Stephen Flynn’s address to #SNP23 Conference


As Rabbie Burns so poignantly wrote all those years ago: ‘man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn’.

And it is with those words echoing in our hearts that we send our thoughts and our prayers to the people of Ukraine, and the Middle East.

The terrorist attack by Hamas against the Israeli people last weekend was a crime against our common humanity.

We must unequivocally condemn it, and we must rise against their terror in our response.

And surely one of the most powerful responses to the inhumanity of Hamas – is to seek to protect the shared innocence and the shared humanity of all Israeli and Palestinian civilians.

Of course, this week too we have all looked on at the deep dignity Humza and his entire family have demonstrated.

The empathy, integrity and courage he has shown has been remarkable.

It is the mark of the man.

And it is the mark of true leadership.

I think every single one of us has looked on and felt proud that he is our party leader and Scotland’s First Minister.


It is of course my role today to welcome you all to Aberdeen, my home, the silver city with the golden sands.

Having glimpsed bits of both the Tory and Labour conferences in recent weeks I want to start by making two things clear.

First, unlike the Tory conference, there will be no tin foil hats permitted in the venue.

And second, unlike the Labour conference, there will be no glitter appearing in my hair.

But friends, it would be easy to fall into the comfort of a home crowd and try to somehow bypass the challenges we all know we face.

At those Westminster party conferences, there were more than enough examples of politicians getting easy laughs and easy applause.

But the problem with saying easy things is that it’s far too easily done.

And in politics, it’s done far too often.

So, I think it would be more helpful to be honest and I think that honesty is the very least you all deserve.

Because the truth is that this hasn’t been an easy few weeks for our party, let alone an easy few months.

Despite a brilliant candidate, who worked day and night – and a brilliant team of party activists – we lost Rutherglen and Hamilton West and we lost it comfortably.

Yes it was a by-election, yes it was a low turnout and yes there were very specific circumstances under which that election was called.

But there is no point in denying it.

That defeat was humbling.

But here’s the thing.

We might not like to admit it, but one of the great things about democracy is that it does that sometimes.

It’s how you respond that matters.

And when used right – democratic defeat is often the best way to renew your relationship with the people who matter most – the public.

Each and every time the people have their democratic say – the only right response is to listen and to keep listening.

The only right response to a humbling defeat is to be honest with ourselves and to be honest with the public.

That is what leadership is about – that’s what truly representing the Scottish people is about.

At our boldest and our best – it is what the Scottish National Party will always, always be about.

And friends when the Scottish National Party listens, and then when we act, Scotland wins.

And Conference,

For me – listening with honesty to those lessons – one thing is very clear.

In politics, you always have to meet people where they are at – not where you wish them to be.

And right here, right now – we know where people find themselves.

People are skint, and they have been for a good while now

In all the constant chaos of the last number of years, this is probably the scariest moment for people in our communities.

In fact, for people right across our communities, things have never felt harder.

Because the cost of living with Westminster is much more than a crisis – it’s an emergency.

It was an emergency last year, it’s an emergency now and it will remain an emergency until we get people the help they desperately need.


The safety of your own home after a tough day at work.

The certainty of having food in the fridge to feed the kids.

The warm shower to wash the dirt from their wee faces.

These are the basics of everyday life and for many – for millions in fact – they simply can’t afford them.

And that goes right across the board.

From those on low, fixed incomes and for those we would consider to be on middle incomes.

There used to be talk about the squeezed middle.

They are now no longer simply squeezed – they are barely getting by.

And that stress of surviving is what people are facing into right now.

The deafening thud of the letter box flapping as the mortgage renewal lands.

The anxiety of typing in the meter reading to see how much more you now owe.

It is that simple and it is that serious.

People are at breaking point because they live here – in broken Britain.

And friends let’s accept another truth,

Politics does too easily and too often descend into a blame game.

But when the blame is this blatant it deserves to be repeated – and it needs to be remembered.

Skint, scunnered and Scottish? Blame the Tories.

After 13 years of failure – through Brexit, through Boris, through 49 days of Liz Truss – we’re now left with the Tory billionaire of last resort – Rishi Sunak.

