John Swinney’s address to #SNP21 Conference
We meet again, not in person, but virtually.
And while life feels much more like it used to – the virus and the harm it causes has not gone away.
Meeting virtually allows us to perform our time-honoured democratic duty as party members, while keeping us all safe.
For many, I know, that will be a disappointment – those yearning to see old friends, meet new ones and enjoy the hustle and bustle of SNP conferences of old.
That time will come again.
What was extraordinary, is now familiar – even if many of us still can’t work the mute button properly after 18 months of trying.
And conference, while the challenges we face as a country, as a party and a movement are great, so are the opportunities.
We are the party with the wind in our sails.
We are the party with the ideas and the vision to re-build Scotland from the damage caused by the pandemic,
And we are the party with a leader, our First Minister, who stands head and shoulders above the opposition.
Much has happened since the election May.
Many have tried to downplay both the size and the significance of what we achieved at the ballot box.
In the face of unprecedented criticism and unremitting negativity from her opponents, our First Minister held firm.
She put her faith in the people, and they certainly put their faith in her.
Not only did we win, we won big.
We won the most constituency votes ever cast for one party since the dawn of devolution.
Almost quarter of a million more people backed the SNP than the previous high of 2016.
We increased both the number of constituencies and overall seats won, while our opponents either stalled or lost ground.
By conventional political logic it was a landslide victory for our party – all the more remarkable coming after 14 years of government.
We took our vision for the future of our country to the people, and they backed it in their droves.
Our mandate from the people of Scotland is clear.
We will use every tool at our disposal to chart the path through the pandemic.
We will take the steps required to support the recovery of our society, our economy and our public services.
We will accelerate our efforts to tackle climate change and ensure a just transition to a net zero economy by investing in the technologies of the future.
And we will give the people a choice over their future through a referendum on independence.
Every day since the election we have sought to repay the faith put in us by the people.
In the election campaign we set out the steps we would take in our first 100 days if we were returned to office.
First and foremost it laid out the steps we would take to carefully re-open our society and our economy and how we would protect our people by offering at least a first dose of the vaccine to every adult in the country.
But it also set the ground work for our efforts to rebuild from the pandemic.
We have launched our NHS recovery plan, backed by an additional £1 billion to meet our ambition of increasing inpatient, day case, and outpatient activity by 10%.
We have started a consultation on the creation of a National Care Service – our ambitious place to transform the way we look after our most vulnerable.
We have completed the creation of 12,000 hectares of woodland and established a new Green Jobs Workforce Academy.
We have funded councils to employ an additional 1000 teachers and 500 classroom assistants.
And we have supported the sectors of the economy hardest hit by the pandemic with £25 million of support for the tourism sector and £10 million to help revitalise the high street.
In our first 100 days we have delivered on our promises.
And we are just getting started.
Earlier this week the First Minister set out to parliament her Programme for Government.
It is a bold, ambitious plan that builds on that momentum we established in our first 100 days.
It sets out how we will support our public services to recover, how we will enable our young people to prosper, how we will take the steps to end Scotland’s contribution to climate change and create an economy that works for all our people and communities.
And once the crisis has passed, it shows how we will establish Scotland’s place in the world by holding, and winning, an independence referendum
The First Minister has tasked me with the role of coordinating our efforts to recover from the pandemic.
We have a way to go before every part of our society and economy has recovered from the pandemic.
Both collectively and individually the scars left by the pandemic will take time to heal.
And for many, particularly those who have lost someone dear to them, that loss will never be recovered.
But what is clear to me is that there is a shared determination across the country – that our recovery cannot be about how we get back to how things were before the crisis.
Because for too many people going back to the way it was is simply not good enough.
The systemic inequalities in our society have been made worse by the pandemic. Those who already faced the greatest disadvantage saw that compounded during the crisis.
So our efforts will focus not just on how we rebuild from the pandemic, but how we renew our society, how we create an economy with the wellbeing of our people and our planet at its heart.
Fundamental to how we will achieve that, will be through our national mission to end child poverty.
By the end of next year we will have rolled out the ‘game changing’ Scottish Child Payment to all under 16s and will work to double it to £20 per week as soon as possible.
And while providing extra financial support to families in need is crucial, we will also take concrete steps to close the opportunity gaps for our children that exist in Scotland.
We will invest a further £1 billion over the Parliament to tackle the poverty related attainment gap.
We will reduce the costs of the school day ensuring children can access the subjects and opportunities they want regardless of family income.
We will expand free early learning and childcare to 1 and 2 year olds – starting in this Parliament with children from low-income households.
