Welcome to the launch of the SNP’s manifesto for the 2016 election – a manifesto for the next generation.
This is a document brimming with ideas and policies to move our country forward.
It is the most ambitious programme for government that the SNP has ever published and I am proud to put it before the Scottish people today.
And make no mistake – unlike the manifestos of other parties, this is a programme for government.
The decision voters will make in just 14 days is this – who should form the next government of Scotland and who should be the next First Minister.
That is what this election is about. It is not a battle for second place or a game of chance with the electoral system – it is about choosing a government and a First Minister that you can trust to lead the country forward for the next five years and into the next decade.
For me, this bold, ambitious and reforming manifesto represents my job application.
I am asking the Scottish people to give me a personal mandate to implement these policies and make our country even better.
I am asking you to elect me as your First Minister.
I am proud of what the SNP has achieved in the last nine years as Scotland’s government.
We have demonstrated that we will always use our powers in the best interests of the people we serve.
We restored free education in our universities
We protected free personal care for our elderly.
Crime is at a record low.
Our NHS enjoys record levels of investment and is delivering some of the best and fastest care anywhere in the UK.
We abolished prescription charges, restoring the NHS to its founding principles – healthcare, free at the point of need.
We met ambitious targets to make Scotland greener, with 50% of our electricity now generated from renewable energy – and we led the world with our climate change ambition.
We built new houses, scrapped the right to buy and continued Scotland’s journey of land reform.
We supported the economy with transformational investment in infrastructure and reductions in business rates for our smallest enterprises.
We extended payment of the living wage.
We introduced same sex marriage.
And we delivered a referendum on Scotland’s future that changed our nation forever.
These are all achievements to be proud of – they have helped make Scotland stronger.
But our promise in this election is not simply to maintain our record – it is to build on it.
It is not business as usual. It is transformation.
This manifesto reflects a vision for Scotland rooted in my own life experience – of hard-working parents who raised me and my sister to believe that we could achieve anything we set our minds to.
Of the teachers who encouraged and supported me to follow my dream of studying law at Glasgow University – and from the state funding that made it possible for me to do so.
Of the experience I got when I used my law degree to work in one of the most deprived parts of Glasgow and see first hand the challenges that so many people face just to get through the day.
It is a vision of a Scotland that is wealthier, fairer and more equal. A Scotland where no child has their life chances curtailed simply because of their background, their place of birth or their family circumstances.
We won’t build that Scotland overnight. But the policies in this manifesto will help us bring it closer to reality.
A re-elected SNP government – under my leadership – will introduce new policies designed to give all of our children the best possible start in life.
We will provide a baby box of essential items for every new born child to help level the playing field in the very first days of a baby’s life.
This simple but powerful idea originated in Finland. It provides practical help for parents and has reduced infant mortality and improved child health.
But the baby box also symbolises the fair and equal start that we want for all children. I will be proud to introduce it here in Scotland.
We will use new powers to introduce a maternity and early years allowance to give financial support to low income parents when a child is born, when the child starts nursery and again when they start school. Targeted help to reduce inequality at key stages of a young life.
We will invest in 500 more health visitors to improve child health and wellbeing.
And we will transform childcare.
By the end of the next parliament, the availability of flexible, high quality and state funded early years education and childcare will be doubled to 30 hours a week for all 3 and 4 year olds and vulnerable 2 year olds.
The expansion of childcare will be our most important infrastructure project of the next parliament – it will help parents into work and it will be a transformational investment in the life chances of our children.
A re-elected SNP government will also reform school education.
Scotland has a good education system – with great schools and teachers. We have a new curriculum, record exam passes and a record number of young people leaving school to go onto positive destinations.
So I will never talk down what we have, but I am determined that we do even better.
It will be the aim of a re-elected SNP government, under my leadership, to restore Scotland’s education system to pride of place as one of the very best in the world.
We will develop a new, fair and transparent funding formula for schools, to ensure that resources go where they are needed most.
