Nicola Sturgeon’s Address to SNP Conference Sat, 28/03/2015 – 15:21

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s Full Speech

Conference,

We meet here today in this great city of Glasgow.

It is highly appropriate that we do so – and for many different reasons.

First – and not least – there’s the fact that I live here.

And surely one of the perks of leadership must be that I can get you to come to me!

Then, of course, there’s the fact that this city – Scotland’s biggest city – voted Yes.

Where better to re-commit our Party and our movement to the values that define us.

The values that have excited the imagination of so many across our country.

The values of fairness, prosperity and opportunity for all.

The restless desire to make Scotland the nation we know it can be.

A prosperous country where everyone gets the chance to fulfil their potential.

A fair society where no-one gets left behind.

A confident nation, working with our friends and family across these islands.

An independent country – equal to the very best.

Friends,

That vision lit up this nation last year.

Let us rededicate ourselves to it here, today, in the wonderful Yes city of Glasgow.

Of course, there is one other reason that we meet here in Glasgow.

A rather more practical one.

This city is now one of the few places in Scotland with venues big enough to accommodate all of our new members.

Delegates,

Last year, we set ourselves the ambitious target of reaching 100,000 members by the General Election.

Well, with 40 days to go, I can tell you that we have not just reached that target.

We have surpassed it.

I can tell you, today, that membership of the Scottish National Party now stands at 102, 143.

Delegates,

These are indeed special times for our Party.

But that is only because these are special times for our country.

Six months ago, people across this nation – Yes voters and No voters – discovered what it felt like to be in charge.

To hold the future of our country in our hands.

We didn’t choose independence – this time.

But – make no mistake – September 18 2014 was a moment of liberation for this nation of ours.

It was the moment when this simple truth became clear to all of us.

We need not be powerless in the face of remote Westminster decisions.

We can make Westminster sit up and take notice and, friends, that is exactly what we intend to do.

And let us understand this.

Our voice – as a country – will be louder if it is united.

That’s why my message today reaches far beyond the ranks of our Party.

It goes to every home, community and workplace across our land.

To Yes voters and to No voters.

To those who have always voted SNP in Westminster elections and to those who have never done so before.

On May 7th, let us put the normal divisions of politics to one side.

Let us come together on that day as one country.

Let us seize this historic moment to shift the balance of power from the corridors of Westminster to the streets and communities of Scotland.

Let us – this time – vote SNP and make this nation’s voice heard like never before.

Friends,

Be in no doubt, the only way for Scotland to shake up the Westminster establishment is to vote SNP.

The Westminster parties won’t do it.

They are the establishment.

Just look at their reaction to the polls.

Just a few short months ago, we had Labour, Tory and Lib Dem politicians falling over themselves to tell us that our voice really mattered.

That Scotland was a valued member of the family of nations.

Remember the slogan: Scotland shouldn’t leave the UK, we should lead the UK.

But now, when it looks as if the people of Scotland might actually take them at their word, and vote for a Party that will make Scotland’s voice heard, these same politicians throw their hands up in horror.

How dare we seek to influence the Westminster system they begged us to stay part of.

Well, friends, I don’t know about you – but I think any democratic, progressive party that frightens the life out of the Westminster establishment is good news for ordinary people in Scotland and right across these islands.

Because here’s the thing. When these politicians – outrageously – describe the prospect of the SNP winning a general election in Scotland as some kind of threat to democracy, what they mean is that we pose a threat to their vested interests.

We pose a threat to the notion of democracy that has them turn up for election once every five years and take Scotland for granted the rest of the time.

We challenge a parliamentary system that has more members in the unelected House of Lords than in the elected House of Commons.

What a democratic outrage that is.

And we rail against a cosy consensus that hits the poor with the bedroom tax and benefit sanctions, while turning a blind eye to the tax avoidance of the super-rich.

So, yes, David Cameron, Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, if you are worried that a strong SNP is a threat to all that is deeply undemocratic and unfair about the Westminster notion of democracy, then all I can say to you is this –

You had better believe we are.

But to ordinary people across these islands who feel just as let down by that out of touch Westminster system as we do, I have a very different message.

It is a message of friendship and solidarity.

I won’t pretend that the SNP doesn’t still want Scotland to be independent.

I think I can safely say that we do still want Scotland to be independent!

But at this General Election – with the power of the big parties weaker than ever before – I say this to people of progressive opinion all across the UK.

As long as Scotland remains part of the Westminster system, we will be your allies in seeking to shake up and reform that outdated and discredited system once and for all.

Westminster needs to change. To be more responsive to the needs and demands of ordinary people, wherever they are in the UK.

So to people in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, I make this promise.

The SNP stands ready to work with you in making that positive change for all of us.

