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Friday, 27 September, 2002, 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK
John Swinney: Leader's speech
The full text of Scottish National Party Leader John Swinney's speech to delegates at the SNP's autumn conference in Inverness.


There have been many changes since we last met. It's hard to believe but 12 months ago Henry McLeish was First Minister. Now it's Jack. Jack, who decided to have a bit of a clearout when he became First Minister. And what a clearout it was. A combination of Sale of the Century meets the Weakest Link.

Who will be Labour leader in another 12 months? Who can say from a party that has more Cabinet changes than IKEA?

But it's not only Henry who had a bad result this year. I'm talking of course about that match in the Faroes. Like most Scots I've never felt so gutted, so soulless, so utterly lacking in meaning. The only consolation is that at least now we all know how Jim Wallace feels every day.

I am sure that if the Liberal Democrats were football pundits they would describe the result in the Faroes as a highly principled performance. Indeed by their own pitiful standards of defending I am sure they would describe it as a stunning victory.


Scotland is not a devolved administration. Scotland is a nation - and this nation's voice must be heard

Scotland, I'm sure will soon have a winning team again. But Jack and Jim? I don't think so. They're facing defeat after defeat after defeat because in May the SNP will sweep them out of office.

Today I want to talk about ambition.

My ambition is to release our country's potential. To make much of ourselves. To play our full and rightful part in the world.

My ambition is for my country to be independent.

To be independent means we must take responsibility at home. And equally to be independent means we must take responsibility for the forces that shape the planet on which we live. When those forces press in on us - the issues of world peace and world security - they require a principled response.

Two weeks ago in the Scottish Parliament, I initiated a debate on the current international situation in Iraq. Our opponents attacked me for even daring to do so. For them the Scottish Parliament is a place where free speech is restricted and where the big matters of the day cannot be addressed, lest that offends their political masters in London.

They try to shout me down when I stray from the devolved agenda.

Well I have a message for the Unionists. Scotland is not a devolved administration. Scotland is a nation - and this nation's voice must be heard.

In that Parliamentary debate I spoke in Parliament of my admiration for America and my sympathy for the terrible losses they had suffered on the 11th of September last year. I spoke about my determination to help America help herself. And I spoke of the need for the rule of law and the triumph of international justice.

And we have spoken about those issues again here this week.

Our view is a simple and clear one.


I long for the day when Scotland can play her full and equal part in that world

Saddam Hussein is a brutal dictator. He must bow to the will of the world community. But before the world community authorises any action it must be convinced there is incontrovertible evidence to justify any military offensive. And it is the world community - through the United Nations - that must decide on the appropriate measures. The world community must set the limits and conditions for those who operate on its behalf.

So let me be very clear. Unilateral action by the United States or bilateral action with the United Kingdom is simply not acceptable.

The United Nations must judge on these issues and the United Nations must judge what is right to be done.

Such a structure is essential for the future of our planet. It means that we turn our backs on centuries of lawlessness and instead look forward to the world as it should be, and as those who founded the United Nations intended it to be.

A world in which the weak and the strong are bound together in mutual protection by the rule of international law and the principles of international justice.

I long for the day when Scotland can play her full and equal part in that world.

And that day will come when we take our rightful place as a full and Independent member of the community of nations.

It is an aspiration that will come under attack from those who want - not to release our country's potential - but to stifle our country's potential. And that will be the crucial debate at next year's elections.


Releasing our potential is the core of the Independence message - of putting control back into the hands of the people of Scotland

Like me, you will remember the 1999 Election campaign.

The endless lies and smears from Labour about divorce and separation.

Well, this election is going to be different.

At this election the SNP will reclaim the initiative - and we start - now, here, today - by reclaiming Independence.

Last time Independence was fought on their terms. Today I gave notice. This time Independence will be fought on our terms.

Releasing our potential is the core of the Independence message - of putting control back into the hands of the people of Scotland.

It is a message of personal freedom as well as national freedom.

Freedom from poverty for our children.

Freedom from insecurity for our old people.

Freedom from the fear of crime on our streets.

Freedom to achieve.

Freedom to stay here in Scotland with new opportunity and new hopes.

Freedom to release our potential.

An inspiring ambition of how we make our country the best our country can be. That's my ambition. And that's the ambition this Party is going to achieve.

At the very heart of that ambition lies economic opportunity.

And it is an outrage that such opportunity is denied to so many in our country.


It is no co-incidence that Scotland is both bottom of the European economic growth league, and top of the European child poverty league

When New Labour came to power one in three Scots children lived in poverty. Today - after all the New Labour rhetoric, all the New Labour spin, all the New Labour speeches - one in three Scots children still live in poverty.

