It’s great to be here with you today in Dundee. Famously the city of the 3 J’s – jute, jam and… Joe FitzPatrick.
This is a city which in many ways represents the best of Scotland – rightly proud of its industrial heritage, but also constantly reinventing itself to stay at the cutting edge.
And today, it’s home to some of the key industries that will power Scotland’s future.
Today, as we gather to discuss that future, I cannot tell how much of an honour it is to be addressing as your new leader.
The SNP is a party that has often made history.
And as I stand here today as the first ever Muslim and ethnic minority First Minister, it is proof – if ever it were needed – that we truly are the national party of Scotland. Something we should all be proud of.
We’ve come a long way on the journey to Scotland’s independence. We certainly haven’t travelled as fast as we’d like.
We’ve had some difficult times – and certainly the last few months haven’t been easy.
But down the years, the road towards independence has been paved by the determination and the spirit of thousands who came before us.
And nobody typifies that determination and spirit more than Winnie Ewing. The political earthquake that Winnie caused with her victory in Hamilton in 1967 still resonates today.
Over the decades – whether in Westminster, in Brussels or reconvening the Scottish Parliament – Winnie helped shape the modern nation that we are today.
She had an unshakeable belief in the potential of the Scottish people – and she never stopped trying to inspire confidence and ambition in those around her.
It is no exaggeration to say that we would not be gathered here today were it not for Winnie.
With her passing this week, we mourn someone who was both a patriot and a pioneer. To Madame Ecosse, from the bottom of our hearts, we say thank you.
Friends, the success of the SNP in winning elections over the years has allowed us to make a real difference for the people of Scotland. And what a difference we have made!
An estimated 90,000 children in Scotland being lifted out of poverty by our actions.
Record levels of foreign investment in our economy.
Unemployment at near record low levels.
That’s the difference the SNP makes.
The best-paid nurses in the whole of the UK.
A global leader in Climate Justice.
An education system based on the ability to learn, not on the ability to pay.
That’s the difference the SNP makes.
The SNP is building a fairer, more prosperous and more confident Scotland – that is the difference that the SNP makes.
Today we are talking about how we build on these successes.
We know that the most transformational step Scotland can take towards building a better future is to become an independent nation.
We are within touching distance of achieving our goal, independence is within reach.
And today, I’m going to set out how I believe we can break the logjam with Westminster by mobilising the power of the people at the general election.
Because make no mistake – the SNP will absolutely fight the next election with independence front and centre of our campaign. That’s because choosing between the Tories, or Tory-lite, is no real choice at all.
The real alternative to Westminster control is taking our future into our own hands as an independent nation.
We all know Scotland faces many challenges. And we know that we live in an uncertain world. But as Scotland’s national party, it is our duty – in these tough times – to give people hope and imagine a better future with the endless opportunities that independence gives us.
We must inspire people – and make it abundantly clear: Westminster is not as good as it gets.
We can do better than the failed Westminster economic model that is causing such misery.
Friends, if only one message leaves this conference hall today, let it be this.
With our vast natural resources, our economic strength, with world-class universities and of course the talent of our people, an independent Scotland can be one of the most successful nations in the world.
No one – absolutely no one – will take better decisions for Scotland than the people who live here.
After all, it’s the people who live here that have the biggest stake in Scotland’s future.
No one can better steward our resources, and no one can better nurture our talent.
The evidence of why independence works is – quite literally – all around us.
All we have to do is look to our European neighbours, and we get a glimpse of what Scotland’s future can be.
Whether we’re talking about Norway, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Austria, Finland, they’re comparable to Scotland – and they are outperforming the UK in many ways.
They are wealthier, with fewer people living in poverty. They have higher levels of investment and are more productive.
That means they have more money to fund public services like their schools and their hospitals.
And when times are tough – like when the cost of living started to bite – they had broader shoulders to weather the storm.
And friends… do you know what else? Every single one of these countries is an independent nation.
Each country had their own path to success – but in every case, success is exactly what independence has led to.
The question we in Scotland must ask is not why our neighbours are more successful than us – the question we must ask is, why not Scotland?
