Keynote address by Nicola Sturgeon
Making her key note address to the SNP Conference in Aviemore today (Sunday) Scotland’s Health Secretary and Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, said Labour's record in Glasgow made it more important than ever that SNP MPs are elected to champion the city.
"The last time we gathered here in Aviemore we were just a few months into the first SNP government in our nation’s history.
"Today, we are just a few short weeks away from another important election.
"The UK general election.
"This weekend we mourn our former leader, the irreplaceable Billy Wolfe.
"In 1974, Billy led the SNP to our best ever Westminster election result.
"That fantastic achievement was the high point of his leadership – a leadership that did so much to build the modern, progressive, successful party we are today.
"He was proud of the 1974 result but I know he would want us to beat it in May.
"So, for Billy - and for all the great nationalists who built our movement - let us resolve today to go out and win this election for Scotland.
"For the SNP, this election is all about Scotland.
"It is about how to protect Scotland and get the best for Scotland.
"It is about making sure that Scotland’s voice is heard.
"There is a coalition of forces trying to shut Scotland out of the election.
"Nowhere is that more evident than in the line up for the TV leaders’ debates.
"These debates are anti-democratic. They are anti-Scottish. They are an absolute outrage.
"Our objection is not just that they exclude the SNP.
"It is that they exclude Scotland.
"Without a Scottish voice, any discussion of health, education or crime will be totally irrelevant to Scottish voters.
"Without the SNP, there will be no consistent voice of reason on spending cuts, on the future of Scotland or on the moral obscenity of Trident.
"Without the SNP, there will be no voice speaking up for the rights of our older folk either.
"Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen Labour, Tories and Liberals bickering about care for the elderly.
"The Tories have accused Labour of planning a death tax. Labour has accused the Tories of deserting the elderly. The Liberals have abandoned their commitment to free personal care.
"But they all agree on one thing – that personal care for the elderly should be means tested.
"Delegates, we do not accept that.
"We believe that free personal care is one of the Scottish Parliament’s proudest achievements. We invested to secure its future. We believe it is part of the debt we owe our old folk.
"So let us be clear - free personal care is here to stay with the SNP.
"Labour and the Tories want us to believe that the only thing that matters in this election is whether Gordon Brown or David Cameron ends up in number 10.
"But we know that who ends up in Downing Street is not the real issue for Scotland in this election.
"That’s the phoney war.
"A few weeks ago, a senior Tory was interviewed on radio. She slipped up and referred to her leader as Gordon Cameron. Actually it might have been David Brown. It really doesn’t matter which way round it was. The fact is it was a gaffe that spoke volumes.
"There is now virtually nothing to choose between Labour and the Tories.
"And we know from years of experience that neither of them can be trusted to stand up for Scotland.
"Labour and the Tories are just two sides of the same coin.
"They both supported the illegal war in Iraq.
"They both want to cut Scotland’s budget – their only difference of opinion is how far and how fast.
"Neither of them is willing to give Scotland the right to choose our own future in a referendum.
"And, most shamefully of all, they both want to spend billions of pounds dumping a new generation of Trident nuclear weapons in Scotland.
"On that issue, let us be clear.
"Only a vote for the SNP in this election will proclaim, loudly and clearly that Scotland says no.
"We say no to new weapons of mass destruction on the River Clyde.
"The polls say that in this election we are heading for a hung parliament.
"In that scenario, what matters most is not who is in number 10.
"What matters most is who influences the policies coming out of it.
"That’s why we say Scotland needs champions.
"Scotland needs local champions. Hard working individuals who will fight for our communities.
"And Scotland needs strong national champions. Champions who will make sure that our vital interests are protected.
"Only the SNP stands up for Scotland. We do so without fear or favour. We have no divided loyalties. We put Scotland’s interests front and centre at all times.
"So, delegates, in this election, as in all elections, it will be the SNP – and only the SNP - who will champion the issues that matter to the people of Scotland.
"All of Scotland needs more SNP champions.
"And nowhere more so than the city of Glasgow.
