John Swinney’s address to #SNP19


We stand in what is the SNP’s festival of democracy – our annual conference.

Over three days, will debate the major issues facing our society today. Climate justice – an issue of vital importance to us all that has motivated such action by young people across the world.

The tragedy of drug dependence and the need for concerted action to tackle it.

The plight of the Kurdish people abandoned by the US Government. Kashmir, Pensions, energy, economic development and countless other issues.

And, of course, we have just a few minutes ago debated the issue of Catalonia.

Conference, I am government minister. I understand very well the importance of respecting the courts.

And this party, understands very well the importance of the Rule of Law. Just ask Joanna Cherry.

But I am proud that our party will not stand by in silence as the Spanish system condemns Catalan leaders to jail for years.

They stood up for democracy.

They stood up for their basic right of self-determination.

That should not be a crime.

I stand with Catalonia.

And in an age of alternative facts and fake news – of Donald Trump and Boris Johnson – we should make no apology for standing up for democratic human rights, for holding to a higher standard.

We are not simply seeking to win independence. We are seeking to win independence for a purpose: to build a better nation for all who choose to live here.

A nation that supports the vulnerable and helps them play a full part in our country.

A nation that generates wealth that will help us create a fairer society.

A nation that can take its place at the top international table and hold its head up high.

Friends, independence opens the door to being that nation. And today, we stand on the threshold of our country’s independence.

While we deride their behaviour, we must learn the lessons of the victories of Trump and Johnson.

They chose – and still choose – the gutter and it will be their downfall.

Winning on their terms is never worth it.

Their road does not lead to a better nation. Their road leads to ruin and we will never walk that road.

Instead we will walk the road of tolerance, persuasion, debate and dialogue.

We will set ourselves the goal of living every day as though we are in the first days of a new nation.

We do so for two simple reasons.

First, friends, because it is the right thing to do.

And second, because it will make our country anew.

It is right that we bring people together; old Scots and new Scots. Rich and poor. Young and old.

We will fight for their right to be heard, to take part in the great national question at the heart of our political debate – whether or not we agree with their view.

We will celebrate the diversity of our country and see it as the strength it truly is.

And it will make our country anew because we must always believe we are living in the first days of our new nation.

When the history books come to be written, I believe these days will be seen as the moment Scotland took control of its own path.

Faced with the choice between Independence and the UK of Brexit and Boris Johnson, people are choosing independence.

They are rejecting the lies of the populists and holding fast to the shared values of truth, integrity, honesty.

They are holding fast to simple principles – principles like no one – not even those in power – are above the law.

Johnson and Trump choose lies and division.

We choose to live as though in the first days of a new nation.

They choose fear. We choose Hope

And we will win.

We will win our independence, and our better nation.


That challenge – to build a better nation – is at the heart of your SNP government.

Every day is a day when your Government acts as if we are in the early days of a new nation.

Record health funding.

Hundreds of new school buildings.

Record numbers of Scots going to university and record numbers from the poorest backgrounds too.

Some of the lowest unemployment levels on record.

Crime down, police numbers up and progressive reform of our justice system.

New benefits lifting people out of poverty.

World leading climate change legislation.

All of this and so much more has been done.

The contrast with our opponents could not be more stark.

While they are busy vandalising our economic future and making us an international laughing stock, your SNP Government has been busy building the new Scotland.

And in the next year, we will see so much more done.

For Scotland’s children we will see not one but two absolutely transformational polices delivered next year.

Early Learning and Childcare will double from next August.

That doesn’t just massively reduce the cost of childcare for parents – to the tune of four-and-a-half thousand pounds – it will not just mean parents have the time and money to take a job – but it will also radically change the life chances of thousands of our most vulnerable children.

30 hours a week, high quality early learning. Provided free.

That is transformative change from your SNP Government.

And, by Christmas next year, the Scottish Child Payment will begin.

It will deliver £10 per week, per child to low income families helping around 170,000 of the most vulnerable children.

Friends, poverty campaigners themselves called that policy a ‘game changer’.

Two bold and radical policies next year alone to benefit the children of our country.

Friends, your SNP government is already building the better nation we aspire to be.


All of this work will build on the outstanding efforts that are underway to close the poverty related attainment gap in education. If we want to create a fair and prosperous future for our nation, we must ensure every one of our young people are able to make their full contribution to that effort. We have to recognise that children who live in poverty face greater obstacles in the way of being able to contribute effectively to that aim.

So our Scottish Attainment Challenge – £750 million in Scottish Government investment – is providing the essential support those young people need. At the same time, our investment in Pupil Equity Funding is putting power into hands of our Headteachers and their schools to do all that needs to be done to help those young people.

And with the support of the Finance Secretary, we have been able to give schools added confidence to tackle the Attainment Challenge by continuing the Challenge for longer than originally expected with an extra year of support promised until 2022.

Our mission is to make that life transforming intervention for the benefit of young people. It is the right thing to do. The attainment gap is closing. We are building the future of our nation.

