Conference, you know my job in Scotland’s Government, Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy and Fair Work.
It is a role I relish, a privilege which allows me to progress the national well-being, whilst helping build the case for independence.
As we gather today more people believe we would be better off as independent country in the EU.
And little wonder – the opportunity is there for Scotland to thrive as the largest English speaking country in the world’s largest single market.
I’ve always believed in Scotland and our immense potential, but now even more people share that view that the UK is broken, and independence is the way forward.
We have to build on that momentum. The job is not done, but victory is within our grasp.
We have enormous potential, blessed with innovative companies a highly skilled, educated workforce and a progressive approach on fair work, operating at the cutting edge of the global economy.
The First Minister has put improving the wellbeing of the nation at the heart of what we do as a government.
To deliver that, we need to work hand in hand with business to ensure that our economy creates the opportunities for today and for the future.
Our country may not be the biggest in geographic terms, but when it comes to our ability to innovate and lead – our potential is limitless.
Purposeful, meaningful employment for all is a prize worth pursuing. We had been making such progress, more people paid the living wage than any other part of the UK, record low unemployment, and record high employment.
We are delivering on our vision of sustainable and inclusive growth.
Record exports, leading inward investment, a strong labour market, increasing productivity and more investment on research and development.
Emissions are down by almost half since 1990 and despite what some would falsely claim, an increasing tax base.
That economic progress is now being impacted by Brexit.
The latest GDP figures saw Scotland’s economy contract for the first time in years – reducing by 0.3% in the second quarter of this year. Directly attributed to Brexit as companies who had stockpiled before the original March deadline unwound their supplies.
We may avoid a recession in the short term, as companies build up their stockpiles again ahead of October 31st, but we should be in no doubt that the chill head winds of Brexit, any Brexit, are upon us.
Unemployment has begun to rise, and business investment has notably stalled – something that will have a long term impact upon our productivity as a nation.
As we meet here in Aberdeen, the city forecast to be hardest hit from a Tory Brexit, our message is clear – Scotland’s future is best served as an independent country making the right decisions for Scotland’s people.
‘Take back control’, the Tories said ! The reality is it is the Tories that are out of control.
While they burn the house down in pursuit of their brexit obsession, where all else is collateral damage, jobs, community, international relations, we seek to build a nation that is fairer, more prosperous and welcoming to those who choose to come live, work or study here.
We serve the national interest.
Compare that to the Tories’ self-interest.
Cutting support for the poorest in society, while cutting taxes for the richest.
We reject the failed economic orthodoxy of the failing UK state.
Characterised by deepening inequality and intolerance.
We are principled and pragmatic party, driven by the desire to serve the wellbeing of the nation.
When Fergusons, the last commercial shipyard on the Clyde, announced its intention to enter administration, we acted decisively. Bringing the yard into public control, saving the jobs, giving the yard a future and getting on with building the Calmac fleet.
When Belfast’s Harland and Wolff found itself in a similar situation, and in the absence of a sitting Northern Irish assembly, it was up to the UK Government to intervene.
They simply shrugged their shoulders and walked on by.
Public ownership won’t always be the answer, but conference, I can assure you that this SNP Government’s response will never be indifference.
When we have been faced with companies at risk of closure we will always do what we can to ensure the best possible outcome for the workforce and the economy.
At BiFab we are doing everything in our power to ensure that it wins work from the offshore wind developments in Scotland’s seas. But the power to connect consents with onshore jobs remains at Westminster, and what do they choose to do. Northing.
When Michelin announced the closure of their tyre factory in Dundee we convinced them to stay in the city through the Michelin Dundee Innovation Parc – a joint venture between Michelin, Dundee City Council and Scottish Entreprise, that will focus on renewables, sustainable mobility and the circular economy.
And when the Stoneywood paper mill, just miles from this conference centre was faced with closure, we provided support and assistance to enable a management buyout. Saving over 400 jobs in this city.
In each case our interventions has been tailored to the local circumstances. An agile proactive government, putting well-being first.
We don’t walk on by.
We want to seize the economic opportunities that lie ahead.
That this why we are building the Scottish National Investment Bank – as called for by you, the party conference.
Providing long-term patient capital and backed by £2 billion of Scottish Government money, the bank will play a key role in the Scottish economy for generations to come
It will be an ethical investor supporting companies to grow and innovate, mission-focused to help our country transform. Just as our new Mutual Investment Model and Infrastructure pipeline will help build our country’s infrastructure.
But for the Scottish National Investment Bank to operate effectively we require a Treasury permission to carry money between financial years, as you would expect of a bank.
With the stroke of a pen the Treasury could give that permission, resolve the issue, and allow our bank to progress, but so far they have refused.
So, conference I call upon the UK government to stop styming the building of the bank, and let us get on with the job.
