Independent Scotland will be a 'good neighbour and sovereign citizen'
First Minister Alex Salmond
Foreign Press Association in London
May 23, 2011
Thank-you madam vice-president, ladies and gentlemen
I've just come from a meeting with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, where I was pursuing the demands and ambitions of the people of Scotland, who expressed their ambitions so overwhelmingly at the recent elections.
And during the conversation I got the impression he was going to say no to a number of the entirely reasonable requests and objectives that I was putting on behalf of the overwhelming mandate that the Scottish National Party received from the people of Scotland.
And just at that moment, just at that very moment I felt the Chancellor was going to say no, along came a pipe band outside, practising in Horseguards for President Obama's trip tomorrow! And there it was, drowning out the Chancellor - drowning out me as well, but it was a Scottish pipe band.
Charles Stuart Parnell once said that no man can stand in the way of a nation. But to stand in the way of a march of a Scottish pipe band?
So I'm just merely putting to you madam vice-president, distinguished members of the Foreign Press Association, that sometimes things are going to happen. Rough-hew them how we will.
One of the world's great novelists, Ernest Hemingway, made his name as a foreign correspondent when the map of Europe was being reshaped after World War One, with many new countries emerging and old empires disappearing.
He opens one of his most famous novels, For Whom the Bell Tolls, with a quote from the English metaphysical poet John Donne who wrote the words: "No man is an island, entire of itself..."
Indeed, no man is an island, and likewise no country exists in isolation. We are all interdependent, more so now than in Hemingway's time. Each nation is connected with one to the other in a balance. And each, of course, has it's own special gifts to bring.
So I stand before you are as First Minister of a nation, Scotland, which I believe has a substantial contribution to make to the rest of humanity. Our national poet, Robert Burns gave the world its most famous anthem celebrating friendship, Auld Lang Syne. Our scientists and engineers are responsible for the television, the telephone, antiseptic, penicillin and ultrasound. Generations of journalists, in particular, have enjoyed our other - perhaps our greatest invention, Scotch Whisky. Invented, of course, entirely for the Foreign Press Association.
But although Scotland is one of the oldest nations in Europe, with a distinct culture and history, our political status is not normal. Since 1707, Scotland has been in an incorporating union with England. The arithmetic of the United Kingdom parliament renders Scotland subordinate. Scotland's voice, in key matters, is always overwhelmed for the simple reason of numbers.
Although our own national parliament in Edinburgh was reconvened in 1999 after an adjournment of almost 300 years, key decisions about our future are taken, not by the people of Scotland, but by others in Westminster.
On May 5 this year, Scotland re-elected a Scottish National Party government that has an overwhelming mandate to improve Scotland's status.
The SNP governed successfully, in the judgement of the people, as a minority between 2007 and 2011. Now we have been re-elected as the first ever majority government in the Scottish Parliament, in a proportional representation system - something which statisticians, and indeed the devisors of that PR system, thought was impossible under the system of proportional representation.
The SNP's support reached all parts of our country. We now represent the cities, the countryside, the industrial areas, the highlands and lowlands. We are a social democratic party which advances fairness as well as the need of Scottish business. Our support comes from the worker on the average wage, the entrepreneur, the student and the pensioner.
So the question is, what do we intend to do with this mandate?
Now, we are the party of Scottish independence. But independence is not our immediate demand. We have made it clear that the people of Scotland can make the decision on independence in a referendum, which we intend to hold later in this five year parliament.
Our immediate priority, as it was in discussions with George Osborne today, is to increase Scotland's decision-making powers in the current UK structure. That was the pledge we made in our manifesto and we argued for throughout the campaign.
Legislation to transfer new responsibilities to Scotland is currently progressing through both the United Kingdom and Scottish parliaments.
The Scotland Bill, as it's called, was drawn up by the unionist parties who were defeated on the May 5. It was drawn up before the election campaign and the election results. It must now, therefore, be revisited and improved in light of the election results. That's not the view of Alex Salmond, it's not even the view of the Scots Parliament - as important, though, the view of a Parliament is.
It is the verdict of the people of Scotland, overwhelmingly, in the election campaign.
During the election campaign, the SNP promised to improve the Bill in order to speed up recovery from recession. Our priority is to insert economic muscle, economic teeth into the legislation - in other words, job-creating powers such as gaining borrowing powers and control of corporation tax.
Despite Scotland having its own legal system - something which the Attorney General might find out if he was foolish enough to try and institute contempt proceedings against a newspaper in another country's jurisdiction! Scotland has it's own distinct legal system, its own churches, the education and health systems, but still has less financial freedom than many sub-national regions.
The Basque country in Spain has far more control of its economy than Scotland at the present moment - as does Catalonia, the German Lander and even, across these islands, the Isle of Man. So does the average American state, which controls income, sales and corporation taxes. Indeed states such as Texas and Alaska get a share of their resource of oil revenues as a matter of natural justice.
But Scotland, the European Union's largest oil producer, reaps not a penny from the North Sea oilfields in our waters. These revenues all go straight to London.
This year Scottish oil revenues will amount to a £13.4 billion for George Osborne, the UK treasurer, while Scots pay the highest fuel prices in Europe, both at the petrol pump and in order to heat homes in our colder northern climate.
