It’s also about those who are victims of crime – especially woman who have suffered injustice in private and behind closed doors. Therefore, when we weigh up the evidence for or against the law of corroboration we’ll take into account not just the views of the judiciary but those of Victim Support Scotland, Rape Crisis and countless other organisations representing the voices of victims.

Civil Justice is also being addressed. The Civil Justice Council & Legal Aid Bill is proceeding through Parliament. It will improve the operation of the Courts and set the ground for further reform of the system in years to come as laid out by Lord Gill, our Lord President.

So a lot has been achieved. But there is still a lot more to do. We’ve done an excellent job within the limited powers of devolution. But there are limits as to what we can achieve. They say powers over air weapons and drink driving have been devolved. Well some limited ones have and where we can we are taking action.

On drink driving, we will lower the limit to save lives on our roads. But we’re not allowed to vary the penalties or even allow random testing as sought by our police. We are taking action on air weapons that have caused death and blighted communities. But, we don’t have powers over firearms and we have the ridiculous situation, as pointed out by John Finnie, that it costs you more for a TV licence than a shotgun certificate. A certificate which allows you unlimited shotguns and an armoury of ammunition. That cannot be right and the police have said so. But, the limited powers of devolution means that it is so.

So we do the very best we can with the powers we have, but it’s not enough. It cannot protect us from the cuts and changes imposed by London. We lack the powers to protect our institutions and those who serve us.
Swingeing budget cuts imposed by the Coalition Government mean I have to make changes to legal aid. They seem intent on abandoning a legal aid system south of the Border. We seek to preserve the integrity of it here. But, without independence all we can do is mitigate the damage
Police and Fire officers face a significant increase to their already very high pension contributions – in reality it’s a cut in their wages. We believe that’s wrong. But, without independence all we can do is protest.
Prison officers are facing not just the same backdoor pay cut but also being expected to work to the age of 68. Friends, I don’t know what I’ll be doing at that age but I tell you this I know what I wouldn’t want to be doing. That’s working on a landing in Barlinnie or any other prison. There are some jobs that are restricted by age and capacity. But, without independence all we can do is object.

If we want to create the laws that our communities require, then we need the powers of an independent nation. If we want to treat those who serve us with the dignity and respect they are entitled to, then we need the powers of an independent nation. If we want to make our country as safe and strong as it can be, then we need the powers of an independent nation.

Delegates we are at an historic moment. A referendum in 2014 allows our nation to take control of its own affairs and its own destiny. Lord Bufton Tufton in the House of Lords is aggrieved that 16 and 17 year olds in Scotland will get the vote. Doubtless he’s displeased that his absentee landlord colleagues and their grouse are denied theirs. But this is our referendum. It will be made and decided here.

We’ve shown in 5 years of Government and 13 years of devolution what Scotland can achieve with limited powers. But we need the powers of an independent nation to make this the land that we both want it to be and we know it can be.

Paul Brannigan told me last week he’s got a part in the production “Sunshine on Leith”. Since he’ll be singing songs by the Proclaimers I introduced him to my friend Charlie Reid.

I don’t know what songs Paul will be singing but I always mind the words to Cap in Hand.
“We fight when they ask us,
We boast then we cower,
We beg for a piece of what’s already ours.
I can’t understand why we let someone else rule our land.”

Well friends. This referendum allows us to say no more illegal wars costing so many lives. No more protests and objections to laws and policies we neither want nor support. No more investment in Trident when pensioners go cold. No more tax cuts for the rich when public services for the poor and vulnerable are being lost.
The time has come to take charge in our own land. To rise now and be that Nation again.
Thank you.