I am delighted to welcome all of you here to the city of Aberdeen
The scale of our conference this week is simply awesome.
1000 observers, exhibitors and journalists
Making this – by far – the biggest ever gathering in the history of the SNP.
And, delegates, what an amazing year this has been.
Over the last few months, our party has continued to grow.
We are now more than four times bigger than we were on referendum day last year.
Last year, by conference, our membership had grown from 25,000 to 85,000.
Today, I can tell you that it has grown even more.
Today, our membership stands at 114,121.
The growth of our party is extraordinary.
But it is as nothing compared to our growing support right across the country.
In the general election in 2010, fewer than half a million people voted SNP.
In the Scottish Election a year later, our support grew to just over 900,000 votes.
And in the general election this year, almost 1.5 million people chose our party.
That’s almost one million more people – in just five years and across all parts of our country – persuaded to put their trust in the SNP to lead Scotland forward.
The next time you hear any of our political opponents – so bereft of any positive ideas of their own – deride our record in office, remember this.
Each and every one of these one million new votes has been won while our party has been in government.
That’s the real verdict on our Scottish government.
We didn’t just win the general election in May.
We won it overwhelmingly and comprehensively.
I want to thank each and every one of you for all your hard work in making that victory possible.
And I want to make this promise to the Scottish people.
In May, we said that we would make Scotland’s voice heard at Westminster.
Let me make clear today that is exactly what we will continue to do.
Our MPs are going to be late arriving in Aberdeen this morning.
But they have good reason.
Last night they were in the House of Commons voting against Tory austerity.
They did so united, and with no hesitation.
Contrast that with Labour.
Labour initially planned to vote for George Osborne’s austerity charter.
It was only SNP pressure that changed their minds.
Or, at least, it changed some of their minds. In the vote last night, Labour divisions were laid bare.
And it became crystal clear, yet again, that the only party with the unity and the conviction to stand strong against austerity is the SNP.
You know, there is much that I hoped the SNP and Jeremy Corbyn could work together on.
But over these last few weeks, it has become glaringly obvious that he is unable to unite his party on any of the big issues of our day.
When he says he opposes Trident, he is attacked, not just by the Tories, but by his own shadow cabinet.
When he says he opposes the welfare cap, he is opposed, not just by Iain Duncan Smith, but by his own Shadow Justice Secretary.
A Shadow Justice Secretary, incidentally, who is a member of the unelected House of Lords.
Let me make this clear.
You will never find members of the House of Lords in an SNP Cabinet.
We want to abolish the House of Lords.
Whether on the economy, or Trident, or even the question of whether UK forces should take part in air strikes on Syria, Labour is a party divided and in disarray.
In fact, the only thing clear about Labour – and it becomes clearer by the day – is this.
Labour is unreliable, unelectable and unable to stand up to the Tories.
At Westminster there is now only one united, strong, principled opposition to David Cameron and George Osborne.
The party I am proud to lead.
The Scottish National Party,
And as Labour becomes ever more divided, the Tories – under the cloak of centrist rhetoric – threaten to even more deeply divide our society.
Tax credit cuts for the lowest paid, repeal of the human rights act, attacks on trade union freedoms and disgracefully divisive language on immigration…
…this is not a Tory government moving to the centre.
This is a Tory government trying to shift the centre ground of British politics sharply to the right.
We can counter this shift – not just by opposing at Westminster.
But by governing at Holyrood.
By showing there is a better way – directly benefiting people in Scotland and providing a beacon of hope to people across the UK.
We will continue to be that strong opposition at Westminster that people need.
But we have another mission too.
Next May, we are determined to win a historic third term as Scotland’s government.
Today, I am putting this party firmly on election footing.
Over these next few days, we will begin to set out our claim to lead Scotland into the next decade.
As you might have noticed, I get asked regularly what our manifesto will say about a second independence referendum.
So let me address that question directly.
Our manifesto will set out the details.
But today I’ll tell you the principles that will guide it.
Those principles are respect and democracy.
I believe with all my heart that Scotland should be an independent country.
But I respect the decision that our country made last year.
So let me be clear. To propose another referendum in the next parliament without strong evidence that a significant number of those who voted No have changed their minds would be wrong and we won’t do it.
It would not be respecting the decision that people made.
