I want to talk to you today about two futures.
About a choice of two futures.
For our country and for the world.
There are times in history when fundamental decisions have to be made.
Decisions guided by our values.
And by our hopes for future generations.
Choices that involve standing up for what is right.
This is such a moment.
Politics today is dominated – in too many countries – by strongman leaders with inflated egos and an overbearing sense of entitlement.
The UK has a Prime Minister who has acted unlawfully.
He cares nothing for the human consequences of his disastrous Brexit policy.
Indeed, virtually every day since he entered Downing Street, Boris Johnson has demonstrated – on every level – that he is thoroughly unfit for the office he holds.
Across the Atlantic, the current incumbent of the White House, in just his latest outrage, has allowed a war in the Middle East to re-erupt.
Let us today make clear our strong opposition to Turkish aggression in Northern Syria. Kurds in Syria have been on the front line against ISIS.
Now they and their children are being bombed.
What is happening is unconscionable. It must stop now.
What leaders like Boris Johnson and Donald Trump have in common is this.
A belief that nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of their own self-interest.
Not facts or evidence. Not the rule of law. Not democracy.
In some cases, not even basic human rights.
We oppose the politics of Johnson and Trump.
But let us be clear today that we reject their methods too.
Crude populism tramples on the rights of minorities and tears at the very fabric of our democracy.
That is not for us.
That is not who we are.
These can seem like dark times.
But there is light and there is always hope.
Progressive values are being fought for in Europe.
Young people are taking a stand for their future.
And for Scotland, the hope lies in becoming an independent nation.
Be in no doubt about this.
We are winning the case for independence.
The great Billy Connolly said last week that if Scotland would like independence, he would like it too.
He said: “Scotland’s in great shape. Politically it’s in extraordinary shape.”
Conference – humbly – I agree!
And as for Scotland putting up with governments we don’t vote for, he said: “They won’t take it anymore”.
Though in true Big Yin style he used a less polite word than “it”.
But you get the drift.
And he is right.
We won’t take it anymore. We shouldn’t take it anymore.
It is time to take charge of our own future.
It is time for independence.
We will win our independence.
But not the Brexit way.
Not by undermining democracy, demonising those who disagree, and plastering lies on the side of a bus.
We will win by inspiring and persuading.
So let us resolve today that how we campaign for independence will always reflect the open, tolerant, inclusive and democratic nation we are determined to build.
A UK that seemed possible to many just five years ago no longer exists.
And a UK that was said to be impossible is now all too real.
I vividly remember, in 2014, the director of the No campaign being asked about the prospect of Boris Johnson becoming Tory leader.
He said it was, and I quote, “a scare story”.
Coming from the architect of Project Fear, that was quite the accolade.
A bit like being told to stop swearing by Malcolm Tucker.
But his reasoning was this.
Boris Johnson would only become Tory leader if the Tories lost the next election and got rid of David Cameron.
He said the Yes campaign had to decide whether it was ‘scaremongering’ about endless Tory government OR about Boris Johnson. It couldn’t be both.
Well, guess what?
We did get both.
The Tories are still in power.
Boris Johnson is Prime Minister.
And those who led that No campaign will never be trusted by the people of Scotland ever again.
They told us to Vote No to stay in the EU.
They told us that we would lead the UK.
They said we would enjoy a Union dividend.
But instead we’ve suffered years of Tory austerity.
We face job losses and a Brexit recession.
We’re even having to plan for shortages of food and medicine.
Friends, I don’t know about you, but I think there is something else we are short of.
Scotland is short of an apology from the Tories, Labour and Liberals for all those broken promises.
It is because of those broken promises that Scotland faces removal from the European Union today.
Brexit is a disaster.
Whatever happens over the next few weeks it will continue to dominate Westminster for years to come.
There is no sense in which it will be “done”.
We don’t yet know whether the UK will leave with a deal or without.
But we do know that neither of these outcomes is in Scotland’s interests.
A no deal Brexit is unthinkable.
And for the Scottish Tories in particular to back such an outcome is simply unforgivable.
But a deal of the type Boris Johnson is proposing would not be much better.
His plans would take Scotland out of the EU, out of the single market and out of the customs union.