With our abundant energy resources, with some of the best universities in the world, with our hugely successful financial services, with our cutting-edge life sciences, with our world-renowned food and drink sector, and with a gallus, intelligent, hard-working population, why not Scotland?
Friends, independence works.
And there is absolutely no doubt that independence can work for Scotland.
Never – ever – let anyone tell you otherwise.
Emulating the success of our neighbours will not happen automatically – but the whole point of independence is to make transformational change by taking power in to our own hands.
And the SNP is setting out a clear vision for how we would change things for the better.
What you get with independence is this.
You get the powers to build an economy that puts the health and the happiness of its citizens at its heart, not an economy based on failed trickle-down economics taking us all on a downward spiral.
You get the powers to tackle the cost of living crisis, not being forced to suffer the biggest fall in living standards since records began.
You get the powers to build a welfare system that protects you, not one that punishes you.
You get to be inside the EU and the world’s biggest single market, not being dragged out of Europe against your will.
You get an energy policy that works for Scotland’s people – and works for the planet, not an energy market designed to work for Westminster and corporate shareholders.
And friends, you get the powers to create a written constitution.
A constitution that guarantees we are a country which enshrines and protects the rights of every citizen, not a country where populist politicians strip people of their fundamental rights, particularly from our most marginalised communities.
A constitutional right to protect the NHS free at the point of use, not creeping privatisation with the Tories – and with Labour.
A country which opens its heart and offers sanctuary to those fleeing conflict, not one which bundles them onto planes to Rwanda.
And friends, a country which bans nuclear weapons from its soil for good – not one which wastes tens of billions of pounds on obscene weapons of mass destruction.
Independence is about having and using the powers to build a better country.
A better Scotland is possible – and ver the coming months, we will continue laying out our prospectus for building a new Scotland.
And I tell you what else we’ll be doing. We’ll be defending our national parliament from being constantly undermined, overruled and sabotaged by an increasingly erratic and overlording Westminster government.
Just think about the events of the last few weeks.
We are now at the point where the Scottish Parliament can no longer even do something as simple as include glass in a recycling scheme without Westminster muscling in at the eleventh hour and sabotaging it.
And while we promote Scotland as a place to invest and do business in capital cities around the world, Westminster tries to stop us because they claim we are stepping above our station.
Last week we got a list of our supposed ‘transgressions’.
I have to tell you friends, that when I read the list, I was shocked when I found out what SNP Ministers had been up to.
Ivan McKee was in Poland on a Trade mission he was apparently overheard saying that Brexit was a mistake. Perish the thought!
Angus Robertson was promoting Scottish culture at a St Andrew’s Day reception and he apparently dared to say that leaving the EU had negatively impacted on student exchange programmes to Scotland. An absolute shocker, ladies and gentlemen!
For the Tories, bringing jobs and investment to Scotland is apparently a transgression. For the SNP – bringing jobs and investment into Scotland is our national mission.
I think something else is going on here. I think the Tories see the SNP has made friends for Scotland right around the world.
They see our success in attracting trade and investment – and they’re just a wee bit jealous, and they can’t even hide it.
The future of our national parliament is under threat due to Westminster control. And it is proof that it is only through the powers of independence that we will be able to take on the biggest challenges of our age and build a better future.
This Tory government is morally and politically bankrupt.
But I don’t want just rid of them for a few years – I want Scotland to become independent so we can get rid of unelected Tory governments for good.
Especially if the alternative is a pale imitation.
We don’t need a Labour leader who says he ‘doesn’t care’ if he sounds conservative.
We don’t need a Labour leader who somehow seems to break promises faster than he makes them.
You know it’s funny, with each broken promise, Keir Starmer says that it’s just not possible in the current climate to do what he wanted.
That it’s not possible to have free higher education, and that publicly owned rail and water can’t be done.
Well, I’ve got a wee message for Keir Starmer: not only is all of this possible – the SNP is doing it right here in Scotland.
And I’ll tell you why it’s possible.
It’s because the SNP stand by what we believe in – and that’s the difference the SNP makes.
Many years ago, President Kennedy famously said that the question in politics is not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.