But, over the next few years, as the Tories impose even deeper cuts, press ahead with Trident renewal and fail to honour in full the vow of more powers for our parliament, I think support for independence will continue to rise.
So let me also be clear about this.
If there is strong and consistent evidence that people have changed their minds and that independence has become the choice of a clear majority in this country, then we have no right to rule out a referendum and we won’t do that either.
No one has the right to stand in the way of democracy.
So, those will be the principles that guide us – respect and democracy.
What does that mean for us as a party?
It means that if we want Scotland to be independent – and we do – then we have to change more minds.
We have to build the case and make it even stronger. We have to convince those we didn’t convince last year.
And we have to persuade a majority of Scots of what we believe to be true.
Independence is the best future for our country.
Of course, there is one issue that could so materially and fundamentally change the circumstances in which people voted last year, that it deserves to be considered on its own merits.
That is, of course, the EU.
So let me say this to David Cameron.
Last year, you told the Scottish people that the only way to protect our EU membership was to vote No. It was one of the central issues of your campaign.
If you try to take Scotland out of the EU against our democratic wishes, you will be breaching the terms of last year’s vote.
And, in those circumstances, you may well find that the demand for a second independence referendum is unstoppable.
For those who want Scotland to be independent, there is only one vote next year that makes sense – and that is a vote for the SNP.
But I don’t want to just win the votes of independence supporters.
I want to inspire people who voted No to vote SNP too.
I want them to vote SNP because we are the best party, with the best ideas and the best people to lead Scotland forward.
Everyone, from the strongest supporter of independence to the stoutest advocate of the Union, has the right to know that we will govern well with the powers we have at any given time.
So no matter the interest in what our manifesto says about independence, let me be clear about this –
What matters just as much to me and to people across the country will be what it says about jobs and the economy, the safety of our communities, our hospitals and health centres, our schools, colleges and universities and our plans to use new powers to tackle poverty and inequality.
On all of these issues and many more, our manifesto will set out radical, ambitious and progressive policies to make this country even stronger.
Some of these policies will be set out over the 3 days of this conference, with many more in the months ahead.
Let me today make one early commitment.
One of the biggest issues in the campaign will be housing.
Making sure that everyone has a safe, warm and affordable home is central to our government’s drive to make this country fairer and more prosperous.
We have a good record on housing. In this parliament, we had a target of building 30,000 affordable homes and we are on track to meet it.
We also started a new generation of council house building.
And we have taken steps to safeguard social housing for the future by abolishing the right to buy.
We must now go further and we will.
Our plans must be affordable. But they must also be ambitious.
I am therefore announcing today a bold new commitment.
If we are re-elected next May, our target in the next parliament will be to build at least 50,000 new affordable homes.
That commitment – worth more than £3 billion – is a mark of the ambition we have for this country.
Ambition for Scotland and for everyone who lives here will be the hallmark of our campaign for re-election.
We go into this contest with record approval ratings in the polls.
But we will take nothing for granted.
We will campaign harder than we have ever done to win – again – the trust of the people.
And make no mistake – we will stand proudly on our record.
Over the past eight years, while Westminster has cut our budget, we have delivered better services.
Our school leavers do better than ever before.
We have rebuilt or refurbished one fifth of all school buildings.
Crime is at a 41 year low.
And NHS waiting times are among the lowest recorded.
We have abolished prescription charges.
We have maintained free personal care for the elderly.
And we have restored free tuition for our students.
We have made necessary, and radical, long-term reforms to police, to colleges, to health and social care services, and to our school curriculum.
The foundations are strong. Our manifesto will set out how we will build on them.
It will set out how we will address the challenges of the future.
And it will put before the people of this country a truly progressive policy programme to support our economy, create a fairer society and improve our public services.
I want you to understand the significance of what we are now seeking to achieve.
Next May, I will ask the people of Scotland, for the first time, to elect me as First Minister.
And we, together, will seek what no party in the devolution era has yet achieved – a third term in office.
We will do so with humility, but with a determination to win.
Our task is clear.
We must convince the people of this country that I will be the best First Minister, that we are the best team, and that we have the best policies and the best vision to lead Scotland confidently into the next decade.
If we do that, then we will win.
So let’s get on with our conference. Let’s get on with the job.