Conference, we gather here in Edinburgh, our beautiful capital city.
Soon to be, we hope – and how good does this sound – the capital city of an independent Scotland.
And as we meet today, our party has plenty of reasons to be cheerful.
Yesterday, an opinion poll showed levels of support for the SNP that would make any party leader smile.
A 23 point lead in Westminster voting intentions, a 24 point lead for the Scottish Parliament and a 26 point lead for the Euro elections.
That is truly extraordinary.
But enough of polls. What about elections?
Two weeks ago people here in Edinburgh got to vote – the result of the council by-election in Leith was stunning.
With all due apologies to The Proclaimers – and don’t worry, I’m not about to sing – the result went something like this:
My heart was broken for the Tories. Sorrow, sorrow for Labour.
And for the SNP and independence – it was Sunshine on Leith all the way.
That win came hard on the heels of another success, with the Labour vote down and SNP support up.
So let us congratulate our two newest councillors – Jane McTaggart in Clackmannanshire and Rob Munn, our new councillor for Leith Walk.
Friends, here in Edinburgh we are surrounded by history.
History that offers inspiration for the future.
This is the birthplace of the enlightenment.
It was in this city, in our small country on the edge of Europe, that an intellectual flowering transformed the way humanity thinks about the world.
Thomas Jefferson, the author of America’s Declaration of Independence, wrote this:
“So far as science is concerned, no place in the world can pretend to competition with Edinburgh”.
The contribution Scotland has made to the modern world is unparalleled.
That should make us proud, but it should also be determined.
Proud that the Scottish independence movement is defined by progressive, inclusive internationalism.
And determined that we will never allow our nation’s place in the world to be sacrificed by the likes of Nigel Farage, Jacob Rees-Mogg or Boris Johnson.
Scotland’s enlightenment legacy is not just about our history.
The search for knowledge, invention and innovation is the foundation on which we will build our future too.
Few countries are better placed than Scotland to help lead the world into a new age.
We are one of the best educated nations anywhere.
Today, we have more top universities per head of population than any other country in the world, bar one.
Our universities are part of a golden thread.
That thread runs from the Scotland of David Hume and Adam Smith, to the country of John Logie Baird, Alexander Graham Bell and Marion Ross, and onto our modern day nation of Peter Higgs and his Nobel Prize winning discovery.
Our nation values education – that’s why I will always make this commitment to Scottish students.
As long as the SNP is in government, there will be no tuition fees.
Education will always be based on your ability to learn, not your ability to pay.
Our universities today face a grave Brexit threat.
European Research Grants at risk, collaboration damaged, European academics leaving.
The end of free movement – and Theresa May’s deplorable hostile environment – will make it harder to attract the world’s best minds to Scotland.
So I make no apology for taking the opportunity again today to send a message to all our fellow EU citizens.
Whether you are studying or working in our universities, saving lives in our health service, creating wealth in our business community, catering for our tourists or harvesting our food – wherever you are in Scotland and whatever you do – you are part of us.
And with all our hearts, we want you to stay.
We stand up for Scotland in Europe as well.
When the history of the SNP is written, there will be a special place for Winnie Ewing, and the late Allan Macartney and Neil MacCormick.
Not just giants of our movement, but formidable figures who advanced Scotland’s interests on the international stage.
In recent years, Alyn Smith and Ian Hudghton have continued that tradition.
Ian has championed Scotland’s cause in the European Parliament for more than 20 years – he has been a passionate advocate for Scotland’s interests.
As he steps down, we thank him for all he has done for our party, for independence and for Scotland.
Alyn, we hope, will be going back to Brussels.
Our job is to make sure he is taking others from our fantastic group of candidates with him.
Number 2 on our list is Christian Allard, a native Frenchman.
What a wonderful statement of Scotland’s intent to stay part of the European family of nations.
Conference, as voters go to the polls for the European elections on May 23 our message will be clear and direct.
And unlike Labour’s, it will be unambiguous.
Scotland’s not for Brexit, Scotland’s for Europe.
If you want to keep Scotland in Europe, vote SNP.
Conference, Brexit is an unforgivable act of Tory sabotage on our country.