But Conference, here is the good news, come what may the bank is on track to be open for business this time next year!
The prime mission of the bank will be supporting the transition to net-zero emissions.
Scotland is yet again at the forefront of global attempts to tackle climate change and to reduce emissions.
By 2045 we will have reached net-zero emissions and by 2030, we will reduce our emissions by 75%.
Meeting these challenging targets will change the way we live and work.
There is a moral imperative on us all to act, but there is also an economic opportunity in doing so.
The energy transition will create new jobs and new industries.
Scottish industry has been at the forefront of previous industrial revolutions and we are determined to ensure that it will be at the forefront of the green industrial revolution.
The Government will play our part and we will work with business to create the right environment for investment and a just transition that leaves no one behind.
Conference, amid all the chaos and uncertainty of Brexit – we are getting on with the day job.
For me that means delivering my fourth Scottish budget.
The First Minister has made clear, she wants the government to go beyond simple measures like GDP and to have a government focused on improving the wellbeing of the nation.
That’s why along with New Zealand and Iceland we have formed a group of Wellbeing Economy Governments.
Alongside tackling climate change, reducing child poverty and delivering sustainable and inclusive economic growth, increasing wellbeing will be core to the next Scottish budget.
A budget that keeps us healthy, delivering hundreds of millions more for our health service.
A budget that boosts our economy both now and in the future through the expansion of Early Learning and Childcare.
A budget that keeps our communities safe through increased funding for Police Scotland.
And conference, something that we should be proud of.
This will be a budget that will take a decisive step towards reducing child poverty in Scotland with the introduction of a £10 a week Scottish Child Payment.
It will do all of this and more with a competitive, progressive tax system.
For the majority, the lowest taxed part of the UK, for all the fairest taxed part of the UK.
The Prime Minister won office with promises to his tory base of tax cuts for the rich.
While they plan tax cuts for top earners, we will always prioritise the communities who continue to bear the scars of a decade of Tory austerity.
For the best part of a decade, we fought hard against Tory austerity, and we have used our powers to limit its worst effects.
Now, after a decade we have a Tory chancellor finally willing to loosen the purse strings a little. Proving austerity was always a choice, never an economic necessity.
But rather than investing to support public services, boost the economy and undo cruel cuts to welfare, the Tories are intent instead on crashing the economy and putting the bill on the credit card for future generations to pay.
Austerity, Brexit, incompetence and inequality– these are the hall-marks of today’s UK. No politician could claim the UK is a “safe harbour” for Scotland and keep a straight face.
Independence gives us the opportunity to break free from that inequality.
Scotland has a strong and thriving economy, not because of the UK government, but in-spite of it.
We are asked if Scotland can afford to be independent? – of course we can!
Scotland is a rich country – one of the richest in the world – and as an independent country we would use that platform to build our economy and strengthen our public finances. Not leave them as they are.
What we can’t afford is to keep paying the price for a failed economic model, for crippling austerity and the absurdity of nuclear weapons.
Scotland faces a choice – we can decide our own economic policy based on our own economic needs and opportunities.
Or, we can have it decided for us by an increasingly right-wing, extreme Tory party in Westminster.
We can choose to be a full independent member of the world’s largest single market – seven times the size of the UK.
Or, we can part of an insular, diminished UK, champing at the bit to sign away our NHS to secure a trade deal with the USA.
We can choose to live in a society that believes that economic growth must be coupled with fairness, social justice and sustainability.
Or, we can live in a country where the UK Government is desperate to leave the EU, so that it can cut environmental and employment protections, in their race to the bottom.
We can choose to live in a country that recognises the deep and enduring contribution that immigration has made to our country’s society and yes our economy too.
Or, we can live in a country so obsessed with creating a hostile environment it deports doctors and teachers, and deliberately keeps families apart.
Conference, I know what kind of Scotland I want to live in – and I know for that become a reality it needs be an independent Scotland.
The closer we get to independence, the more our unionist opponents panic.
The fact is, any so-called case for the union has been completely demolished over the last few years – with Westminster imposing austerity and Brexit on Scotland completely against our wishes.
But Brexit or no Brexit, it is clear that the UK is heading for years of economic uncertainty and political chaos.
We have always known that convincing people that they will be better off independent is key to winning their support – and opinion polls clearly show that confidence in an independent Scotland’s economy is growing.
The message is ringing through loud and clear – Scotland cannot afford the union.
Our economy, our public services and our people cannot afford to be subject to the whim of Westminster turmoil for years and years.
Scotland cannot afford the union – but it can more than afford to be independent.
We know that Scotland is a wealthy country – with human and natural resources that most countries could only dream of – and we frankly deserve better than this.
We are winning the argument on Scotland’s economic future – and when we have won that argument – we will win our independence.