I am delighted to speak in this important debate about the future of our country. A year from now, people in Scotland will have the opportunity to vote for independence—a vote that will allow our citizens to take control of their destiny and build a Scotland that reflects their values and aspirations and their principles of economic and social justice.
Independence is about ensuring that the Scottish Parliament has all the powers that it needs to shape the economic and social future of this country. It is about ensuring that the decisions that affect the people who live and work here are taken in a Parliament that is elected by and directly accountable to the people in Scotland. It is about safeguarding our citizens from Westminster policies that seem intent on punishing the weak and the most vulnerable in our society while spending billions of pounds on a nuclear arsenal that is based on the Clyde.
Independence is about guaranteeing that our young people will have opportunities to build their future here in Scotland by maintaining access to our universities on the principle of the ability to learn and not the ability to pay; and by making available a training or apprenticeship place for all young people between the ages of 16 and 19 who are not already in education, employment or training.
Despite our best efforts in this Parliament, we will not achieve the truly radical transformation in Scotland’s economy and society that the people in Scotland are calling on the Parliament to deliver unless we, as a Parliament, are equipped with the powers that we need to do so. That means giving the Parliament powers over taxation and welfare policy, which I argue is essential if we are to address the deep-seated problems that continue to afflict many in our society.
We need powers that allow us to reverse the welfare reforms that have been introduced by Westminster, and powers that allow us to tackle the glaring inequalities in income and health that continue to divide our society and compromise our shared commitment to social justice. With independence, the Parliament will have those powers, and others, which will allow Scotland’s Government—of whatever political persuasion—to change for the better the direction of travel of our economy and society.
As my colleagues have done, I urge people in Scotland to look at what the Government and the Parliament have achieved in the policy areas where it has the powers to govern for our people. People should consider, for instance, the wholly different directions of travel of the NHS north and south of the border and ask which NHS model people in Scotland favour. I have no doubt that an overwhelming majority in Scotland support the Government’s commitment to a model of healthcare that is free at the point of care for everyone and that rejects the creeping privatisation that is changing and, I suggest, undermining the face of the NHS and the delivery of healthcare south of the border.
In protecting Scotland’s NHS, the Scottish Government has demonstrated what can be achieved when the Parliament has the appropriate powers. For example, the Government has remained true to the founding principles of our national health service by abolishing prescription charges and removing an unfair tax on ill-health—so benefiting people with long-term conditions such as diabetes, asthma and Crohn’s disease—by introducing free eye tests for all and by providing free personal and nursing care for our elderly citizens.
The health of our nation is about much more than the delivery of medical care. It is about enacting legislation that prohibits smoking in public places and changes the difficult and unhealthy relationship that Scotland has with alcohol, and it is about introducing policies that mitigate the level of demand on our public services by improving the general level of the health of our citizens—the preventative element of healthcare. Those are positive measures that we in the Parliament have taken and continue to take. Since 1999, successive Scottish Governments have worked to improve the health of our nation and maintain a national health service in Scotland that is fit for purpose. They have demonstrated what can be done when the power to act rests with this Parliament.
If we are to do more, however, and tackle the inequalities in income and opportunity in our country that underlie many of the health problems that we suffer as a society, as well as avoid what I consider will be the negative healthcare consequences that will result from the UK Government’s welfare policies, and if we are to create the jobs that we need to grow our economy and raise the quality of life in Scotland—be in no doubt, that is what the people in Scotland expect and deserve—we must have the powers to do so. Those are powers that we lack at present, and powers that only independence will give to the Parliament.
Scotland has an abundance of resources and talent and can more than afford to be a successful and thriving independent country. That is why I am confident that, a year from now, the Scottish people will choose that all of the decisions that affect Scotland should be taken by the people who care about Scotland the most: the people who live and work here. I support the motion in the First Minister’s name.