Having failed to force her disastrous plan through Parliament, the Prime Minister is now looking for help from Labour
Let me be blunt – I don’t trust Theresa May.
But on Brexit, I don’t trust Jeremy Corbyn either.
So today, I make this clear.
The SNP will not vote for a Tory Brexit and we will not vote for a Labour Brexit. Our policy is no Brexit.
That is what the people of Scotland voted for, and that is what should happen.
At Westminster, Ian Blackford has led our MPs in fighting Scotland’s corner.
And they have been simply magnificent.
It’s not just on Brexit that they do sterling work.
Our MPs represent the interests of their constituents day in and day out.
Recently they forced a vote on Trident renewal.
Lifelong CND member, Jeremy Corbyn, and most of his MPs refused to oppose Trident. What an utter disgrace.
Labour’s defence spokesman derided the very idea that Scotland should have any say.
He said that it was “blindingly obvious” that the decision should be taken at Westminster.
Well, let me tell you what I think is blindingly obvious – a Labour Party that supports Trident missiles on the Clyde has lost its moral compass.
A country with one in four children growing up in poverty should not be spending £200 billion on nuclear weapons.
Conference, the UK Government is paralysed by Brexit and broken by infighting. It is no longer a functioning administration.
There are no policies to tackle the big issues the UK faces – inequality, access to housing, climate change.
An end to austerity turned out to be just another promise Theresa May didn’t keep.
Where there should be action to address the underlying reasons for Brexit, there is a just a vacuum – a vacuum filled by incompetence.
Incompetence that can be summed up in two words: Chris Grayling, or Failing Grayling as he’s better known.
A buccaneering hard Brexiteer, he signed a ferry contract with a company that had no ferries.
Though that’s probably just as well – because they didn’t have access to a port to dock them in either.
In the not-too-distant past, any Minister would have been sacked for such shocking ineptitude.
But with these Tories, there’s more chance he’ll be running for Prime Minister by next week.
There is now no level of incompetence that is a disqualification for a place in this Tory government.
They lack vision, policies and ability. They can’t even be trusted not to leak sensitive information from the National Security Council.
This Tory government is a disgrace. It needs to go, and it needs to go now.
Conference, every government faces challenges.
But unlike the UK government, our Scottish Government is getting on with the job.
A recent editorial in an Irish newspaper put it rather well.
Scotland, it said, ‘is a beacon of sense in a sea of madness’. How true that is.
Let me share with you just a taste of what our Scottish Government has been doing in the last few weeks.
While Westminster has been turning the UK into an international laughing stock, we have extended free personal care to everyone who needs it, regardless of age.
We’ve introduced the world leading Domestic Abuse Act.
Invested millions of pounds in low carbon projects.
And millions more to tackle fuel poverty.
We’ve announced new funding to make sure children don’t go hungry during school holidays.
And we have achieved the lowest Scottish unemployment rate on record.
Conference, we’ve done something else too.
To show the strength of our commitment to those who choose to make our country their home, we have extended free university tuition for EU citizens studying here in Scotland.
On the NHS, investment and staffing are at record high levels with the SNP.
When the UK Government short-changed our health service, we used our tax powers to protect it.
When it comes to a choice between a tax cut for high earners or investing in our precious NHS – we will always put patients first.
The Scottish Tory tax plans would mean a cut of £650 million to public services – that’s the equivalent of 16,000 nurses.
And it shows that this cast-iron rule of politics is as strong as ever – you cannot trust the Tories with Scotland’s NHS – not now, not ever.
Conference, as Westminster sinks deeper into the Brexit mire, let me also give you an insight into what your Scottish government will be doing in the days and weeks to come.
Action we will be taking on those very issues the UK government is ignoring – housing, inequality, climate change.
Technology is one of the key drivers of Scotland’s economy, and this city is now the best location anywhere in the UK to start up a tech company.
We must embrace the potential of technology, but we shouldn’t shy away from the challenges.
Let me give an example – for many people, accommodation provider Airbnb has enabled cheaper, more flexible travel.
It’s one of the reasons Scotland’s tourism industry is booming.
