Conference, members, friends… welcome.
Since we last came together as a party in November, we have started to see some much welcome light breaking through following 12 long months of darkness. And while we are entitled to look forward with renewed hope, our thoughts are still with our fellow citizens who lost loved ones during this dreadful pandemic.
We must also, once again, pause to pay testimony to the NHS staff, care workers, emergency services, all the key workers and our fantastic colleagues working in vital council services across Scotland.
Their commitment and selflessness have helped us all during this pandemic. And while we are not yet fully through this crisis we are on the cusp of returning to what we all so dearly yearn for – a more normal way of life.
At times we may all have had doubts that these days would dawn again.
But the progress over the last weeks and months is testament to the huge sacrifice of the people of this country, coupled with the incredible achievement of the biggest vaccination programme in history.
We owe an unpayable debt of gratitude to all those who have pulled together in this incredible Scottish success story. And now, our return to a more normal existence also heralds the prospect of renewed hope for the future.
And as we embark on this Holyrood election campaign – the most important in Scotland’s history – hope is what the SNP is offering to the people of Scotland. Led by our exemplary First Minister, we are promising an election campaign overflowing with optimism.
We have all watched in admiration as Nicola brought the country through these worst of times and, as we start the rebuilding process, we need her experienced leadership to protect Scotland now more than ever.
This election will ask the people of Scotland one simple question. Should Scotland’s recovery be in Scotland’s hands – or that of Westminster Tories like the deeply untrustworthy Boris Johnson?
On May the 6th we are asking the people of Scotland to put their trust in Nicola and an SNP government to lead us from pandemic to recovery.
Now is the time for experienced leadership and government as we continue with the most important dual task: keeping Scotland safe and rebuilding towards a fairer future for all.
Over the past few weeks we have all been sickened by opposition parties devoting their energies to witch-hunts, stitch-ups and the lowest party politics the likes of which we believed were reserved for Trump’s America.
Their desperate attacks on both the First Minister and the institutions of our hard-won democracy have been unedifying and shameless.
Those responsible displayed a complete lack of integrity or morality. They are not interested in governing and they are certainly not up to the job of leading. They have nothing positive to say.
And thanks to the canny understanding of the Scottish people, their contemptible tactics were not just called out, they backfired – spectacularly.
SNP branches the length and breadth of the country experienced a tide of new members flooding to join the party, as people showed their support for the leadership of Nicola Sturgeon and rejected the reprehensible behaviour of the Tories and their other opposition enablers.
Over the past month or so this party – our party – gained an astonishing 15,000 new recruits.
Today, I would like you to join me in welcoming each-and-every one of them to our cause – the pursuit of an independent Scotland.
I’m sure I speak for every member when we say: “Welcome aboard. There is much to do.”
Friends, old and new, I promise you this: Our optimistic, positive campaign will be the exact opposite of the anti-politics that tarnished the last few weeks of parliament. Ours will be a campaign that will raise Scotland up, not knock it down.
With our ever-swelling army of grassroots supporters and activists, we will flood the country with optimism and hope for a better Scotland. In the coming weeks we will set out our plans to protect our NHS with record investment, like the generous pay deal of offer to reward the deserving workforce with more than just claps on our doorsteps.
We will bring forward plans for a National Care Service that will protect our older people and recognise and reward those who care for them. And we will support the country’s engine room, unlocking the potential of Scotland’s economy to protect and create jobs as we get on with the job of building a better Scotland.
We will help those who may have lost their job or be looking for a new career to retrain in the jobs of the future.
We will ensure education is free and available to all.
We will invest in our housing and improving our communities.
We will work for a cleaner environment and make Scotland’s crucial contribution to combatting global Climate Change.
And of course, we will keep delivering the vaccination programme, putting jags into people’s arms and making the country safer again.
We know all of this is not just possible but within our grasp. Because this party has total belief in the abilities and talents of all the people who live here.
To achieve a better future, we believe that Scotland’s recovery should be in Scotland’s hands – not Boris Johnson’s. That means the people of Scotland have the right to decide their future in an independence referendum when the Covid crisis is over.
Independence is the only way to protect our most cherished institution, the NHS.
The year just passed has clearly demonstrated how much we rely on it. That means we must also protect it from the Westminster Tories who will flog it off bit by bit in their desperation for a trade deal with America.
Independence is the only way to protect Scotland’s economy from the Westminster Tories’ job-destroying hard Brexit.
Independence is the only way to protect Scotland’s most vulnerable people from another decade of unjust and brutalising Tory austerity.
And it is the only way to make sure our money – our taxes – goes toward a better future for our children instead of nuclear weapons on the Clyde.
With independence we’ll have a recovery made in Scotland and we’ll have the powers needed to build a fairer and more prosperous country.
Friends, we are about to witness a Scottish Parliament election that will be of genuinely historic significance.
An election that will determine how we rebuild and renew our country and who will take those decisions.
The challenge for us all is to work as never before, to convince our fellow Scots to put their trust not just in us, but in each other.
Working together, we must continue to win over our fellow Scots who are not convinced – yet.
And we CAN convince them with the persuasive power of our positive arguments.
We can convince them that, in an independent Scotland, everyone’s basic needs are met as a right, and are no more at the mercy of the Westminster elite.
An elite who have run the economy into the ground and trashed the UK’s global reputation.
Increasing inequality, and an utterly unbalanced economy that prioritises London and the south east of England over all other parts of the UK is not what Scotland needs.
We can, we must do better than this. Scotland deserves better.
Friends, we know the current Covid restrictions are necessary.
They dictate this will be a different campaign.
We cannot yet get organised in the way we excel – with thousands of feet on the ground. But our manifesto will be no less inspiring. It will set out our plans to renew Scotland now and with the powers of independence.
Never before in our history have so many Scots shared our belief that independence is the right path for our country.
I do not need to convince you that Scotland – NOT Boris Johnson – must decide Scotland’s future.
And be in no doubt, this May, it is not just a vote for Douglas Ross’s Scottish Tories that is a vote for Boris Johnson.
Yesterday the Tories called for people to remember the spirit of Better Together. Well Scotland knows what that means. It means votes for Labour or the Lib Dems, simply hand power to the Tories.
It means instead of Scotland’s recovery being in Scotland’s hands – we would be handing a veto over Scotland’s recovery to Boris Johnson.
If you vote for Anas Sarwar’s Labour or Willie Rennie’s LibDems, you’ll be making Boris Johnson a happy man.
That simply cannot be allowed to happen – our future and the future of our children is too important.
So, it falls to us to build on the legacy of those who campaigned before us, whose efforts in building support for independence we inherit.
It is our responsibility to take full advantage of the new levels of trust and support earned by the exemplary leadership shown by Nicola – the foremost politician anywhere in the UK.
Together, friends, we are closer than ever to realising our dream of an Independent Scotland.
To vote for that right to decide our future – Scotland’s future – make it both votes SNP on May the 6th.