John Swinney’s address to #SNP16

Below is the address given by Deputy First Minister John Swinney, John Swinney MSP. Check against delivery. 

Conference,

In May of this year, a remarkable thing happened.

Nine years after we were first elected to government, we went to the polls to seek an historic third consecutive term in office.

Led by Nicola Sturgeon – a Leader with a close and direct relationship with our people – we asked the electorate for a new mandate.

We set out our record, we promoted our team, we explained our vision of a fair and prosperous nation.

And the voters gave us a thumping great victory for the SNP and for Scotland.

 

Friends,

The doors you knocked, the leaflets you delivered, the voters you canvassed and the neighbours you convinced; that’s what made our victory possible.

It was a victory founded on hard work. It was built on doorsteps the length and breadth of Scotland.

It is the greatest strength of this party.

Now, don’t get me wrong, some would say our First Minister is our greatest strength – and far be it for me to disagree – I wouldn’t dream of it.

Others will tell you our greatest strength is our vision for the nation. And they are not wrong either.

But for me our greatest strength is born of our roots. We are not a branch office of a UK party, we are not apologists for a Westminster Government. We draw our strength from every community, every town and village, every creed and colour in this great nation.

Friends, our greatest strength is that we are rooted in all the communities of Scotland.

 

And last weekend, we saw the stark contrast between this country, this party, and those who have a different vision for this nation.

Last weekend, while the Tories took to their conference platform to spout forth xenophobic bile, here in Scotland an amazing thing happened.

As the week went on and as the bile poured forth, here people started to tweet about what they loved.

They tweeted about their origins, they tweeted about their families, they tweeted about their friends, here and abroad.

They stood up to the xenophobes in the best way possible, by celebrating the diversity that makes Scotland.

They met hate with love.

And they made every one of us very proud that we live in Scotland.

 

Conference,

The late, dearly missed, Bashir Ahmad said it best. He summed up our ethos with this simple statement: “It doesn’t matter where you come from, what’s important is where we are going together as a nation”.

In the face of the right-wing demagoguery of the Tory-Brexit Government, it has never been more important that we celebrate that spirit and hold fast to that truth.

It’s who we are.

Whether born here or abroad.

Whatever your creed, whatever your colour.

A Scot by birth or a Scot by choice.

All of us – every single one of us – are part of our nation.

All of us who choose to live here – We are Scotland.

 

Conference,

Our vision is of an inclusive nation.

At the election we took a positive and vibrant vision of what Scotland can become.

In Nicola Sturgeon we have a First Minister pledged to serve all of Scotland.

And we have a government committed to building a fair, equal and prosperous nation with opportunity for us all to grow and thrive.

 

Friends,

Our manifesto set out a plan for reform and transformation. It is a prospectus to fulfil Scotland’s massive potential.

For Scotland’s children it means a better start in life. And for parents it means more jobs, better-paid jobs and greater security.

For our health and social care services, it means fresh ideas, giving the vulnerable in our society an improved quality of life.

For our economy, it means supporting helping all businesses to innovate and grow, and making sure everyone gets a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work.

For our country as a whole, it means using new powers over tax and social security to expand our economy and lift more people out of poverty.

But above all else, it means always trusting the people of Scotland to make the big decisions about the future of our country.

That was our prospectus. Now it is our programme for this Parliament.

This is the route to create a fair and prosperous Scotland for all.

Since 2007 we have transformed education, bolstered our health service, reformed policing, taken employment levels to record highs and built thousands of affordable homes.

Our investment has delivered modern schools, colleges and universities, as well as some of the biggest transport improvements the country has ever seen.

Our aim has always been to build a country where strong public services are underpinned by a successful economy.

Yes, we are proud of our record, but we know there is still much more to do.

That is our task now.

To build a better future for Scotland and for everybody who lives and works here.

 

Friends, you have just heard from our team. The Cabinet Secretaries leading change in their portfolios.

Shona Robison, delivering record levels of health care to more patients in Scotland.

Angela Constance creating a Scottish Social Security system based on dignity and respect.

Michael Matheson, delivering a 42 year low in crime

Roseanna Cunningham, delivering on our world leading climate change targets, six years ahead of schedule.

Keith Brown, growing the economy despite the headwinds of the Tory-Brexit.

Fiona Hyslop has just arrived from Brussels where she has been fighting for Scotland’s place in Europe. She will be here on stage later this afternoon.

And Fergus Ewing is away fighting for Scotland’s rural economy, promoting our fantastic produce to the retailers that can make Scottish food and drink a success.

Not for them party before country.

They are SNP ministers and for us, country comes first. Always.

 

And friends, before you think I am forgetting someone, I want to say a word about Derek Mackay, our new Finance Secretary.

I have, of course, done that job. It’s not easy. It gets tougher as the times get tougher. But I know, Derek will do a fantastic job as Finance Secretary.

But I do have a word of warning for him.

I too was once a young looking Finance Minister, with a full head of hair.

So be warned. This is your future.

 

Conference,

On stage and off it, this is the team that leads our nation.

