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Scotland’s Future

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 18th September 2013.

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Photo of Alex Salmond Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland, Leader, Scottish National Party

First, I do not think that commenting on what the United Nations rapporteur has said is introducing antipathy into the debate; it is the bedroom tax that is introducing antipathy into the debate.

The point that I made, which I will make again, is that if the UK chancellor insisted on the current position of claiming all the monetary assets of the UK, it follows from the Vienna convention and every argument that he would also lay claim to all the liabilities of the UK.

However, if a process of more reasonable negotiation were to take place, and even if Scotland were to finance our population share of that national debt, as a range of reports point out, our debt as a percentage of gross domestic product would be less than that of the UK. That is one of the strengths of Scottish independence.

The bedroom tax is now a totemic issue, just as the poll tax was a totemic issue in the 1990s, when it became a symbol of why devolution was necessary. The UK Government is implementing the bedroom tax at the same time as it is starting to replace the Trident missile system, at an estimated lifetime cost of £100,000 million. Instead of paying for and hosting Trident while mitigating the effects of the bedroom tax, why do not we as a country remove Trident, abolish the bedroom tax and get on with building a better society for ourselves?

A crucial point to make is that no one now seriously doubts that Scotland could be an independent, economically successful country. Even David Cameron—our leading opponent—put it well when he said:

“Supporters of independence will always be able to cite examples of small, independent and thriving economies … such as Finland, Switzerland and Norway. It would be wrong to suggest that Scotland could not be another such successful, independent country.”

Of course, he omitted to mention that Finland’s GDP per head is 5 per cent higher than the UK’s, that Switzerland’s is 45 per cent higher and that Norway’s is more than 70 per cent higher. For each of the past 32 years—in every one of those years—Scotland has paid more tax per head of population than the rest of the UK has done. Excluding oil, our national income is on a par with that of the UK. Including oil, our GDP per head is 18 per cent higher than the UK’s.

Why should it be otherwise? We are a country rich in natural resources, with world-class universities, an outstanding visitor industry, expertise in engineering and life sciences, an astounding cultural heritage and a skilled and inventive people.

Our case is that independence lets us build on those advantages. We have the opportunity to make Scotland fairer, unhindered by a Westminster system that has created one of the largest gaps between rich and poor in the developed world. We gain the ability to create our own welfare policies that make work pay while respecting our commitment to fairness and solidarity. We gain control over capital borrowing, economic regulation, competition policy, tax policy and energy policy, which are the very levers that we need to make Scotland more competitive and more prosperous. We gain our own voice in the United Nations, NATO and the European Union but, like 25 out of 28 NATO countries, we will not need to host nuclear weapons and, like 27 out of 28 EU countries, we do not intend to hold an in/out referendum on membership. We gain the right to decide taxation and welfare, which are powers that other countries use in a co-ordinated fashion to strengthen their childcare support.

The support that we provide for parents and young people could match the very best in Europe. This morning, the Deputy First Minister and I went to a centre that is run by North Edinburgh Childcare, which provides care and learning for young people from the age of four months to five years. It is an inspirational example of how quality childcare helps parents—especially women—into work, as well as promoting the wellbeing of children and families.

Under devolution, we have already announced that we will fund 600 hours a year of early learning and childcare for all three-year-olds and that, crucially, we will fund it properly. However, we are doing that in the context of UK policies—the working tax credit and child tax credit—that, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, could see an additional 50,000 children in Scotland living in relative poverty by 2020.

It is a perfect illustration of the question that this country faces. Why ask Westminster to change course and why mitigate UK policies when we have the skills, the resources and the opportunity to decide these things for ourselves?

I have already talked about the devolution referendum of 1997. At that time, nobody knew for sure what a future Scottish or Westminster Parliament would choose to do. Nobody predicted—in fact, nobody could even have imagined—some of the decisions made by successive Westminster Governments. We did not foresee the illegal invasion of Iraq, the fragmentation of England’s national health service or the harshness of the welfare cuts that would hit the poorest and most vulnerable. Nobody knew—because it had not been elected yet—what our devolved parliament would choose to do.

So the 1997 referendum was not a vote for homelessness legislation, a climate change act or free university and college tuition; it was a statement of confidence in Scotland’s ability to make these decision for ourselves. Independence is about giving ourselves the power to make our country as good as it can be; it is about the right to decide and the ability to make choices. This Government’s argument—our fundamental and most important contention—is that the people who live and work in Scotland are the people most likely to make the right choices for Scotland. That argument is not subject to statistical manipulation, it is not for a day’s headlines and it is not born of fear; it is a commonsense position based on our experience.

We have been on a constitutional journey in Scotland for more than a century, and it has taken many forms as, progressively, we have moved forward together as a country. Twice before the matter has been put to a referendum and twice the people have voted in favour, once narrowly and then decisively. The essence of that assent from the people has been the people of Scotland expressing confidence in the ability of this ancient nation to take decisions for itself.

That is why independence is the best route not just to becoming a more prosperous country but to becoming a more just society. That is why, exactly a year from today, the people of Scotland will claim that opportunity with both hands.

I move,

That the Parliament agrees that Scotland has an abundance of resources and talent and can more than afford to be a successful, thriving independent country; notes that successive UK administrations have pursued an economic policy that has led to the UK having one of the most unbalanced and unequal economies in the developed world; agrees that it is wrong and costly for policies to be imposed on Scotland that have been overwhelmingly rejected by Scotland’s political representatives, and welcomes evidence that shows that there are gains for families and communities when decisions about Scotland are taken by those who care most about Scotland, the people who live and work here.