"I love Glasgow. I am proud to live there. I am proud to represent it in parliament.
"But today a political cloud hangs over that great city.
"And, delegates, it is not because of the personal circumstances of an individual.
"It goes much, much deeper than that.
"It is because of a culture. A Labour culture of secrecy. A Labour fear of transparency.
"Council functions have been hived off, one after another, to arms length companies.
"Accountability to the citizens of Glasgow is virtually non-existent.
"It often seems like the interests of the few are given more importance than those of the people who provide and use the services of the council.
"Concerns of opposition councillors and trade unions are arrogantly brushed aside.
"The great city of Glasgow deserves better than this.
"It is time to shine a light – a very bright light – into the murky corridors of Labour-controlled Glasgow City Council.
"Our excellent team of candidates will fight this election as local champions.
"As a party, we’ll campaign as Scotland’s national champion.
"We will campaign on our record as Scotland’s government as well.
"And ours is a record to be proud of.
"From saving vital hospitals to putting record numbers of police on our streets; from abolishing business rates for tens of thousands of small businesses to restoring free education; our guiding principle is ambition for Scotland.
"We do what is right for Scotland. We do our best for Scotland.
"One of the biggest challenges we’ve had to deal with as a government has been Labour’s recession.
"Our response has been to work hard to protect Scottish jobs.
"Just this week, I was proud to cut the first ground for the new South Glasgow hospital.
"That project will facilitate a revolution in healthcare and give a shot in the arm to the Glasgow economy.
"It is an £840m construction project, funded by this SNP government.
"And what is even better, it is funded, not by the Tory/Labour private finance initiative, but funded 100% from public capital.
"Back in the summer of 2008, as Labour’s recession started to bite, we also took early action on housing.
"We brought forward spending to help the building industry, protect jobs and build more homes.
"We gave support to local councils to get them building houses again.
"I can tell you today that as a result of our action and our investment, more than 7,100 new social houses were started in 2009.
"That adds up to more social houses being built under our SNP government than at any time since the 1970s.
"That is a record to be proud of.
"Alistair Darling might be interested to know that that nearly 1000 of these houses are being built in the city he represents, the city of Edinburgh. If he makes the right decisions in his budget on Wednesday, we can build even more. So let us send a message to the Chancellor today - don’t let your constituents down. Give the Scottish government the power to accelerate more spending on housing for the benefit of all of Scotland.
"We are fighting hard for jobs.
"But we could do more – so much more – with the normal powers of independence.
"The vested interests say that the need to restore economic prosperity is an argument against independence. We say, do not be absurd – having the powers to fight recession and bring prosperity back to Scotland is an overwhelming argument in favour of independence for our country.
"We are a party full of ambition for Scotland.
"A government striving to build a vibrant, confident Scotland. To make our economy as competitive as possible. And ensure that our public services are strong and resilient even in these tough times.
"Ensuring the strength and resilience of our NHS is my focus as Health Secretary.
"I’m proud of the NHS and of all those who work so hard to deliver a first class service.
"Delegates, for all that they do, we owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.
"The achievements of our NHS staff are impressive.
"With the support of our government, hidden waiting lists have been abolished. Under Labour, tens of thousands of patients languished on these hidden lists with no waiting time guarantee whatsoever. No more. All patients are now covered by the guarantee and no one – no one - is on a hidden waiting list. That makes me proud of the NHS.
"A vital target for cancer treatment has also been met. It was a target Labour was supposed to meet in 2005 but by the time they left office there were still nowhere near it. We’ve delivered that target and we have done so consistently for the last year.
"And hospital infections are now at record lows. We still have work to do but, with the support and the scrutiny of our government, the NHS has made real progress.
"And, delegates, what I’m most proud of is that we have achieved all of this – and much more - within a publically funded, publicly delivered national health service.
"That really is an achievement to be proud of.
"And make no mistake: this SNP Government will continue to remain true to the founding principle of the NHS – health care free at the point of need.
"That’s why in 10 days time prescription charges in Scotland will be cut to just £3 compared to more than £7 in England
"And it is why twelve months from now prescription charges in Scotland will be abolished completely.
