John Swinney’s speech to the SNP’s campaign gathering 2024


I think it is fair to say that neither you – nor I – really expected, four weeks ago, that I would be standing here as the Leader of the Scottish National Party and First Minister of Scotland. It has been a surprise to us all. But I hope it is for you, as it is for me, the loveliest of surprises.  

I am deeply honoured to be leading our Party and serving Scotland as First Minister. 

If that was enough of a surprise, in truth, I didn’t really expect that I would be leading the SNP into an election campaign within two weeks of becoming Party Leader. 

But here we are, and we are ready to make the case For Scotland. 

Polling day is on July the fourth: also known, of course, by our American friends as Independence day. It’s a good day for people in Scotland to follow suit. 

In these next few weeks, we need to set out our case to the people of Scotland with energy, optimism and hope. 

And it is the people of Scotland that I want to speak to directly today as we set out our message. 

To set out why voting SNP will lead to a better country and a better future for you and your family. 

And for the people in this room and the wider SNP:  it will then be up to you to take our positive, hopeful vision of how we can build a better Scotland to every community in our country. 

You are the greatest asset any party could have.  

Indeed you are this party.  

So I need you to get out there and campaign like never before.  

And knowing you like I do, I know you are up for this.  

This election is the biggest challenge the SNP has had for years. 

That may feel daunting but it is a good thing. 

The voters are right to remind us never to take anything for granted. 

Right to make us work even harder for them. 

And right to make us constantly earn and re-earn their trust. 

So here, today, at our first major Party Gathering since you chose me to lead this Party, let me make this commitment to the people of Scotland : I am here to serve you all. I am here to work hard to win your trust and your confidence. I am here to give everything I have, to secure the best future for our country.  

That process starts with listening. 

And this is what most people in Scotland are telling us: 

They want rid of this disastrous, chaotic Tory government. 

They want a party that is laser-focussed on their concerns – a party that is going to help them and their families live happier, healthier lives. 

In other words, they want a party that puts their interests first. They want a party that puts Scotland’s interests first.  

And for the SNP – as the party of independence – there is a clear task they’ve set for us:  to demonstrate why achieving independence is relevant, indeed vital, to their core concerns.    

So let me take each of those in turn: removing the Tory government, putting Scotland’s interests first and winning the decision-making powers that come with independence. 

Firstly, getting rid of the Tories. 

Never has a party demonstrated why they should be removed from office more than Rishi Sunak’s Tory Party. 

The latest wheeze in their desperate struggle for survival is to bring back National Service. 

The national service the SNP is going to perform for Scotland is to remove this Tory government from office.  

In Scotland the SNP is the challenger in every single Tory held seat. 

So the electoral maths is clear: if you want Rishi Sunak out of Downing Street, vote SNP. 

To put it bluntly across the UK the Tories are toast. 

They are on course for a huge defeat, a wipeout. 

Voters in England are going to send them packing. 

That is not in doubt. 

And that begs the question, what kind of change, if any, is that going to mean at Westminster? 

I’m not saying Labour are exactly the same as the Tories.  

They’re not. 

But they are giving an awfully good impression of acting like impersonation of them. 

The only substantive change Labour seem to be offering is to change their own core principles. 

Let me give you one really telling – and worrying – example. 

Their health spokesman – Wes Streeting –  the man who in a few weeks’ time will be the UK Government’s Health Secretary – last week set out his plans for the NHS. 

He criticised the Tories on the issue of the NHS and the private sector. 

Fair enough, you might say? 

Bad news. To be clear Labour’s health spokesman He was not criticising the Tories for using the private sector too much. 

He was criticising the Tories for not using the private sector enough.

He went on to say he wanted to go further than Tony Blair’s New Labour. 

And he wrote: “I want the NHS to form partnerships with the private sector that goes beyond just hospitals.” 

That sounds an awful lot like creeping privatisation of the NHS to me. 

The SNP rejects privatisation of the NHS whether that is Tory privatisation or Labour privatisation. 

And this is why it matters to Scotland:  

In another interview the very same spokesman also said this: “all roads do lead back to Westminster because even though this is devolved, decisions taken in Westminster have an impact on the NHS across the whole country.”  

If there is creeping privatisation of the NHS, or if Labour do not increase investment in the NHS in England, our precious National Health Service faces a very bleak future. That’s why I’m asking people in Scotland to unite on July the fourth and vote SNP to protect Scotland’s National Health Service. 

Labour’s tack to the right is designed to win votes in England. 

They don’t seem to care too much about Scotland though. 

They think Scotland’s in the bag.  

 What other explanation could there be to allow them to select a candidate who said this about people smugglers: 

 “Why don’t you send the smuggler gangs and put them on the barge that has been set aside for asylum seekers and ship the barge up to the north of Scotland – who cares?” 

 I’ll tell you who cares. 

 The SNP cares. 

 We will stand up for Scotland and we will not let you use our country as a dumping ground from criminal gangs. 

 This candidate is not a maverick. 

 He’s at the very heart of the Keir Starmer project as the director of the Labour think-tank built by senior members of Keir Starmer’s shadow cabinet. 

