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Monday, March 4, 2024

First Minister Humza Yousaf Speech to SNP Conference

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Delegates,

This is a party I consider my home, full of people I see as my extended family.

I have never felt the love, kindness and solidarity of the SNP family as much as I have over the last ten days.

So on my behalf, and on behalf of Nadia, my girls and our family in Gaza, from the bottom of my heart, let me say thank you.

What we are witnessing in the Middle East is truly heart-breaking.

Imagine waking up on a Saturday morning, during one of your holy festivals – as families across Israel did last week – to find that your loved ones had been murdered or kidnapped by Hamas terrorists.

It is beyond words, and to be condemned in the strongest possible manner.

Or imagine living in the Gaza strip under constant bombardment right now.

No food, no water, no power.

Friends,

Tragically, we don’t have to imagine.

This is the reality for Israeli and Palestinian families alike.

Too many innocent men women and children are suffering.

The hostages must be released.

And a humanitarian corridor must be opened, vital supplies let in, and Gazans who want to leave must be allowed to leave.

The blockade of Gaza must end.

Conference, we are absolutely clear that the life of a Palestinian is equal to the life of an Israeli.

It is right for the world to condemn the actions of Hamas – unequivocally.

But any form of collective punishment, as we are seeing in Gaza, can never be justified.

2.2m innocent people cannot pay the price for the actions of Hamas.

And here at home, to Scotland’s Jewish, Muslim and Palestinian communities, you are communities I love, and I want you to know that as First Minister and as a fellow human being, I share the pain and sorrow you are feeling.

I have attended your synagogues, your churches and your mosques. You are communities I have grown up with, danced with, laughed with, and in this last week, that I have shed many tears with.

Each and every person in Scotland, from all of the vibrant communities of our nation must feel safe here.

As long as I am First Minister let me be abundantly clear, there is no room for antisemitism, Islamophobia or hatred of any kind here in Scotland.

Conference

The great American writer Toni Morrison said this.

“No more apologies for a bleeding heart, when the opposite is no heart at all.

“Danger of losing our humanity must be met with more humanity.”

In the past, people in Scotland and across the UK have opened our hearts and our homes and welcomed those from Syria, Ukraine and many other countries.

We must do so again.

There are currently around one million people displaced within the Gaza strip –  I am therefore today calling on the international community to commit to a worldwide refugee programme for the people of Gaza.

I am calling on the UK Government to take two urgent steps.

Firstly, they should immediately begin work on the creation of a refugee resettlement scheme for those in Gaza who want to, and are able to, leave.

And when they do so, Scotland is willing to be the first country in the UK to offer safety and sanctuary to those caught up in these terrible attacks.

Conference, my brother-in-law is a doctor in Gaza. When we can get through to him on the phone, he tells us of scenes of carnage.

Hospitals running out of medical supplies, doctors and nurses having to make the most difficult decision of all.

Who to treat and who to leave to die.

This cannot be allowed to continue.

I therefore urge the UK Government to support the medical evacuation of injured civilians in Gaza

Let me be clear, Scotland is ready to play her part and our hospitals will treat the injured men, women and children of Gaza where we can.

Delegates,

I joined the SNP almost twenty years ago because I could see that it was an outward looking and internationalist party.

Resolute in its support for human rights around the world.

Today, those values have never been more important.

So that we can make our contribution abroad.

And build the fairer society we know is possible here at home.

This is meant to be a rich country, yet it feels like too many are struggling – no matter how hard they work.

It can seem like society is becoming ever more polarised – when frankly there is a lot more common ground than we realise.

People see all this, and they just want to know –

Who has a plan to make their lives better?

To make Scotland a fairer and more prosperous country?

Delegates,

If the SNP want to continue being trusted by the people of Scotland – and if we want to take them with us on the journey to independence – then we need to show them that we have the answers to these questions.

A couple of weeks ago, we had a tough night in the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election.