We bring to that task vast experience of government – of successful, effective and stable government.

It was as a minority government that we restored free education, abolished prescription charges and froze the council tax.

So we can – and we will – use that experience in a minority led House of Commons to get good things done there too.

We will demand an alternative to slash and burn austerity.

Responsible deficit reduction, yes.

But cuts that tear at the very fabric of our society, penalise the poor, threaten our public services and stifle economic growth, let me make it crystal clear – those will not be in our name.

We will demand an NHS in public hands.

A fair wage for all

Pensions that protect our older people.

And a decent welfare system that helps people into work.

And let me also promise this –

At a time when in-work poverty is on the rise and people are being forced to use food banks, when public services are under strain and conventional defence forces are being cut to the bone, we will stand firm and unwavering against a single brass penny – let alone £100 billion – being spent on the obscene status symbol that is a new generation of Trident nuclear weapons.

Friends,

Ours will also be a voice for democratic reform.

We’ll push for a fair voting system to be back on the agenda.

And as Labour, the Tories and Lib Dems prepare for another five years of empty rhetoric on reform of the House of Lords, we will take a more straightforward view.

The House of Lords has no place in a democratic society.

Delegates,

The House of Lords – which, remember, was voted for by no one – recently tried to stop 16 and 17 year olds getting the vote in Scotland.

Its members are paid £300 a day for just showing up. And it’s totally tax free.

That’s got to stop.

Friends,

People with no democratic mandate should not be writing the laws of the land.

It is now time to abolish the House of Lords.

Friends,

A strong, powerful SNP team – standing up for Scotland and working for progressive change across these islands.

That is the prize that now lies within our grasp.

But, listen when I say this – it will not fall into our laps.

I can’t deny that recent opinion polls have made for pleasant reading.

In fact, I think one or two of them might have given me altitude sickness.

But, friends, we know from long and sometimes bitter experience that polls don’t win elections.

Good ideas and hard work win elections.

So we will take nothing for granted.

We must work harder over these next 40 days than we have ever done before.

No let up, no resting on our laurels, no slowing down to savour the polls.

Let me make this clear. Hard graft, humility and a daily determination to earn the trust of the people of Scotland – these will be the hallmarks of our campaign.

Because no matter what the polls say, we do have a mountain to climb.

We have 6 MPs.

In most of the other 53 seats in Scotland, we face hefty majorities.

The biggest number of MPs we have ever had at Westminster is 11.

So the next time you read the polls, remember this – any seat we manage to win beyond 11 will be record breaking for the SNP.

But just as we will take nothing for granted, nor will we set any limit on our ambition.

The more seats we win for the SNP, the louder Scotland’s voice is going to be.

It is that simple.

So my message to all of you is this.

No constituency is off limits for the SNP in this election.

We will fight for every vote and every seat.

Let’s get out there and turn these poll predictions into reality.

Let’s win this election – not for the SNP, but for Scotland.

Friends.

The Westminster parties will pull out all the stops to halt the SNP surge.

We saw in the referendum that there is no fear and no smear they will not stoop to.

Mind you, their tactics so far in this election seem more comical than scary.

Just listening to them – in their blind panic – can make you dizzy.

The Tories say that if you vote SNP, you get Labour.

And Labour says that if you vote SNP, you’ll get the Tories.

They can’t both be right!

But they are both wrong.

So for the avoidance of doubt, let me spell out exactly what will happen in this election.

If you vote SNP on May 7th, what you will get is the SNP.

No one else. Just the SNP – the only party that stands up for Scotland, first, last and always.

You won’t be letting the Tories in the front door.

Let me said it loud and let me make it clear – the SNP will never put the Tories into government.

Not now. Not ever.

And you won’t be letting the Tories in the back door either.

You see, as long as there are more anti-Tory MPs – Labour or SNP – than there are Tory MPs in the House of Commons, we can keep them out of government.

I know Labour can’t admit this. After all, the ‘vote Labour to keep out the Tories’ line – however detached from reality it might be – is the last remaining plank of their desperate and failing campaign.

But it is a matter of simple arithmetic.

If there are more anti-Tory than Tory MPs after the election, the only way the Tories get back into power is if Labour lets them back in.

So in the interests of total clarity, let me make this promise today.

If there is a hung Parliament, SNP MPs will vote to stop a Tory Government even getting off the ground.

I call on Labour, today, to match that pledge – to make clear that if Labour and the SNP combined have more seats than the Tories, they will join forces with us in a vote of confidence to lock David Cameron out of Downing Street.

If Labour fails to make that commitment, the only conclusion people will draw is that Labour would rather have the Tories back in power than work with the SNP.

And that will be the final nail in the political coffin of Scottish Labour.

It really will be time to lock the doors of the branch office once and for all.

