Ten years ago SNP delegates met in Aviemore for our annual conference. In May of that year we had won the right to form Scotland’s first SNP Scottish Government and quickly got to work in “Leading Scotland Forward”.
That was the slogan emblazoned across the conference podium and set us apart, as a government with clear focus and ambition for Scotland, from the managerial Labour-led executive of the early years of devolution.
Nicola Sturgeon, then Depute Leader of the party and Scotland’s new Deputy First Minister, stood before conference delegates and spilled the secret of the SNP’s success: “We have never stopped believing in Scotland’s potential”. To this day we never have, and we never will.
With a membership 120,000 strong the SNP no longer fits into the pokey auditorium in Aviemore. We’ve come a long way in 10 years as a party. But we’ve come even further as a nation.
At the very heart of our focus in building that better nation has been unlocking the potential of our people, creating the best public services anywhere in the UK and protecting the most vulnerable in our communities.
Against the backdrop of a decade of Tory austerity, we’ve set a better course. We have supported family budgets, abolished prescription charges and restored Scotland’s proud tradition of free education. We have delivered record funding and more staff for our NHS. We have cut crime to a 43-year low. We are seeing more school pupils passing higher exams and going on to university. We are leading the world on measures to tackle climate change.
The SNP’s record is one we can and should be rightly proud of, but we will never rest on our laurels. We will never stop believing in Scotland’s potential.
The First Minister recently set out a fresh policy agenda in our programme for government. It builds on the strong foundations we have already laid and sets our sights even higher. It is a bold, ambitious blueprint to shape the kind of Scotland we all seek – an inclusive, fair, prosperous and innovative country, ready and willing to embrace the future.
Even a quick glance over the SNP’s conference agenda for the next three days demonstrates that we are the party that continues to lead Scotland forward, a party that takes Scotland’s future seriously and a party that will continue to work hard to deliver progress. We will never be a party that shies away from debating how to make our country fairer, healthier, wealthier, greener and more competitive in an ever-changing world.
While the Tories are consumed by the chaos of a Brexit mess of their own making and Labour continue to fight bitterly amongst themselves, the SNP remains more focused and determined than ever.
As SNP members gather for our annual conference in Glasgow, we remind ourselves that we hold an extremely privileged position as Scotland’s government and Scotland’s voice at Westminster. It is one we must never take for granted.
We now face very real threats to the progress made under devolution, from Tories who would like to see Scotland knocked down a peg or two and hard-won powers returned to Westminster. The SNP will lead from the front in staring down that challenge to our Scottish Parliament and the powers it has to improve our country for the better.
While we have achieved so much in ten years, I know that the best days of SNP government for Scotland lie ahead. We could do worse than stick to that guiding principle in pursuing the best for our country – we must never stop believing in Scotland’s potential.
This article original appeared in the i Newspaper.