Every power at our disposal will be used to its maximum to drive our recovery. Supporting public services, improving wellbeing and driving investment to create new, good green jobs.
In delivering on our ambitious programme for Scotland we have, with the overwhelming endorsement of the party membership, entered into a new partnership with the Scottish Green Party.
The Bute House Agreement represents a new way of doing business.
Such an agreement has required a boldness of leadership from our First Minister.
Having handsomely won the election, this agreement was not required to keep the SNP in office.
But she recognised that our politics and our country was better served by seeking a fresh approach, leaving our comfort zone in an effort to reach consensus.
It represents an historic formal co-operation agreement between our two parties, agreeing to work together where we can, recognising the substantial alignment of our ideas, while acknowledging that on certain issues we will still disagree.
Together we have committed to building a greener, fairer and independent Scotland.
We will increase investment in efforts to tackle climate change – ensuring 10% of the transport budget is spend on active travel.
We will invest £1.8 billion in energy efficiency and renewable heating over the course of the parliament and deliver a ten-year £500 million Just Transition Fund for the North East and Moray.
We will enhance tenants’ rights, implement an national system of rent controls and deliver 110,000 new affordable homes by 2032
And together, once the crisis of the pandemic is over, we will give the people the choice in an independence referendum.
Of course as the First Minster has made clear, by reaching agreement with the Greens, we are not closing the door to working with other parties.
If they want to join us in delivering a more open, more constructive, more European style of politics, our door is open.
But if they want to continue their role as negative naysayers, the parties that oppose everything, but offer nothing then they will quite simply continue to be left behind.
Through our agreement with the Greens we are demonstrating that a new, constructive, collaborative politics is possible.
That openness and inclusiveness is in stark contrast to the rancour and divisiveness on show day in and day out at Westminster.
Having emerged victorious from their internal party civil war, with the Pyrrhic Victory of the hardest of hard Brexits, the Tory right have a new target in their sights.
When they said they wanted to take back control, they didn’t just mean from Brussels, they also meant from Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast.
Friends, we are seeing a concerted attempts by Boris Johnson and Michael Gove to dismantle devolution.
Removing powers from our parliament and bypassing the Barnet formula on funding decisions.
And don’t just take my word for it.
Mark Drakeford, the Labour First Minister of Wales, said this summer that, “too often the UK Government acts in an aggressively unilateral way.”
Be under no illusion the modus operandi of the Tory Government is clear.
They will cut our budget, diverting funding to pork barrel, pet-projects in Tory held seats.
They will plaster the country with union flags.
And they take every opportunity they have to undermine the Scottish Government.
But the problem they will face with their muscular unionism is that they do not have the brains to match the brawn.
The more people see the UK Government interfere in devolved matters, the more they will see just how incompetent they really are.
Friends, there is perhaps no greater example of how the Union has failed Scotland than the sorry saga of Brexit.
Despite the warnings, against will of the people of Scotland, and in the grips of a pandemic, the Tories pressed ahead with the hardest of breaks.
Boris Johnson once spoke of Brexit and the ‘sunlit meadows beyond’, but the reality he has delivered is food rotting in the fields because there is no one there to pick it.
The end of freedom of movement, and the draconian clampdown of migration from the EU has been a disaster for the economy.
Not just here in Scotland but the whole of the UK.
Perhaps the most obvious example is the empty shelves in our supermarkets.
But staff shortages are beginning to bite across the economy.
Last month we saw the quite extraordinary news that the NHS in England had to tell GPs to cancel blood tests due to an acute shortage of supplies.
Every sector will feel the chill wind brought on by Brexit.
And there is no end in sight.
The Tories are unwilling and unable to take the simple steps required to fix the problem they have created.
The UK is facing a winter of discontent and Westminster isn’t working.
This week in the course of the debate on the Programme for Government, we heard the predictable cries from the opposition, that we must abandon our plans to allow the people of Scotland to choose their future in an independence referendum, and focus all our efforts on recovering from the pandemic.
This line of argument ignores two key facts.
The overwhelming mandate we won in May’s election and that without the powers of independence, we will not have the tools at our disposal to forge that recovery.
Without independence key decisions on Scotland’s recovery will be taken, not here in Scotland, but by Boris Johnson and the Tories.
Without powers over employment law, we will not be able to eradicate low pay.
Without control over the benefits system, our efforts to eradicate child poverty will always be at the mercy of Tory cuts to Universal Credit.
Without tax and borrowing powers our public services will always run the risk of a return to Tory austerity.
Friends, we will always use the powers of devolution to their maximum, but if we really want to become a greener, fairer and wealthier country, we must become an independent country.
That is the ambition for Scotland we are all determined to deliver.