There are moments in history when it is important to stand back from the day to day twists and turns of politics and consider some fundamental questions.
This is such a time for Scotland.
The experience of the last three and a half years has raised big questions about how we see ourselves as a country and our place in the world.
It has raised questions about our voice and our democracy.
And about our future – what kind of country and society do we want to be?
At the heart of these questions is a belief held by almost everyone in Scotland that we are a nation.
No better and no worse than any other – but an equal nation.
And as a nation, our future – whatever we choose it to be – must be in the hands of the people who live here.
We can choose to stay part of the Westminster union or we can choose – as I would – to be independent.
But the choice must be ours.
Today, I am publishing the constitutional and democratic case for Scotland having that choice.
It is rooted in the principle of self-determination, in the material change of circumstances since the 2014 exercise of that right, and in the democratic mandate that exists for offering the choice afresh.
In a voluntary association of nations such as the UK, it cannot be in the interest of any part for our right to choose our own future to be conditional, or time limited, or a one off.
Nor is it right for it to be over-ridden by a Prime Minister, or indeed a First Minister.
It is a fundamental right of self-determination.
The ability for Scotland to exercise that right now matters, because the alternative is a future that we have rejected being imposed upon us.
Scotland made clear last week that it doesn’t want a Tory government, led by Boris Johnson, taking us out of Europe and down a path we haven’t chosen.
But that is the future we face if we don’t have the opportunity to consider the alternative of independence.
And it is a very different future to the one in prospect when Scotland voted No to independence in 2014.
There has been a material change in circumstances.
There is also a democratic mandate to offer that choice.
In the election last Thursday the SNP campaigned explicitly on the clear pledge that Scotland’s future should be in Scotland’s hands.
Our manifesto said this:
“An SNP election victory will be a clear instruction by the people of Scotland that a new referendum on independence should be held next year, on a precise date to be determined by the Scottish Parliament.”
The SNP won that election – convincingly – with a higher vote share and a higher percentage of seats than the Tories won UK wide.
The Conservatives in Scotland, who campaigned relentlessly on the single issue of opposition to another referendum, lost – overwhelmingly.
The SNP victory last week follows others in 2016 and 2017.
So the mandate we have to offer the Scottish people a choice over their future is, by any normal standard of democracy, unarguable.
Now let me be clear – again – that I don’t take the outcome of an independence referendum for granted.
Nor do I assume that everyone who voted SNP last week necessarily supports independence.
I recognise the work we have to do to persuade a clear majority of people in Scotland that independence is the best future for our country.
That is why in the months ahead, we will update the detailed and substantive case for Scotland becoming an independent nation.
And, of course, in a referendum, those who believe that Scotland should stay part of the Westminster union will be able to make that case.
So I accept that the case for independence is yet to be won.
But the election last week put beyond reasonable argument our mandate to offer people in Scotland the choice.
We built a coalition around this principle.
And now the election is over, I believe an even broader coalition is being formed.
The right to choose is not just a demand from me as First Minister or from the SNP.
It is based on the solemn right of the people of Scotland to decide their own future.
The Scottish Government believes that right should be exercised free from the threat of legal challenge.
In line with our values, we acknowledge that a referendum must be legal and that it must be accepted as legitimate, here in Scotland and the rest of the UK as well as in the EU and the wider international community.
We are therefore today calling for the UK Government to negotiate and agree the transfer of power that would put beyond doubt the Scottish Parliament’s right to legislate for a referendum on independence.
Together with the constitutional and democratic case for that transfer of power, we are also publishing the draft legislation that would give effect to it.
Of course, I anticipate that in the short term we will simply hear a restatement of the UK government’s opposition.
But they should be under no illusion that this will be an end of the matter.
We will continue to pursue the democratic case for Scotland’s right to choose.
We will do so in a reasonable and considered manner.
And we are setting out that case in detail because we believe that the UK government – on this as on any issue – has a duty to respond in a similarly considered and reasonable manner.
Of course, much of the debate at Westminster has been based on the idea that it is the right of the Westminster Parliament and the Prime Minister of the day – not the people who live here – to determine Scotland’s future.
In this context the question is often posed to me – what will you do if Boris Johnson says no?
As I have said before, I will consider all reasonable options to secure Scotland’s right to self-determination.
In the New Year, I will also ask the Scottish Parliament to back the case we are publishing today, and we will work to grow and deepen the coalition of support for Scotland’s right to choose.
But the document we are publishing today turns the question on its head.
It is for the Prime Minister to defend why he believes the UK is not a voluntary union of equal nations.
It is for the Prime Minister to set out why he does not believe people in Scotland have the right to self-determination.
It is for the Prime Minister to explain why he believes it is acceptable to ignore election after election in Scotland and to over-ride a democratic mandate stronger than the one he claims for his Brexit deal.
The Conservatives’ only response to this, so far, has been the referendum result in 2014.
They use that result to justify doing whatever they like to Scotland no matter what people here think and no matter how much damage they cause to people’s lives.
The Tories are in effect saying to people here that democracy in Scotland stopped the day we voted No in 2014.
That cannot and will not hold.
In 2014 a majority of people in Scotland did indeed vote No.
But in 2016 an overwhelming majority voted to remain in the European Union.
Despite that overwhelming vote, within a matter of weeks the Tories intend to remove Scotland from the EU.
The future the people of Scotland once chose is no longer available to them.
But it’s not just the fact that the Tories want to take Scotland out of the EU against our will and contrary to the promises they made in 2014.
They dismissed a compromise proposal to stay in the Single Market.
They’ve taken powers from the Scottish Parliament.
They’re threatening workers’ rights and environmental standards.
Their migration policy will lead to a fall in our working population and hit our economy hard.
A Tory-Trump trade deal will leave our NHS at the mercy of US drugs companies.
Their social security policy will drive many more children into poverty.
They are imposing damaging change, stripping us of rights and re-making our future without our consent.
All of this, and more, is being done against the wishes of the people of Scotland.
That is not a Union worthy of the name – and it is most certainly not a Union of equals.
It is instead a raw assertion of Westminster control over Scotland. And it is not sustainable.
The Tory position will not prevail – democracy will.
So today I urge people in Scotland, regardless of our differing views on independence, to rally round the case for Scotland’s right to choose – our right to self-determination.
This is not the time for Scotland to give up on reasoned and democratic argument – it is the time to pursue it ever more confidently.
Let’s assert our rights as an equal nation and partner.
Let’s imagine a better country.
A Scotland which is at the heart of Europe.
A welcoming, outward looking nation.
A country where we get the governments we vote for.
A Scotland with full powers to lift children out of poverty, create a fairer country and a more prosperous economy.
A better future is possible.
And it is our future that is on the line – we have the right to decide what it should be.
So just as we did back in the 1990s to break Tory opposition and win a Scottish Parliament, let us now come together under the banner of our right to self-determination.
And let us put Scotland’s future into Scotland’s hands.