Deputy First Minister argues case for independence

Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon visited the University of St Andrews on Monday and in her address outlined the Scottish Government’s strategy for the lead up to the independence referendum vote in September.

Her speech in full was as follows:

The start of any new year is a time for excitement and anticipation.

A time to reflect on the year just ended and to look forward with confidence to the future.

For Scotland - and for everyone who lives here - 2014 will be a special and momentous year. It is a year that future generations will read about in the history books.

The immediate issues of the day will feature prominently in our debate in the months to come - understandably so - but as we prepare to cast our votes, we should also consider the judgment of generations to come on the decision we take this year.

What do we want the history books to say about us, about the choice we make and the reasons for it, and about its significance for the kind of country our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will grow up in?

The choice we make on 18 September is profoundly different to the decisions we are used to taking at the ballot box. The referendum is an opportunity, without precedent in Scotland’s long history, to democratically and peacefully create a new country.

People all over the world will, from time to time, look at and question the conduct of their national life, the way their public services are run, the way they are governed and how their economy is organised.

They can debate these issues and ask, does it have to be like this?

This year, in Scotland, we can ask that same question.

But our opportunity is not just to ask, to challenge or to debate.

Our opportunity is to act.

When we go into the polling booth we will be asked: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”

The answer to that short question, Yes or No, will in no small way determine what kind of country we can expect to live in and what kind of country our children will inherit.

So, as we enter this next, vital, phase of the campaign - what I am describing today as the “two futures” phase - there are four key arguments I will make.

The first is that Scotland has got what it takes to be independent. Even the No side accepts that. And by recognising what we agree on - which in short is that Scotland CAN be independent - we will be better able to focus on the question that really matters: SHOULD we be an independent country?

My second argument - unsurprisingly - is that we should be independent. But not as an end in itself - we should choose independence because of its transformational potential.

Thirdly, I will argue that the decision we make this year transcends party politics. You don’t need to support the SNP to support independence. Independence means that it will always be the political choices we make as a country - whatever they might be - that will determine who governs us and the priorities they will pursue.

And, lastly, I will argue that we must make sure the debate we have over these next 9 months empowers people to make an informed choice. The referendum is a choice. A choice of two futures. People don’t just need to know what a Yes vote will mean for Scotland - for you to compare, contrast and decide you also need to know what a No vote will mean.

I said a moment ago that there are things that the two sides of the campaign agree on.

We agree, for instance, that after the referendum, whatever the result, it will be incumbent on both the Scottish and UK governments to work together in the best interests of people in Scotland and in the rest of the UK. That joint commitment is enshrined in the Edinburgh Agreement.

That is why - regardless of what is said now in the heat of debate - we can be confident that, following a Yes vote, sensible agreement will be reached on issues such as a currency union and a common research area for higher education. We can be confident because such agreement will not just be in Scotland’s interest - it will be in the interests of the rest of the UK as well.

Both sides also agree that devolution has worked: that taking decisions in Scotland, rather than at Westminster, on health, education and justice has brought real benefits to people living here.

But, most importantly of all, both sides agree that Scotland can be a successful, independent country - in fact, these are the actual words used by David Cameron.

We agree that without a single penny of oil revenues the amount of tax generated, per person, in Scotland is, to quote the UK Treasury, “roughly the same” as for the UK as a whole.

That’s very significant.

Without oil revenues the size of the Scottish economy, on a per head basis, is almost the same as the UK’s.

When oil revenues are included, per capita national income in Scotland is substantially higher than for the UK.

Indeed, in each and every one of the last 32 years, tax generated per head in Scotland has been higher than in the UK as a whole.

We are currently among the top ten wealthiest countries in the OECD.

We have a food and drink industry with a predicted turnover of more than £16 billion.

On a per head basis we have more top universities than any other country in the world.

We have been described as a hot-bed of life-sciences.

We have strengths in financial services, tourism, creative industries and other key growth sectors.