Friends,

A vote for the SNP is a vote to keep the Tories out.

But it’s more than that.

It’s also a vote to make sure that the Tories are replaced with a better alternative.

We know, from long experience, that a Labour government – left to its own devices – simply cannot be trusted to deliver the change that Scotland needs and wants.

And that is a fact.

The last Labour government was elected on a wave of hope and optimism, but it ended up imposing tuition fees, privatising the NHS, presiding over a growing gap between rich and poor and taking us into an illegal war in Iraq.

So, the message couldn’t be clearer.

If you want a Labour government to have backbone and guts, you need to elect SNP MPs to provide it for them.

If you want the vow of more power for our Parliament to be delivered in full, then you need SNP MPs to go to Westminster to redeem that promise.

And if you want a Labour government that won’t just be a carbon copy of the Tories, but will instead deliver the real change Scotland needs, then you must elect SNP MPs to force Labour’s hand and keep them honest.

Friends,

One of the most urgent reasons to vote SNP in this election is the threat of even deeper austerity.

The contrast between the SNP and the Westminster parties couldn’t be more stark.

Last week, George Osborne’s budget laid bare the deep cuts planned for the next Parliament – £12 billion for Scotland alone.

We have set out a clear alternative to that.

Modest real terms spending increases in each year of the next parliament – instead of cuts – would see the deficit and debt fall as a share of national income.

It is fiscally responsible.

But it would also free up billions of pounds to invest in infrastructure and skills, public services and protecting the vulnerable.

Labour has set its face against it.

But just last week, the Institute for Fiscal Studies said that they could adopt our policy and still meet their fiscal targets.

So I challenge Labour today to join us in opposing austerity – not in words, but in their spending plans.

And if they won’t, I serve notice now that we will use our influence in the House of Commons to force them to abandon the needless pain of Tory cuts.

Friends,

We will use our clout in other ways to make life better for people across our country.

Fair work is at very the heart of our Government’s agenda.

We will take whatever action we can to eradicate working practices that have no place in a decent, modern economy.

And top of that list will be the zero hours contracts that demean and exploit far too many people across our country.

Friends,

The basic principle of a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work is also fundamental to our sense of society.

But in Scotland today nearly half of all adults and more than half of all children who live in poverty are in households where at least one person is working.

One of the ambitions I set for my first year as First Minister was to get at least 150 companies signed up as Living Wage employers.

I am proud to tell you that after just four months, and thanks to the enthusiasm of Scotland’s employers and the hard work of the Poverty Alliance, we have already delivered that target.

So today I can announce that we will go further.

Today I am setting a new target

Within the next 12 months, we aim to have – not 150 – but 500 companies signed up and paying the Living Wage to all of their workers.

Conference,

I am determined that we will make Scotland a Living Wage nation.

Of course, we could do more to lift people out of poverty if Labour and the Tories hadn’t combined to stop powers over the minimum wage and key decisions on welfare being devolved to our Parliament .

But with a powerful team of SNP MP’s we can demand that these powers do come to Scotland.

And in the meantime, we can vote for them to be used in a way that will lift people out of poverty.

Delegates,

I can announce today that in the next Westminster Parliament, the SNP will back an increase in the minimum wage of £2 an hour – taking it to £8.70 by 2020.

Friends,

Securing fair work is just one part of making Scotland a fairer, more equal society.

A good standard of living depends not just on being paid a decent wage – but also on having access to good quality public services, free at the point of need and accessible to all.

There is no service closer to our hearts than the National Health Service.

I am proud of our Scottish NHS.

The staff who work in our hospitals, communities and health centres do an amazing job – and they do it in often very difficult circumstances.

Today, on behalf of all us, I thank them from the bottom of my heart for all that they do.

And I promise that my Government – for as long as we are in office – will continue to protect the budget of our National Health Service.

Earlier this week, David Cameron was booed when he was asked about the NHS.

And no wonder.

Before the last election, he ruled out top-down reorganisation of the NHS in England, but as soon as he was in office he broke that promise.

He claims repeatedly that the Tories have no plans to extend privatisation but he has legislated to allow the private sector to use up to 49% of hospital beds.

And he says that TTIP – the proposed new trade treaty between the U.S. and the E.U. – poses no threat to our health service, but he refuses to put it beyond doubt.

Well, let me make our position on that clear.

No ifs, no buts – there must be an explicit protection for the NHS on the face of the TTIP agreement.

Friends,

Make no mistake – the continued privatisation of the NHS in England threatens the budget of the Scottish Government.

So I give this commitment today:

SNP MPs – in order to protect Scotland’s budget – will vote at Westminster to halt the tide of NHS privatisation in England.

We will use our voices and our votes to keep the NHS – north and south of the border – firmly in public hands.