 So with Labour certain to enter office with MPs who “don’t care” about Scotland, people in Scotland know that SNP MPs will always put the interests of the people of Scotland first. 

 So let me now set out in more detail what does putting Scotland’s interests first means.

In the few weeks I have been First Minister, I have made it pretty plain been crystal clear that focussing we must be focused on people’s top concerns must be our focus too. 

I am proud of what we’ve done in government. 

We’re helping with the cost of living through free prescriptions, the abolition of university tuition fees and free bus travel for under-22s. 

In our NHS, Scotland has had the best performing core A and E units in the UK for nine years. 

On the economy, under the SNP, Scotland has had faster economic growth, per head, than the UK. 

On housing under the SNP Scotland has seen 40% more affordable homes per head than in England, and over 70% more than in Wales. 

We’ve introduced the Scottish Child Payment. 

In our schools there are record levels of literacy and numeracy in primaries. 

We’ve massively increased renewable energy and we’re already almost half way to net zero. 

So yes we have been working hard, but we must do more to re-earn trust. 

That means more action. 

That is the task I have set the Scottish Government. 

To help more with the cost of living, we’re extending all-day off peak rail fares. 

In the health service, we’re investing £300 million over the next three years to drive down waiting times. 

Through our social security powers, we’re keeping an estimated 100,000 children out of poverty. 

And as junior doctors in England call another strike, Scotland is the only part of the UK to avoid NHS strike action by investing in pay deals for staff. 

Because of our approach in government patients here are not suffering the disruption we see south of the border.  

So at this election I’m asking you to vote for the SNP because we are focussed on your top priorities, like the cost of living and the NHS. I ask you to vote SNP because we will always put Scotland’s interests first. 

And that brings me to independence. 

People want us to demonstrate the relevance of independence to their lives. 

If we don’t then we are not likely to get much of a hearing in the midst of a cost of living crisis and to be frank, nor would we deserve to.    

So when we talk about independence we need to demonstrate again…..and again….. and again, that we are talking about people’s core concerns like raising living standards and protecting the NHS. 

That laser-like focus on the daily concerns of people is our guiding star.  

There are some people telling me to forget about independence at this election. 

But you know what? 

After looking at Keir Starmer’s serial U-turns in the pursuit of power I think people are crying out for political leadership that sticks to its principles. 

For leaders who argue for what they believe in. 

And I passionately believe independence is the best opportunity we have to build a more prosperous and fairer country. 

My belief is of course not nearly enough. 

People are rightly looking for evidence. 

For evidence that independence will boost living standards, protect the NHS, help us to build more houses and tackle the climate emergency. 

So here is the evidence: Westminster decision-making has meant austerity, Brexit and a cost of living crisis being imposed on Scotland. 

A combination of Westminster cuts and Brexit has reduced the money available for the NHS, other public services and housing. 

Austerity from the Conservative Government has been a curse that is inflicting significant damage on the NHS, housing and other public services. 

Brexit alone has wiped billions from the Scottish economy compared with EU membership. 

And it’s pushed up food and other household costs. 

Labour knows all of this. 

Keir Starmer is an intelligent man. He knows this is the effect of austerity and Brexit. 

But he’s still willing to impose all that damage on Scotland – whatever the cost – so he can win power. 

I’m sorry – but that’s quite simply unforgiveable. 

It doesn’t have to be that way. 

I’ve set out the benefits of taking decisions in Scotland for Scotland with the current powers of the Scottish Parliament. 

If we look at independent European countries similar to Scotland – like Denmark, Norway and Ireland with full powers – we can see what is possible. 

Those countries are wealthier than the UK. 

They are fairer – with greater equality. 

They have higher productivity. 

And lower poverty. 

With all Scotland’s resources, all our incredible renewables potential, all our brilliant universities, our industries and above all our people with all their talents, then why not Scotland?  

I can no more turn my back on that evidence than I can on my core political beliefs. 

No-one is suggesting we can match that performance overnight. 

But given the UK is moving so badly in the wrong direction I would be failing in my duty, to guide and nurture our country, if I did not set out what I believe is a better future for Scotland. 

So at this election, let’s protect Scotland. Let’s  and ensure the decade of destructive decisions at Westminster is never again visited upon the Scottish people. 

I ask people to vote SNP so that decisions can be made in Scotland, for Scotland.  

Let me finish by setting out what my leadership is about. 

I believe in bringing people together. Three weeks in, and I have done that already it in this Party already. 

I believe in a politics of persuasion but, if that is not possible, a politics of respectful disagreement. 

I believe in our wonderful, diverse, inspiring country. 

That everyone should have a chance to get on in life. 

That we will achieve more for the common good if we draw together the talent that lives in all of our communities. 

At this election it is those principles that will guide my approach. 

So I am asking people to vote SNP to remove the Tories from government. 

I’m asking people to vote SNP to put Scotland’s interests first. 

I’m asking you to work with me – in a strong, unified team – to encourage people to vote for a future made in Scotland, for Scotland.