We have extraordinary potential in renewable energy and there are up to 24 billion barrels of oil still to be extracted from Scottish waters.

We have the strongest of economic foundations. Indeed, I would suggest that no country, anywhere, has been better equipped to become an independent nation than Scotland.

So as you make your minds up over these next few months, be clear about these key points of agreement.

In those areas where the Scottish Parliament already has responsibility, there has been a record of competence and improvement in the lives of people in Scotland. The principle of taking decisions here in Scotland has been proven to work.

And an independent Scotland’s economic viability is not in doubt. We can be a successful, independent country.

These points were settled in 2013.

So as we look forward to 2014 what, then, is the issue at the heart of the debate?

The key question is the one that will be on the ballot paper - should we be an independent country?

I said earlier that we would have the strongest possible starting point as an independent country - and we would.

But the choice we face in the referendum is about the future. We need to decide what outcome will best equip us to face that future and the challenges it presents.

Like other countries, we face some big challenges - constrained public finances, a legacy of debt and a shrinking working population relative to our pensioner population.

But these are not arguments against independence. They are products of the status quo. They are reasons, not to keep things as they are, but to do things differently.

We need to grow our economy faster, expand our working age population and increase revenue as a result.

As part of the Westminster system - and despite everything we have going for us - Scotland has not performed as well as many of our similar-sized, independent competitors.

So my argument is not that independence will make us immune from these challenges - rather it is that independence will give us the tools we need to address them.

Our independent neighbours have grown their economies more quickly than we have.

In fact, over the 30 years to 2007, if had matched the average growth rate of comparable European countries, our economy would be nearly 4% bigger than it is today - equivalent to around £900 for every person in the country.

It is also the case that, historically, Scotland’s population has grown less quickly than the UK as a whole and countries like Switzerland, Ireland, Sweden and Norway.

So the question is - what would independence enable us to do to improve our performance in these crucial areas, that we can’t do as part of the Westminster system?

Well, firstly, we could choose to transform childcare, building on the improvements we have been able to deliver with the limited powers of devolution.

In the independence white paper, the Scottish Government set out a long-term plan for the provision of free universal childcare for all children aged 1-5.

At present childcare costs in Scotland are among the highest in Europe.

They are a real barrier to women in particular pursuing fulfilling careers.

And yet we know that if we can raise female participation in the labour market to levels achieved in, for example, Sweden then - as well as the boost to general economic performance - we would also generate an extra £700 million per year in tax revenue.

Money that, in an independent Scotland, would stay in Scotland to help fund the policy for the long term.

Within a fixed budget that doesn’t automatically benefit from increased tax revenues, no devolved Scottish Government could make such a commitment without making big cuts elsewhere.

So this is a social and economic transformation that is only possible in an independent Scotland.

Giving women greater job opportunities is a key aim.

But fairness, equality and the achievement of individual ambition are as important as participation.

In Scotland at present women don’t have the same career opportunities as men. That’s not just bad for women - it’s bad for the economy.

We need to change that.

One of the steps we could take is to ensure public and private institutions improve the gender balance of their governance.

If the current Scottish Government was the first government of an independent Scotland we would, for example, introduce a target for women’s representation on company boards.

The power to do this is not currently available to the Scottish Parliament.

So like childcare this is a benefit that will only come with independence.

The point I am making is that independence isn’t just about using policy levers in a slightly different way from Westminster.

It is about a fundamentally different view of the sort of country Scotland should be.

A Scotland where we don’t wait for things to happen to us but one where we decide to shape our own future.

A Scotland where we recognise that, if we are to succeed, we must use everyone’s talents and give everyone the opportunity to fulfil their potential – regardless of gender or background. And have the powers to turn that ambition into reality.

That is the kind of transformation we should be seeking in an independent Scotland.

And there are other things we can transform.

We can ensure we have an approach to Europe and to immigration that meets our needs, not one that panders to UKIP.

The fact is that Scotland can’t afford the narrow-minded approach of the Tories and UKIP on these issues.