We can either spend time feeling sorry for ourselves

Or we can take another course of action.

Let me tell you what that is.

We roll up our sleeves and we work harder than ever before for the people of Scotland.

That is how I am going to lead this party forward.

It starts by standing by our values.

Sticking up for what we believe in.

And standing up for Scotland.

We have used our time in Government to cement our social contract with the people.

A contract that says, yes those who earn the most, should pay the most.

But a social contract, in which everyone benefits – regardless of wealth

I am proud this SNP-led Scottish Government has brought our rail service back into public ownership.

A rail service that is run for people and not for profit.

And a rail service, under this SNP government, that has scrapped peak time fares.

We abolished prescription charges.

We’ve made sure our NHS staff are the best paid in the UK.

And now, our brilliant social care workers will be paid at least £12 an hour.

We’ve invested in our schools, with more teachers and higher spending per pupil than anywhere in the UK.

We’ve seen the biggest ever reduction in the attainment gap on literacy and numeracy in primary schools in a single year.

We’re helping families with the cost of living at times when they need it most –

Childcare provision.

A rent freeze.

Free bus travel for young people.

And conference,

Here is another choice the SNP have made.

If you’re a parent struggling on a low income, you’re now entitled to £25 a week thanks to the Scottish Child Payment.

When budgets are tight, that’s a huge investment for any government.

But it’s the right choice.

It means that an estimated 90,000 fewer children in Scotland are living in poverty this year.

This SNP Government has delivered – and is delivering – for Scotland.

That delivery is, of course, in no small part down to my predecessor

Conference, Nicola Sturgeon transformed Scotland.

She reformed Scotland’s public services.

She improved the life chances of thousands of Scotland’s young people.

And we will never forget that in the toughest of times our country faced, Nicola was the calmest of voices and the coolest of heads.

So for all of this and more, we say thank you Nicola.

Delegates,

People rightly are interested in what we have done for them.

But if we are going to earn, and re-earn their trust, what we are going to do in the future is far more important.

So let me tell you what we are going to do.

I’ll start with that most pressing of issues – helping people through these difficult times.

Nobody in Scotland caused this Westminster cost of living crisis – but almost everybody in Scotland is suffering because of it.

I never thought that in 2023, people on above-average salaries would be coming to my constituency surgeries asking for financial help.

Nurses, police officers, teachers – these workers are the backbone of Scotland’s public services

And people like them are being hit by this crisis too.

We know that people are filled with dread when the bills are going up and up.

We can’t stop all the bills rising – but where we can act, we should.

I’ve considered carefully what steps we can take to help.

Council tax bills in Scotland are already hundreds of pounds a year lower than they are in England.

We’re committed to fundamentally reforming local taxation and we will re-energise our work to do that.

We have consulted on what level the council tax should be next year.

And conference, we have reached our decision.

I can announce to the people of Scotland that, next year, your council tax will be frozen.

That’s the SNP delivering for people when they need it the most.

Conference,

As well as supporting people during these tough times, we need to do everything we can to support our public services.

There is no more cherished institution than our National Health Service.

The SNP are already providing record funding to our health service and we have the best-performing A&E units in the UK.

But increased waiting lists are the inevitable consequence of the necessary decision to pause planned treatment during the pandemic.

We are working hard to reduce these and we have seen a significant reduction in the longest waits since targets were announced last July.

We have opened two National Treatment Centres this year, in Fife and in Highland – dedicated centres for elective procedures.

And by the end of this year, we will expand that capacity with a new centre in Forth Valley and the second phase of the NHS Golden Jubilee in Glasgow.

But conference, too many people are still waiting too long for treatment.

That is why I am announcing today that in each of the next three years we will provide an extra £100 million to cut waiting lists in our NHS.

This additional £300m investment will allow us to maximise capacity, build greater resilience into the system and deliver year-on-year reductions in the number of patients who have waited too long.