But for others – particularly in tourist hot spots, like the centre of this city – it is making it harder to find homes to live in.
So today, we are setting out new plans to help cities like Edinburgh and islands like Arran get the balance right.
We are asking for views on a new system of regulation to make short term lets subject to the same controls as other accommodation.
And give councils the power to control the number of lets and ensure they make a contribution to the services they use.
Conference, the SNP will always back Scotland’s tourism industry.
But we will also help people find places to live in the communities they want to call home.
We will also take fresh steps to help people own their own home.
We already provide Help To Buy for new-build houses and support shared equity for lower income home owners.
But there is a wider issue. An issue of generational fairness.
Some first time buyers trying to get onto the property ladder can call on the financial help of relatives or friends – the famous bank of mum and dad.
But for those who can’t, the average age of a first-time buyer is now 35.
The simple truth is that for many young people, even those on decent incomes, saving for a deposit takes so long it has become a distant dream.
Many are paying more in rent than they would pay for a mortgage, so they don’t have the money left at the end of the month to save for a deposit.
In a fair and equitable country that cannot stand.
And so we will act – we will help young people with the deposits they need.
I am announcing today a new £150 million scheme.
If buyers can find just 5% of the value of their new house from their own funds, we will do the rest.
Starting later this year and running until the end of this parliament, we will offer first-time buyers loans of up to £25,000 to fund or top up their deposit.
Conference, that is your SNP government – building a fairer Scotland for the next generation.
Scotland’s new social security system is now a year old.
In that time, nearly £200 million has been paid to carers and families across the country.
One of the new benefits we introduced is the Best Start Grant.
Since December, low income families have been eligible for a payment of £600 on the birth of a first child, and £300 on the birth of any siblings.
And do you know this – in just the first two months of the Best Start Grant, the Scottish Government got more money into people’s pockets than the DWP had managed under the old system in an entire year.
Now, we will go further. I can announce today that low income families will get a further £250 when their child starts nursery. Applications open tomorrow.
And from June they will get the same again when their child starts school.
And let me be crystal clear: there is no two child cap or rape clause in the Scottish welfare system – and with the SNP, there never will be.
Conference, our obligations to the next generation are the most important we carry.
A few weeks ago, I met some of the young climate change campaigners who’ve gone on strike from school to raise awareness of their cause.
They want governments around the world to declare a climate emergency.
They say that’s what the science tells us.
And they are right.
So today, as First Minister of Scotland, I am declaring that there is a climate emergency.
And Scotland will live up to our responsibility to tackle it.
We are already a world leader and our new legislation commits us to being carbon neutral by 2050. It contains some of the toughest targets in the world.
But many are urging us to do more and go further.
I am listening.
So I am making this public promise to the young people I met, and to their entire generation.
If that advice says we can go further or go faster, we will do so.
Scotland will lead by example.
Friends, that commitment to future generations has been the hallmark of your SNP government.
It’s why I made education our number one priority.
It’s why we’re taking action to reduce the attainment gap in schools – action that is now delivering results.
It’s why we are doubling childcare.
And, friends, it is why 80,000 children have now benefited from Scotland’s wonderful baby box.
The rights of children and young people must be embedded in everything we do.
This year is the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
The UN is campaigning for all nations to commit to it.
Conference, I want Scotland, one day very soon, to take our place as an independent member of the United Nations.
And when we take that place, we must make sure we are meeting the UN’s gold standard on children’s rights.
So I can confirm today that next month, we will launch our consultation on exactly how to achieve it.
Our plan is this: by the end of this Parliament we will have incorporated the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law.
Children’s rights will be enshrined in statute in time for Scotland to re-join the family of independent nations.
Friends, it is time.
It is time for Scotland to become independent.
The last three years have shown, beyond any doubt, that for Scotland the Westminster system is broken.
And do you know what else has been broken?
The promises Westminster made to the people of Scotland.
They have been broken too.
They promised us in 2014 that if we voted No we would stay in Europe.
They promised 13 new frigates would be built on the Clyde.
They promised to protect the vulnerable.
They promised “strength and stability”.