We will expand our Attainment Fund and invest an additional £750 million in the next Parliament to close the gap in educational attainment.
Most of that money will go direct to headteachers so that they – not councils or central government – can decide how best to use it to deliver improvements in their schools.
We will work to empower teachers and parents – within a framework of strong national policy and inspection – to drive more of the decisions that shape the lives of their schools.
We will oversee a revolution in transparency about school performance so that we can measure the attainment gap and set precise targets for closing it.
And be in no doubt about our aim – we intend to make significant progress in closing the attainment gap within the next parliament and to substantially eliminate it within a decade.
That is a commitment I want to be judged on.
Giving young people the best school education is about equipping them for the rest of their lives.
So we are determined to extend the opportunities open to young people later in life.
We will deliver an additional 5,000 apprenticeships in highly skilled careers – taking the total number of apprenticeships to 30,000 by 2020.
We will work with schools to inspire more young people – boys and especially girls – into science, engineering and technology.
We will use our new powers to introduce a Jobs Grant to help unemployed young people back into work.
We will maintain college places.
And we will widen access to university.
University education will remain free of tuition fees – front door or back door – for as long as the SNP is in government. That is a guarantee.
Free tuition is essential to supporting working class young people into university – and I say that from experience.
But though it is essential, it is not sufficient.
We must break down the other barriers – the financial, cultural and institutional barriers – that mean young people from poorer backgrounds are less likely to go to university than their more affluent peers.
So a Commissioner for Fair Access will be appointed to drive change in our universities and colleges and ensure that the recommendations of the Widening Access Commission are implemented in full.
The aim that I am setting in this manifesto is one I am passionate about – we will ensure that a child born today in one of our most deprived communities will by the time they leave school, have the same chance of getting to university as a child of the same ability from one of the most well off parts of our country.
That is a fundamental part of what I mean by a fair and equal society.
Let me promise you this. The daily focus of a re-elected SNP government, led by me, will be to transform the lives of our youngest children, close the educational attainment gap and open the doors of opportunity to all of our young people.
This truly is a manifesto for the next generation.
It is by creating a new generation of highly skilled young people and harnessing Scotland’s many strengths to increase economic productivity, that we will deliver more and better paid jobs and create stronger and more sustainable growth.
A highly educated and highly skilled workforce is essential if Scotland is to compete on a global stage.
We have long been recognised as a nation of thinkers and innovators, and we have been home to some the world’s greatest entrepreneurs.
A re-elected SNP government will raise our national ambition to build a world leading economy.
Our manifesto sets out our commitment to a nationwide drive to improve productivity.
Innovation will be at the heart of that mission.
We will target support at start-up companies that are ready to scale up, provide more support for our entrepreneurs and innovators and launch a new Innovation Prize.
We will invest almost £20 billion in improving and modernising our national infrastructure.
And we will deliver next generation broadband to 100% of premises across the country.
Building a strong economy is essential to achieving our vision of a fair and prosperous Scotland.
Supporting our businesses to grow is how we generate taxes and boost the revenues we can invest in public services. That’s why it is so important that we maintain Scotland’s position as a competitive place to do business. But a competitive edge cannot come at any cost.
We believe that a strong economy and tackling inequality are two sides of the same coin.
So we will encourage more businesses to sign up to our business pledge and embrace progressive workplace practices.
We will also take all possible steps to ensure that companies engaging in unacceptable practices, like blacklisting or tax evasion, do not benefit from public procurement.
We will continue to extend payment of the living wage. All social care workers will be paid the living wage by October this year – and by Autumn next year, we will double the number of accredited living wage employers to 1000.
We will also do more to support businesses.
For too long businesses looking to export and tourists looking to visit our country have been hampered by high rates of Air Passenger Duty – so we will reduce APD by 50% by the end of this parliament.
We will also back Scotland’s small businesses.
We will extend the small business bonus so that 100,000 of our smallest businesses are removed from business rates completely.
Through our support for our youngest children, by investing in and transforming education, by supporting the innovators and entrepreneurs who will build the economy of the future, an SNP government will back opportunity at every level.