That desperate fact alone should be enough for us to say. New Labour. You've had your chance. You've failed. Now it's time to go.

And it is heartbreaking when you hear how that poverty affects young people. Heartbreaking when you hear as I heard last week from young people who stare you straight in the eye and say "Mister there's nothing for us where we live". These young people should be looking forward to their lives with excitement. Yet they stare me in the eye and say "Mister there's nothing for us where we live." It's not their fault. It's not their failure. It's our failure as a society. And it's our duty - our absolute duty - to give those young people fresh hope.

It is no coincidence that Scotland is both bottom of the European economic growth league, and top of the European child poverty league. Our route to attacking poverty will come from delivering economic success.

That is why the SNP will put the debate over economic opportunity centre stage in the forthcoming election. Economic opportunity is the key that unlocks the door to a better life. It means the opportunity to fulfil the hopes and dreams we all have as young men and women. It means the opportunity to replace poverty with new hopes. And only by growing the economy will we have the opportunity to adequately fund our public services.

Handing control of public service funding to Westminster means they can turn the tap on and they can turn the tap off. Those days must come to an end. We in Scotland must take those decisions for ourselves.

So economic opportunity will be the fundamental issue for the SNP because it is the fundamental issue for Scotland.


We cannot present Independence as a land of milk and honey

The economic debate traditionally has been about whether or not Scotland is subsidised. Our opponents say Scotland can't stand on her own two feet because we will be in deficit. We have proved time and time again that they are wrong - but say for a moment they were right. What on earth does it say about our political opponents? They run around the country demanding re-election with the intriguing slogan "Vote for us - we've run up a £4billion deficit". It is a tired old argument that we have defeated and it's time we defeated the people who put the argument about. They have run Scotland down - and we must run them out of office.

Because of its importance, the economic debate must be moved on from that old and negative thinking. It demands a new approach. A new approach FROM our party - for our country.

And this is our new approach.

We cannot present Independence as a land of milk and honey. We cannot say that we will all prosper because of oil. We cannot say there will be money for everything simply by becoming Independent.

Our new approach will be to present Independence - not as a land of milk and honey - but it a land of opportunity.

An opportunity to compete.

An opportunity to put our people back in control.

An opportunity to release our potential - our potential as a talented and innovative people.

An opportunity to wave good-bye forever to those who stamp on Scottish ambition.

It must be an opportunity to use full financial powers to boost economic growth. To ensure that we don't trail behind the rest of the UK and Europe but exceed their performance.

And we will do that by starting a new age of innovation in Scotland.

We will use full financial powers to cut the taxes on growth with the objective of kick-starting a revitalised Scottish economy.


We need to promote our country's strengths for integrity and reliability to sell Scotland and her products overseas.

We will seize the opportunity of financial powers to cut business tax to a level below the rest of the United Kingdom and give our economy a competitive edge.

And what else does a growth strategy require. We need a competitive exchange rate and a monetary policy appropriate to our needs. We need control of strategic planning of our transport spending with control not just of our roads but also of our railways.

We need a radical improvement in research and development by encouraging strong private companies to be based in Scotland with their futures rooted in a competitive economy.

And we need to promote our country's strengths for integrity and reliability to sell Scotland and her products overseas.

And we will use control of the tax and benefits system to help those on low incomes find opportunity.

People, businesses - all of Scotland. We will release our potential.

What will this all deliver? It will deliver the opportunity to create jobs, the opportunity to create sustainable investment in our public services and the opportunity to create a passport out of poverty for so many in our country.

But the prophets of doom will say it can't be done. And I say just look at what our neighbours have done.


But the prophets of doom will say what about the cost of Independence

Ireland - our close neighbour - our Independent neighbour - has more than doubled its growth rate. If Scotland had grown at the same rate as Ireland over the last 30 years, our economy would be worth double its present value with £27 billion extra for public services.

But the prophets of doom will say we are not up to this challenge.

And I say as a country we are blessed. We have vast economic potential. We have a superb location, fabulous natural resources, a magnificent environment, talented people, a belief in the value of education and an international reputation for integrity and reliability.

That - my friends - is the potential we have got to release.

But the prophets of doom will say what about the cost of Independence.

And I say let's talk about the cost of the Union - child poverty, low wages, low opportunity, record homelessness. That is the cost of the Union for Scotland and it's a cost the SNP will remove!

The answer for our country is to change. The answer is to release our potential.

It can be done if we give the people and businesses of Scotland the power to compete.

It can be done if we take on the powers to create prosperity.

It can be done if we take on the powers to attack poverty.


Any public money that goes into the nuclear industry must be used to phase out the expensive, failing and dangerous nuclear era once and for all

We have a vision to rebuild the hopes of a generation lost to economic decline. And we must make that vision a reality at the elections next May.

