Watch Nicola Sturgeon’s Speech at #Plaid16
It is a great privilege to be here with you today to address your national conference – and it is particularly special to be here in Plaid Cymru’s 90th year.
The SNP and Plaid are, of course, sister parties – but given that you are 90 and we are only 81, that must mean that you are our big sister.
And, of course, I bring with me fraternal greetings from your sisters and brothers in the SNP.
We were lucky last weekend to have Leanne address our conference in Aberdeen and I hope it was obvious in the warm reception that she received just how much love, respect and solidarity we in the SNP have for all of you in Plaid Cymru.
I also want to say a huge thank you – on behalf of everyone in the SNP – to every one of you in Plaid Cymru.
As you may have noticed, we had the small matter of a referendum last year.
We didn’t quite manage to win but – make no mistake – Scotland is on a journey and I have no doubt that the destination is independence.
But last year, when we were out there making the case for independence, against the massed ranks of the Westminster establishment, it sometimes felt a bit lonely.
Or at least it did until, as I travelled round Scotland during the final days of the campaign something very special started to happen.
Everywhere I went, from Glasgow to Aberdeen, Edinburgh to Inverness – in every corner of the country – I started to run into members of Plaid Cymru.
I even turned up one night at a public meeting in Glasgow which had been organised for Polish Scots – as it turned out, there weren’t many Poles there but it was absolutely full of Welsh people.
The fact is that so many of you gave up your holidays and spent your hard earned cash to make the trip to Scotland to help us in the Yes campaign.
Your enthusiasm and your generosity were phenomenal. You showed us real friendship and support and you gave us a boost when we needed it.
You stood shoulder to shoulder with us in the biggest campaign of our lives and we shall be forever grateful.
I hope that one day we get to repay the favour.
The connections between our two parties go back a very long way, back to even before Leanne and I were born.
The seminal by-election victories in the 1960s of Gwynfor Evans for Plaid and Winnie Ewing for the SNP occurred within just a matter of months of each other.
And in a parliament filled almost completely with Labour and Tory MPs, Gwynfor and Winnie formed a close bond and quickly became a force to be reckoned with.
Working together, Winnie and Gwnfor forced Westminster to sit up and take notice of Wales and Scotland – and for the first time they had to seriously confront the idea of our two nations demanding our own political voice.
Now, of course, progress wasn’t as fast as they would have hoped. It took several decades before devolution was finally delivered – but there is no doubt whatsoever that neither Leanne nor I would be sitting where we are right now were it not for the persistence and hard work of those who tilled the soil before us in both our parties.
We truly do stand on the shoulders of giants and we owe them a huge debt of gratitude,
Of course, it isn’t just our parties that have a close bond.
As nations, Scotland and Wales also have much in common. And I don’t just mean that we were both robbed in the final minutes of the Rugby World Cup quarter finals!
At least Wales has Euro 2016 to look forward. And on that note, congratulations on a great achievement and best of luck in France next summer.
The Celtic connections our countries share run deep. In preparing to come to Wales today I discovered that the celtic language initially spoken in my home city of Glasgow is most closely related to modern Welsh. I guess that explains why the Scots and the Welsh have always had a good understanding of each other.
Even the name Glasgow is apparently Welsh. I’m told it refers to the green fields once found in front of what is now Glasgow Cathedral.
Both of our countries boast stunning landscapes that have an enduring appeal in our own hearts and in hearts the world over.
Our industrial heartlands, built on coal mining, shipbuilding and steel, have so often experienced the same rise and fall in fortunes, and have so often been let down by successive UK Governments.
And as communities in Wales and in Scotland again fight for jobs in our steel industry, I know that Plaid and the SNP will stand with them together in offering support and solidarity.
Let me say here today what I said directly to steel workers in Scotland yesterday – as First Minister I am determined that my government will do everything possible to secure a future for that industry.
As First Minister, I am not prepared to let our steel industry die without a fight.
Of course, it is from these industrial heartlands, and the ethos of hard work and equality that runs through them, that great reformers like Keir Hardie and Nye Bevan emerged. Their legacies today still guide so much of our modern day politics.