And at the head of that team is our First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Acknowledged by friend and foe alike, she has given this party and this country the leadership it needs in some very uncertain times.

No one could have been more struck by this than on the morning of 24 June.

In the wake of the EU referendum result, it was Nicola Sturgeon who stepped up.

It was Nicola Sturgeon who laid out a path for Scotland to follow.

While Boris and Gove panicked, Cameron resigned and Corbyn went missing, it was Nicola Sturgeon who rejected the xenophobia of Farage, reassured our EU friends here in Scotland and defended our relationship with Europe.

In that moment, there was a crisis of leadership in London. Here in Scotland, leadership had its finest hour.

 

And that crisis rolls on in Westminster.

Barely a day goes by that the three Brexiteers of Boris, Davies and Fox, do not embarrass the whole UK.

Theresa May is in office but it is already obvious that she is not in power.

A Remain voter – apparently – she is being driven by the Tory hard-right to a hard-Brexit just as David Cameron was driven to a referendum by those self-same hard-right Brexiteers in the first place.

The consequences can barely be contemplated.

One consequence I will deal with directly today.

We have already confirmed tuition fee funding to support EU students studying here, or preparing to start this year.

Now, we will extend that guarantee to those starting next year in 2017/18.

And, unlike Labour and the Tories, that’s tuition-free education we are guaranteeing – not the massive fees they impose on students wherever they come from.

But let me go further.

We will guarantee their funding. But what I demand is that the Tory-Brexit government guarantee their right to stay here during the studies and work here after their studies.

They are not “cards” to be played.

They are human beings.

To use them as negotiating chips is obscene and we will have no part of it.

 

Conference,

The Tory-Brexit government’s threat to people’s right to stay here is just another part of the hard-right agenda now running rampant at Westminster.

And, in the face of this ugly Tory-Brexit agenda, where stands Labour?

Nowhere.

When Jeremy Hunt put foreign born doctors on notice of deportation;

When Amber Rudd announced her sinister list of foreign workers,

Labour didn’t stand up in defiance.

Instead their press office said the Tories had not gone far enough.

Shame. Shame. Shame on the pathetic Labour Party.

Now, there will be a few in Labour as horrified as we are at their collective moral failure.

Kezia Dugdale tweeted “not in my name”.

But let’s be clear.

For as long as Kezia Dugdale insists on powers over immigration, Europe and all the rest remaining in London, Kezia shares the blame.

I sat on the Smith commission.

I watched as Labour vetoed proposal after proposal from Linda Fabiani and from me to devolve power after power to Scotland.

So, Kezia Dugdale, you may say it is not in your name, but I say it is at your hand.

And the people of Scotland will never forget that Labour were prepared to allow the Tories to rule Scotland to stop our country deciding her own future.

 

Friends,

Make no mistake, we are the national party and we will always put the national interest first.

We believe in our nation’s ability to govern itself and we believe in our communities’ ability to take power into their own hands.

We want to re-invigorate local government by reconnecting it with communities. The principle of local control, not on behalf of a community, but by a community is key.

That is at the heart of our programme.

We have already launched the review of how school education is governed, setting ourselves the task of making parents and teachers the key decision makers in the life of our schools.

Over the coming Parliament we will go further.

We will review the roles and responsibilities of local authorities. And, we will look again at the relationships between local authorities and health boards.

We aim to achieve nothing less than to transform our democratic landscape, protect and renew public services and refresh the relationship between citizens, communities and councils.

We do this not because it is radical – and it is – but because we believe it is right.

We do it not because it is easy –it’s not – but because it is in the national interest.

We believe that national interest lies in placing power in the people of this country’s hands. It is why I believe in Independence.

Just as we believe the best people to decide the future of our country, are those who live here, so we believe the best people to decide the future of our communities are the people who live in those communities.

We will trust the people to make the big decisions about their future.

That is our creed.

And that is the truly radical path of this party.

 

I am deeply privileged to have been asked to be Education Secretary.

The task the First Minister has given me is simple: To raise the bar for all and close the attainment gap for our poorest pupils.

And our ambition is equally straightforward: we will make significant progress in closing the gap within the next parliament and substantially eliminate it within a decade.

It may be a simple objective. It may be a straightforward aim. But it will not be easy.

We do not underestimate the scale of our ambition.

We do not underestimate also the destructive force of poverty. We know the damage it does to the life chances of our youngest, poorest children.

I believe the single best route out of poverty is education.

I believe the single most powerful weapon we have to fight poverty is education.

We will bring the whole education system together behind our purpose. The expansion of childcare to 30 hours per week. The focus of school education unreservedly on learning and teaching. The widening of access to university. The strengthening of apprenticeships. The linking of college to the world of work. All comes together in the same National Mission. To free every single child from the burden of poverty.

I will give it my relentless focus. I will not rest until we have delivered the best possible future for every young person in Scotland.

 

Friends,

Nine years ago, we set out on a journey.

We have come a long way.

The people of our country have asked us to go further.

To make Scotland Stronger.

That is our task.

That is our pledge.

Our promise to Scotland is this:  we will build a fair, equal and prosperous country.