Let me make this absolutely clear today – SNP MPs will not vote for that – not now, not ever.
It would leave us facing a future relationship with the EU that is even more distant than that envisaged by Theresa May.
Gone from Boris Johnson’s plan is any guarantee of protection for environmental rights, food safety, consumer rights, workers’ rights.
All of that has been sacrificed on the altar of a trade deal with Donald Trump.
And on that issue, I have a message for this and any future UK Government.
If you ever try to barter with the quality of Scotland’s food, or the beauty of our environment – and if you ever dare put Scotland’s precious NHS up for sale – the SNP will fight you every single step of the way.
What makes Brexit so much worse for Scotland is that it is happening against our will.
One of the sticking points in the negotiations with the EU has been the issue of consent for Northern Ireland.
If there is to be a deal, it seems inevitable that it will include a process to allow Northern Ireland to decide if and for how long it will stay aligned to the single market and customs union.
And that’s exactly as it should be.
But think about what that will mean.
Wales will have voted to leave.
England will have voted to leave.
Northern Ireland will be given a say over its future.
Scotland will be the only country in the UK to be taken out of the EU against our will and with no say over our future relationship with Europe.
That is not a partnership of equals.
That is a denial of fairness and basic democracy.
Brexit is a disaster.
But it is a symptom of a deeper problem.
That problem is the Westminster political union.
For Scotland, Brexit shows that the Westminster system is broken.
And it is broken utterly beyond repair.
We have a cast iron mandate for an independence referendum.
That fact is beyond doubt.
But we don’t just have a right to offer the people of Scotland a choice over their future.
In the circumstances now Scotland faces, we have a duty to do so.
And it is what we intend to do.
But let me be clear about this.
The process by which we choose Scotland’s future must be capable of actually achieving independence.
It must allow majority support to be expressed clearly and unambiguously.
It must be legal.
And it must have the recognition of the international community.
Because our job is not just to deliver a referendum.
Our job is to deliver independence.
My call is that the referendum must happen next year.
And we are getting ready.
By the new year, we will have completed our legislative preparations.
We are already working to update the independence prospectus.
And I can confirm today that before the end of this year, I will demand the transfer of power that puts the legality of a referendum beyond any doubt.
And when I do, the question should not be to the SNP – what will we do if Westminster refuses?
The question should be demanded of the Westminster parties – what gives you any right to deny people in Scotland our ability to choose our own future?
The Westminster refusal is not sustainable.
We can already see the cracks appearing.
The Labour leaderships in London and Wales have recognised our right to choose.
They make Scottish Labour look even more ridiculous than normal.
The other parties are so lacking in confidence that a referendum can be blocked that they’re now trying to rig the question.
Just like us, they know there is going to be a referendum.
And they know that when there is, Scotland will choose independence.
Support is rising.
Our task is to build it even further and make the demand irresistible.
And soon we will have the chance to show the strength of public opinion.
A general election is imminent.
And it cannot come soon enough.
When it does our message will be clear, simple and unambiguous.
Vote SNP to demand independence and secure Scotland’s right to choose.
Some polls suggest that an election might result in a hung parliament.
The SNP will never put the Tories into power.
But I have a message for any Westminster party that wants SNP support.
If you don’t respect Scotland’s right to choose our own future at a time of our own choosing, don’t even bother picking up the phone.
Year after year, decade after decade, decisions about our future have been made by Westminster governments that Scotland has rejected.
Those decisions have taken their toll on Scotland.
And they have shattered the case for the union.
For some people that case will have rested on the great nationalised industries of the post-war era.
But those industries were abandoned by a Tory government Scotland did not vote for.
For others it will be the welfare state.
A welfare state that is being dismantled by another government we
didn’t vote for.
And for many it will have been the vision of an open, tolerant outward-looking society and a shared future in Europe.
But even that is being taken away from us by a government Scotland did not vote for.
I say enough.
Enough of governments Scotland did not vote for imposing policies we do not support.
You know, when I talk to people who are now open to independence even though they voted No in 2014, what strikes me is this.
Their priorities haven’t shifted.
They still want an economy that works for ordinary people.
They want a social security system there when they need it.
