It’s time to make Scotland wealthier and fairer

At the start of last week, the Scottish Government published the first in a series of papers – “Building a New Scotland” – that will make afresh the case for Scotland becoming an independent country. It will present a positive, upbeat and optimistic case – and it will address tough questions head on.

Today, Scotland – like countries across the world – faces significant challenges. We need to recover and rebuild from what has been the worst pandemic in more than a century.

In addition to that, all nations have an obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to tackle climate change, while also working to raise our collective wellbeing.

And we are confronting those challenges at a time when inflation is at the highest level in more than a generation – inflation which, as a result of Brexit, is higher in the UK than in any other G7 country and which is plunging individuals, families and businesses into an acute cost of living crisis.

These challenges must be addressed – but we should remember that alongside them, Scotland also has huge advantages and immense potential.

Independence in itself does not guarantee success for any country. For Scotland, the aspiration of a wealthier, fairer and more successful country will depend on democratic decisions made by elected governments post-independence.

But the point is that in an independent Scotland, crucial decision-making power will rest with the people who live here – not with Westminster governments that do not command the support of people in Scotland, and which pursue policies, like Brexit, which are deeply damaging to Scotland’s interests.

Of course, any case for change must begin with an analysis of the status quo. That indeed is the purpose of the paper we published last week.

It looks in detail at 10 countries across Europe – all with different characteristics, but most of them with similarities to Scotland and all of them independent.

The evidence is overwhelming – these countries are wealthier, fairer and more productive than the UK.

The conclusion is stark and inescapable. Compared to these countries, many of which are smaller or similarly sized to us and most of them with nowhere near the natural resources we are blessed with, Scotland – as part of the Westminster system – is being held back.

This analysis shows beyond doubt that independent countries of Scotland’s size do better.

And if they can and do perform better, why not Scotland? With independence, we too would have the levers and the autonomy that these countries take for granted to help fulfil their potential.

Independence will put the powers that determine success into our own hands.

It will mean we can work in partnership with our friends in the rest of the UK – but not be subject to decisions of Westminster governments we don’t vote for and which are taking us in the wrong direction.

It will give us the ability – just like these other countries – to fulfil the vast potential we have and build the wealthier, fairer, happier country we know is possible.

I was re-elected as First Minister just over one year ago on a clear manifesto commitment to give the people of Scotland the choice of becoming an independent country.

And the people of Scotland elected a Scottish Parliament with a decisive majority in favour of both independence and the right to choose that future in a referendum.

The Scottish Parliament therefore has an indisputable democratic mandate for an independence referendum.

However, the Tories and Labour have so far completely failed to engage with that point – firstly, because they know it is true and secondly, because they can see how threadbare the case for continued Westminster governance of Scotland has become.

But no matter how hard the Westminster parties try and run away from the substantive debate on independence, they cannot dodge reality.

The people of Scotland have secured a democratic mandate to decide their own future – and neither Boris Johnson nor any other UK Prime Minister has the right to block that choice.

After everything that has happened – Brexit, Covid, Boris Johnson – I firmly believe that it is time to set out a different and better vision for our country.

Holding a referendum, of course, does not mean that Scotland will automatically become independent. That will be a choice for the people of Scotland.
The task for those of us who support independence is to persuade people of the case and the arguments for independence, and that is what the SNP intends to do in the months ahead.

So many of the challenges we face right now are being exacerbated because we are not independent. Independence is not a distraction from these issues. It is an alternative. It is about better equipping ourselves to navigate the challenges and fulfil our vast potential.

So it is time now to start talk about making Scotland wealthier and fairer.

With the campaign for independence beginning afresh and in earnest, we will continue to set out in detail how we can make the transition to independence, and how we can better navigate and overcome the challenges we all face, to build a better country for everyone who lives here.