Now we all know that Sunak is already sunk and that the Tories are in their dying days in office.

But we know too that the very last sting of this rotten Tory tail is a cost-of-living crisis made in Westminster.

Let’s make sure we keep remembering what they have done, the price people have paid because of it – and let’s make sure that they get stuffed at the next general election here in Scotland once again!

But Conference,

Just because Sunak is already sunk– it doesn’t mean the public should be made to wait for help and punished even more.

They need help right now and they need help throughout this winter.

In just over a month, there will be an autumn budget in Westminster.

And in that budget, the SNP are calling for three major things.

Reinstate the 400 pound energy rebate to help heat homes this winter.

Reintroduce mortgage interest relief to help households who were hit by rising interest rates.

And finally – follow the example of our friends in France – tackle the cost of greed crisis and cap food prices in supermarkets for essential items.

These are real measures that will mean real help with the cost-of-living crisis for Scottish communities as we head into winter.

And you know, a little less than a month ago, I offered to work with Sir Keir Starmer on delivering this package of support.

I still don’t even know if he supports them because he has never even bothered to respond.

So I’ll repeat the offer, but this time I’ll make it directly to the now two Labour MPs in Scotland.

And friends, the question is very easy:

Will Labour in Scotland stand up for the people of Scotland – or will they simply do what Sir Keir Starmer tells them to do?

And conference,

Let’s never fall into the trap of believing that help this winter is not possible or realistic.

Because you don’t have to look very far to see where it is happening already.

In fact, you only have to look to our friends and allies in Ireland.

Last Tuesday, just an hour before Sir Keir Starmer said nothing about immediate cost of living support for people this winter, the Irish government were spending billions on support for their citizens right now.

Mortgage interest relief.

A tax credit for renters.

450 Euros in Energy credits.

A double child benefit payment.

And investing 100-billion-euro in a sovereign wealth fund for the next decade.

Our neighbours. An independent country – in the EU.

Growing economically, helping people through this cost-of-living crisis and planning for a prosperous future.

This is Ireland’s present.

The question we all now need to be asking ourselves is this.

Why can’t this be Scotland’s future?

Why not Scotland?

And conference,

That question also brings us to another fundamental reality.

And truth be told – I think folk can see it and they can feel it.

Because it’s a reality in plain sight.

Brexit Britain is a place and a politics in deep decline.

I couldn’t help but notice that at their conferences, the Westminster parties apparently now agree.

Rishi Sunak told his party that – and I quote – Westminster is a broken system’.

Sir Keir Starmer talked about the ‘walls of Westminster’ being so high that people’s needs go unheard and unseen.

Some honesty from the UK establishment, at last, don’t you think?

But those statements recognise a bigger truth and a broader trend.

When it comes to debt, growth, productivity, inequality – the UK’s problems are not temporary, they are terminal.

And this is no passing phase.

Because this week too we were informed – that in comparison to nearly every other G7 country – the UK would be stuck living with,

Higher inflation for longer.

Higher interest rates for longer.

And lower economic growth.


It’s one thing for Sunak and Starmer to have finally woken up to the reality of broke, Brexit Britain.

But if they aren’t prepared to offer a solution to that economic and social decay, then neither of them will ever offer real change.

And in both Westminster parties, there is a heavy dose of denial and dishonesty on how to escape that economic decline.

But they need to be told.

You can’t deliver sustainable economic growth and at the very same time back a hard Brexit.

You can’t claim to back business when you deliberately isolate yourself from a single market of 500 million people – the largest single market in the world.

You can’t hope to compete and win the global race to net zero – if you either don’t believe in a just transition like the Tories.

Or if like Labour you are already cutting back billions on your promises of green energy investment before they even get into government.

And if your attitude to migration is solely defined by stopping small boats – you will never be rooted in the understanding that a modern migration system that welcomes people to our shores actually generates economic growth.

Sunak and Starmer don’t want to hear any of this – but it is right to say it and friends we’ll keep on repeating it.

And conference,

All the talk is about whether the next general election will be a repeat of 1992 or 1997.

But for Scotland – that history and that choice belongs firmly in the past.

