The second Party Conference I ever attended was in the Music Hall in this city back in 1981.
There were many differences between that Conference and this one.
This Conference is certainly much bigger. Support for the Party is definitely much higher. Today, the Party is decisively more united than it was in 1981.
But some things remain visibly the same. That Conference and this one are places for vigorous debate. That Conference and this conference are made up of people from every locality of Scotland devoted to securing the best future for the people of our country.
That is the enduring strength of the Scottish National Party.
When we last met, back in March, we were just a few days away from the first of the leader’s debates in the General Election.
Our First Minister made us all very proud of her that night.
She showed voters throughout these islands that there is another way.
She stood for tolerance in the face of Nigel Farage.
She stood for fairness in the face of David Cameron.
And she stood for passion in the face of insipid compromise from Ed Miliband.
She stood for Scotland and the values we all hold dear.
Our First Minister didn’t simply win the debates, she changed the terms of the debate.
Yes, conference, that was a proud night.
But Nicola wasn’t finished.
She led this party – she led you and me and thousands like us across this country – to the greatest election victory in our nation’s history.
She led us to May 7th.
The night we all but removed the failed unionist voices from Scotland and replaced them with SNP MPs determined to speak up for our country.
And so, Conference, it is little wonder that the Tory press has branded her “the most dangerous woman in Britain”.
They fear her. They fear you. They fear this Party.
I don’t know when we will next fight another referendum on Independence. It will come only when the people of Scotland want it to happen.
But I do know why the unionists are so desperate to rule out another referendum.
I do know why they are scared of a democratic vote.
Because I know what this movement, this party, can do. I have seen what the power and passion this Party can achieve.
I know we can win the argument for Independence.
A year almost to the day since the UK General Election, we will stand before the Scottish people again and ask for their support.
The question then will not be one of yes or no; Independence or the Union?
That will be decided on another day, at another time.
The question will be, who stands for Scotland?
The question will be, who has what it takes to lead this nation each and every day they are in office?
Who has the record, who has the team, who has the vision to take this country forward and make it the fairer, more prosperous nation it can be?
I believe this party – this SNP Government – has the record, the team and the vision to get the job done.
To build a better Scotland. To create a fairer country. To deliver the prosperity we all need.
I believe that come May 2016, this Party can win that record third term in office.
I recently had the great privilege of being asked by our Party Leader to take on the role of Campaign Director for the Scottish General Election.
We have fought many elections together. And over the years, in good elections as well as not so good ones, we have learned the lessons we had to learn to develop the winning habit.
But you know – and I know – that the winning habit is built on hard work. It is built on streets being pounded and doors being knocked.
It is built on a commitment to speaking direct to the people of Scotland on the doorstep, in cities, towns and villages the length and breadth of the land.
Since the Westminster election, I have listened in disbelief to the stories from within the Labour campaign.
Tales of constituencies where Labour had not knocked a door in decades. Stories of MPs who had forgotten how to connect with their communities – if indeed they ever connected in the first place.
Those are the symptoms of a Labour Party that took the voters – that took Scotland – for granted.
Well, on May 7th we stopped Labour taking Scotland for granted once and for all.
And conference, as Campaign Director, I make you this solemn promise.
The SNP will never stop knocking on doors, connecting with constituents, talking to the people and listening to their concerns.
Not simply because it is good politics but because it is who we are. It is from where we draw our strength – directly from being close to the people of Scotland.
At this election, we will reach out to every part of Scotland.
To long-time supporters and new found friends.
To new Scots and familiar faces.
To Yes voters and to No voters.
Because we – the SNP – are the National Party of – all of – Scotland.
When we take our message to the doorsteps, we will do so in the knowledge that we have a record of which we can be proud.
Every time we knock a door at the election, we know we are speaking to people who this SNP Government has helped.
We have kept university tuition free – helping tens of thousands students get on with the job of learning.
We have kept the bus pass for our pensioners and prescriptions for the sick.