That will reduce waiting lists by an estimated 100,000 patients by 2026. 

When our NHS needs us, this party steps up. Delivering for patients, delivering for our NHS, delivering for Scotland.

Conference

We’re meeting here today in Aberdeen – Europe’s energy capital.

A city successive Westminster Governments – Labour and Tory – have used as a cash cow, squandering billions that flowed to the treasury and barely investing a fraction back.

Instead of having a fund that can invest in all our futures, the people of Aberdeen are having to fundraise – to fundraise – to rejuvenate the very heart of their city.

Union Street is the silver mile of Scotland’s energy capital.

And therefore, I can announce today that the Scottish Government will provide £400,000 to the campaign to fund the rejuvenation of Union Street.

Delegates

This is just the latest in the transformation of Scotland’s cities.

Whether it is here in Aberdeen with Union Street, the St James’ Quarter in Edinburgh or the ambitious Clyde Mission in the city of Glasgow, new life is being breathed into our urban centres.

And in Dundee, a city close to my heart, the SNP will support the superb regeneration of the disused gas works into a new Eden Project.

A beacon for regeneration and green tourism.

Conference

The oil and gas industry, and most crucially our workers here in the North East, are vital to Scotland’s economy.

They will be for years to come.

But we need to look to the future

So a Just Transition isn’t just important for tackling the climate emergency – for that it is – but it is also a huge economic opportunity.

Successful bidders for the ScotWind offshore licensing round have indicated that there is the potential for £25 billion to be invested in the Scottish supply chain over the lifetime of ScotWind.

But we cannot just sit back and expect it to fall into our laps –

Working with industry, we are determined to create it

I can therefore announce today that over the next five years the Scottish Government will invest up to £500 million to anchor a new offshore wind supply chain right here in Scotland.

A catalyst for additional private investment in our ports and harbours, supporting inward investment and encouraging domestic companies to seek new opportunities.

Cutting emissions, creating sustainable jobs and sending a clear message to global investors – Scotland means business.

Delegates,

All of us in this hall care about equality.

And to the fellow men in this hall, we all have a duty – me included – to stand up, be counted and call out abuse and violence women suffer, far too often in our society.

I was proud to be the Justice Secretary who passed the Domestic Abuse Act.

But Conference, there is more to do.

It takes incredible courage for a survivor of domestic abuse to come forward and ask for help.

But often, women feel they cannot leave their abusive partner because they do not know how they will feed themselves or their children, or how they’ll put a roof over their heads.

I can only imagine how agonising that must feel.

That’s why today I can announce that we will pilot a new £500,000 fund to support women in this most distressing of circumstances.

It’s called the Fund to Leave. It will be delivered by Women’s Aid groups in the five councils areas with the highest numbers of women presenting as homeless due to domestic abuse.

Women will receive up to £1000 to help them pay for the essentials that they and their children need.

Conference, let us in this hall today say to any woman or survivor of domestic abuse that we stand with you.

Conference,

Our nation is rich in culture and the arts.

Culture is a reflection of who we are, and who we hope to be as a people.

We don’t just value culture and the arts for the economic impact they bring, we value them for their own sake, for the joy they bring the world.

And delegates you heard exactly what a joy culture brings to young people earlier this afternoon when you were treated to a brilliant performance by Sistema’s Big Noise Govanhill.

And can I tell you Conference they have more musical ability in their left pinkies than I do in my whole body.

Delegates, I want to send a clear signal today about my ambition for culture in Scotland.

We’re not just going to protect our arts funding.

We’re not just going to increase it in line with inflation.

No delegates, we’re going to go further than that.

I can announce today that over the next five years we will more than double our investment in Scotland’s arts and culture.

This means that by the end of the five years, our investment will be £100m higher than it is today.

This is a huge vote of confidence in the future of our culture sector and in the vital work of bodies like Screen Scotland, Creative Scotland and our festivals.