They drive our shared belief in an NHS that is publicly owned and free to all.
They drive our belief in the right of all of us to a roof over our heads and a home to call our own.
And they drive a belief that is so important today when it is under so much attack by the Tories – a belief in the vital importance of a social security safety net that guarantees dignity and fairness.
It is perhaps because of those shared experiences and that common bond that we are able to say, proudly, today that Scotland and Wales are home to the only real anti-austerity parties in the UK.
In Cardiff, in Edinburgh and at Westminster, it is the SNP and Plaid Cymru who stand strong together against austerity.
And let’s make this clear today.
The SNP and Plaid MPs will stand firm against tax credit cuts that will devastate working families.
We will oppose the Tory assault on the vulnerable and the disabled.
We will support investment in our public services, in our infrastructure and in our economy
And we will stand united in support of human rights and the essential freedoms of trade unions.
Our two parties will also stand strong and united against the unjustified, unaffordable and downright immoral plans to spend £100 billion on a new generation of Trident nuclear weapons.
That is our alliance – Plaid and the SNP – putting forward the progressive case at Westminster and presenting the real and only opposition to the Tories.
And this week it seems we also have something new in common.
In Scotland we call it the Vow. In Wales it is the Silk Commission. In each of our nations, these proposals represent yet more broken promises from a Tory government.
It comes as absolutely no surprise to me that the Wales Bill published last week doesn’t deliver on the ambitions that the people of Wales have.
We have some experience ourselves of being let down in promises of more powers.
And yesterday, we saw the Tories push ‘English votes for English laws’ through the House of Commons. The aptly named EVEL turns Scottish and Welsh MPs into second class citizens in the House of Commons and prevents them voting even on issues that will have an impact on our countries. It is outrageous.
You know, I always thought it was the SNP’s job to persuade people of the case for independence – but these days it seems the Tories are keen to do that job for us.
So, yes, just like Wales, Scotland has plenty of experience of Westminster governments treating Scotland with disdain.
But as the Wales Bill goes through the Commons I know that Plaid Cymru will work hard to make it better and to make sure it delivers a fair deal for Wales.
And just as you in Plaid Cymru stood with us in the referendum and have assisted our MPs through the Scotland Bill, let me promise you today that the SNP will stand shoulder to shoulder with you in your continued endeavours to demand a better deal for Wales and to see the Westminster promises made to Wales delivered – and delivered in full.
My visit to Wales today coincides with the start of the SNP’s campaign to win a third term in office and also the start of your campaign to make my friend, Leanne Wood, the First Minister of Wales.
To elect Leanne to be, just like I am in Scotland, the first woman First Minister of her country.
You know, I consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to get to know Leanne over the past couple of years.
And I am very proud to call her a friend.
But let me tell you something much more relevant to you here in Wales.
And I mean it from the bottom of my heart.
In Leanne Wood, you have a leader of real star quality.
And, remember, that’s an opinion that I have formed, not from afar, but at close quarters.
In April, Leanne and I found ourselves on a stage in Manchester stuck, quite literally, between David Cameron and Ed Miliband.
It quickly became obvious to everyone watching the debate that night that the difference between Ed and Dave wasn’t their politics – it was simply the colour of their ties.
But on that stage, as Ed and Dave battled it out over who was more austere, who would be toughest on welfare and who was most keen on Trident, Leanne did something different.
Firmly, passionately, eloquently, Leanne spoke up for Wales.
When Labour said the status quo was good enough for Wales, Leanne challenged their arrogance and she did so on behalf of the people of Wales.
When Labour couldn’t answer for their failure to protect Wales from the worst impacts of the recent recession – or indeed the recession before that – Leanne spoke up loudly for those communities in Wales that continue to face unemployment and deprivation.
And when the Tories pushed their ideological plans for austerity – I knew that Leanne was standing next to me on that platform as a strong voice against austerity.
But my favourite moment in that debate – indeed, I think everyone’s favourite moment – was when Leanne had the guts to call out Nigel Farage for his xenophobia and intolerance.