We have expanded apprenticeships and invested in colleges.
We have ended the bedroom tax and implemented the living wage across the public sector.
We have delivered record investment in our health service. More than 12 billion pounds this year – 3 billion pounds more than under Labour.
We have protected household incomes by freezing the Council Tax.
Conference, the opposition will sneer from the sidelines. They can do nothing else. But with 201 days to go – yes, just 201 days – we can be proud that our record stands up to any and all scrutiny.
Scotland’s SNP Government is delivering for the people of this country.
We have to deliver in the face of significant Tory cuts over the next few years.
Next month, George Osborne will deliver his spending review.
He isn’t just planning to balance the budget.
No, he is going much, much further.
He plans to run a current budget surplus of more than 40 billion pounds.
When public services are crying out for investment,
When the disabled are being told their benefits are being cut,
When families are feeding their children from foodbanks,
This Tory Chancellor plans to runs a budget surplus greater than the entire budget of the Scottish Government.
That, Conference, is the triumph of ideology over compassion, of privilege over need.
That Conference, is what the Tories plan to inflict on the people of Scotland.
And, it does not stop there.
Starting next year, George Osborne plans ninety-seven billion pounds of consolidation.
Just 12 billion of that is from tackling tax avoidance and other tax measures.
33 billion pounds will be taken from welfare.
So for all the talk of blue-collar Toryism in recent weeks, there we have the truth laid out in cold, hard numbers.
The cut to the most vulnerable is almost three times the size of the contribution from the Tories’ rich tax-avoiding friends.
But then, there was never any doubt that George Osborne is a Tory.
No, the real shock, was how long it took the Labour Party to understand what was going on.
Labour were FOR the Fiscal Charter, then AGAINST the Fiscal Charter, then only some wanted to vote FOR, then only some wanted to vote AGAINST, then some wanted to do the decent, principled thing and ABSTAIN.
Come off it. What is there to debate here?
From Day 1 the Tory Fiscal Charter was about entrenching the war on public investment the Tories started in 2010. There was no need for debate. No need for a wobble. If there was anything left in the soul of the Labour Party, from Day 1 Labour should have opposed it.
Many thought Labour had rediscovered its soul with the election of the Jeremy Corbyn.
Well on Wednesday, we saw the truth.
Labour only opposed the Fiscal Mandate because on Sunday, Nicola Sturgeon pointed out to them there was an alternative. An alternative that could see a current Budget balance by 2019/20 but with a further £150billion available to support public services and investment over that period.
Labour would have happily voted for the Fiscal Mandate without that helpful prod from our First Minister.
There you have it. It’s now up to Nicola Sturgeon to save the Labour Party from its own stupidity.
Conference, the focus of your SNP Government is to build our economy, tackle inequality, and protect our public services.
We stand in a city that has seen the oil wealth of two generations flow through it.
Yet travel to Northfield, just a few miles from this hall and you will see poverty that should have no place in modern Scotland.
We are a wealthy country. Yet, we are a country blighted by the obscenity of poverty.
We have natural resources that are the envy of many; yet they benefit only the few.
We don’t simply want to promote growth so that it pays the bills to allow us to tackle inequality.
We want to tackle inequality because doing so promotes growth.
Inequality hinders people from achieving their potential and weakens the fabric of society. It limits opportunities and reduces the contribution people can make.
It dilutes skills and erodes talent.
Conference, UK trickle-down economics have failed the people of Northfield.
We must now lead the national effort that tackles inequality and provides hope to all of the people of Scotland.
That approach is central to the Scottish Government economic strategy.
Despite our recent strong performance, with 12 consecutive quarters of uninterrupted growth, we’re still vulnerable to the legacy of the recession.
Output and employment are back above their pre-recession peak but challenges remain in our labour market including underemployment, low productivity, stagnant real wages and the recent rise in unemployment demonstrates the importance of sustaining public investment.
We need to ensure that our economy remains competitive and continues to create skilled and well paid job opportunities. We need to adapt to an ageing population, and we need to make progress to the low-carbon age.