But with that vision we also have a duty to steward our resources and our environment in a sustainable way, to care for the country with which we have been blessed.

And that means no new nuclear power stations - never ever under the SNP.

Fellow delegates, I have a reputation for being a fair man. So it's perhaps fair to say we haven't always been as kind to Brian Wilson as we might have been.

But let's give Brian some credit. He's branching out from his job as chief Labour apologist. He's now trying his hand as a magician.

He's handing over millions of pounds of your money to the nuclear industry to somehow magic uneconomic nuclear plants into viable concerns.

Well let me make it clear. Any public money that goes into the nuclear industry must be used to phase out the expensive, failing and dangerous nuclear era once and for all.

We offer a different vision. We will transform Scotland into the renewable energy capital of Europe.


The legacy of the nuclear age is nuclear waste that will last for thousands of years

No country on earth has the same potential for renewable energy that lies here in Scotland and around our shores.

In wave and cutting-edge hydrogen technology we could become world-leaders.

The legacy of the nuclear age is nuclear waste that will last for thousands of years.

My legacy will be a safe, sustainable future for Scotland¿s children.

Fellow delegates, I seek the opportunity to create a very different Scotland.

An innovative Scotland where we take on the powers to compete.

A fair Scotland where we take on the powers to tackle poverty.

A Green Scotland where we combine environmental protection with economic growth.


Jack McConnell has privatised where even the Tories feared to go

They are goals that can only be achieved when Scotland has control over economic policy, over taxation policy, over employment policy, over benefits policy and over energy policy.

None of those policy areas - not one - is presently under the control of the Scottish Parliament.

To deliver our vision of an innovative, fair and sustainable Scotland we must get those vital policy areas back from Westminster.

But to achieve Independence we must first win office and to do that we must tell people clearly what we will do within the existing powers of the Scottish Parliament.

The first task of my administration will be to clean up the mess that has been left behind. And it is some mess.

Waiting lists - higher.

Waiting times - higher.

Violent crime - higher.

Hospital beds - fewer.

Teachers - fewer.

No wonder - in an astonishing and unprecedented burst of honesty - Jack McConnell says his Executive has failed to deliver.

It is my job and the job of my ministers to tackle these failures. To tackle these failures as part of a practical agenda to deliver meaningful change in our public services. And we will start with one principle.

A basic principle - a principle that New Labour has abandoned but which we hold dear. In our public services, people come before profit.

Recently the First Minister had this to say.


Is there is no stick that Downing Street can throw that Jack won't retrieve?

"The Conservative Party," he said, "is the party that used to have old fashioned public service at its core. Now it's privatise, privatise, privatise."

But Jack McConnell has privatised where even the Tories feared to go.

He's privatised because he's been told to by his bosses in London.

Is there is no stick that Downing Street can throw that Jack won't retrieve? Time and again faithful Jack will run when London shouts "Fetch!"

Roads maintenance - privatised.

Prisons - privatised.

Even parts of the fire service - the fire service for goodness sake - are now up for sale.

I give you this pledge: As First Minister I will halt Labour's privatisation Juggernaut dead in its tracks.

I will match Labour's schools and hospital building programme brick for brick but under my administration, PFI will go.

In its place we will build and run schools and hospitals through a not for profit trust.


The commitment of nurses to their patients is humbling

I pay tribute to our councillors in West Dunbartonshire who have opposed PFI. And I congratulate the innovative not for profit work being undertaken by the SNP-led Falkirk Council. Our councillors - acting now - to put people before profit in their communities.

And that principle must be the bedrock of our national health service. That principle of people before profit.

The success of the NHS depends on people, not buildings.

On the people who devote their lives to caring.

To the doctors, nurses and other health workers.

The commitment of nurses to their patients is humbling. As First Minister I will ensure they receive a similar commitment from Government.

So Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland's next Health Minister, will pay our nurses the money, and the respect, they deserve.

Scotland's nurses and midwives will receive an increase of eleven per cent not just because they deserve it and they undoubtedly do - but because we need new nurses to cut waiting times and increase patient care.

So let¿s give our nurses the salaries they deserve.


I listen in horror at what decent people have to endure in their own homes and communities through crime and the fear of crime

And in our schools, Michael Russell, Scotland's next Education Minister, will deliver smaller class sizes. Our children are bright and eager. Let's cut their class sizes, support their teachers and make sure we to give them the tools they need for 21st Century education.

These are the practical steps we will take in Government in the areas that matter most to the people - their public services.

But there are other issues on which we need to take action. Like many of us, I listen in horror at what decent people have to endure in their own homes and communities through crime and the fear of crime.