Delegates, if politics is about choices, I choose to ensure that Scotland’s arts and culture are supported to grow at home, and be seen across the world.

Conference,

The choices we make are driven by our principles, our convictions and our values.

Values are not abstract.

They determine the practical policies governments pursue.

And those policies can have a profound impact on all of our lives. 

Let me give you one example of a very different set of values to those held by the SNP.

At the Tory conference, the UK Home Secretary warned about what she described as a “hurricane” of migrants coming to the UK, and other western, countries.

When I hear that dog-whistle language it makes me shudder.

It makes me resolve to work even harder for independence – so that Scotland’s immigration policies are decided here in Scotland.

Never ever again by extremist Westminster politicians.

Not only is the anti-migrant rhetoric morally wrong, it is also bad for our economy.

Our migration policy will be founded on core principles: welcoming, internationalist and compassionate.

So let me be clear.

We will always speak out against the voices of extremism, against those who want to fuel a culture war.

And when we secure independence, the hostile environment will be gone – and gone for good.

Friends,

It says something about the modern-day Tory party that such rhetoric from the Home Secretary is seen as a pitch for the leadership.

Suella Braverman’s most compassionate moment came when she stood on the tail of a guide dog.

But to be serious

The Tories making the culture wars their election strategy says something else too.

The Tories know they are defeated.

They’re done.

They’re finished, and Conference, good riddance to them.

That leaves Labour.

And when it comes to values, I’ve got absolutely no idea what Keir Starmer stands for.

The closer he gets to Downing Street, the further he retreats from his principles.

Once upon a time, he agreed with the SNP that it was abhorrent to force women who had been raped to provide proof before they could access child benefits

But, now Labour say they plan to apply Tory policies like the rape clause – in their words – “more fairly”.

Delegates,

The so-called rape clause is one of the cruellest policies devised by this cruel Tory government.

The only fair thing to do with the rape clause is to abolish it.

It will have no place in an Independent Scotland, it should have no place in any modern, civilised society.

Conference,

The Tories are finished.

Labour has abandoned its principles.

But the SNP will always stand by ours.

At our conference on Sunday we decided – together – on the process for winning our country’s independence.

This was a very important debate.

But if I can be so bold, in a room full of committed independence supporters – it is not process arguments that will achieve our goal.

Around half of our fellow Scots already support independence.

I have no doubt that we can turn that half into a sustained majority.

And we will do so when we concentrate not on the how – but on the why.

At the next election, page one line one of our manifesto will say “vote SNP for Scotland to become an independent country.”

And the reason that will be page one, line of our next manifesto is because independence is about building a better Scotland.

Independence is not simply an end in itself.

It is inextricably linked to the cost of living crisis.

It’s about raising living standards.

It’s about protecting our NHS.

Above all, it’s about a new wellbeing economy.

An economy that works for the people, not the other way round.

And on the economy, Keir Starmer says he wants growth, growth, growth.

There’s a huge problem with that.

Because he also supports Brexit, Brexit, Brexit.

Brexit can’t be made to work for Scotland.

It has been an unmitigated disaster.

With independence we can escape the failed UK Brexit-based economy and take our place – for the very first time – as a member state in our own right of the European Union.

Conference,

We know that people have suffered because of Westminster crashing the economy.

We know the challenges that people are facing every day.

But delegates, we do not seek independence for Scotland despite these challenges

We seek independence for Scotland because of them.

European countries that are like Scotland are fairer and wealthier than the UK.

Ireland, Norway, Denmark, Austria, Finland and other comparable nations have higher national income per head than the UK.

They have higher productivity

They have lower inequality

And lower poverty.

So with all our talent,

With our world class food and drink

World class Universities.

With world class sectors like life sciences, video games and financial services.

With an abundance of renewable energy.

And conference, most importantly, with the hard-working, gallus, talented people of Scotland as our biggest asset, I ask the question:

Why not Scotland?

