SNP Spring Conference address by Nicola Sturgeon

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon MSP addresses SNP Spring Conference 2013 in Inverness.

Delegates,

I start today with some alarming news.

It will come as a shock.

You might believe that you are sitting in this hall listening to me now.

But you are mistaken.

It is my sad duty to inform you that you do not in fact exist.

I know this because the Westminster government has said so.

They commissioned a report to look at the Act of Union and it concluded that:

“Scotland...was extinguished as a matter of international law.”

Now, I concede that there have been times – Argentina 1978 springs to mind – when life would have been a little less painful if that were true.

But it isn’t.

We are a nation. A wonderful, rich, diverse country of many peoples and cultures.

So for the benefit of the UK government, let us say it loudly and clearly.

Scotland has not been extinguished.

We never were and we never will be.

And, delegates, next year - on the 18th September 2014 - we can make that clear to the whole world by voting “Yes” and taking our rightful place as an equal, independent member of the family of nations.

Delegates,

I want to set out today - to the people of this very real country - the reasons why independence for Scotland is necessary.

Not just that we could be independent. But that we must be independent.

If we are to build a better, more democratic, just and prosperous country for our children to inherit, then let me tell you this -

Independence is not optional.

Independence is essential.

The alternative is just more of the same. See-sawing between UK governments with rosettes of different colours but policies that are virtually impossible to tell apart.

UK governments that ill serve the interests of the Scottish people.

A Labour, Tory, Liberal alliance that holds Scotland back.

Delegates,

These UK parties might well be better together.

But I say we'd all be better off without them.

Don't just take my word for it.

Here's the words of two leading No campaigners - those brothers in arms, Alistair Darling and David Cameron.

This is what they say the consequences will be if the No campaign gets its way and Scotland continues to be governed from Westminster.

Mr Darling says that the policies of the Tories will cause “immeasurable damage”

And Mr Cameron? He says Labour will “plunge us back into the abyss”.

So there we have it. In their own words.

If Scotland votes No and the Tories get back in, we are facing immeasurable damage.

If Scotland votes No and Labour wins the next UK election we are heading for the abyss.

Well, one of them must be right.

Delegates,

The serious point is this - if the leaders of the No campaign don't rate the options on offer from Westminster, why should the rest of us?

Government from Westminster has had its day.

It's time to govern ourselves.

It's time to choose independence.

Friends,

Let me tell you something else Alistair Darling said.

When the Tories said he was leading us into a Greek-style melt-down, he said the Tories were being mendacious.

In other words they were lying.

He went on to say this about the Tory party:

“Through its rhetoric it trashed confidence, from which we have never recovered.”

Well Mr Darling, here's a message for you.

Take a leaf out of your own book. Mind your own rhetoric.

Stop going around Scotland trashing confidence in our ability to run our own country.

Delegates,

Scotland can be independent.

Any politician who suggests otherwise is being mendacious.

But our argument rests on more than that.

Our case for independence is about the kind of country we want Scotland to be.

It can be summed up in three words - fairness, prosperity, democracy.

Three pillars of any decent society.

And, make no mistake, each and every one of them is being undermined and eroded by out of touch Westminster governments.

And Scotland needs independence to put a stop to it.

Back in January, the UK government gave a guarantee to low paid workers right across Scotland.

It extended that guarantee to hundreds of thousands of lone parents, carers, disabled people and many others who rely on benefits.

The guarantee was simple.

Your living standards will be cut.

A crude cap on working tax credit and child benefit is all it took to slash the living standards of those already struggling to heat their homes and put food on the table.

Doesn't that tell us everything we need to know about this Westminster government?

Income cuts for the low paid, income tax cuts for millionaires.

It is morally bankrupt and those who made that choice should be ashamed of themselves.

A month later, Westminster voted to press ahead with the bedroom tax.

A policy that will, callously and indiscriminately, remove some of the most vulnerable people in our society from the houses they call home.

It is one of the worst policies introduced in Scotland since the poll tax and I ask you to join me today in telling the UK government in no uncertain terms that we want it withdrawn.

Of course, the Tories won't withdraw it. And, shamefully, despite all their rhetoric, neither will Labour.

Well, delegates, I can promise you this: in an independent Scotland - if we are the government - we will take housing benefit out of Universal Credit and restore it as a benefit that is paid direct to social landlords.

And let me be crystal clear: an SNP government in an independent Scotland will scrap the bedroom tax.

Delegates,

The Tories estimate that their welfare cuts will amount to £2.5 billion in Scotland by 2015.

Now, call me a sceptic, but I always think its best to take anything the Tories say with a healthy pinch of salt. So I asked Scottish Government officials to check the figures and I am publishing that analysis today.