They promised us an equal partnership.
Each and every single one of these promises has been broken.
And the people of Scotland will never, ever trust their promises again.
Remember what the No campaign called themselves back then? Project Fear.
Well today, I can reveal their new slogan.
A Tory minister – anonymous of course – told the BBC why they believed the UK Government should not agree to an independence referendum.
“Once you’ve hit the iceberg” they declared, “you’re all on it together”.
So there you have it – we’ve gone from Project Fear to Project Iceberg.
Never has there been a more dismal offer from Westminster to the people of Scotland.
Friends, I have a different suggestion.
We should do everything we can to stop the UK hitting that iceberg.
I do not want to see that fate for any part of these islands.
But if the UK can’t be persuaded to change course, Scotland must – we must have the choice of a better future.
Scotland must have the choice of an independent future.
Next month, we will introduce legislation for a referendum.
And we plan to pass it by the end of this year.
The UK government says it will block Scotland’s right to choose.
A right to choose mandated in not just one but two elections and endorsed by the Scottish Parliament.
The Tories – they want to veto Scottish democracy.
Their only friends in Westminster are the Democratic Unionist Party.
Well, if they’re not careful, this generation of Tories will go down in history as the Undemocratic Unionist Party.
On Thursday, they tried to justify their position by saying there was no upsurge in support for independence.
Two days later the latest opinion polls have proved them wrong.
Support for independence is already up – our job now is to get support for independence surging.
And make sure that no Westminster government can ever stand in the way of Scotland’s right to choose.
Conference, I am setting out today our strategy to win our country’s independence.
We must recognise that these are different times and new circumstances – this isn’t a re-running of 2014.
The UK that existed then does not exist any more, so our approach must be different.
We should not enter this campaign thinking of people as No voters or Yes voters, Remainers or Leavers, but as fellow citizens who all want the best for ourselves, our families and for Scotland’s future.
We must acknowledge the ties of family and friendship across the UK, and step up to the challenge of answering people’s questions.
And conference, we must always make our case with the decency, respect and dignity that we want to be the hallmark of our independent country.
I am acutely aware of the responsibility of all politicians, especially leaders, to bring people together not drive them apart.
To work as hard as we can to find agreement – that’s why earlier this week I reached out to other parties at Holyrood.
They are as much a part of Scotland as we are.
And to those parties, let me say this: I know you haven’t said yes yet, but my door is open.
You may not share the SNP’s view of Scotland’s destination as an independent country.
But in Scotland’s journey of change, we can still travel a fair way together.
If you want to be part of that journey, we will welcome you with open arms.
But be in no doubt – if your only offer is a failed and broken Westminster system, Scotland’s journey will completely pass you by.
Conference, we will also reach beyond parliament and political tribes.
We are establishing a non-party Citizens’ Assembly, so that people from across Scotland can guide the conversation.
Independence, after all, is about the future of everyone who lives here.
It was once said: “Don’t think about what you want to be, but what you want to do.”
Friends, that should be our guiding principle.
Independence is about the children we can lift out of poverty.
And the fairer, more equal society we can create.
That starts with building confidence in the economic case.
Answering people’s questions, addressing their concerns, and inspiring them about the future.
The conversation we have had within our party is one we must now have with the country.
Yesterday, in endorsing our new economic plan, we took a big step – the right step.
And in the process, we demonstrated what a vibrant, engaged and democratic party we are.
Over ten years ago, we won the right to govern by demonstrating credibility with the financial powers of devolution.
And make no mistake about this: if we can now show what is possible with the economic powers of independence, we will win a referendum.
We have set out an ambitious, optimistic and realistic way forward for these new times.
And so I can announce today that we will now launch the biggest campaign on the economics of independence in our party’s history.
From this summer, we aim to get information on Scotland’s potential into the hands of every voter.
Our plan is to distribute “An independent Scotland – a household guide” to every home across the country – all 2.4m of them.
So friends, you know what that means… it is time to get your jackets on.
We will set out an alternative to the inevitable economic decline of Brexit.
We will tell people about Scotland’s strengths.
The extraordinary success of our food and drink industry.