We are and should remain enthusiastic members of the EU because it is in our national interests to do so. Jobs, exports and investment depend on it. Scotland in the EU is the only rational choice for our country, but we should be under no illusion about the threat that Tory dogma - driven by the electoral threat of UKIP - poses to Scottish interests.

Similarly on immigration, our national interests demand a different approach to the one taken by Westminster parties. Our demographics mean that for Scotland sensible migration is an opportunity, not a threat.

It is vital that we grow our working age population if we are to grow our economy and protect our welfare state. Sensible migration, along with more women in the workforce and more of our own young people able to stay and access good jobs here in Scotland, is important for our future prosperity.

Make no mistake - in the months leading up to the referendum and also as part of the European elections - we must make sure that Scottish interests are heard over the deeply divisive dogma of the Tories and UKIP.

But we must also understand that it is only in an independent Scotland that we can take these decisions for ourselves and protect our vital national interests.

I talked earlier about some of the important areas of agreement between the Yes and the No campaigns.

Another of these is the growing concern at what is often called the north/south divide.

From the Prime Minister down there is a recognition that too much economic activity is concentrated in London and the South-East of England.

David Cameron says such a narrow foundation for growth is unstable.

But this trend has continued under successive Westminster administrations and it is accelerating.

The gap in economic performance between regions in the UK is larger than in any other EU country.

In practical terms, that means jobs and opportunities are increasingly concentrated in London.

Indeed the Westminster Business Secretary, Vince Cable, said just before Christmas, that London is like a huge suction machine draining the life out of the rest of the country.

And there is a double whammy effect.

The poorest areas that are being left behind are also the areas being hit hardest by cuts in spending and social security.

That means only one thing: the gap will get wider.

So where does Scotland fit into this picture of grossly unequal economic growth and job opportunities?

Because of our economic strengths - and I would argue the decisive action of the Scottish Parliament - we have performed better than any other part of the UK outside London and the South-East.

But this referendum is about the long-term.

So I would ask you to consider this:

Think about the long-term economic future for you, your family and for generations to come.

Which of these outcomes will lead to greater job opportunities and economic security?

Continuing as a region of an unbalanced economy with one of the biggest gaps between rich and poor in the developed world, and lacking the economic powers we need to level the playing field?

Or becoming a national economy with the full range of economic powers to take advantage of our great strengths?

The powers to deliver a competitive edge for business, grow the working population, transform childcare, boost exports, improve the minimum wage and design an employment policy that will boost productivity.

To take what we call a “Team Scotland” approach, where we recognise the importance of a shared sense of national purpose.

That idea of a shared national purpose has been at the heart of many of the achievements of devolution.

We, collectively, have taken a different path on issues such as free personal care, the funding of higher education and the extent of private involvement in the NHS.

The benefits for people in their daily lives of taking decisions in Scotland have been real and important.

Independence is about extending that ability to put our priorities and interests at the heart of decision making, from some areas of our national life to all areas of our national life.

It is that transformational potential of independence that I believe is the over-riding reason to vote Yes.

And it should be a reason to vote Yes, regardless of what party you vote for.

Which leads me to another of the central arguments I want to make today. It is precisely because of its transformational potential, that I believe a decision to vote Yes transcends party politics.

We all want Scotland to succeed - no party has a monopoly on that ambition.

If you accept the principle that the best way of ensuring success is to give ourselves the powers that help determine it, then it doesn’t matter whether or not you support the SNP or our specific plans for using those powers.

What independence will do is ensure that it is always the decisions we take here in Scotland that will determine who governs us and what priorities they pursue - and that surely matters to all of us, regardless of our party allegiance.

Party loyalty should not be the decisive factor in this debate.

Indeed, I would have thought that for most Tory voters, the idea of a parliament that has the power not just to spend money but also the responsibility to raise it and be accountable for how it does so, would be inherently appealing.

