It is so good to be speaking at Conference in person again, rather than virtually.
Getting to hug friends and colleagues is so much better.
Our political family – Scotland’s biggest party by far – is together again.
And that feels great.
The only downside of not being on zoom is having to trade my slippers for these heels.
But I suppose I can’t have everything.
Of course, it is always good to be here in Aberdeen.
Especially now that the SNP is once again leading this great city.
Aberdeen and the North East is at the heart of our just transition to a net zero future.
Since our late Queen – whose extraordinary life of service we have honoured in recent weeks – switched on the Forties pipeline in 1975, oil and gas has powered the Scottish economy.
Her late Majesty, back then, inaugurated the oil and gas age.
As we move now – in so many ways – into a new era, we have a duty to repay all those who work in that industry.
A duty to support them into new jobs in green energy.
An opportunity to usher in the new age of Scottish renewables.
Aberdeen is the oil and gas capital of Europe.
Let us resolve today to make it the net zero capital of the world.
That ambition led us to establish the £500 million Just Transition Fund for this region.
Today I can announce the first 22 projects have just been awarded funding of more than £50 million.
These projects will support the production of green hydrogen;
The development of wave and tidal technology.
And even pioneer the use of waste from whisky to recycle EV batteries;
They will focus on the skills our existing workforce need to take advantage of the renewables revolution.
Incredible Scottish ingenuity here in the North-East, supported by the Scottish Government, developing technologies to tackle the global climate emergency.
It is exciting, inspiring stuff.
And it is a shining example of what a Scottish Government can do when the powers lie in our hands.
When we last gathered together – just weeks from the start of a global pandemic – we could not have imagined what lay ahead.
Thankfully, Covid no longer dominates the news, or our thoughts, quite as much as it did.
But the virus still poses a risk – especially as we approach winter.
So, before I go any further today, a plea:
If you are eligible, get your booster jag.
Vaccination is just as important now as it was last winter.
If you don’t do it for yourself – though you should – do it for those more vulnerable than you.
And, please, do it for the National Health Service.
We owe the NHS – and all who work in it – a massive debt of gratitude.
All of us hoped that when the worst of the pandemic was over, better times would lie ahead.
Thanks to the brilliance of vaccine scientists, and the sheer strength of the human spirit, I am certain those better days will come.
But in the midst of a cost of living crisis, it won’t surprise you to hear me talk today about the challenges we face:
And about the massive responsibility of me, and my government, to help you through it.
As we navigate these stormy waters, Scotland needs a steady and compassionate hand on the tiller.
That is what our Scottish Government provides.
But today I will also make the case for optimism.
For not just accepting the world as it is.
But turning our minds and our hearts instead to building a stronger Scotland and playing our part in building a better, fairer world.
The optimism that a better world is possible is inspired, for me, by the bravery of those who endure the toughest of times.
And at home by the knowledge that this beautiful, magnificent country of ours is bursting with talent, creativity and ingenuity…
We also have a sense of solidarity and common purpose that our political debate can sometimes obscure.
Scotland has got what it takes to be a successful independent country.
It has it in abundance.
Never let anyone tell us otherwise.
At this moment, across the world that better future can be hard to see – eclipsed, as it is, by significant and profound challenges.
A war of unprovoked aggression on our continent.
An energy price crisis and soaring inflation.
Democratic norms eroded and human rights attacked in too many countries.
In the face of that, we have a duty to champion progressive values and universal rights.
That is a duty our party will always discharge.
But in the UK we have a Westminster Government intent on taking us down a different path.
The current Home Secretary, speaking at the Conservative Party conference, said this about asylum seekers –
And even as I quote her, I struggle to comprehend that she actually said these words. But here they are:
“I would love to be having a front page of The Telegraph with a plane taking off to Rwanda, that’s my dream, it’s my obsession.”
My dream is very different.
I am sure it is shared in this hall and by the vast majority across Scotland.
