A remarkable 12 months

Many congratulations to The National on its first anniversary.

Having just marked my own first year in office as First Minister, it’s fitting for me to pass on sincere birthday greetings.

The last 12 months have been a truly extraordinary time in Scottish politics, and I don’t believe any of us quite appreciate yet the scale of the events we have witnessed, and in some cases been part of. But the National has been there every step of the way, providing an often unique commentary on a remarkable period in our nation’s story.

The disappointment of the referendum result in September last year was profound – it affected me just as deeply and personally as it did any independence supporter.

But few, if any, of us who were part of the Yes campaign saw what was coming next.

Within days, and from the depths of despondency, the independence movement picked itself up and has never looked back.

For the SNP – and I appreciate that my party is just one part of the pro-independence coalition in Scotland – the general election was the most extraordinary antidote to that referendum disappointment.

To win all but three seats in Scotland was a stunning achievement, and one that I do not think any of us would have seriously predicted in the early hours of 19 September 2014.

It was a result which, whatever the future holds for our country in the years and decades ahead, was so striking that it will be studied and discussed by academics, analysts and historians for generations to come.

And the central question they will be asking themselves will be simply – why? Why did the people of Scotland so utterly reject the Unionist parties at the ballot box just months after independence failed, albeit narrowly, to win a majority in the referendum.

There are many complex answers to that, but at heart I believe that what we saw in May can be boiled down to one essential truth – namely, the people of Scotland may have narrowly rejected the Yes vote we campaigned for, but in the aftermath of that referendum they were resolved to vote for a party they believed would stand up for Scotland, and that party was the SNP.

I don’t assume that everyone who voted SNP in May supports independence – nor that everyone who backs independence voted SNP. And our victory, overwhelming though it was, was not a mandate for a second referendum. If there is to be another independence referendum, as I hope there will be, then those of us who support independence need to earn the right to have it, by shifting opinion and persuading those we didn’t persuade last year.

But the general election result shows that Scotland has changed profoundly.

I have said before that the Yes campaign won a majority of hearts last year, but failed to win a majority of minds – and I think the UK election result went a long way to confirming that.

Some people who wanted in their hearts to vote Yes were deterred by the scare tactics of the No campaign, and to some extent by the inability of the Yes campaign to effectively enough rebut those scares. Some were also persuaded by the now infamous “Vow”.

The terms of that Vow have not been fulfilled, and we wait to see whether a deal on the so-called fiscal framework – the funding arrangements that accompany the Scotland Bill – can be worked out by early next year. I have already made it crystal clear that we want to agree a deal with the UK government so that we can get on with using our limited new powers – but I will not sign up to anything that sells Scotland short.

So the year ahead promises to be just as exciting and just as important for Scotland as the year about to end. As we look forward to the Holyrood elections, I will take absolutely nothing for granted, regardless of what the opinion polls say. I am determined to win a third term in government for the SNP on the strength of our positive ideas, policies and vision for the future of our country.

As we approach these election in May – and well beyond them too – The National will be an important voice in the debate across the country

For the last 12 months, as the only dedicated daily newspaper supporting independence, these pages have provided a special platform for news, views and opinions on the state of post-referendum Scotland and where we might be headed next as a nation.

Both 2014 and 2015 were extraordinary years in Scotland’s story, and I look forward to The National continuing to provide its own unique take on events in 2016 and beyond.