But we’re doing more than campaigning to win our independence.

We’re preparing for independence.

Because we are building the institutions for delivery.

Since 2014 in government we’ve set up a new social security system.

A tax agency.

A national investment bank.

And we’ve expanded our overseas networks with new offices in Berlin and Copenhagen.

With Brexit, Westminster is isolating itself from the world.

With the SNP – and to paraphrase Winnie Ewing, Madame Ecosse – Scotland is joining the world.

Friends,

We are going to take further steps that will both provide direct benefits under devolution and will prepare us for independence. 

The UK has a shocking record of capital investment.

As First Minister, I am co-chair of the Scottish Government’s Investor Panel – made up of a group of distinguished experts.

They’re challenging the Scottish Government to be bold.

And that’s why today I am announcing our most ambitious proposal yet.

I can confirm that by the end of this parliament the SNP Government will – subject of course to due diligence and market testing – go directly to the international bond market for the first time in our own right.

To fund vital infrastructure like affordable housing projects, we will issue Scotland’s first ever bond.

This will bring Scotland to the attention of investors across the world.

And it will raise our profile as a place where investment returns can be made.

In doing so, we will show the world not only that we are a country to invest in today.

We will also demonstrate the credibility to international markets that we will need when we become an independent country.

Delegates, the SNP is delivering for the people for Scotland today.

And brick by brick – institution by institution – we are laying the foundations for what will be our newly independent state. We are truly living in the early days of a better nation.

Conference,

When it comes to setting out our prospectus for a better Scotland, we will be stepping up the pace.

We’ve set out a macroeconomic framework – detailing currency policy.

We’ve published plans for a written constitution.

A constitution that would provide recognition of the NHS in Scotland, giving the right to access a system of healthcare, available free at the point of need.

A constitution that recognises and protects employment rights, including the right to strike.

And conference.

A constitution that would recognise that sovereignty sits with people who live here.

Not with the House of Commons and the certainly not with the House of Lords in Westminster.

And precisely because our plan for a new economy will be at the heart of our new independence prospectus, we will shortly bring forward our plans for migration.

We’ll set out plans for our industrial policy.

We’ll show how we can improve conditions for business and workers.

And we’ll show how we can encourage greater private sector investment in Scotland

Success for Scotland will not come automatically – we all know that.

Our success will be determined by all of us as a country and, by the decisions we take.

Scotland is at our best when we are confident.

Just look at Steve Clarke and our magnificent Scotland men’s team.

In fact, given our scintillating run of form, can I say that by the time Scotland co-hosts Euro 2028, I look forward to defending Scotland’s title as European Champions!

Nothing wrong with being an optimist of course!

Delegates,

All-too-often, some people talk about Scotland’s immense contribution to the world as if it’s something that is over.

But for me, Scotland has a lot more to offer tomorrow than we did yesterday.

If we are willing to go on this journey – together – then we can make sure that this is the case.

Every single person living here can play a part in building a new Scotland.

All of us will have a stake in our new country – and we all deserve to enjoy the fruits of that success.

Let’s remember that we in this party are the custodians of a cause far greater than all of us.

In a world where it can be easy to feel powerless, there is no greater act of empowerment than to take our destiny into our own hands.

And there is no greater gift that we can leave our children than a country which is theirs to create in their own image.

Conference,

That which we seek for our nation is neither unwise, nor untested.

It is neither unreasonable, nor unobtainable.

Rather, it has been the stated ambition of nations the world over, for the simple reason that independence works.

Nations today which, relative to Scotland’s great age, are in many cases mere youngsters.

And that, my friends, is the great irony about Scotland’s journey toward independence.

One of the world’s oldest nations will become its youngest independent state.

And with the vitality of youth, we can step out into that world anew.

Into the bright light of a new dawn.

With our eyes wide open to a whole new world of possibility.

Together – united – let us make it happen.

Thank you.

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