My dream is that we live in a world where those fleeing violence and oppression are shown compassion and treated like human beings…
Not shown the door and bundled on to planes like unwanted cargo.
Our case for hope and optimism rests – above all – on our common humanity.
Compassion. Solidarity. Love.
These values sustained us in the darkest days of the pandemic.
They must drive us forward now.
Those fighting across the globe for democracy, equality and human dignity must hear that they are not alone.
So let the message go out from us to everyone across the world standing up against tyranny and oppression.
We stand with you.
To women in Iran fighting for basic human rights. We stand with you.
To girls in Afghanistan demanding the right to go to school. We stand with you.
To men and women risking their lives in opposition to Putin in Russia, or his sidekick in Belarus.
We stand with you.
And to the people of Ukraine – fighting for your very existence.
We stand with you.
Today we live on a continent where a so-called strong man – though one who has never looked weaker or more insecure – has launched a brutal invasion of his neighbour.
That should be unimaginable in 21st century Europe.
But for the people of Ukraine it is all too real.
Every day there are atrocities and killings.
Today, the capital, Kyiv, and cities across the country are under renewed bombardment.
Despicable war crimes have been committed.
Let us be clear – these are war crimes for which Vladimir Putin must be held to account.
The contrast between Putin and the people of Ukraine could not be starker.
From President Zelensky to the sacrifice of ordinary citizens – personified here on Saturday by our guest Lesia Vasylenko – we have seen incredible bravery and extraordinary determination.
Ukraine – you are an inspiration to the world.
And we will always stand with you.
We are not on the front line of this war.
But Ukraine’s victory in the battle between democracy and tyranny is vital for all of us.
The Scottish Government will continue to do everything we can to help.
We are helping enforce sanctions and isolate Russia.
We have provided funds for vital military equipment.
And we have opened Scotland’s doors to those displaced.
Initially, we committed to welcoming 3,000 people seeking refuge from the war.
I am pleased to say that we are now providing safety for more than 20,000.
To each and every one: our hearts go out to you.
We know you yearn to go home but for as long as you need a place of sanctuary, be in no doubt –
You have a home here in Scotland.
There are moments in history – as now, with Ukraine – when all of us must be prepared to make sacrifices to help defend fundamental freedoms.
But when global turbulence strikes, national governments have a duty to act in ways that mitigate, rather than exacerbate, the impacts on their own populations.
When it comes to the cost of living crisis – and so much else besides – this UK government is utterly failing in that duty.
Each and every day, its actions are making matters worse.
We last gathered together as a party in October 2019.
Back then, the Tories had just elected a new leader.
Westminster was in meltdown.
A new Prime Minister was driving through a disastrous policy agenda, despite warnings of its dire economic impact.
And here we are, all over again.
Another spin on the Tory misery-go-round.
This time the carousel is speeding up.
It took the Tories 3 years to realise Boris Johnson was a disaster.
With Liz Truss, it took them just three weeks.
She caused mayhem in the markets with her decision to borrow billions of pounds to fund tax cuts for the richest.
Borrowing to be repaid by eye watering austerity cuts and a raid on the incomes of the poorest.
It is unconscionable.
The Prime Minister’s justification is that she is going for growth.
Let me tell you what kind of growth that will be.
Growth in the gap between rich and poor.
Growth in the rates of poverty.
Growth in the pressure on our NHS and other public services.
And, without any doubt –
Growth in the deep disgust the public feel for all of it.
The truth is massive hand-outs for the wealthiest at the expense of everyone else do nothing for the economy.
All they do is turbo-charge inequality.
No SNP Government will ever inflict on Scotland such an immoral, self-defeating disaster of a policy.
Instead we will continue to use our powers and resources to help those most in need.
Not as an act of charity – but in our collective interest.
Here is what I stand for. What we stand for.
Not hoping, against all evidence to the contrary, that wealth will suddenly and magically start trickling down.
But instead lifting people up so they can contribute their full potential.
That is the SNP’s founding principle for a stronger economy.