And guess what? It seems the cumulative cut by 2015 will not be £2.5 billion.

It will be £4.5 billion.

£4.5 billion taken from the purses and wallets of ordinary, hard-working people right across Scotland who can least afford it.

It is a disgrace.

And make no mistake, it will be hard-working people that will feel the pain. And disabled people too.

Not the so-called scroungers and skivers portrayed by smug Mr Osborne.

The clue, you see, is in the names of the benefits being cut - working tax credit, disability living allowance, child benefit.

And, of course, money out of people's pockets is money out of the economy. Welfare cuts of this magnitude will cost the Scottish economy 17,000 jobs.

But do you know the most shameful thing of all? £1 billion of these cuts are to benefits that directly support children.

That's equivalent to a cut of more than £1000 for every child in Scotland under the age of 16.

So there you have it - the awful price of letting Westminster control our resources and take our decisions for us.

Delegates,

There is nothing on offer from Westminster - nothing - that would ever make that a price worth paying.

These welfare cuts are a direct attack by the Tories and their Lib Dem helpers on the living standards of more than one million working age households across our country.

And they pose a serious question for Labour. That question is this - faced with cuts that will plunge 50,000 more kids into poverty, do you still think we're better together?

If so, you should be hanging your heads in shame.

Delegates,

These welfare cuts are a dagger to the heart of the fairness and social justice that we hold so dear.

But they are a disgrace to democracy too.

Four out of five - 80% - of Scottish MPs voted against the benefit cap.

90% voted against the bedroom tax.

And Westminster’s reaction?

They shrug their shoulders and impose the cuts anyway.

It is a democratic outrage and its time is up.

Delegates,

The democratic deficit is not just about welfare.

Last week, a poll showed that 80% of Scots want rid of Trident. But at Westminster, the debate is not about about whether Trident nuclear submarines should be on the Clyde - its about how many should be on the Clyde.

The views of the Scottish people are simply cast aside.

Delegates,

It is now beyond argument. Independence is the one and only way to get rid of Trident.

The message couldn't be clearer and let us take it to every doorstep in Scotland.

Vote Yes to rid our country of weapons of mass destruction.

Friends,

Whether it is welfare policy, defence policy, or any of the big decisions that affect the lives of people in Scotland, the simple but powerful principle is this -

UK governments that we don't vote for should have none of the say.

The people of Scotland should have all of the say.

I believe in independence because I believe Scotland can be better than we are today.

A prosperous country and a fair society, where hard work is rewarded and the vulnerable are protected.

I believe that the majority of Scots want that too.

So we must convince them that it is only by equipping ourselves with the powers of independence that we can become the country we want to be.

To do that we will set out our vision of how much better an independent Scotland can be.

But we need to do something else.

We need to take on and defeat those who say we can't afford to be independent.

The argument that Scotland - wealthy Scotland - is too wee and too poor to be independent is ridiculous.

And, even worse than that, it is an insult to the intelligence, creativity and skill of every single person in this land.

Of course, those who make that argument don't really believe it.

How can they? It is such patent nonsense.

But they know - as do we - that key to winning this debate is economic confidence.

Our task is to build that confidence - confidence in our ability to stand on our own two feet, confidence in our economic prospects and our job prospects. Confidence that we can build that better country we all desire.

The other side - they want to destroy that confidence.

So they will never tire of running Scotland down.

It is shameless. It is shameful. But they are banking on it being effective.

Well, I'm here today - we are all here today - to tell them straight that they are not going to get away with it.

Over these next few months, we will set out a clear, detailed and compelling case, based on evidence and hard facts.

And we will take it to every doorstep, workplace and community in this land. It goes like this.

Scotland can afford to be independent. We can more than afford to be independent.

But we cannot afford to let Westminster continue to stifle our growth and squander the wealth of generations of Scots to come.

Delegates,

We simply can't afford to pass up this precious opportunity to set our country on the right track.

The truth is there is no country in Europe that should be more confident about its economic future than an independent Scotland.

We have vast potential for renewable energy.

We have a multi-billion pound food and drink sector, thriving life sciences industry.

We are world-class at attracting investment from overseas.

We have some of the best universities in the world.

We have produced some of the greatest entrepreneurs the earth has ever known.

And, yes, we have oil and gas in abundance.

Delegates,

I'll let you into a wee secret.

Having oil and gas reserves worth £1.5 trillion is really not a problem.

It's not the sum total of our economy - but it is a massive advantage that other countries would give their eye teeth for.

And it is high time Scotland started getting the benefit of it.

Of course, unionist politicians trying to pull the wool over Scotland's eyes on oil is nothing new.

Remember that secret report from the 1970s - the McCrone report - that said oil rich Scotland would be in massive surplus and a haven of security...while in public the unionist parties engaged in a shameless campaign to tell people that our oil wealth was a disaster and we were too poor to be independent?