We will create opportunity for the young, protect opportunity for the old and work to tackle deep-seated poverty.
We will publish a Fairer Scotland Action Plan and implement all of the recommendations of the independent Poverty Adviser. We will also reappoint an independent advisor and commence the socio-economic duty contained in the 2010 Equalities Act.
We will help people overcome the barriers they face as a result of gender or disability.
I will appoint a new Advisory Council on Women and Girls, to help ensure that every young woman is able to achieve her potential. And we will legislate for 50:50 gender balance on public boards.
We will treat everyone in our society with dignity and respect, and when people turn to the government for help they will find support not stigma; practical help, not punishment.
Nothing has been more depressing in recent years than watching a heartless Tory government destroy the safety net that social security should provide.
Let me be clear – the language of shirkers and scroungers will not be the language of a Scottish social security system.
To administer our new welfare powers, we will create a Scottish Social Security Agency with fairness and dignity at its core. And we will use these new powers to make a difference.
Instead of being able to only mitigate the bedroom tax we will abolish the bedroom tax.
We will increase carers’ allowance and extend winter fuel payments to families with severely disabled children.
We will end the degrading DWP approach to disability assessments and ensure that disability payments are not reduced or means tested.
Some of those hardest hit by Tory welfare cuts are young people who most need a helping hand to get started in life.
The situation of our own Mhairi Black vividly illustrates the absurdity and unfairness of Tory policy. As a 21 year-old MP, she will get support with housing costs that other people her age will not get.
An SNP government will restore entitlement to housing support for 18-21 year olds. We will give back to our young people what the Tories have taken away.
We will protect free personal care and concessionary travel for older people and free prescriptions for the sick.
We will use our new powers over energy efficiency and energy payments, alongside our existing powers to tackle fuel poverty, to bring forward a Warm Homes Bill.
We will build at least 50,000 new homes across the country.
And we will bring forward a new Climate Change Bill with a new target to reduce carbon emissions by 50% by 2020.
We will ensure that, by 2020, at least half of all new renewable projects have an element of shared ownership and we will look to establish a government owned energy company to support local and community energy.
Creating opportunities for all means protecting our public services for all.
Our NHS is the jewel in the crown of our public services. It is precious to all of us and an SNP Government will always protect it.
And an SNP government will always keep our NHS in public hands.
We have already pledged – and planned – to protect the NHS budget in real terms in every year of the next parliament.
However, by making the decision not to give higher rate taxpayers the tax cut proposed by the Tories, we are able to go further.
I can confirm today that a re-elected SNP government will, by the end of the next parliament, increase investment in the NHS by £500m more than inflation
This pledge of above inflation investment is a clear sign of our commitment to our most cherished public service.
But we know that more investment in the NHS is not enough – to make our NHS truly fit for the future, we also need to change the way it delivers services.
That is why we will also use the opportunity of record NHS funding to shift more resources into social care. Just as we have done this year, we will transfer funding each year from the NHS to integrated health and social care partnerships to help keep people out of hospital.
Over the next parliament, that will see an additional £1.3 billion transferred into social care.
We will also ensure that more of the NHS budget is spent on primary and community care.
We will develop a ten year strategy to improve mental health services, backed by £150 million of new funding over the next parliament.
We will implement our new £100 million Cancer Plan.
And we will invest in new elective treatment centres – in Edinburgh, Livingston, Aberdeen, Dundee and Inverness – to deal with the growing demand for routine operations that comes with an ageing population.
Investment and reform will ensure that Scotland has a health and social care service truly fit for the future – just one example of the transformation at the heart of this manifesto.
All of our policies are underpinned by a commitment to use our new tax powers fairly and responsibly – and in a way that increases rather than jeopardises the revenue we have to invest in our public services.
We will not ask those on low and middle incomes to pay the price of Tory austerity through higher taxes. But we will expect those on higher incomes to shoulder more of the burden.