I am proud of the work the Scottish Government is doing to tackle child poverty.
The Scottish Child Payment is unique in the United Kingdom.
It is paid to eligible families with children up to age six.
It started at 10 pounds per week.
At Conference last year, I announced we would double it to twenty.
Five weeks from today we will increase it again, to 25 pounds a week.
Vital financial help for more than 100,000 children, delivered in time for Christmas.
On the same day we increase the Payment, we will also extend it to families with children up to age 16.
I know I’m biased, but I think that’s the sign of a government with the right priorities.
But we need to do more because we know this winter is going to be really tough.
Rather than looking forward to Christmas, too many families will be dreading it.
Dreading it because they don’t know if they can afford to heat their homes or even pay for food.
As part of our help to the poorest families over the last year, we have made quarterly “bridging payments” of £130.
These have gone to children and young people in receipt of free school meals, but who don’t qualify for the Child Payment.
Today I can announce that the final instalment – ahead of the extension of the Child Payment and due in the next few weeks – will not be £130.
We will double it to £260.
That will help put food on the Christmas table for families of 145,000 children and young people.
I don’t pretend it will make all of their worries go away – no government with our limited powers can ever do that.
But I hope this investment of almost £20 million will bring a bit of Christmas cheer to those who need it most.
We have used the powers of our Parliament to deliver the unique child payment
Last Thursday, we took further action to help combat the cost of living crisis.
The Scottish Government’s emergency Bill to protect tenants was passed by Parliament.
The result: a rent freeze in operation in Scotland over the winter until at least the end of
March next year.
But as we have acted to help those in need, what about the UK Government?
It is difficult to overstate the calamity of their actions.
Back in 2014, the Westminster establishment told us it was the UK’s standing in the world;
its economic strength; and its stability that made independence impossible.
Now they say it’s the UK’s isolation, its weakness and instability – the very conditions they created – that means change can’t happen.
As far as Westminster is concerned, it’s heads they win, tails we lose.
And what that is delivering for Scotland is –
Homeowners facing real hardship.
And hundreds of thousands in poverty.
That is not strength and stability.
It is chaos and catastrophe.
All of that is on the Tories.
But we should remember that their ability to do it is has too often been aided and abetted by Labour.
In 2014, Labour joined forces with the Tories.
They said then that Westminster Tory government was better for Scotland than self- government.
And incredibly they’re doing it all over again.
It wasn’t easy to understand back then.
But given everything that has happened since, it is utterly inexplicable now.
Imposed on Scotland against our will – and doing real, lasting damage to our interests, our economy and our young people.
Labour is now just as committed to Brexit – a hard Brexit – as the Tories.
At least the Tories believe in it.
Yet, rather than make the principled argument – which they could now win in England – they cower away from it.
They abandon all principle for fear of upsetting the apple cart.
Bluntly – they are willing to chuck Scotland under Boris Johnson’s Brexit bus to get the keys to Downing Street.
Letting down Scotland.
Same old Labour.
For Scotland, there is a fundamental democratic issue here.
And it has real-life consequences.
Whether it’s Tory or Labour; Labour or Tory.
It’s not us who gets to decide.
Our votes don’t determine who gets to occupy number 10.
For Scotland, the problem is not just which party is in power at Westminster.
The problem is Westminster.
And to fix that…
To make sure we get the governments that the largest number of us vote for –
Always, not just occasionally;
For that, my friends, we need Scotland’s independence.
Independence is not a panacea – for any nation – but it is about hope for a better future.
We all want Scotland to be a country in which no child goes to bed hungry.
A place where everyone can afford to heat their home;
Where our vast energy resources benefit all who live here, and help save the planet.
None of that should be radical.
But it must be the foundation of everything we aspire to.
For as long as I am First Minister, my job – our job – is not done.
For as long as I am First Minister, I will do everything in my power to build the better Scotland we all want to see.
I know some people ask – and it is not an illegitimate question – why propose a referendum in the midst of a cost of living crisis?