During that debate, I was proud of Leanne. I know Plaid Cymru was proud of her.
In my view, she put it beyond doubt that she is ready and able to lead Wales as your First Minister.
And so to the people of Wales, I say this. If you were proud of Leanne too that night when she represented Wales, just think how much more proud you would be if she was representing Wales every single day as your First Minister.
And, you know what? It’s in your hands to make it happen.
Wales is a great country – you deserve a government that focuses every day on raising the ambition of this country and on building its success.
Last weekend in Aberdeen at the SNP Conference, Leanne told us that “It isn’t devolution that is failing Wales, it is Labour that is failing Wales.”
I was thinking about that as I was preparing to come here today and I remembered that just eight short years ago, we faced exactly the same situation in Scotland.
It wasn’t devolution or the Scottish parliament that had lost people’s trust. It was a lacklustre Labour Party that had lost people’s trust.
But even though people were disillusioned with Labour, many didn’t yet see the SNP as a strong enough alternative.
Eight years ago, we had just 25 out of 129 members of the Scottish Parliament. We only had 6 MPs at Westminster.
Many commentators thought that our best days – 11 MPs at Westminster and a record 35 Members of the Scottish Parliament – were firmly behind us.
Labour were in government at Holyrood, in government at Westminster and they controlled local authorities across Scotland.
Most of Scotland had only ever known a Labour government – Scotland had voted Labour at every election since 1959.
The result – trust in our new parliament, a parliament that the people of Scotland had so long strived for, had dropped by 30% since it had opened. It was damaged by a government more concerned with protecting its own position than in protecting the people it represented.
In other words, eight years ago we in Scotland faced many of the same challenges you face now with a Labour government that had become complacent and careless.
Leading the opposition in Holyrood, I regularly grilled Labour’s First Minister on a health service that was failing, council tax bills that had increased, and perhaps worst of all, on a chronic lack of ambition for our nation.
I stood in parliament opposing a Labour government whose mantra – quite seriously – was that they would do less better. How’s that for ambition? Does it sound familiar?
Eight years ago Scotland had a government with no real ambition, leading the country into a cul de sac of low aspiration.
And yet, for all that, it wasn’t inevitable that the SNP would win.
Indeed, if I think back to October 2006 – when we were the same distance from an election that we are now – with the obvious exception of Alex Salmond who likes a flutter, very few people would have put money on an SNP victory.
We had never been in government,
We had never led the country – so not many people seriously thought we could become the governing party.
But, friends, we did then what you in Plaid Cymru can do now.
We put forward ideas.
We showed people our ambition for the country
We stopped just talking the opposition down and started to tell people what we would do better.
We talked about how we would make a difference and when we would do it.
We began to write a better future for Scotland and, vote by vote, door by door, we won the support of the Scottish people.
And by doing that we were able to prove the doubters wrong – we were able to win the election in Scotland.
So what am I saying?
What I am saying – and it’s my key message to you today – is this.
If the SNP can win in Scotland, there is no reason – none at all – that Plaid Cymru can’t also win in Wales.
Not at some distant point in the future. But now, next May, at this election.
You can win. Believe it. Work for it. And you will do it.
And when Wales does turn from Labour to a party with ambition, vision and determination, people will realise just how different things can be.
How do I know? Because that’s what happened in Scotland.
Take health – I know it’s high up the agenda in Wales and it is in Scotland too.
Don’t get me wrong – our NHS faces challenges. An ageing population is leading to increasing demand and it is a daily focus of me and my government to make sure we support the NHS to deal with that demand.
But here’s the reality. If Labour had won back in 2007, our NHS would be less able to meet that demand, not more able.
Back then, Labour said that any extra cash would be spent on education and that the NHS would have to ‘cut its cloth.
They also planned to close two accident and emergency units.
The SNP promised these A&E units would stay open, we found a way to keep them open and since we saved them from Labour’s axe, they have treated more than 800,000 patients between them.
And, while we have big challenges to address, the fact is that our NHS is now performing better against tougher targets than it did at any point under Labour.
