Delegates, at the risk of sounding like Methuselah, my first SNP conference was in 1977 in the Caird Hall in Dundee.
I have been to many conferences and National Councils since then but I still remember vividly the excitement of that first one – so if this is your first conference, welcome.
And if like me, you’ve been to more conferences than you care to remember – well, let’s not ever lose our sense of who we are and who we represent.
I now also have the “honour” of being the SNP’s longest continuously serving elected member.
I was first elected to represent Perth in 1995.
While things were quite different for our party and for Scotland in 1995, some things never seem to change.
The Tories were in power at Westminster, riven by splits over Europe and on the way out in Scotland.
But that 1995 by-election victory marked a turning point.
Two years later, Scotland was Tory free. I’ve always wondered – was it something I said?
So Conference, at the forthcoming UK election, let’s resolve right here, right now – to make Scotland Tory free again.
Serving Scotland and the people of Perthshire is a privilege and an honour.
People choosing to vote for you to deliver the government they want is a precious thing.
We owe it to the people of Scotland to always govern in their interests, to protect their needs and promote their priorities.
In return, we must always be determined to make a difference to people’s lives and offer real leadership on the issues that matter – like the environment.
We were the first government in the UK to introduce a charge for plastic bags.
We were the first to act to reduce single use plastics with the law banning the sale of plastic cotton buds now in force.
We will be the first to create a deposit return scheme.
Of course, where we have shown leadership the most is on climate change.
Scotland has been transformed from having a walk on part in climate discussions, to being a leading cast member on the global stage.
We took the evidence and the challenge seriously in 2007 with the first Climate Change Act and we’re doing so again now.
In recent years, our action has been guided by the Committee on Climate Change – supporting and challenging us to go further and to move faster.
They have recognised our role and our leadership.
I want to deepen and strengthen our relationship with them.
So I can announce today that the Scottish Government will support the establishment of a Scotland office for the Committee on Climate Change, with a team of people to focus purely on advice and analysis for Scotland.
Of course, the willingness to grasp the nettle on climate change has in no small part been because of the commitment and determination of Nicola Sturgeon.
Earlier this year she was brave enough and bold enough to declare – before any other government in the world – that there is a global climate emergency and that Scotland will play its part in tackling it.
Apparently there are some who would like her to play a less high profile role on this matter and on the world stage.
Apparently, in London there is a man who thinks he can stop Scotland’s First Minister from welcoming the United Nations to her home city of Glasgow for its climate action conference in 2020.
Conference, I’ve known Nicola Sturgeon a long time – and let me tell you – no man – and certainly not Boris Johnson, – will stop our First Minister from welcoming the world to Scotland.
As Cabinet Secretary for Climate Change, it’s my job to bring together all our efforts to reduce our emissions – no pressure.
But one woman – two women even – can’t do it all alone.
Every single one of my Cabinet colleagues is committed to helping Scotland reach net zero emissions by 2045.
Derek Mackay and his team are leading the work to ensure our economy will deliver a low carbon future built on the skills and expertise, new industries and sectors we and indeed, other countries will need.
Michael Matheson is working to ensure that transport delivers on its Mission Zero ambition, by phasing out new petrol and diesel cars by 2032; decarbonising our railways by 2035; and of course creating the world’s first zero emission aviation region in partnership with Highlands and Islands Airports Limited.
Our Minister for Rural Affairs and the Natural Environment Mairi Gougeon is encouraging more young farmers to become climate champions, is leading the work to introduce more Marine Protected Areas, to harness blue carbon, and to protect wildlife and prevent plant disease – all vital to our climate change ambitions.
I also want to thank Fergus Ewing for the key role he is playing as Rural Economy Secretary.
Now I doubt we will ever see Fergus carrying a banner at a climate strike, but his drive is helping Scotland achieve its climate change targets.
As energy minister he drove forward our renewable energy targets and began the work – completed last week by Paul Wheelhouse – that has ensured that no fracking has taken place in Scotland.
And now he has a new challenge.
Last year, Scotland planted 84% of the UK’s trees and we smashed our tree planting target. Now we are pushing to meet our 2025 target four years early.
That matters – because it is our land and our nature – that will help Scotland address the climate crisis.