This is the job we have to do in the next few years.
That is the task of the next Scottish Government.
And, at the election in May, people can entrust these challenges to the SNP or they can gamble with the untried, untrusted and divided Labour Party.
Our task – your task – is to persuade the people of Scotland that the one, the only party to entrust these challenges to is Scotland’s Party– the SNP.
We have set out our economic priorities to take on these challenges – Investment, Innovation, Internationalisation and Inclusive growth.
Long-term economic growth and stability requires investment in the skills of our workforce, and in our physical and digital infrastructure.
What better way to invest in the skills of our workforce that what happened this morning. Earlier today, Caledonian MacBrayne signed the contract to construct two new ferries with the Fergusson Yard at Port Glasgow, anchoring 150 jobs and giving that yard the future its outstanding workforce deserve.
What better way to invest in our infrastructure, than through projects like the Aberdeen Western Peripheral Route, now under construction by this SNP Government after decades of delay.
Projects like the new crossing rising majestically from the waters of the Forth.
And like the Borders Rail – opened just a few weeks ago – the longest new rail line in the UK in 100 years.
Conference, each of those projects – delivered on time and on budget – is the SNP in action.
And today, I can announce another great capital project that will deliver jobs and investment.
For many years, it has taken too long to travel between this great city of Aberdeen and the UK’s fastest growing city of Inverness.
We have started to change that, with our commitment to dualling the A96 linking by road these two growing cities.
But I can tell conference that today we went further, this time by rail.
This morning we signed the contract for work on upgrading the rail line from here to Inverness. It will deliver investment of 170 million pounds, providing jobs and economic growth to both cities for decades to come.
That’s the SNP Government delivering jobs and investment to the North of Scotland.
More than a third of the total growth we have seen in recent times has been delivered by the construction sector and our investment in capital projects.
It hasn’t come about because of the austerity of the Tory Chancellor.
It wasn’t delivered by the carping of the Labour Party.
It’s come about by your SNP Government investing in Scotland’s future.
Why? Because we believe we can build that future, brick by brick, girder by girder. Sustained investment to equip Scotland’s economy for the great days that lie ahead.
But conference, in the modern world our investment programme isn’t just about bricks and girders. It’s also about connecting every part of Scotland to the digital world.
Wherever I go in Scotland, people make clear to me the importance of digital connectivity – good mobile and broadband connections.
If we had left all of this to the market, only 66% of Scotland would have received Superfast Broadband – only 21% of them in the Highlands and Islands. That was not good enough for us. With over £400 million worth of investment, your SNP Government has put in place the support to make sure, from our main Broadband programme, that 95% of Scotland will be connected to Superfast services.
But we won’t leave it at that. Digital connectivity is crucial to creating economic, social and educational opportunity in every part of Scotland no matter how remote. So this Government has established Community Broadband Scotland with the funding and the mission to connect those communities BT won’t reach.
This Government is determined that everyone in Scotland will have access to the digital age. Not for the sake of it. But to open up the economic, social and educational opportunities that every citizen of Scotland has a right to expect.
Exports are up and our firms are internationalising. Since 2007 – in the teeth of the worst recession in generations – Scotland’s firms have increased the value of their exports by 40 per cent.
That’s Scottish business getting the job done.
In each year since 2006 the Ernst & Young Attractiveness Survey has ranked Scotland in the top two outside London for Foreign Direct Investment. In 2014 alone the survey found this investment had created over 3,500 jobs.
That’s Scottish Enterprise and Highlands and Islands Enterprise getting the job done.
In the last six years, business R&D spending in Scotland has increased 29% in real terms. In the UK it rose just 3%. And, our world class universities mean Scotland would be ranked 4th in the OECD in terms of Higher Education R&D expenditure as a percentage of GDP.
That’s Scotland’s innovators getting the job done.
These are tremendous successes, but we recognise that Scottish business still needs help to succeed.