And they want an equal partnership and the chance to play our full
part in Europe.
Those sentiments haven’t changed.
But the way to achieve them has.
The commitments made to the postwar generations have been Broken.
But the just and fair society that was promised can still be realised.
It will be realised now when together we win our country’s independence.
It is inexplicable to me that anyone who cares about social justice would want to leave powers at Westminster, when that so often means leaving them in the hands of right wing Tory governments.
And I think it would be inexplicable today to the pioneers of the Scottish Labour party.
James Maxton, one of the great figures of the Labour movement spoke about the campaign for Home Rule back in the 1920s.
His words are worth quoting in full – so indulge me:
“Give us our parliament in Scotland”, he said.
“Set it up next year. We will start with no traditions. We will start with ideals … men and women will spend their whole energy, their whole brain power, their whole courage, and their whole soul, in making Scotland into a country in which we can take people from all nations of the earth and say: ‘This is our land, this is our Scotland, these are our people, these are our men, our works, our women and children: can you beat it?”
If that’s not a modern day definition of independence, I don’t know what is.
It’s time to complete that home rule journey.
It is time for independence to build a better society.
In these turbulent times, our job is to bring hope.
To be the confidence builders.
And the best place to start is always with the facts.
Scotland’s national income is higher per head than countries like France, Japan and New Zealand.
So do not ever let anyone tell you that Scotland is not rich enough to be independent, because we most certainly are.
We have extraordinary strengths in energy, science and research, food and drink, tourism, financial services, creative industries, manufacturing, digital technology.
So don’t let them tell you that Scotland’s economy is not strong enough to be independent either.
Or that we’re not big enough.
Seven out of the ten wealthiest developed countries are of a size similar to or smaller than Scotland.
From Luxembourg to Ireland from Austria to Switzerland and Norway, countries of our size lead the world.
And they tend to be happier as well.
Eight out of ten of the world’s happiest countries have populations similar to or smaller than ours.
Now, I’m not aware of the Unionist parties trying to tell us that we’re too miserable to be independent – yet.
But when that day inevitably comes, you now know the answer!
The serious point is this.
We are a wealthy country, bursting with talent and potential.
This is our Scotland: rich enough, strong enough, big enough to take our place among the proud, independent nations of the world.
And that is what we must now do.
Brexit in any form puts our prosperity at risk.
So we must reject a post-Brexit race to the bottom.
And embrace instead a race to join that top tier of independent nations.
And consider this.
As an independent European country, Scotland will have a unique advantage.
We will be in the EU single market AND the closest neighbour to our friends in the rest of the UK.
A bridge between Europe and the UK, making our country a magnet for global investment.
That’s what I call the best of both worlds.
The foundations for independence are strong.
The value of independence lies in the opportunity to build a fairer country.
The twin hallmarks of this Tory Government have been welfare cuts for the poor and tax cuts for the rich.
Pensioners are being short-changed too.
The UK state pension is the lowest in the developed world.
To add insult to injury, Westminster has robbed women born in the
1950s of their pension entitlement.
That is shameful.
The SNP stands with the WASPI women.
The UK Government must give them back the money that is theirs by right.
But on pensions there could be even worse in store.
A think tank set up by Iain Duncan Smith, that architect of Universal Credit, has suggested that the pension age should rise to 75.
I say to the Tories today: if you ever try to bring this in, the SNP will oppose it all the way.
But with independence we can make our own choices.
We can take responsibility and set our own priorities.
And we can also decide what we don’t want to spend money on.
Nuclear weapons are immoral. But they are also a massive waste of money.
With independence, we can – and we will – get rid of Trident nuclear missiles from the Clyde once and for all.
And here’s another idea for saving some cash.
The House of Lords.
The second biggest legislative chamber in the world after the National People’s Congress of China.
You know, in one term there were sixty-three peers who failed to speak at all – but they still claimed more than a million pounds between them just for being there.
The House of Lords is undemocratic and outdated.
And with independence we won’t have to contribute a single penny towards it.
We can have a modern Parliament, with a written constitution instead.
Our task is to build confidence in the strength of our economy and in our vision of a fairer, more democratic country.
And through our actions in government, we will continue to build confidence in the value of decision-making here in Scotland.