"There is much to be proud of in our health service.
"But we can’t rest on our laurels. The NHS faces big challenges in the years ahead.
"It has to change. It has to get even more efficient. It has to meet the challenge of our changing demographics.
"And it has to do more to prevent ill health as well as cure it.
"Our health as a nation is improving but not yet fast enough. Health inequalities are still a scar on Scotland.
"Over these past three years, we have invested in Keep Well health checks for those living in our most deprived communities. Keep Well involves the NHS proactively identifying those most at risk of heart disease and then intervening to reduce the risk. It is an approach that we will continue to support.
"But we want to go further.
"So I am pleased to announce today that our SNP government will establish an entitlement to universal health checks for everybody over the age of 40.
"From May, innovative web-based health checks will be piloted in NHS Grampian before being rolled out across the country.
"And later this year, we will announce two pilot health board areas where face-to -face universal health checks will be available next year.
"This is the kind of radical approach that we need in Scotland. It is early intervention in action and it will help us tackle the poor health that has robbed generations of Scots of so much potential.
"Of course, we know that the root cause of many of our health problems is alcohol misuse.
"Every day people turn up at hospitals and GP surgeries with health problems caused or exacerbated by alcohol. If action is taken early on many of these problems can be nipped in the bud.
"So, I can also announce today that in the coming year we will deliver 60,000 alcohol brief interventions across Scotland. These are effective interventions delivered by health professionals when they think someone’s health problems are alcohol related. They are a tried and tested way of helping people address problems before they become too serious.
"It is action we are right to take.
"But on alcohol, politicians have to be bolder still. Just like we were on smoking.
"It is four years ago this week that the ban on smoking in public places came into force in Scotland.
"It has been so successful that its easy to forget how controversial it was back when the legislation was introduced by Labour.
"We were in opposition then. We could have sought short-term political advantage by opposing the ban.
"But we didn’t. We backed it to the hilt because we believed it was in the best interests of the Scottish people.
"We had the courage to put public health before party politics.
"Today we have a coalition of doctors, nurses, police and publicans demanding action on alcohol and backing minimum pricing.
"They back it because day and daily they see the harmful effects that cheap booze is having on our country.
"Three thousand deaths a year, more than 40,000 hospital admissions and many thousands of alcohol- related crimes.
"The time for talking about our alcohol problems is over.
"It is time now to act.
"That’s why our government has introduced a radical alcohol bill.
"It is backed by those on the front line.
"But it is not backed by Labour.
"Scotland’s main opposition party has failed to rise to the alcohol challenge.
"We backed the smoking ban, but on alcohol they have put party politics before public health.
"They should be ashamed of themselves.
"We know that Labour is not fit to be in government in Scotland.
"But with this one cynical act of cheap party politics, Labour has shown that they’re not even up to being the opposition in Scotland.
"Delegates, today I ask each and every MSP – whatever their party – to listen to the evidence and take the advice of the experts.
"The public health of our country should be above party politics.
"We all have a duty to do what’s right for Scotland.
"This first SNP government has real ambition for Scotland and we have a strong record of achievement.
"Whether it is building more homes, record police numbers or freezing the council tax, we have shown what we can do.
"That is why at the General Election, voters in Scotland will be in no doubt that we are champions of the Scottish interest.
"We will always put Scotland first.
"More SNP MPs in Westminster will wield real influence. They will stand up for Scotland and Scottish values. They will champion their communities and help our government continue to deliver progress for our country.
"And they will help us win the case for independence.
"Because we know that the best deal for Scotland – the real deal for Scotland - is independence.
"As a government we have shown what we can do but we know we can do more.
"It is only with independence that we will be able to take all the decisions that matter.
"It is only with independence that we will build the strong, successful, prosperous and just country that we know Scotland is capable of being.
"We have shown what we can do. And we have shown that we are ready for independence – as a party, as a government, as a nation.
"So let us go out and win the election, elect our champions and move our country even closer to freedom."