The answer is in the question – the answer is the cost of living crisis.
It is the Tory response to it.
It is the financial chaos.
And it is the damage of Brexit.
All of that is laying bare, each and every day, the harm being done to people in Scotland because we are not independent.
Over the next two days the Supreme Court will consider whether the current law allows the Scottish Parliament to legislate for an advisory referendum.
If Westminster had any respect at all for Scottish democracy, this court hearing wouldn’t be necessary.
But Westminster has no such respect.
That means this issue was always destined to end up in court, sooner or later.
Better, in my view, that it is sooner.
If the Court decides in the way we hope it does, on 19 October next year, there will be an independence referendum.
And if the court doesn’t decide that way?
First, and obviously, we will respect that judgment. We believe in the rule of law.
And as a party – and a movement – we will, of course, reflect.
But fundamentally, it will leave us with a very simple choice.
Put our case for independence to the people in an election…
Or give up on Scottish democracy.
I don’t know about you – actually I suspect I do…
But I will never – ever – give up on Scottish democracy.
For now, the question of process – the ‘how’ of securing independence – is in the hands of judges.
It is for us to crack on with answering the question ‘why’.
Polls last week show that support for independence is rising.
But remember, polls are just momentary snapshots in time. They go up and down.
Much more significant are the findings of the latest British Social Attitudes survey.
Ten years ago, support for independence was at 23 per cent.
Five years ago, 45 per cent.
Now – in that gold standard measure of public opinion – support for independence stands at 52 pc.
As we know, it is even higher amongst young people.
So it is tempting, sometimes, to assume an inevitability about independence.
That the arc of history is moving firmly in its direction.
I hope and believe that will turn out to be true.
But we would be wrong – utterly wrong – to take it for granted.
Our job is to make the case and win the argument.
That means not just talking to ourselves, but reaching out to others not yet persuaded.
I remember in the 2014 campaign speaking at a public meeting in Leith.
It was jam-packed…
So busy, in fact, that the organisers asked those who had already decided to vote Yes to leave, so that those still undecided could hear the arguments.
That is the approach I want us to take now.
Though, for the avoidance of doubt, I am not asking you to get up and leave.
But I do want us to resolve today that, from here on, we will speak less to each other, and more to those outside our ranks.
I know that some watching at home will never be persuaded to vote Yes.
You oppose independence as strongly – and from as much principle – as we support it.
I respect that. That is democracy.
And please remember – whatever happens in future, Scotland belongs to you as much as it does to us.
Scotland belongs to all of us.
And for those who want to be convinced but still have questions and doubts…
It is our job to persuade, reassure and inspire.
One of the ironies of the independence debate, is that so many of the institutions that people associate with Britishness;
Institutions that have shaped our shared history;
Like the NHS, a fair social security system, public service broadcasting.
The threat to these institutions comes not from an independent Scotland.
But from UK Governments that are dismantling or undermining them.
With independence, we can do more to protect them.
Let’s take one of those institutions – our most precious public service.
The NHS is under enormous pressure right now.
It delivers outstanding care, within waiting time targets, for the vast majority of those who need it.
Today, I want us to pay tribute to each and every individual who works within it.
But the pressures on the NHS mean that – despite their dedication – too many people are waiting too long.
That is why we are delivering record investment.
And it is why we are doing everything we can to give our NHS workers a fair pay rise –
Because – conference – few in our society deserve it more.
Fast diagnosis and reliable, quality healthcare matters whatever your condition.
But it is especially important for those with cancer.
The best chance of surviving cancer remains early detection and treatment.
Over the past year, we have established three new fast-track cancer diagnostic centres – in
Ayrshire & Arran, Dumfries & Galloway and Fife.
They have already supported hundreds of patients.
More than one in seven were found to have cancer.
Around half of them were from the poorest parts of our country – so these centres are
helping tackle health inequality too.
Fast Track Cancer Diagnosis Centres work.