And, for Labour voters, I would argue that a Yes vote is more in keeping with the home rule traditions of Scottish Labour than a No vote.

One of the joys of the Christmas break, for me, is getting the opportunity to read more books than I get time for during the working year.

One that I particularly enjoyed this holiday was a biography of Tom Johnston - a giant of the Labour movement and considered to be the greatest ever Secretary of State for Scotland.

What struck me, reading it, was the fact that the Home Rule Bills that were supported in the House of Commons by Johnston and the Red Clydesiders, if they had passed, would have delivered a much more powerful Scottish Parliament than the one we have today.

The Home Rule Bill of 1927, for example, proposed a Scottish Parliament with powers over pensions, unemployment benefits, the post office and all taxes. It would have resulted in responsibility for the armed forces being shared between a Scottish Parliament and Westminster. And it involved the withdrawal of all Scottish MPs from the House of Commons. So, important differences obviously - but arguably much closer to the modern day independence on offer now than it is to the more limited devolution supported by the current Labour leadership.

But even more interesting were the reasons Johnston gave for supporting such a strong Scottish Parliament.

‘The governors would be nearer the governed’, he said - which, in my view, is the compelling democratic argument for independence.

But, more than that, he believed that it would result in Scottish values, needs and priorities dictating public policy.

The following quote is clearly from a different time - in both language and substance - but I would argue that the sentiment within it remains relevant today. It should also give pause for thought to Labour supporters who argue that social solidarity with others across the UK is an argument against independence, rather than being - as I passionately believe - an argument for it.

He said:

“We in Scotland are ready for great advances in the war against poverty and I know of no reason why we should remain in destitution until our neighbours desire to march in step with us. And, indeed, rightly considered, home rule for Scotland would be to the great advantage of the English people since great advances in the war against poverty North of the Tweed would have tremendous repercussions south of it”.

As I say, words from a different time - but nevertheless highly relevant to our debate today. Indeed, this may be the first articulation of the idea that an independent Scotland could and would be a beacon of progressive change across the British Isles.

The final point I want to make today relates the nature of the debate I believe we should all aspire to in these next few months.

It is important to remember that the referendum is not a choice between change and no change. It is about choosing the kind of change we want for Scotland and who we want to be in the driving seat of it - ourselves or Westminster.

It is a choice between two futures.

That means that the consequences of both a Yes vote and No vote need to be considered carefully. And that means both the Yes and the No campaigns have an obligation to inform.

Those of us on the yes side take that responsibility seriously. In November, the Scottish Government published the independence white paper, setting out the practicalities and opportunities of what will happen if Scotland votes Yes.

I believe it sets out a powerful and compelling case for independence. And it gives robust, credible and common sense answers to the legitimate questions that people have.

I am happy to let the Scottish people be the judge of it.

But to make an informed choice between these two futures, you also need to know what a No vote will mean for Scotland.

So far, the No campaign has told us why they think independence is bad - but they haven’t told us why they think continued government by Westminster is good. They have asked - and had answered - a multitude of questions about what will happen if we vote Yes. But the many questions about what will happen in the event of a No vote go completely unanswered. That’s not good enough.

There are many questions that need to be answered by the No campaign. They deserve to be answered - not for my benefit, but for yours. To enable you to make an informed decision. Let me pose just a few.

What new powers is the Scottish Parliament guaranteed to get if we vote No - given that there is no consensus on this within the various anti-independence parties, let alone between them?

Will the Barnett formula be retained for the long term? Or will the demands from politicians in all of the UK parties for it to be reviewed or scrapped lead to a cut in Scotland’s budget?

What will the implications be for Scottish families of the £25bn of additional cuts in public spending being announced by the chancellor today?

Is there any guarantee that Scotland will remain part of the EU if we vote No, given the in/out referendum planned for 2017?

What will be done to increase the working age population in Scotland in the event of a No vote?

How many children will be living in poverty in 2020 if we carry on with current Westminster policies?