We have delivered the small business bonus – making Scotland the most competitive place in the UK to do business.
But we can and will do more.
At the Tory conference two weeks ago, George Osborne announced reform of the business rates regime for England and Wales.
He plans to let councils keep what they raise. Well, Scotland has been doing that since 2011.
But he also announced that councils will – by 2020 – be able to reduce business rates to promote business growth.
This SNP Government has long believed communities should have greater local control of key policies. That’s why we removed £2 billion of ring-fencing around Council funds. That’s why we passed the Community Empowerment Act earlier this year.
And it’s why I can today announce that we will use powers under that Act to allow every council in every part of Scotland to reduce business rates in their area – not from 2020 – but in two week’s time.
On 31 October this year, we will hand power over to Scotland’s councils to help deliver business growth in their area.
That’s your SNP Government devolving powers to our communities and making sure Scotland remains the most competitive place to do business in the United Kingdom.
Inclusive Growth – runs right through all the policies of the Government.
It is embedded within our intentions to invest, to promote internationalisation and innovation so that the benefits of growth can be shared more equally across all sections of our society.
It is at the heart of your SNP Government’s commitment to the Living Wage – the real Living Wage – calculated independently – not manipulated by a Tory Government as cover for cutting the incomes of low paid families in our country.
Our commitment to the Living Wage has been central to the Business Pledge – a great joint venture between Government, Trades Unions and business in Scotland – working together to create better employment opportunities, better salaries and better lives for people in Scotland.
Our approach to inclusive growth can be seen from early years, childcare and education, to the provision of affordable housing, improving wages and working conditions and boosting productivity.
That is an ambitious strategy.
But it is a strategy that is beginning to work.
The attainment gap in schools has begun to close.
Students from a poorer background have never had a better chance of a place at university than under the SNP.
We are building thousands more affordable homes – 30,000 in this Parliament and, as the First Minister announced yesterday, another 50,000 in the next.
And, of course, in the first tax to be levied by a Scottish Parliament in 300 years, I replaced Stamp Duty with Land and Buildings Transaction Tax, taking around 10,000 more homebuyers a year out of tax altogether.
That is the focus of your SNP Government.
Working together. Tackling inequality. Boosting Growth. Getting the job done for the people of Scotland.
That job is not going to get any easier in the next Parliament. With the constraints on public finances our challenge is in fact, going to get much, much harder.
But, we are going to get some, limited new powers.
The Scotland Bill currently going through the Commons does not go nearly as far as Scotland wants it to. We all know that.
Even Gordon Brown seems to know it – and he has experience of such things – he has a decade of experience at disappointing Scotland!
We want to recommend that Parliament backs the Bill when it comes to a vote.
We want to use every tool available to us to make Scotland better.
But there’s the rub.
The Scotland Bill will only be worth it if it helps make Scotland better.
What will not help is if the Bill is constrained, undermined and distorted by a Fiscal Framework – a set of financial rules – that harms Scotland.
I have spent a lot of time negotiating the framework with the Treasury over recent weeks.
The Fiscal Framework is meant to be the financial plumbing of the devolution settlement.
I will not allow it to become a drain on Scotland’s finances, sucking cash out of our public services and back to the Treasury.
I will not allow it to become yet another tool of Tory austerity.
Without the Framework, there is no Bill.
So let it be understood, crystal clear, that I will only recommend acceptance of a Fiscal Framework, to the First Minister, to Parliament and to the people of Scotland if that set of financial rules is fair to people of this country.
The SNP has a job to do. We have 201 days to secure our nation’s future.
201 days to win an historic third term in office.
Our task – together – is to convince the people of Scotland that the SNP Government has earned the chance to remain the Government of our country. To steward Scotland through the next challenges we face.
I believe we have the best team, the right policies and the clear vision Scotland needs.
I believe we are capable of leading this nation on to great things.
That is our task.
We have a job to do.
Let us take our message of hope and aspiration to every part of our country and secure the opportunity to change Scotland for good