The thing about Keir Starmer is that when he comes north of the border, he doesn’t ask what he can do for Scotland.
He’s only interested in what Scotland can do for Keir Starmer.
History teaches us that when democracy movements reach a certain size, in the end they always triumph.
And that is why we are gathered here today, about how we can ensure independence becomes the settled will of the Scottish people.
I have no doubt that at this Convention we will have a lively and passionate discussion.
After all, this is a cause we all care deeply about.
But I am very clear – there is no route to independence other than through a lawful, democratic process.
Why? Because that is the way we actually become independent.
That’s the way that not only do we recognise Scotland wants to become independent, but it’s the way Europe and the world recognises it too.
That means we have two essential tasks before us.
Firstly, we must – must – continue building support for independence. We’ve done so much – and we need to keep going.
There was a time, not all that long ago, when we were ecstatic, over the moon, cock-a-hoop, when support for independence reached 30%. Now, support for our cause is 50/50.
Secondly, we must give the people of Scotland the opportunity to express that support in a democratic vote.
To build support, campaigning for independence must be at the heart of everything we do as a party.
That’s why SNP activists will be engaged in a summer campaign on the opportunities of independence, taking our message to homes the length and breadth of Scotland.
I’m out every week speaking to people – and I’ve been hugely inspired to meet SNP activists across the country.
Our task, our collective task, is to get Scotland talking.
Talking about independence, talking about the opportunities and the possibilities, to show people that there is a better alternative.
Over the summer, SNP members will also continue the discussion we are beginning today, with a series of regional assemblies.
And as the summer ends, we will come together again – but this time, not in a conference hall.
This time, we will join with thousands of independence activists in our nation’s capital.
On 2nd September, our friends at Believe in Scotland will fill the streets of Edinburgh with a march and rally for an independent Scotland in the EU.
I am delighted to confirm that the SNP will get fully behind this grassroots initiative.
I will certainly be there – and today I am calling on all independence supporters to come together, to show our opponents that the cause of independence is the people’s movement.
The people of Scotland have always marched and rallied for democracy.
On the 2nd September, we must do so again. Let’s make this rally the biggest our cause has ever seen.
The SNP believes that democracy is something to cherish – not something to be feared.
Westminster are clearly running scared, but there is one vote that they cannot hide from – whenever it comes.
And that is the next Westminster election – that election offers us the opportunity to break the logjam.
Of course, we will set out how we will stand up for Scotland’s interests and mitigate the damage of Westminster control, as we always do.
But friends, I didn’t get into politics to simply mitigate Westminster damage. I believe the SNP should do much more than that.
I believe that in this election, the SNP should offer the people of Scotland a manifesto for an independent Scotland.
A manifesto bursting with ideas about how Scotland can harness our potential through the powers of independence.
And in that manifesto – page one, line one – I am proposing that we put a simple powerful statement to the people:
“VOTE SNP FOR SCOTLAND TO BECOME AN INDEPENDENT COUNTRY”
We know how hard it is to win elections.
The polls are tight and there is everything to play for. The Westminster establishment will rail against us.
But we know that independence is best for Scotland’s future, and we must give the people of Scotland the ability to choose that future.
And if the SNP does win this election, then the people will have spoken.
We will seek negotiations with the UK Government on how we give democratic effect to Scotland becoming an independent nation.
Remember, we are not the block on a referendum – a referendum is our Plan A. Westminster are the ones blocking it.
So whether that democratic effect is a referendum or simply the general election itself, that is for them to answer.
They told Scotland that this is a voluntary union. Prove it.
But we will not wait for Westminster.
If we win the General Election, we will take that mandate from the people and ensure we as a government are ready to negotiate our independence.
We will take the following actions.
Firstly, we will set out in a detailed document the terms we would seek in discussions with the UK Government for Scotland becoming an independent country.
It would be called “Withdrawal from Westminster – a New Partnership Agreement”.
This new partnership agreement between Scotland and our friends in the rest of the UK would include draft legal text on the transfer of powers from Westminster to the Scottish Parliament necessary to prepare for independence.
It would set out the Scottish Government position on issues such as the division of assets.