Our renewable energy, our advanced manufacturing, technology, life sciences, creative industries, tourism.
Above all, we will show that Scotland has a talented and educated people.
As an independent nation we will face challenges, as all independent countries do. We must be responsible with our finances.
But few countries on earth can match our resources and our potential.
So never let anyone tell you that Scotland doesn’t have what it takes to be a prosperous, independent nation.
Because our country most certainly does – our new economic plan demonstrates the potential of an independent Scotland.
It stresses the importance of social justice and equality.
The point is this: a strong economy is the bedrock of a fair society.
And a fair, inclusive society leads to a strong economy – that is the case we must make.
That is why I am announcing today the next step for the SNP in setting out our vision of a fairer, independent Scotland.
Building on the foundation of Andrew Wilson’s work on the economy, I am now setting up a Social Justice and Fairness Commission.
It will set out how the proceeds of economic growth in an independent Scotland can be shared much more fairly.
It will demonstrate how we can use the powers of independence to end poverty, achieve full employment, and drive equality for all.
It will look at how we can deliver fairness for pensioners, be a nation that sets a gold standard for equal pay, and create opportunity for all of our young people.
All of that is what independence is for.
The fact is this – independence will mean little if it does not ensure a safe, warm home for everyone to live in. A fair chance for everyone to get on in life.
And bring an end to the shameful Westminster system which in 21st century Scotland leaves people without enough money to feed their families at the end of the week.
We are one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
But we will only be a truly rich society when we ensure that not a single man, woman or child has to rely on a food bank to eat.
That is the prize of independence.
Conference, our economic and social ambitions can best be realised if Scotland is a member of the European Union.
I do not, for a single second, dismiss those who voted to Leave – I understand the desire for change and the sense that political institutions can feel remote.
The EU is far from perfect, but membership is not just about economic and social benefits – substantial though those are.
It is also about the values we cherish – freedom, democracy, the rule of law, equality, respect for human dignity and human rights.
In our world today, these values are under attack from the forces of intolerance and extremism.
But they are values that we must fight for and stand up for – and our party will always do so.
Conference, for independent countries of our size, the EU does not curtail sovereignty – it enhances and amplifies it.
If ever we needed proof of the power of small nations in Europe, think about this.
At the last summit, the leaders of 27 other countries decided the UK – and Scotland’s – fate.
12 of those countries have populations similar to or smaller than Scotland’s.
Very small nations such as Luxembourg and Cyprus.
Countries that have long enjoyed independence: Denmark, Finland and Ireland.
And others who have regained their independence much more recently.
All of these nations have come together to share sovereignty for mutual benefit, and on the basis of equality and common values.
Conference, the respect, support and solidarity they receive in return stands in stark contrast to the contemptuous treatment of Scotland by Westminster.
That is why it is now time for Scotland to become a truly equal partner in the British Isles.
It is time to take our place among the family of independent European nations.
Conference, the SNP is not an ordinary political party.
We do not represent just one section of society or one group of people.
We are the national party.
Our aim is to represent everyone who lives here.
That comes with a big responsibility.
Because we are building a nation.
And what is that nation?
It is our extraordinary landscape. Our villages, towns and cities – like this one with the castle on the hill.
It is our history – of independence, of union, of social advancement, of industrial and high-tech revolutions.
It is what our former Makar, Edwin Morgan, called a “thread of pride and self-esteem” that can never be “broken or forgotten”.
It is our innovators and our wealth creators.
Our writers, our poets and our artists – it is all of our people.
Those who have been here for generations. And those who have just arrived.
Scotland is everyone who chooses to make this country their home.
So when we speak of building a nation, what we mean is that we are building a better future for all those who live here and for the generations yet to come.
A society founded on compassion, on kindness and love.
A nation that people will come from all over the world to see, to experience, and to be part of.
So let’s always take the time to dream a little.
To dream of that better country.
For those of us privileged to carry the SNP flame today, our task is to turn the dream – that message of hope – into reality.
So let’s get on with our task.
Let us win our independence.
Let us build that fairer nation.
And let Scotland – an independent Scotland – play our part in building the better world that we know is possible.