Nicola Sturgeon today (Monday) reaffirmed her commitment to the people of Scotland that leading the country safely through the pandemic remains her government’s overriding priority.
But in her keynote speech to the SNP’s four-day virtual National Conference, the First Minister also delivered an unequivocal and positive message to the party faithful on the future of the nation, telling them: Independence works.
She told delegates:
“As First Minister, my overriding priority every day is to keep Scotland as safe as possible.
“Leading the country through the Covid crisis is the most important job I have ever had.
“It has dominated my life over the past 18 months, as it has done for most of us.
“It will continue to do so for as long as necessary.”
However, she told conference, there remains big questions about how the country rebuilds as we emerge from the pandemic.
“During the election we said that tackling the pandemic would come first – and it will.
“We said we would pursue the most ambitious programme for government ever put before the people of Scotland – we are doing exactly that.
“And we said that when the covid crisis has passed, we would give the people of Scotland the choice of independence – and we will.”
The party leader compared the world’s successful independent nations of similar size to Scotland and said that all the evidence confirms independence works for them – and it will work for Scotland, too.
She told delegates:
“For countries of Scotland’s size, independence works.
“Our neighbours in north-west Europe are wealthier than the UK.
“All of them.
“They are more equal than the UK.
“They have lower levels of poverty.
“They have higher productivity, which drives better living standards.
“And, of course, they all get the governments they vote for.
“In measure after measure the evidence is overwhelming and conclusive – independence works.
“It works for Denmark, for Ireland, for Austria, for Norway, for Finland – and for so many others beside.
“These are disparate countries with different resources and economies.
“But independence works for all of them.
“With all our resources and talent, it will work for Scotland, too.”
In her 36-minute address, the First Minister explained her thinking behind the relationship with the Greens, that the deal is designed to do politics in a more consensual manner, saying:
“Instead of taking what might have been the easy option – to carry on as before – we decided to be bolder and seek co-operation with the Scottish Greens.
“That is the spirit in which we embark on this new phase of SNP Government.
“We seek to do so, not as triumphant victors, but as constructive partners.
“I believe that’s what most people in Scotland want.”
And she reserved scathing criticism for Boris Johnson’s Government for their callous plans to axe the £20 a week Universal Credit uplift for the nation’s most hard-up families, saying the Tories fail “the basic test of fairness”.
She told delegates:
“The pandemic has shone a harsh light on the deep inequalities that exist in our society.
“That is why the Scottish Government is giving money directly to those who need it.
“Shamefully, Boris Johnson’s government is about to do the reverse.
“In a few weeks’ time the Tories intend to cut Universal Credit by £20 per week.
“This will be the biggest overnight reduction to a basic rate of social security since the 1930s.
“It will quite literally take food out of children’s mouths.
“It will drive people into debt and, in some cases, to destitution and despair.
“To even contemplate a cut like this displays a lack of basic understanding of the reality of life for those on the breadline – or maybe it’s actually a lack of care.
“But to go ahead and implement this cut would expose an absence of basic humanity and moral compass.”
She also was scathing of the Tory pursuit of their hard Brexit in the middle of the pandemic, telling conference:
“Brexit is a direct Tory hit on some of Scotland’s key strengths.
“Westminster will use all that damage that they have inflicted as an argument for yet more Westminster control.”
And she pointed out that, by making us poorer, Westminster will say we can’t afford to be independent:
“They want us to believe we are powerless in the face of the disastrous decisions they have taken for us and the damage those decisions is doing.
“They want us to look inwards not outwards.
“And the reason?
“They know – and are terrified by the prospect – that when we look outwards we see all around us the evidence right there in front of our eyes.”