And it would detail future arrangements for continuing, indeed better, co-operation with the rest of the UK.
In place of the assertive ‘Westminster knows best, know your place’ doctrine, we can have a new and better relationship – one based on equal partnership and mutual respect.
Secondly, we will conduct a nationwide, open, and inclusive consultation on a draft interim constitution, the founding document of our newly-independent state.
The process will include some fundamental principles and aims:
To protect citizens’ rights that are being eroded by Westminster, like the right for workers to strike.
To give constitutional protection for our NHS, free at the point of use.
To confer a duty on the Government of an independent Scotland to pursue nuclear disarmament.
And, friends, the first line of the interim constitution will say the following:
“Scotland is an independent country in which the people are sovereign.”
Friends, with independence, we will transfer sovereignty from Westminster to the people of Scotland.
And thirdly, if we win the General Election, we will prepare the ground for Scotland to become an independent member state of the EU, by establishing an envoy position, a representative of the Scottish Government in Brussels.
This position will be focussed on explaining the Scottish Government policy on independence to our fellow Europeans.
We will reinforce to our European partners our commitment to a legal, constitutional democratic process.
But we will also seek to enhance understanding that Scotland is an ancient nation, committed to the founding values of the EU; a country with much to gain from EU membership, but also much to offer as we navigate the challenges of the 21st century.
With these three actions, we will not be waiting for Westminster to respond.
We will take our destiny in to our own hands, we will begin laying the foundations of a newly independent nation.
It’s a vote to deliver the powers of a country which can build a better economy, stronger public services, a fairer, greener society and a Scotland free from the abomination of weapons of mass destruction.
There is a lot to talk about today.
We must consider what else we can do to continue building support for independence.
What we are discussing today, what we discuss over the summer at regional assemblies and in our branches – and agree at our conference in October – will be the springboard that delivers independence for Scotland.
Winnie Ewing’s passing has – for all of us – brought to the fore many memories and emotions over the last couple of days.
As well as the sense of loss, I’ve been thinking of many people down the years who fought their whole lives for an independent Scotland – but sadly haven’t lived to see it.
People like Winnie, like George Leslie, and like my mentor and friend, the late, great Bashir Ahmad.
But friends, let me tell you this.
When we are so close to achieving our goal, we must take strength from them and their legacy to push on until we win.
For our families, for our friends, for our communities, and for our country.
That’s who we’re doing this for.
And for our children, our future generations – those yet to be born, who will live in an independent Scotland and decide how they want it to be run.
In the final days of the 2014 referendum campaign, Winnie gave what I think was her last filmed interview.
She spoke of her pride at being able to cast her vote for an independent Scotland.
And she said this: “I’ve waited all my life for a meaningful vote. I’m old enough to appreciate having grandchildren, so I’m in a position to realise that it is vital for them to grow up in a fair society, where their aspirations are listened to and where they’re afforded the chances they need.”
Madame Ecosse, thank you for absolutely nailing it.
I think about independence and I see my two girls, Maya and Amal. I won’t lie, it is hard for this dad to think of his girls one day leaving our home, and making a life for themselves – I’ll be a greeting mess when it happens… trust me!
But as parents, that is all we want. We want our children to be happy and healthy, and make decisions over their own lives.
To make decisions as strong, independent people.
That is what I want for my country too.
We don’t just have to imagine a better country – we can build it.
We can build that better country by becoming independent.
I want you to think about the moment that Scotland’s independence is declared.
I want you to think of all the pavements you pounded, the doors you chapped, the leaflets you have delivered.
Capture how you will feel at that very moment.
When you hear the result filtering through the news channels that it has be confirmed – the people of Scotland have voted to become independent.
Now let that feeling motivate you.
Let it be the driving force that propels us to campaign harder than we ever have before.
The SNP has a positive vision for an independent Scotland.
And when we leave here today, we will do so united in making that vision a reality.
As we return to our homes, to the cities, to the towns and to the villages.
To the Highlands, to the Lowlands and to the islands – to every community, to every street and to every home, the SNP will take that case for a better nation to the people.
We will show them the nation we can be.
And friends, together, we will lead Scotland to independence.