Our country has moved on from that depressing Westminster seesaw.

In 2023, Scotland is a place apart and a politics apart.

Our choices can be different and so too can our future.

Let’s get rid of the Tories now, let’s never go back to Blair – and while we’re at it – let’s end Westminster control for good.

Because friends,

The real choice at the general election boils down to this.

The Westminster parties are asking the Scottish people to trust them to fix the unfixable – broken, Brexit Britain.

We are asking something – and we are offering something – deeply different.

We are asking the Scottish people to put trust in themselves – to take powers and our future into our own hands.

We are offering the opportunity to build a new, independent Scotland.


When we do put trust in ourselves and take power into our own hands, the opportunities are endless.

And it’s sometimes important to remind ourselves that for people my age, our political memory doesn’t know a time before devolution.

The great generation led by Winnie Ewing told us to ‘stop the world, Scotland wants to get on’.

And for my generation growing up – that’s exactly what began to happen.

The return of our Scottish parliament gave us a voice, and our government began to confidently shape a society that reflects our values.

It means that if you’re a bairn born in Scotland it’ll be into a baby box.

As you grow you’ll go to nursery, with 1140 hours paid for you by the state.

At primary, you’ll get a free school meal.

Want to go to University – that’ll be paid for you.

In total, 95% of your peers will either do that, go to college, apprenticeship or straight to work.

Finally land a job – and do so knowing that you’ll join with the majority of Scots in paying less tax than in England.

Get a flat – your council tax will be cheaper than south of the border too.

And all the while, you’ll turn on the tap and get crisp, clean water from a nationalised company.

Fall ill and your prescriptions are covered.

Fall into poverty, and your children will be protected by the child payment.

Open a small business and your business rates will be covered.

As you age you’ll join our young people in having access to free bus travel.

Whilst living safe in the knowledge that your personal care will be covered.

And bit by bit, it means a country confident enough, smart enough and creative enough to imagine a future beyond Westminster.

And conference,

All of these things came to pass for one very simple reason.

Because the Scottish people took power into our own hands.

And yes – time to stop being shy about it – most of this progress happened because the Scottish National Party delivered it in government.

Let’s be proud and confident in remembering all of it and let’s never let others forget it.

This is our record.

These are our values.

This is the Scotland we have built and the Scotland we will keep on building.

And each and every bit of that progress forms the building blocks of the independent nation we will become.

And conference,

That remains the unfinished business of this party and this movement.

And building that coalition for change is exactly where we now need to get back to.

Because the powers we have are not enough to meet our potential.

And they are not nearly enough to meet the challenge of this cost-of-living crisis.

And I don’t know about you, but I for one am tired of this false debate that says we either focus on independence or on the cost-of-living crisis.

The cost-of-living crisis is a direct consequence of the constitutional status quo.

Unfair, unequal – broken, backwards, Brexit Britain is the very reason why people can’t afford to pay their bills.

It is the cost of living with Westminster.

And from this moment on, we need to powerfully put it to people that constitutional change is the only way you get real change.

We need to put it to people that if you believe that every drop of Scotland’s energy should be used for the benefit of the Scottish people – if you believe in energy independence – then we are the party of real change.

If you believe in economic growth – that our energy rich country is perfectly positioned to reap the rewards of revenues and jobs from the green energy gold rush – then we are the party of real change.

If you believe in a Scottish parliament that doesn’t just mitigate against poverty – but believe in an Independent Parliament that can eradicate poverty for good – then we are the party of real change.

If you believe employment law, the power to protect working rights and trade unions, should be shaped in the Scottish parliament– then we are the party of real change.

If you believe that our economy, our society, our future would be better back home in the European Union – then we are the party of real change.

And if you believe that independence is normal and needed now more than ever – then we are the party of real change.

This is our vision.

Its greatest strength is that it will always, always, always be bigger, bolder and beyond anything those parties backing Brexit Britain can ever offer.

It is the unfinished business of the independence movement.

It is the real change that the Scottish people are crying out for.

Let’s regroup, renew and give Scotland’s people the chance to vote for what they believe in.

Thank you.