John Swinney’s speech at the SNP conference

Below is the speech given by the Deputy First Minister John Swinney to the SNP conference in Glasgow.


There is something very fitting about us meeting here in the City of Glasgow for our Conference this year.

The SNP began its life in this city. Eighty-three years ago, on Saturday, 7 April 1934, our party held its first Annual Conference in what is now part of the Mitchell Library.

And in all that time, across all those decades, no speaker at a party conference has been able to say the words I am about to say to you today.

Conference: the SNP leads the City of Glasgow.

The victory of Susan Aitken and her team marks the latest in a string of historic successes for our party.

First, they told us we would never win at Holyrood. We won in 2007. And in 2011. And in 2016.

Then they told us we’d never win a Westminster election in Scotland – but we have – not just once but twice – in 2015 and in 2017.

Winning at Holyrood, winning at Westminster and winning for all of Scotland’s communities. We are the one and only party in Scotland that is national in reach, in scope and in perspective.

We are truly the national party of Scotland.

And what was the first decision that we took when we won control in Glasgow? It was to put forward our nominee to be Lord Provost.

An individual to hold that great historic office. That symbol of the character and identity of this City.

And we chose Eva.

Not born here. Not raised here.

But a fellow EU citizen who has made Scotland her home.

And that says something profound about the SNP.

We are a Party that embraces diversity, celebrates our relationships with others, that extends a warm welcome to people of all backgrounds.

Those are the actions of a truly inclusive national party.

At the heart of everything we do, at the heart of who we are, is a fundamental truth: power should be applied for the common good and exercised with principle.

It is that ethos that powers your SNP government.

It led us to make university education free, delivering record numbers accepted to university – and record numbers from the poorest backgrounds too.

It led us to halt Labour and the Tories’ creeping privatisation of the NHS, keeping the Health Service firmly in public hands.

It led us to set world-beating climate change targets, and we have already reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 41 per cent.

And, earlier this week, it was this ethos that led Paul Wheelhouse to announce a ban on Fracking here in Scotland.

Conference, Paul studied the evidence, he considered the detail, he asked the hard questions on both sides of the argument, he listened to the people and he made a decision anchored in the national interest.

That is the mark of our Party – the national party that takes decisions in the national interest of Scotland.


Every Conference brings scrutiny of the position of political parties. At this point in our first government, back in October 2008, we were polling about 38 per cent. Not bad.

By this point in our second government we had hit 40 per cent. Getting better.

But now we are ten years into government, what is our most recent poll number? Our most recent poll number is 42 per cent!

In fact, our lead over our nearest rival is a stonking 17 per cent, five times what it was in 2008 and double what it was in 2012.

Our Party commands that support because we stay close to our people, we listen to them and we act in the national interest of Scotland.

In amongst all this polling, Scottish Labour has descended into infantile name-calling and the Tories have flirted with a cabinet coup against Theresa May.

Labour and Tory are not so much locked in a battle for the future of this nation, but in a battle for who can break twitter first.

The antics of Boris Johnson. The stairheed rammy that is Labour’s leadership contest. Theresa May’s P45. Things have gone from the ridiculous to the bizarre.

Friends, there is chaos on the left.

And chaos on the right.

And through it all, the SNP government stands firm.

A beacon of progressive, effective government, delivering for all of the people of Scotland.

Things are now so bizarre that I find myself agreeing – possibly for the first time ever – with Jackie Baillie.

She was spot on when she labelled her Labour colleagues hypocrites who have betrayed the values of their party.

My only question is why did it take you so long to come to that conclusion Jackie? It’s been crystal clear to us for a long, long time.

As for the Tories, the Prime Minister said something this week that I actually agree with. In her Conference speech she said:

“racism, intolerance and hatred has no place in British politics or British society”

I agree unreservedly with the Prime Minister. The thing is though, as we sit here today, racist and xenophobic councillors are still members of the Scottish Tory Party. So she doesn’t need to lecture us.

She needs to lecture  Ruth Davidson to get her own house in order.

While all this chaos has been going on, on the left and on the right, what have we been doing.

We’ve been delivering progress for our country and building a fairer and a more prosperous Scotland. That’s what we’ve been doing.


The First Minister set out our Programme for Government last month. After ten years in office, what she unveiled was easily the most ambitious programme of any government since devolution.

She has set out a vision for our country that recognises the challenges we face today and those still ahead of us.

And it sets Scotland on the path, not simply to overcome those challenges – that is not the limit of our ambition – but to turn them into opportunities.