Friends, how we steward our land and seas is key to Scotland achieving its ambitions, and to ensuring our nation has a sustainable future.
Of course, to achieve this we need to address Scotland’s distorted pattern of land ownership.
We have already achieved a lot.
In 2016 we passed Scotland’s second Land Reform Act – expanding communities’ right to buy the land they live on and increasing transparency around land ownership.
In 2017, we established the Scottish Land Commission.
We have transferred nearly 600,000 acres of land into community ownership – including supporting the community purchase of Ulva in 2018.
However, concentrated land ownership is continuing to create shortages of land, stifling growth and opportunity.
There is still a lot more to do.
Ahead of the 2021 election, I intend to set out the next stages in our land reform journey and we will continue to address the distorted patterns of land ownership in Scotland.
What we do with our land is critical to ending climate change.
But there are other changes to be made – like the one made at this fabulous new conference centre, powered by the biggest hydrogen fuel cell installation in the UK.
Businesses, employers and public services must all play their part.
Next year I will publish a new climate change plan which will set out the scale of our ambition, the pace at which we must change and the work that we must all do to meet the climate change targets.
For all of us, it will mean changes – but changes we have to embrace – and where we must find opportunities.
We are an inventive and ingenious nation – so let’s become the leaders in the new technology we need to meet our climate change targets.
The Green Deal the First Minister announced in September is just the first in a series of bold steps we will take.
Communities are key in this work.
Through the Climate Challenge Fund we have already invested over £100 million in support of climate action projects and initiatives all over the country.
But we know that people want to do more and we cannot allow some communities to be left behind.
Particularly those who stand to lose most from climate change and therefore have the most to gain from a low carbon sustainable future.
I want to support Scotland’s small towns to play their part – to reduce what they use, to recycle more, to cut their emissions, to become carbon neutral – and in doing so, to know that they will be building a more sustainable future for the next generation.
Conference, I want to see Climate Action Towns the length and breadth of Scotland.
I can therefore announce today I will set out a blueprint for a network of Climate Action Towns and provide £1 million to support Scotland’s small towns to get started on action to tackle climate change.
Initiatives like this will help us deliver the measures we passed in the most ambitious climate change legislation in the world.
Let me just say that again.
On 25 September 2019, Scotland’s Parliament legislated for the most ambitious climate change targets anywhere in the world.
No if, no buts, no caveats – our ambition is truly world leading.
Conference, that’s leadership.
The people of Scotland know who they can trust to provide leadership.
They can’t trust Labour.
And they certainly can’t trust the Tories.
Both parties will the ends, but never the means.
Last week they had their chance to step up to the plate and they failed.
And people can’t trust the Greens either.
At this crucial moment in Scotland’s climate change journey, when it came time to pass those targets into law, they sat on their hands.
So conference, let me offer this advice to you, and to every member of the SNP.
Lend your vote to the Greens? So they can sit on their hands in the face of world leading ambition? I don’t think so!
If you want a government delivering real action and serious ambition – if you want to make every vote count, then make every vote an SNP vote.
There. Is. No. Other. Way.
The competence of our SNP government stands in stark contrast to the chaos of the Tories at Westminster – for two years I’ve waited for them just to publish an environment bill.
Brexit will hold back Scotland’s environmental ambitions.
Conference, we cannot allow Brexit to happen.
Scotland voted to remain in the EU and we must do all we can to keep Scotland in the EU.
But if it does happen – I promise this – we will protect Scotland’s environmental standards, we will never engage in a race to the bottom and we will not sell out Scotland’s environment to dodgy Tory trade deals.
The leadership we are showing on Brexit and on climate change is only a foretaste of what we could achieve with independence.
I have wanted independence my entire adult life, ever since I first wrote to the SNP in 1967.
And I’ve been working for it ever since I stepped off the plane from Australia in 1976.
And conference – I ain’t stopping now.
One thing I have learned over those years is patience.
Sheer, bloody minded, grit your teeth patience.
We travel at the pace at which the people of Scotland want to go – even Billy Connolly knows that!
And like Billy, people are on the move.
We are so close. The moment will come. But we must keep working for it.
Through our words and our actions, we can show that Scotland belongs on the world stage, as an independent nation.
And it is the actions of the SNP that will deliver independence, and create the kind of country and nation we want to be.