That’s why I’m delighted to confirm today that 2 more centres will open next year – one in the
Borders and one in Lanarkshire.
And by the end of this Parliament there will be a Fast Track Cancer Diagnosis Centre in
every heath board in Scotland.
That is just one example of how we are supporting our NHS.
That job is the most important our government has right now.
Management of the NHS is our responsibility.
It is no-one else’s.
But the fact is our ability to fund it properly depends on decisions taken at Westminster.
When they cut our budget, or when they crash our economy, that makes it harder for us to
protect the health service.
And if – as some Tories are now openly arguing – they move away from the very basis on
which it was founded and towards an insurance based alternative, that will destroy our NHS.
With independence that will never happen.
We will protect its founding principles.
With independence we could choose to embed a universal NHS in a written constitution.
A constitutional right to health care free at the point of need.
If the SNP is in government, that is exactly what we will do.
I know some see independence as turning our back on the rest of the UK.
It is not.
It is about recasting our relationship as one of equals.
Across these islands we share history, family connections and friendships.
These things matter just as much to supporters of independence as to anyone else.
In fact I’m willing to bet that the nations of these islands will work together even better with independence than we do now.
Scotland will still be a member of the British-Irish Council.
The difference is that – like the Republic of Ireland now – we will be there as an independent country.
You know, there is a point here that at first glance might seem curious.
But, in my view, it is becoming increasingly true.
Independence is actually the best way to protect the partnership on which the United Kingdom was founded.
A voluntary partnership of nations.
Right now – and make no mistake about this –
It is an aggressive unionism that is undermining that partnership.
Westminster’s denial of Scottish democracy;
Full frontal attacks on devolution;
A basic lack of respect;
If there is tension, that is what is causing it.
It is Scottish independence – a new partnership of the isles –
That can renew the whole idea of our nations working together for the common good.
England, Scotland, Wales, the island of Ireland.
We will always be the closest of friends. We will always be family.
But we can achieve a better relationship – a true partnership of equals – when we win Scotland’s independence.
I know that what gives many people most pause for thought on independence is the
People can see all too clearly now that the UK does not offer economic strength or financial security.
And yet still – and rightly – they want to know that independence will make Scotland’s
economy stronger not weaker.
That is fair – and especially now, entirely understandable.
Of course, it is equally fair to point out that so much of the uncertainty and crisis we face is not because of independence.
It is the opposite.
Once again it is because we are not independent.
Independence is not a miracle economic cure.
But let this message ring out today.
We can do better than this.
We can do so much better than this.
And let’s remember these three basic facts.
First, Scotland is not benefiting right now from the so-called ‘broad shoulders’ of the UK.
Second – and let there be no doubt about this –
We have got everything it takes to be a successful independent country.
Extraordinary resources, industries and talent in abundance.
And third, independence is not an untested idea.
Independence is normal.
For countries of Scotland’s size or even smaller, independence is an outstanding success.
Earlier this year, the Scottish Government published evidence illustrating that point.
Listen now to these facts and then think of the untapped potential Scotland has.
Compared to the UK, these other countries with so many similarities to Scotland are –
They have higher productivity.
Lower poverty rates.
Lower child poverty…
And lower pensioner poverty.
They have higher social mobility.
They spend more on Research and Development.
They have higher business investment.
In short, these countries combine economic dynamism with social solidarity.
They are among the most successful societies the world has ever known.
And it is their success – not a failing UK economy – that Scotland should aim to match.
With independence, we won’t emulate that success overnight.
But the big, burning question is this:
If all of these countries can achieve all of that – why not Scotland?
I can confirm that one week today we will publish the next in our Building a New Scotland
series of papers.
It will make the economic case for independence.
It will set out how we can build a new, sustainable economy based on our massive
renewable energy resources.
It will show how in an energy rich, independent Scotland, we can deliver lower prices and
stronger security of supply.
And on energy, let me give this commitment.