Another crucial power that we intend to regain is responsibility for the Crown Estate. The Crown Estate is a feudal remnant which taxes the seabed around Scotland and sends all revenues directly to London. Control of the Crown Estate means we can benefit from the riches of our own waters. In particular, we can licence marine renewable energy projects, both to stimulate the green industry and to ensure that local communities get the opportunity to benefit from their own natural resources.
I have also asked the United Kingdom government for control of excise, in order to advance alcohol taxes that will have social and economic benefits in Scotland, basically by raising the duty on high-strength, low quality alcohol, which is social blight in Scotland, and indeed down here. And it's time that governments and administrations did something about it.
In addition, we believe it is only fair that Scotland has more say in European policy, as key Scottish industries such as fishing are regulated from Brussels, yet often decisions are made without the benefit of direct Scottish representation.
And we think it is wrong and unbalanced that broadcasting in these islands is entirely regulated from London - which has resulted in second-rate coverage in many instances of Scottish culture and current affairs.
So these are our immediate priorities. But our ambition for Scotland does not end there. We believe that to achieve our potential, Scotland must become - once again - a fully participating nation in the world. An independent Scotland, with a voice at the top table in the European Union and a seat on the United Nations will be able to take forward a number of initiatives which will have ramifications way beyond Scottish borders.
Within the devolved powers which we currently have, Scotland has introduced world-leading Climate Change legislation; it commits us to an 80 per cent reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, which sets a gold standard internationally.
Indeed, we actually produced a special malt whisky to mark the legislation, called the 2020 whisky, which was 42 per cent proof to mark the 42 per cent target for 2020. And we offered a bottle to every major world leader who was willing to sign up for that gold standard of environmental objectives.
The president of the Maldives got one - although as a Muslim I'm not certain he is able to enjoy it himself - the then Governor of California then managed to persuade us to part with a bottle. And indeed we gave a bottle to the Duke of Rothesy, as we call Prince Charles in Scotland. Angela Merkel is on the very cusp of achieving that bottle as the German targets hover around the 42 per cent mark.
But we are very strict in Scotland about when we make such an award! But, nonetheless, ladies and gentlemen our climate change legislation sets the gold mark internationally and I hope and believe that many other world leaders will qualify for their malt whisky in the not-to-distant future.
We have also set a target to produce 100 per cent of our own electricity needs from renewables by 2020 - we will be producing about twice the electricity that Scotland requires. We aim that just over half of that will come from renewable sources. And that means the considerable surplus electricity that we supply will be exported to England and indeed to the continent of Europe. Independence will give us the financial freedom to direct investment towards renewables and to develop the infrastructure to develop ever more clean power.
Scotland has some 25 per cent of Europe's tidal power and offshore wind resource and 10 per cent of the continent's potential wave power. We have, in the next generation, the potential ability to produce some 60 GigaWatts of electricity from offshore renewable resources.
That would be enough power to power a country such as Germany. And therefore, along with other northern European countries, we have an excellent opportunity to become the green energy powerhouse of the European continent . And to signify that, just in the last few months three of the world's greatest turbine manufacturers, Gamesa, Mitsubishi and Doosan, have all announced plans to site their research and development for green energy in Scotland.
To further boost innovation, the Scottish Government has launched the £10 million Saltire Prize. That's the world's largest innovation prize for marine renewable energy, of wave and tidal variety. Already we have had 150 expressions of interest in this Prize - which we're running in conjunction with National Geographic - from 30 countries around the planet.
I mention these things because they are examples of just a few ways in which an independent Scotland can become a good citizen in the community of nations. But we intend to go further. A completely sovereign Scotland will be non nuclear - it is our intention to remove Trident missiles from our waters. We currently have the largest concentration of weapons of mass destruction in the continent of Europe, and their removal, I would submit, will enhance national security.
We can be a beacon for upholding the standards of international law. An independent Scotland would never, ever have been dragged into an illegal, immoral conflict such as Iraq - which only today the United Kingdom has finally extricated itself from.
The election result on May the 5th was an expression of self-confidence by Scotland. There is a growing realisation among our people that the potential political and economic subordination is not a natural state of our country.
The unionist parties ran, particularly in the last stages of the campaign, a scare-mongering campaign that claimed that Scotland was too small, too poor, too weak to look after its own affairs. That mendacious message was overwhelming and comprehensively rejected.
The SNP don't seek sovereignty because we intend or wish to gain advantage over any other country. We have malice towards nobody. We simply wish to take part. Equality is at the heart of our ambition.
So what are the prospects for realising the ambition?
I am an optimist, I do believe we have history, as well as pipe bands, on our side. In 1945, the UN was founded with just 51 member countries. Today there are almost 200 as part of the community of nations.
So I repeat, no man, no country is isolated or separate. We are all part of a whole. Our desire is simply for Scotland to co-operate with others on an equal basis, to be good neighbours and good citizens of Europe and the world. That was denied us in days gone past, but the age of empires is over. Scotland will soon be in a position to bring all of its gifts to the world - of that I am certain.
And, having started this brief address by quoting a great English poet, perhaps I can end with a quote from our own national poet, Robert Burns:
It's coming yet, it's coming yet for a' that.
Thank you very much.