Challenges like climate change, like educational attainment, like obesity, like the new economy, like poverty are addressed at the heart of our Programme for Government.

Take a look across the political landscape.

The Tory leadership is in turmoil.

The Labour leadership are at each other’s throats.

Only here in Scotland; only Nicola Sturgeon, is providing the vision and leadership we need in these turbulent times and we thank her for it.

Friends, our First Minster has made clear that this SNP Government will be driven by a determination to raise attainment for all and close the poverty related attainment gap in education.

And we are building on firm foundations.

This year’s exam results saw more than 150,000 Higher passes for the third year in a row.

And, the number of awards for skills achieved by young people is now more than double the level of five years ago. A record number of young Scots are leaving school for work, for college or for university where this year we hit a new record for Scots students being accepted into university.

Perhaps even more remarkable was the 13 per cent rise in the number of students from disadvantaged areas gaining a place at university.

Friends, we know the First Minister has set us a hard task in closing the attainment gap but let’s be clear: thousands of students from deprived backgrounds are now entering university who previously didn’t get to go.

That’s the result of the actions of this SNP government.

We will have no truck with the deliberate misrepresentation of Scottish education put forward by our opponents.

Yes, there are challenges – not least around literacy and numeracy – but Scotland has a fundamentally strong education system.

We are committed to reform – not because we share our opponents demoralising view –  but because we want our schools to be even better.

And we are bringing the whole education system together in support of one goal: higher standards for all of our young people.

Reforms that place schools and teachers in control, because we believe our teachers are best placed to make the key decisions about pupils’ education.

And reforms that now have the support of local government with agreement on how we will change the system.

Your SNP government took the lead.

We proposed a bold plan.

And then we brought people together, to deliver that plan.

That’s how you provide leadership to create a world class education system for all the young people of our country.


We have made a strong start down the road to improving our schools. And we have founded our reforms on faith in our teachers.

But in schools in some parts of our country and in some subjects we know we have a shortage of teachers.

We have taken a range of actions to help councils tackle that problem and today I want to go further.

STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and maths – are crucial, not just to the education of our children but the future of our economy.

We need to recruit more teachers in these subjects. And to do that, we need to reach beyond recent graduates and attract people who have the appropriate subject degree but are working in business or industry.

These ‘career-changers’ still need to go through initial teacher education – we will never compromise on quality – but we can make it easier for them to make that career change.

We understand that giving up a salary for a year while they do their teacher training is a real barrier for them.

I can therefore announce today that from next year we will offer bursaries of £20,000 per person to help these career changers make that change.

Conference, we have faith in our teaching profession and we are backing that faith with more power and more resources.

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.

We are making progress, building a better Scotland, building a future for our young people of which we can be proud.

And next year we will take this forward in the Year of Young People.

We will use it to celebrate all that is best about our youngest generations.

And we will do it by seeking to instil tolerance, understanding, creativity and the pursuit of excellence.

We will not be listening to right-wing, educationally ill-informed Twitter personalities who haven’t done their homework.

And no, I don’t mean Katie Hopkins. I mean Ruth Davidson.


As we gather for our Conference today, as we reflect on 10 years of SNP Government, as we consider an intense period of political activity, what is the focus of the SNP?

We meet today to rededicate ourselves to the cause of Scotland.

We rededicate ourselves to Independence – the best possible future for Scotland. We rededicate ourselves to a future filled with possibilities for our young people and for our nation.

That’s what the programme for government does.

It lays out a vision for our country founded on the belief that our nation can make progress, can take on the best and hold our own, can rise to the challenges we face, and turn them to our advantage.

And you see it in each of the choices we make in the programme.

We choose to invest in our children’s future, giving more power and money to our teachers, expanding childcare and providing a Best Start Grant to give struggling families the help they need.

We choose to invest in our economic future, embracing the low carbon economy, electrifying our road network and making the new A9 Scotland’s first Electric Highway.

And we choose to invest in our public services, guaranteeing record investment in the NHS, expanding free personal care to the under-65s, and protecting police budgets.

And as we make these choices, we look to new ways of working, new ideas for how Scotland can build its future.

Ideas like creating a National Investment Bank or funding moves towards a Citizens Income.

Embracing the future, open to new ideas, ready to take on the challenges we face. That’s what Progress means.

It is our vision of a nation that is ambitious for itself.

That believes in itself.

It is that message of hope that drives our Party and drives our Government.

It is a message of hope that can and will deliver the very best of times for our people.