We will reject the Tory plan to cut taxes for the well paid – a decision that will generate a minimum of £1.2 billion extra to invest in public services.
Taken together, our income tax plans, our reforms to local tax and our changes to business rates for larger businesses, will allow us to raise at least £2 billion over the next parliament to fund the key policies at the heart of this manifesto.
New powers over tax and social security give us options to mitigate Tory austerity that we didn’t have before – and that is a good thing.
But let me also say this about fighting Tory austerity. We mustn’t become so focused on just mitigating it – or on a debating who should bear the burden of it – that we forget to fight it at its source.
Exactly as we argued in the general election last year, the scale and pace of the cuts that the Tories are imposing is unnecessary and ideological – no one should be bearing that burden.
So be in no doubt – we will use our powers fairly and progressively to protect people from the impact of austerity.
But this Tory government is weak and its majority is fragile – so just as we did in the days when Labour trooped through the lobbies with the Tories to vote for cuts, the SNP will continue to do everything in our power to stop austerity in its tracks.
And let me make this clear – that will include opposing, with everything we’ve got, any decision to spend billions of pounds on the obscenity of new Trident nuclear weapons.
Before I finish, I want to touch on another key theme of this manifesto – the question of where decisions are taken and by whom.
Throughout this document you will see a commitment to decentralising decision making, enhancing democratic engagement, strengthening community organisations and making sure our structures of government are fit for purpose.
We will work with local authorities to review their roles and responsibilities and get more powers into the hands of communities; we will look again at the structures of our NHS and at the relationships between local government and the NHS.
We will extend participatory budgeting and encourage communities to make use of the new community empowerment legislation.
We will bring forward an Islands Bill to devolve more responsibility to our island communities.
We will continue our work to get more land into community ownership. And we will set up a new register of land ownership to increase transparency for those who live and work on our land and end the scandal of anonymous – and therefore unaccountable – land ownership.
We believe that devolution of powers from London should not stop here in Edinburgh – it should continue on down to all of the diverse communities that make up our wonderful country.
The decisions that affect our lives should always be taken as close to us as possible.
That’s a principle that runs through this manifesto.
And it’s a principle that also applies to decisions about the future of our country as a whole.
There is not a day goes by that I am not asked if there will be a second independence referendum in the next parliament.
Well, my answer to that, in one sense, is simple – I would like that.
I believe with all my heart that independence is the best future for our country.
But if there is to be a second referendum – whether that is in the next parliament or in a future parliament – we first have to earn the right to propose it.
Setting the date for a referendum before a majority of the Scottish people have been persuaded that independence – and therefore another referendum – is the best future for our country is the wrong way round.
So this summer, we will start new work to persuade a majority in Scotland of the case for independence.
If we don’t succeed, we will have no right to propose another referendum.
But if we do succeed – when we do succeed – if in the future there is clear and sustained evidence that independence has become the preferred option of a majority of the Scottish people – then no politician will have the right to stand in the way.
The future of our country must always be in the hands of the people of our country.
Two weeks tomorrow, we will ask the Scottish people to elect us for a historic third term in office.
I will ask the Scottish people to elect me as their First Minister.
Believe me, there is no greater honour or responsibility – I feel that honour and responsibility every minute of every day.
I am so excited by the potential of the next five years.
The polls and the pundits say this election is in the bag. The other parties want you to play the lottery with your second vote.
My message to the people of Scotland is clear. I take nothing for granted – and neither should you.
If you want to see the SNP back in government on May 6th, vote SNP with both votes.
If you want me to be your First Minister, with a clear mandate to lead Scotland forward, vote SNP with both votes.
The simple truth is that nothing else will guarantee that outcome.
To those of you here today – and to the thousands of dedicated SNP activists around the country – I say this.
This manifesto provides a platform that I am proud to stand on – and you should be proud to stand on it too.
So let us get out there now and earn the right to make this manifesto a reality – to build a better, stronger and fairer country for everyone who lives here.
Let’s get out there and win this election for Scotland.