And it is performing better – much better – than the NHS in Wales is, under a Labour government.
So the message is that Wales does not have to settle for the best Labour can do or the worst the Tories can do. Wales can do better than that.
The home of the NHS deserves a party that supports the NHS and that party is Plaid Cymru.
And it’s not just on health that the SNP has made a difference.
We have rebuilt or refurbished one fifth of all school buildings. Our school leavers are also doing better than ever before.
We’ve delivered a record number of modern apprenticeships.
A higher proportion of our workforce now earn the living wage than any other nation in the UK.
Youth employment levels are now at their highest level since 2008 – because we’ve worked hard to help young people into work.
Labour built just six council houses in their last four years in office – we started a new generation of council house building, we abolished the right to but and we are on track to meet our target of 30,000 affordable homes in this Parliament.
Recorded Crime in Scotland is at a 41-year low.
And we have created the most competitive business rates regime anywhere in the UK.
And even where our powers are limited, we have acted to protect people from Tory cuts. We have used powers we have – powers that the Welsh Assembly also has – to make sure that no one in Scotland has to pay the bedroom tax.
Surely, there is no greater shame on this Welsh Labour government than its refusal to mitigate the bedroom tax.
The SNP Government isn’t perfect and nor am I – no government and no leader ever will be.
But we work hard every day to win and retain the trust of the people of Scotland and I know we share that ethos with Plaid Cymru.
Being in government means we have a responsibility to acknowledge the problems we see, and take action to rectify them.
Being in government means we have had to look candidly at the country we live in and think hard about how we can make it better. It means we have had to take tough decisions and tackle difficult issues.
That is what we’ve been doing every day since we were elected in 2007, it is what we will continue to do if re-elected in May and it is what I know Leanne and her team are ready to do for Wales.
Just as the SNP will always put Scotland and Scotland’s needs first – so Plaid Cymru are the only party that will truly stand up for Wales.
Imagine this – a strong SNP/Plaid team at Westminster, a Plaid Cymru Government here in Wales, and an SNP Government in Scotland. How formidable would that be?
And how much more effective at standing up to the Tories than Labour will ever be.
So if people here in Wales are willing to listen to a message from up North, the message I have, based on our experience in Scotland, is this.
If Labour and the Tories are not meeting your aspirations for your country, for your health service, or for your education system;
If they are cutting the tax credits you rely on and pushing people in to poverty; if they are failing to create the jobs and opportunities that your young people need – then it is time to make a change.
And it doesn’t matter whether you are Welsh or English, Pakistani or Polish, or even Scottish – Plaid Cymru in Wales, just as the SNP are in Scotland, is a home for all those who burn with ambition for this wonderful country.
I spoke at the start about the connections between Scotland and Wales. There is something else that connects our two nations. Scotland and Wales both have a keen sense of history.
I know you lost a much loved historian this year. Dr John Davies made a huge contribution to your nation – indeed he made a huge contribution to my nation, joining as he did the hundreds of Welsh men and women who helped us campaign for a Yes vote last year.
John wrote about Wales’ history.
He knew, as we do, that history is important – it grounds us and gives us a story. It gives us something to build on.
But John always had one eye on the future. He knew – as you do – that his and your history of Wales was only partly written. He knew that Wales – just like Scotland – must look continually to the future.
We can’t alter the past, we can’t undo the years of failed Labour and Tory governments, but with hard work and ambition we can change the future for the better.
In Scotland we have begun that journey.
In Wales you can start that change in May.
You can be the change Wales needs.
The ambition, the ideas and the optimism that define your party, the Party of Wales, will be the key to winning May’s election and driving your country forward.
You are the people who can write the next chapter in the history of this nation.
And when you do, no one will prouder of you than your friends in the SNP.
I hope that I can return to your conference next year as the re-elected First Minister of Scotland.
And if I do, nothing will give me greater pleasure than to share a stage with Leanne Wood, the newly elected First Minister of Wales.
So, go on – get out there. Be that change. Seize the opportunity.
Go and win this election for Wales.