I spoke the other week to a young man who was quite simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was hit by a bottle, injured but did his civic duty and gave evidence in a court. That young man is now too terrified to leave his home, to work or to live his life, in fear of what might happen to him.

So that is why we need to replace weak Jim Wallace with a strong Justice Minister. Roseanna Cunningham, Scotland¿s next Justice Minister, will put 1,000 more police officers on the streets of Scotland.


We have to prove to the people of Scotland that we are ready for leadership

She will bring forward her powerful package of measures to tackle youth crime and this party will reclaim the communities of Scotland for the decent people of Scotland.

In all of these measures our objective will be to help every Scot to release their potential.

And, fellow delegates, that includes us. Us as a party.

For we have one further job to do to move our nation on to Independence.

That job is to make sure that we as a party are ready to govern. We have to prove to the people of Scotland that we are ready for leadership. Ready to take responsibility. Ready to take decisions.

I will run my government with three unbreakable rules.

It will be honest government. We will never mislead the people about the number of patients waiting for hospital treatment - which Labour has done for years.

It will be fair government. We will never give special favours and we will never give jobs for the boys.


The real challenge for this Party and this country is to ensure all taxes raised in Scotland are spent in Scotland

And it will be realistic government. We will never set targets that we know we won¿t be able to achieve under devolution.

Honesty, fairness, realism - that will be the hallmark of the SNP government that I will lead.

I have started that process of preparing for Government by making it clear there will be no use of the tax varying powers of the Scottish Parliament in the next four years.

The real issue is not to tax more. The real challenge for this Party and this country is to ensure all taxes raised in Scotland are spent in Scotland.

But my decision not to use the tax-varying powers also imposes a discipline.

We do not yet have the powers we need to grow the economy. So our spending commitments must come from within existing and planned resources.

To prove our ability to govern we must have the courage to show where we will save as well as where we will spend.

As a first step, we will attack waste in Government. And today I can reveal New Labour's latest spending scandal. The SNP has uncovered what amounts to nothing more than two Scottish Executive slush funds - crammed full of Scottish tax-payers money.


To secure a step change to improve public service delivery, you can kick this Lib-Lab shower out next May - and it won't cost you a penny

Firstly a Contingency Fund, which is due to rocket sevenfold over the next three years. £213 million of public money earmarked for precisely nothing.

Secondly a fund entitled 'Public Service Reform' which is going to have a budget of £160 million... and what will this £160 million fund do .... It will - and I quote - 'enable the executive.... to secure step changes in improved delivery of public services.' Whatever that means.

Well I have a message for you. You can secure a step change in the improved delivery of public services a lot cheaper than that.

To secure a step change to improve public service delivery, you can kick this Lib-Lab shower out next May - and it won't cost you a penny.

So there is a choice.

Bogus step changes under Labour. Or smaller classes with the SNP.

Accounting scams under Labour. Or 1,000 police officers with the SNP.

Spin under New Labour. Good government and honesty with the SNP.

In the past the SNP has sometimes been seen as the party of the protest vote. Now, I want votes, not to protest - I want votes to govern.


We campaign because we know the day is coming when we will wake up as equal citizens of a free and Independent Scotland

I want to govern for every mother concerned about the education of her children¿

for every grandparent anxious in their home at night

for every father whose child is waiting too long for hospital treatment¿

for every person working hard but unsure if their job or their business will prosper.

Why? Because these people are our country and it's our duty to make our country the best it can be.

Fellow delegates.

To those of you in this hall I say: It is a privilege to lead you. To stand side by side with you - as we have done for many years - as we campaign the length and breadth of this beautiful country.

We campaign because we know the day is coming when we will wake up as equal citizens of a free and Independent Scotland. That ambition must resonate through all that we do, all the actions we take. Remember that ambition and then devote all your energies; give all your commitment as we seek the trust of the people next May.

To those of you at home who do not yet believe in our cause I ask you to hear our message.

Release our potential is a political message but also a deeply personal message.

It is the feeling about our country that we as parents have about our children. That inexplicable feeling when a child achieves what may be a very minor thing but in their life it is of such wonder. We have all had those moments when a much loved child has released their potential. Just as our children release their potential so can our country.

So let us take our country on a new course. A course to do the best we possibly can. To be ambitious. To be confident.

We all have so much potential.

All we have to do is release it. So come on, let¿s release our potential.

See also:

26 Sep 02 | Scotland
26 Sep 02 | Scotland
25 Sep 02 | Scotland
25 Sep 02 | Scotland
24 Sep 02 | Scotland
20 Sep 02 | Scotland
15 Sep 02 | Scotland
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