It was the Czech writer turned politician, Vaclav Havel who said:
“Vision is not enough, it must be combined with venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps, we must step up the stairs.”
So let me tell you how we are stepping up for a better Scotland.
The most important obligation – moral obligation – we owe to future generations is to bequeath to them a planet in good health.
The young climate activist Greta Thunberg has faced a predictable barrage of criticism from certain quarters.
Those who hurl insults at her should take a long hard look at themselves.
Yes, her message can be uncomfortable for political leaders.
That’s the point.
And she is right to challenge us to do more and so are the millions of young people around the world who are campaigning alongside her.
They are doing the world a service and we thank them for it.
The urgency and global scale of the climate emergency means we must work across borders.
Now is the moment for the world to show what it is capable of.
Let us resolve today that Scotland will lead the way.
We are already a world-leader in renewable energy and new sources of power.
This wonderful new conference venue is an example of that.
Hydrogen fuel cells are powering the hall in which we are gathered right now.
We’ve already halved our greenhouse gas emissions.
And I am very proud that just last month we passed legislation to ensure that Scotland will be a net zero emissions nation by 2045 – years ahead of the rest of the UK.
That is leadership.
From electric cars to electric trains and even electric planes, we are leading the way.
Of course, the climate emergency demands that there are some new technologies we must say no to.
Earlier this month we set out our final policy on unconventional oil and gas.
We listened to the evidence.
We considered the impact on climate change.
And we came to this conclusion.
Our SNP Government will not issue any new licences for fracking.
There will be no fracking in Scotland.
You’ve probably heard the phrase “think global, act local”.
It is an idea attributed to a Scot – the planner and conservationist, Patrick Geddes, from his writing 100 years ago.
And it sums up the challenge we face today.
Scotland is leading globally.
But we must support local action too.
We are investing £500 million in new bus infrastructure, to make journeys faster, greener and more convenient.
We want people to walk and cycle more too – reducing our carbon footprint and improving our health.
So I can announce today new investment for local projects the length and breadth of our nation.
From Ayr to Aberdeen, a fund of £27 million will support more than 200 schemes to make it easier for people to cycle and to walk.
That is acting locally as we lead globally in making our contribution to tackling the climate emergency.
We’re taking steps to tackle inequality too.
The social security system should be there to narrow the gap between rich and poor.
But Tory welfare policy is widening that gap.
8,500 Scottish families have already had their income cut by the Universal Credit two-child limit.
By the time it is fully rolled out, up to 20,000 children will have been pushed into poverty.
Contrast that with the work of our Scottish Government.
We are introducing the new Scottish Child Payment.
It has been described by the Child Poverty Action Group as a game changer.
The first payments of £10 per week will be made by Christmas next year.
When it is fully implemented, more than 400,000 children will benefit.
And let me be crystal clear –
The Scottish Child Payment will have no two-child cap and no abhorrent rape clause.
There’s the difference between the Tories and the SNP in a nutshell.
They push children into poverty.
The SNP lifts them up.
We know that injustice extends beyond financial inequality.
We have a responsibility to help all those who are vulnerable.
We’ve already taken important steps to protect women and girls from domestic abuse.
Scotland has led the way with ground-breaking legislation that criminalises psychological as well as physical abuse.
But organisations like Scottish Women’s Aid have told us to go further.
We need to change the reality that for women and their children, often the only way to escape an abuser is to flee their home.
For too many, that results in the victims of abuse becoming homeless.
So I can announce today that within this parliamentary term, we will introduce a new law to establish emergency protective orders.
It should not be the victims of abuse who lose their homes, it should be the perpetrators.
And these orders will help to ensure that is the case.
Up and down the country, every day, our fellow citizens are cared for by our National Health Service.
In hospitals, health centres, and in people’s own homes, our fantastic NHS and social care staff are hard at work.
Let us thank them today for all that they do.
In keeping with the founding principle of our health service, the care they provide is free at the point of need.
Free personal care was one of the proudest achievements of the early days of devolution.
I am proud that in April this year, our SNP Government extended it to everyone who needs it, regardless of age.
The principle behind free personal care is the same as free health care – if you need help you should get it.