All of these efforts are about tackling child poverty.

Last week, someone else made a speech about child poverty.

Gordon Brown broke his silence – again – and decided to share with us his wisdom.

And his idea was breathtaking.

He proposed that a delegation – cross-party no less – go to London and beg Boris Johnson’s Treasury for more money.

His only answer to poverty is to try to reason with a reckless Tory Government that cares nothing about tackling child poverty and hope – hope I tell you – to get some scraps from the Tory table.

And that sums up the difference between Gordon Brown and the Unionist parties and our Party and the independence cause.

They care more about the protecting the Union than they do about child poverty. We want independence to enable us to eradicate child poverty.

Theirs is not a plan.

The solution to Scotland’s problems do not lie in London.

The people who can solve those problems are not Tory politicians in the Treasury.

The people who must find – and fund – those solutions are the people who make their futures here in Scotland.

The answer lies not in begging for some help from London but in the talents and energies of our own nation.

Unlike Gordon Brown’s abdication of responsibility, we don’t need or want anyone else to solve our problems.

We simply want people like Gordon Brown and the Tory Treasury to get out of our way and let us get on with the job.


That is the reality of independence. It is not some promise of a shortcut to success. It is not the promise of sunlit uplands.

But it is rooted in a belief in the talents of our people.

We are endowed with the talents and resources to tackle our problems.

We have the skills, we have the means.

What we need are all of the powers, the freedom to get on with the job.  That is the promise of independence.

Conference, the challenge that faces our nation became more stark since we last met.

Then, Brexit under Theresa May was a tragedy.

Now, under Boris Johnson, it has quickly turned to a farce.

Let’s get Brexit done – Do or die. That’s their slogan. That’s their whole plan.

It is easy to lose sight amidst the buffoonery of the Prime Minister that Brexit under Johnston is not just a farce it is a deadly farce.

Deadly for people relying on medicines to stay healthy. Deadly in the words of the UK Government’s own Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies who last week said people will die if the UK presses ahead with a no-deal.

Take a moment to think on that. That wasn’t a campaign group or an opposition party indulging in rhetorical flourish.

That was the UK Government’s most senior medical advisor.

I know the Leave campaign got a bit fed up with listening to experts. But to take a cavalier attitude to the significant warnings of a Chief Medical Advisor is – for Boris Johnson – surely a reckless step too far.

Friends, I am responsible for the Scottish Government resilience response to Brexit.

And, I have to level with you as I levelled with the country last week.

We are doing everything in our power to mitigate the impacts of a No deal Brexit.

We are straining every sinew, alongside councils, and police and so many others.

Plans are being put in place to keep people safe.

But I cannot stand here and tell you that everything is going to be alright. It is not.

No deal will cost thousands of jobs, disrupt supplies of food and medicine, and destroy the most vital supply chains.

Boris Johnson is a clown.

But, no deal isn’t funny. It is deadly serious. No Deal will cost lives and no rational Prime Minister should contemplate inflicting it on this country.

Friends, the experience of Brexit is taking Scotland to a tipping point. The Sunday Times poll yesterday had Yes and No neck and neck.

By a significant margin, our fellow citizens believe Scotland will be stronger economically as an independent member of the EU than as a part of the United Kingdom.

Step by step, we are winning the argument.

We know it and it makes us impatient. But there is no shortcut. There is no magic policy or political wheeze that can change the task ahead of us.

One by one we must persuade our families, our friends and our neighbours of our cause.

One by one. Step by step.

It takes effort. It takes patient persuasion.

And we can see that it is working.

I saw a vivid example of this in recent weeks. I spent quite a bit of time in Shetland during the recent by-election – campaigning and also appreciating again the beauty of the Shetland Islands. I saw our magnificent candidate, Tom Wills, lead a campaign of patient persuasion that shattered the LibDem majority, increased our vote by 50% and delivered a 14 point swing to the SNP. I was captivated by Tom’s campaign of patient persuasion, laying the foundations to win in Shetland next time round – well done Tom on a campaign superbly well fought.

But I was captivated by something else in that campaign too. Our campaign was strengthened by the energetic, optimistic and hopeful contribution of the Young Scots for Independence – who travelled in great numbers to Shetland to work incredibly hard to help our campaign. To those young people I say this – thank you for your efforts, you are a credit to yourselves, a credit to this Party and the source of greatest hope for the future of our movement.

Friends, we know we must be winning when we pick up a newspaper or listen to yet another unionist politician trying to move the goal posts.

Their transparent attempts to fix the result of the next referendum is not born out of confidence. It is born out of a growing certainty that they cannot win on the strength of their arguments.

They are desperate to cry foul because they can no longer win on their own merits.

That should give our Party and our movement great confidence as we move forward.

At the very moment that the British state is imploding;

At the very moment Europe is ready to welcome Scotland as an equal member in our own right;

At the tipping point of history and as our cause comes into its majority;

We must hold our nerve and hold to our values.

If we do that, we will win the debate, we will win new supporters and we will succeed in winning our country’s independence.