What steps will be taken to close the growing gap between rich and poor?

What will the UK’s national debt be in 2016?

Will an oil fund be established in the event of a No vote?

How many defence personnel will be based in Scotland by 2020?

How much will Scottish taxpayers be expected to contribute to the replacement of Trident?

I could go on and on. But you get the drift. These are all legitimate questions. They all have a direct bearing on whether Scotland’s interests will be better served by a Yes or a No vote. And it’s time we had clear answers from the No campaign.

So, I am challenging the No campaign today to publish its equivalent of the White Paper. Former Labour First Minister, Henry McLeish made a similar call at the weekend. And a poll published this morning shows that no less than 70% of people in Scotland agree.

Of course, doing so will involve them admitting to some grim possibilities - which no doubt explains their reluctance. It is estimated, for example, that up to 100,000 more children in Scotland will be living in poverty by 2020 if we follow the policy path Westminster is on.

And while Scottish politicians in the No campaign try to tell us that everything in the Westminster garden is rosy, we regularly hear their colleagues south of the border, speaking to different audiences, saying precisely the opposite.

Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary says the privatisation of the NHS is underway in England and that it will have irreversible consequences.

Thanks to devolution, of course, we can pursue a different policy course in Scotland.

But make no mistake - privatisation of the NHS in England will have a big impact on funding in Scotland.

Cuts in funding for public services in England trigger cuts in funding for services in Scotland.

If the Tories are determined to privatise the NHS in England this will mean cuts to publicly-funded health care.

And that will mean cuts in public funding here in Scotland.

Now, Labour may win the next UK election and put a stop to all this. Or they may not.

The fact is the No campaign has to be honest about the possible consequences of voting No.

The same is true of our welfare state.

The UK Shadow Education Secretary says that “the approach of David Cameron and George Osborne to the welfare state reeks of the 1800s.”

His colleague, the Shadow Business Minister says we face “a return to the poorhouse of the 19th century.”

Now, again, Labour might put a stop to all of this - or they might not.

But the No campaign has to be honest about the possible consequences of voting No.

And they have to be honest about the fact that, if we remain part of the Westminster system, it won’t be our votes that determine these matters - but votes elsewhere in the UK.

The inconvenient truths facing the No campaign simply can’t be allowed to stand in the way of the Scottish people making a genuinely informed choice.

The independence White Paper is now out there for people to read, scrutinise and judge. We need the same clarity and depth of detail from the other side, so that this debate can be taken out of the hands of politicians and put firmly where it belongs - into the hands of the Scottish people.

Let me conclude with this.

In an ever-changing, fast-moving world all countries have to earn success - Scotland included.

Our argument is that the best way of building a successful Scotland is to take our future into our own hands - to be in the driving seat of our own destiny.

We believe that it will be better for all of us if decisions about Scotland are taken by the people who care most: those of us who live and work here.

Decision-making power really matters.

With devolution it has benefited those in need of personal care, students who would struggle to pay tuition fees and those who want to keep the NHS in public hands.

With independence it would equip future Scottish governments of any party with the means to ensure greater long-term economic security, more job opportunities and a fairer society.

And it would mean the power to protect against the damaging consequences of Westminster governments determined to pursue a fundamentally different course from that supported by a majority of people living in Scotland.

So, at the beginning of this most important of years, I know you will think about the consequences of voting Yes - but I ask you also to think about the consequences of voting No.

I ask you to look carefully at the Scottish Government’s detailed blueprint for an independent Scotland.

But also to listen to everything - everything - that the opponents of an independent Scotland say about the future of public services, about where job opportunities are likely to be in the future, and about our social security system.

Listen to what they say to different audiences.

And then ask yourself this question:

Will it be better for me, my family and for generations to come if decisions about Scotland continue to be taken at Westminster or will it be better if they are taken here in Scotland instead?

Think about the two futures on offer.

And then resolve to put Scotland’s future into Scotland’s hands by voting Yes on the 18th of September.