But despite that principle many people – of all ages – still have to pay for non-residential social care services.
I know from my own constituency experience that charges can be a barrier to people accessing the support they need.
And if they can’t get that support in their own homes, they are more likely to end up in hospital.
So today, I make this pledge.
If I am re-elected as First Minister at the Holyrood elections, then over the next parliament, the SNP will scrap non-residential social care charges for all.
When I became First Minister, I set my government a clear priority – education.
And there is no policy more transformational and with more potential to raise attainment in the years to come than the expansion of Early Learning and Childcare.
By August next year we will have all but doubled the hours children receive.
They will benefit from 30 hours a week of high quality, free care and education.
And it will save families £4,500 a year for each child.
That is worth more than any tax cut any Tory government is ever going to deliver to hard pressed families in Scotland.
But we will not stop there.
We are consulting already on the next phase of our expansion.
We will have more to say on this in the months to come.
But I am making one important commitment today.
If the SNP is returned to government after the next Holyrood election, we will expand childcare into the school holidays for primary pupils from the poorest backgrounds.
Full days of high quality childcare, freeing parents to work, to help them lift their families out of poverty.
We are building confidence in the power of decision-making to change lives here in Scotland.
In government, we put our ideals and our values into practice.
And we do so for everyone who lives in Scotland, no matter where they come from.
We believe in equal rights.
That’s why we have introduced a new law to extend the right to vote in Scottish elections to citizens of all nationalities legally resident here.
To everyone who chooses to make our country their home, my message is this.
You are welcome here. We value you. With all out hearts we want you to stay.
And you have as much right to vote in our country’s elections as anyone else.
That is a demonstration of the kind of country we are seeking to build.
An independent Scotland will be a voice that celebrates and champions diversity.
There will be no hostile environment for migrants in an independent Scotland.
And the SNP will always speak up, without fear or favour, for democracy and human rights.
As First Minister, I understand only too well the importance of the rule of law.
And of standing up for it in these troubled times.
But any law that sends politicians to prison for organising a vote is a law that surely needs to change.
The politicians and activists from Catalonia given prison sentences yesterday by a Spanish court are peaceful campaigners for the right to self determination.
Just like we are. I can’t imagine what they and their families are going through.
But I do ask you to join me today in sending them our support and our solidarity.
It is time for Scotland to choose our own future.
It is time to reclaim our independence.
I don’t know about you but I’m utterly sick of Westminster. I’m sick of Brexit.
And I’ve had more than enough of people like Jacob Rees-Mogg lording it over us while lounging across the benches of the House of Commons as if he owns the place.
Actually, come to think of it, he probably does own the place.
The people of Scotland are seeing all of this for what it is.
A broken political system.
A so-called union that imposes on Scotland, time and again, governments we don’t vote for.
That system is unsustainable and its time is coming to an end.
And what will we build in its place?
Take a moment to remember those heady, invigorating, life-affirming days in the late summer of 2014.
Days when anything seemed possible.
When the dream of working as if we lived in the early days of a better nation was more than the words of a poet.
And now capture that spirit as we look forward to the future.
Scotland’s contribution to human progress down the ages is immeasurable.
But perhaps our greatest contribution will be this – a new country founded on hope and a vision of shared humanity and compassion.
A light in a world that seems dark.
The Irish historian Owen Dudley Edwards once wrote this: “I discovered I had become Scottish long before I arrived here. To be Scottish was to enter the world of Scottish imagination. To be Scots is to be told that you are welcome and make yourself at home.”
And what is that idea of being home?
It’s feeling safe and secure and loved.
A place where everyone’s ideas and talents can thrive.
A place of comfort.
A home for laughter and joy.
For everyone who comes here, no matter where you are from.
That is the Scotland we are seeking to build.
These are turbulent times – none of us have known anything like it.
But we have guiding lights to chart our way.
Our commitment to empowerment and democracy.
And our unshakable belief in the abilities and the wisdom of the Scottish people.
It is time to place Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands.
To take our own decisions and chart our own course.
It is time to play our part in building a better world.
In the immortal words of Robert Burns:
“It is comin’ yet for a’ that.”
The world is waiting for us.
Let’s win our nation’s independence.