Unlike our UK counterparts, the Scottish Government will not be issuing licences for
In the economic prospectus we will set out how in an independent Scotland we can secure
We will repeal Westminster’s anti trade union legislation.
We will end age discrimination for those on the minimum wage.
We will show how businesses can benefit from independence.
With EU membership they’ll be back inside the world’s biggest single market.
With a fairer migration policy and freedom of movement restored, they will have access to
workers from Europe and across the world.
They will have new opportunities to influence government policy through a social partnership approach.
In short, we will show how we can break with the low productivity, high inequality Brexit
based UK economy.
And use the full powers of independence to build an inclusive, fair, wellbeing economy that works for everyone.
An economy that works for everyone.
That is the prize of independence.
Moving to independence and making it work will, of course, take time, hard work and good
There will be many challenges along the way.
Our economic prospectus will be clear on these too.
If the past three weeks have taught us anything it is that a country’s fiscal and monetary
policy must be sustainable and command confidence.
We will not shy away from that.
Our approach to borrowing with the new powers of independence will be responsible and for
Let me give one example of that – a central proposal in the paper we will publish next week.
We propose to invest remaining oil revenues and use our borrowing powers, not to cut tax
for the richest, but to set up an independence investment fund.
The Building a New Scotland Fund will deliver up to £20 billion of investment in the first decade of independence.
In practical terms:
A fund like this could support a massive programme to decarbonise housing, cut fuel bills
and reduce fuel poverty.
It could finance the building of thousands more affordable homes.
Invest in local renewable energy projects, helping communities own assets and wield more
influence over their use.
It will help the transition to Net Zero.
Build resilient communities.
And kick-start the sustainable economic growth so important for our newly independent
Combining Scotland’s abundant resources with the powers of independence to benefit this
and future generations.
That is what independence is all about.
A week ago one of the most famous men in the history of the independence movement -–
Ian Hamilton – died at the ripe old age of 97.
As a young man in 1950, Ian – together with Kay Matheson, Gavin Vernon and Alan Stuart –
repatriated the Stone of Destiny from Westminster Abbey.
He called it an “absolutely splendid adventure”.
I’m sure it was that.
But it was so much more besides.
In 1950 and, to be frank for years afterwards, independence must have seemed like an impossible dream.
All of us here today still have a big job still to do to win independence.
But we no longer face such impossible odds.
We are the independence generation. We are the inheritors of the cause kept alive by Ian Hamilton and his generation.
And I believe – firmly – that we will be the first, in the modern world, to live in an independent Scotland.
Let me tell you why I say that.
A couple of weeks ago I had a conversation with a woman that summed up a question I think a lot of people have.
She said that she would like Scotland to be independent. She thought it would be good. But she also worried that getting there would be hard.
So her question was this – is it essential?
And that got me thinking.
For many people, like Ian, like all of us in this hall, we just believe it is right –
That Scotland could and should be an independent nation.
But is it essential?
Today, probably more than at any time in my life…
The answer to that question is yes.
Independence is essential.
It is essential to escape Westminster control and mismanagement.
Essential to get the governments we vote for.
To properly protect our NHS.
To build a new partnership of equals with the other nations on these islands.
It is essential if we want to be back in the European Union.
And it is essential if we want the people who live here to determine the future of this
The country that always tugs at our heartstrings.
The country that we all care so much about.
There are two things that we – the independence generation – must never, ever lose faith in.
They have sustained us in good times and bad, throughout all the years and decades.
First, is the fundamental right of the nation of Scotland to self-determination.
And the second is what history teaches us –
The overwhelming power of democracy to triumph.
The period ahead will see some of the greatest challenges our country has faced in many years.
But a great opportunity is also in sight. To win and build the better future we know is possible.
A better future as an independent nation.
Welcoming, diverse, full of love and compassion.
In tough times, let us inspire with hope in our hearts.
Let us lift our eyes.
Put our shoulders to the wheel and build a better future for this and generations to come.
With optimism, confidence and determination.
We can now finish the job. And we will.