First Minister Alex Salmond
Launch of National Conversation White Paper
Your Scotland, Your Voice
Craiglockhart Campus, Napier University
November 30, 2009
Welcome this morning and happy St Andrew's day and what better day could there be to mark a step forward towards a new future for Scotland.
Now, two years ago, we invited the people of Scotland to take part in a debate, a national debate, on this country's future.
As Nicola Sturgeon has just described, they have responded enthusiastically to that invitation. Some 15,000 contributed to the debate that took place.
Today we launch the White Paper on the options for Scotland's future. It's called Your Scotland, Your Voice.
Your Scotland: because the future of Scotland is a matter for the sovereign people of Scotland.
Your Voice: because it reflects the issues that have been raised in the National Conversation and looks forward to a referendum to let the people have their say.
The National Conversation and the White Paper
The National Conversation has been the most comprehensive examination of the range of possibilities for Scotland's future ever undertaken.
The Government has published ten detailed policy papers outlining the choices for Scotland in key areas: in terms of fiscal autonomy; business and enterprise; energy; the environment and climate change; and broadcasting, amongst others.
Your Scotland, Your Voice brings together the key arguments in each of these areas.
It considers the benefits not just of independence, but of the other major options that have featured in the National Conversation: the status quo, the Calman Commission proposals, and full or maximum devolution.
Now the White Paper takes our National Conversation on to the next phase - it allows the people to consider the detail of the arguments, the challenges, the advantages - and crucially suggests that the people have the right to make up their minds on their own preference.
The Options: Status Quo and Calman
The White Paper identifies these four basic options for Scotland's future.
First, the status quo. By definition, we are familiar with where Scotland is at the present moment in terms of its parliament. It is certainly a marked improvement upon the situation prior to devolution. But nonetheless, it limits Scotland's ambitions and room for manoeuvre and really the debate in Scotland is no longer about the status quo. It is about what changes in the powers of the Parliament we should now have.
Second, the White paper examines the proposals made by the Calman Commission. They are limited but nevertheless they are worthy of examination.
The Options: Devolution Max
Thirdly it looks at what is proposed in terms of increasing devolution to Devolution Max, increasing the powers of the Parliament to a substantial extent but still remaining in the United Kingdom.
That proposal would see fiscal autonomy for Scotland, borrowing powers, responsibility in other crucial areas, such as energy and broadcasting.
The key restrictions would remain: on foreign affairs - a voice in the European Union - and a variety of matters would remain with the United Kingdom.
The Options: Independence
The fourth choice, the choice favoured by the Scottish Government, is independence for Scotland.
The White Paper describes the benefits that independence would bring across the range of policy areas. Responsibility for our own affairs - and the accompanying policy mechanisms from tax rates to borrowing to Government investment - is the only way, in our opinion, that we could transform this country's future.
Only independence would allow us to decide not to sink billions of pounds into a Trident replacement programme but instead to invest it in our schools and hospitals and social services and stimulating the economy. Independence would give us full power over corporation tax, the ability to increase economic growth to protect jobs. Independence would give us control over our own borders and immigration policy and allow us to shape our demographic future.
Independence is the normal status of most nations and it is the status that this Government believes that the people of Scotland should have.
Nationalism Today: Independence and Interdependence
Now, some people are sceptical about whether there is actually such a thing as independence in today's interconnected, interdependent world.
But the experience of devolution shows that the benefits of self-government, or decisions closer to the people they affect, remain as true today as they did before.
We have demonstrated that in areas which are currently devolved, how we can develop specific Scottish solutions for specific Scottish problems. We can also maintain close relationships with our colleagues elsewhere but can branch out on our own in terms of issues of free personal care for the elderly and smoking bans in terms of public places, of course, where Scotland led the way and we are now being followed by elsewhere.
There are lessons from the current set up, for example in relation to the European Union, that Scotland needs a stronger voice in areas vital to us - such as agriculture and energy - so we can work constructively with partners not just across these islands but with partners across Europe. Only independence can give that voice, that independent voice, within an interdependent world.
So the White Paper sets out how an independent Scotland could participate fully in the European Union, representing Scottish interests strongly; how it can work with other countries beyond Europe in settings such as the United Nations or the World Trade Organisation; and how, if it so chooses, we can develop a foreign policy based on protection of interests as opposed to the projection of power.
Independence would provide for a different relationship, an equal relationship, with other countries in these Islands, one built on mutual respect and the ability to choose the best option for Scotland.
And as the White Paper proposes, the Social Union of friendship and family - and common history and tradition - would continue across these Islands. But on a new basis, with a political system suitable for the 21st century, not the 18th.
Arguments Against a Referendum: Merely Advisory
Now, there are those who would argue - not many who attended the National Conversation events - but nevertheless people argue: why bother with a referendum at all, why bother to put a question to the people?
People point out, and it is true, that any referendum held would be advisory, it cannot be binding: no referendum held in the United Kingdom on any subject has been binding.
But History has also shown us that when people are given the opportunity to speak, politicians are obliged to listen.
There is a legitimacy, a power in public consultation.
I am committed to a new chapter in Scottish politics, one in which the story and the script is written by the people and not just the politicians.
Arguments Against a Referendum: Foregone Conclusion
Finally, some claim that the result of a referendum is already clear, that it is a foregone conclusion, and that therefore it is not worth putting the matter to the people at all.
May I say that if those who claimed to know the results of votes before they happen were always right, I would never have become a Parliamentarian, let alone the current First Minister.
Two years ago we started a National Conversation, now we need to carry that through so that every Scot has the opportunity to make their voice heard at the ballot box.
It's argued that instead of focusing on having the opportunity for the people to speak in a referendum, then we should concentrate on the economy and other matters.
It has been the focus of this Government over the last year to concentrate on the economic position of Scotland. But it is also clear that the biggest single restriction on fighting recession at the present moment is the inability of the Scottish Parliament within in its current powers to accelerate capital spending, to generate the shovel ready projects that could help lead us out of recession as has been done elsewhere.
This White Paper gives 176 pages of detail, more detail than ever before in our country's history, answering the detailed questions that person after person asked at the National Conversation events and wanted the answers to.
It projects the progress of Scotland in a way which again was articulated at the National Conversation events.
People want to know the rationale, the raison d'être for extending the Parliament's powers: either extending the Parliament's powers by a teeny-weeny amount as in the Calman Commission or a substantial amount with financial autonomy or a powerful Parliament, an independent Parliament, a real parliament with real powers.
It's a question of how far people want the Parliament's powers to be extended.
This is the most thorough and detailed examination of Scotland's future ever carried out by any administration in Scotland.
I also believe that this is the most ambitious and visionary project Scotland has seen. It has involved people across this nation. It has looked further than the current state of Scotland to the possibilities that exist beyond.
The next step, in my opinion, must be that opportunity for the people to have their say in a Referendum.
So, in line with the legislative statement that we made a few weeks ago, the Scottish Government will bring forward a Referendum Bill early in the new year.
That will lay out the detailed framework for holding a Referendum.
That Referendum will allow the voice of the people to be heard on the future of their country.
There could be no more important declaration for the future of Scotland on this, Scotland's national day.