Delegates,

Just as good quality healthcare is essential to a decent society, so too is education.

The truth is, without the free education I was so lucky to have, I wouldn’t be standing here as First Minister today.

For me, keeping education free is personal.

And I give you this absolute guarantee: as long as I am your First Minister there will be no tuition fees in Scotland.

But I want to do more than just keep education free.

I want to make sure that many more young people from ordinary and disadvantaged backgrounds get the opportunity to take advantage of free education.

That’s why I’ve set up a £100m Scottish Attainment Fund.

I want to make sure that a child born today in one of our most deprived communities, by the time he or she leaves school, has the same chance of going to university as a child from a wealthier background.

So today I am announcing further support to help young people stay in education.

When the Tories abolished the Educational Maintenance Allowance in England, we retained it in Scotland.

That allowance provides £30 a week to pupils from the least well-off families.

For many of these young people, it makes the vital difference between them being able to continue in education and being forced to leave to find employment.

Currently, Educational Maintenance Allowances help 35,000 young people stay in education.

Today, I can confirm that the Scottish Government will extend that scheme so that it benefits even more young people.

Firstly, we will raise the eligibility threshold to make payments available to an additional 10,000 school pupils.

And, second, we will extend the scheme to part time college students, helping another 12,000 young people stay on in education.

That means that from next year, a total of 57,000 16 to 19 years old will be entitled to receive an Educational Maintenance Allowance.

Friends,

That is real help for the young people who need it most to stay in education and fulfil their potential.

Delegates,

Education is my personal passion and securing the best possible opportunities for all of our young people will drive the decisions I make as First Minister.

It is also what drives my ambition for young women.

As the first woman to hold the office of First Minister, I am determined that – unlike that other woman leader we once knew – I will use my time in this job to improve the lives of women across our country.

For me that means challenging discrimination and championing women’s achievements.

It also means leading by example.

You know, I despair that, today, in 2015, there are only three gender-balanced Cabinets in the whole of the developed world.

But I am really proud that mine is of one of them.

There are many things that still stand in the way of gender equality.

Systemic and institutional barriers that we need to remove – the pay gap, occupational segregation, a lack of affordable childcare and, sometimes, just outdated attitudes.

But for too many women, it is the violence and abuse they suffer in their own homes.

Domestic abuse is a crime that affects 1 in 6 women in our country.

Earlier this week, in a speech to Scottish Women’s Aid, I announced plans to strengthen the law against domestic abuse. Subject to consultation, we will introduce legislation this year.

But changing the law is not enough. We need to do more.

That is why I am announcing today new funding of £20 million over the next three years to step up our work to tackle violence against women.

We will invest that money to speed up the court process, give more support to victims, and expand schemes to help offenders change their behaviour.

Delegates,

Addressing the scourge of domestic violence is essential if we are ever to achieve true gender equality in this country.

And let me make it clear – I am determined to lead a government that will do just that.

Friends,

I began this speech by reflecting on the aspirations that shone through the referendum campaign.

On our shared ambition to become a fairer society, a more confident nation and a more prosperous country.

Those objectives continue to light up our political discourse in Scotland.

They are the aims that, each and every day, will guide our actions as your government.

And they are the aims that – with the support of the Scottish people – we will carry to the very heart of Westminster.

To the people of Scotland, I make this promise.

SNP MPs will not go to Westminster to settle down.

SNP MPs will go to Westminster for one reason and one reason only – to do a good job for you and to win a better deal for Scotland.

We will work every day to protect Scotland’s interests and to make your voice heard.

We will seek to use whatever influence you give us to call a halt to ever deeper austerity, to protect our NHS and to say loudly and clearly that the precious resources of our country should be invested in the future of our children, not in nuclear bombs.

We will use our influence to win for our Scottish Parliament the full financial and social powers that it needs to grow our economy and create more jobs.

And we will work in a spirit of friendship and co-operation with others who share our ideals – we will work with everyone, wherever they may be in the UK, who wants to see greater fairness and prosperity at the heart of their communities too.

Over the next few weeks, there will continue to be talk of the deals that might be done after the election.

But from now until May 7th there is only one deal I am interested in.

There is only one deal this Party will seek to do – and that is with you, the people of Scotland.

If you place your trust in us to be your advocates at Westminster, we will fight Scotland’s corner with passion, principle and conviction.

We will stand up for Scotland’s interests, without fear or favour.

We will represent you – to the best of our abilities – no matter your politics, your point of view and regardless of how you voted in the referendum last year.

That is the deal we offer.

It is what you will get if you vote SNP.

It is my pledge and my guarantee to each and every one of you.

So, today, with humility but also with determination, I ask for your support on May 7th so that, together, we can make Scotland’s voice heard.

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