Delegates, some things never change.

What a parcel of rogues in a nation.

Of course, Norway struck oil around the same time as we did.

Today they have a fund for future generations worth nearly £450 billion. £90,000 for every person in Norway.

They didn’t have Westminster telling them they couldn’t do it and squandering the revenues instead.

Norway is independent.

And independence makes all the difference.

Delegates,

The past can't be undone. But it is with our eye on the future that we make our case.

Today we are on the verge of a second North Sea oil boom.

Even the UK government describes it as a 'bonanza'.

But once again we are told that, uniquely, for an independent Scotland this bonanza would be a liability.

Delegates, 40 years on, the unionist script might be the same. But this time, we have the power to change the ending.

We must not waste this massive opportunity.

Let us vote for the powers of independence and use the oil wealth that we are so lucky to have to secure our children’s future and build a better Scotland.

Friends,

Scotland can afford to be independent and don't let anyone tell you different.

For every one of the last 30 years we have generated more tax revenue per head of population than the UK as a whole. Every single one of the last 30 years.

Just stop and think about that for a minute. Because if there is one fact I want you to remember over the next 18 months and tell to everyone you know, it is this one.

During those 30 years, oil prices will have gone up and they will have come down.

The economy will have grown and it will have been in recession.

But one fact has remained constant.

In every single one of those 30 years tax receipts per head of population in Scotland have been greater than tax receipts per head of population in the UK.

How dare any unionist politician say that Scotland doesn't pay her way.

Delegates,

We can be confident about our prospects with independence,

It's our prospects under the Westminster system that should cause us concern.

I have spoken about the wealth, talent and resources of Scotland.

For decades Westminster governments have used those resources to pursue policies that squeeze the living standards of people on middle and low incomes.

As a result, we face an ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor.

A 2009 UN report found that the UK was the fourth most unequal country in the developed world and the second most unequal in Europe.

Think about that date: 2009. That was before David Cameron and George Osborne got to work.

That was after years of Labour government.

And it's not just about the very poorest in our society,

It’s about those on low and middle incomes finding it harder and harder to make ends meet.

Between 2003 and 2008 – the so-called boom times - only the very richest enjoyed significant wage rises.

In fact it’s estimated that people on low and middle incomes will not be any better off in 2017 than they were when Labour came to power twenty years before.

That is the legacy of generations of Westminster government and and I will tell you straight - it is simply not good enough for the people of this rich nation of ours.

Delegates,

The consequences of a No vote are clear.

It will lock us into a system that wastes our resources.

It will leave us facing a future of ever increasing social inequality.

It will leave us at the mercy of Westminster-imposed cuts to public spending and deny us the growth-boosting, revenue-raising, job-creating powers of independence.

Our opponents say we are better together. Well let me spell out what that means.

It means being more unequal together. It means having lower living standards together. It means facing ever greater welfare cuts together.

Delegates,

It is not independence Scotland can't afford.

It is staying in the union that we simply cannot afford.

With independence, we will be the eighth richest country on earth.

And that's on day one - the starting point. That's without the job-creating powers of independence.

Imagine what we could do with those powers. The powers to create more jobs. Better paid jobs. More jobs for women. The powers to attract more world class companies to invest in Scotland or to set up their headquarters her

That's the potential of independence.

So our job, our challenge, our obligation is to persuade our fellow Scots to grab it with both hands. Are you up for it?

Friends,

When I joined this Party at 16 years of age, I never imagined that one day I would put my signature on a Scottish Independence Referendum Bill. But that is exactly the privilege I had last Wednesday.

I don't mind telling you, I had a tear in my eye as I did it.

I thought of all those men and women, down the generations, whose efforts and sacrifices have helped bring us to this moment in our history.

We all know who they are - the famous names and the unsung heroes. Let's remember them today and thank them from the bottom of our hearts.

But more than anything, as I put my signature on that Bill, I thought about the future.

On 18 September next year, we can cast our votes to take our destiny into our own hands. What an opportunity.

For those in this hall it will be an emotional day: one of the greatest of our lives.

But at its heart, ours is not an emotional argument. It is rational, reasonable and responsible. It is about the best way forward for our country - the best way to build the fair, prosperous, democratic nation we want to be.

We know that no-one is more passionate about the future of our nation than the people of Scotland.

No-one else cares as much.

So it should be the Scottish people who take the decisions that will shape the lives of this and future generations.

It is that simple.

Friends,

We have every reason - we have more than 5 million reasons - to be confident about our future as an independent nation.

So for ourselves, for our children and for their children, let’s get to it.

Let's seize this moment in history. Let's make it ours.

Let's win our independence.