First Minister Alex Salmond MSP
The Times Conference
Scotland and the Union – What Future?
Friday March 2, 2012
Have your say on the Referendum Consultation
This Times debate is one of the first major public events to be held about independence since the publication of the Scottish Government’s referendum white paper. It will not be the last.
Over the next two and a half years, Scotland will be involved in its most important debate of the last 300 years – whether to become an independent nation. And I want to begin this morning by saying something about how that debate will be conducted.
Donald Dewar said, when the Scottish Parliament reconvened in 1999, that devolution was about more than our politics and our laws. It was in part about “who we are, how we carry ourselves.”
His words were true of devolution, and will be true of independence. And I think that they will in particular be true of the debate over the next 2 ½ years which will determine our future.
One of the things which was brought home to me on Burns Day, especially at the press conference the Scottish Government held at Edinburgh Castle, is the extent to which the debate over Scotland’s future has captured international attention. That press conference, after all, attracted journalists from 17 countries, from Australia to Azerbaijan. It follows, therefore, that our international reputation will partly be shaped by “who we are, how we carry ourselves” as we make the biggest decision that any nation can make about its future.
It is absolutely right that people should feel passionately about the question of independence. But that passion must extend to a recognition that Scotland’s future will best be served by a debate which is thorough, thoughtful and constructive.
Scotland in Autumn 2014 must emerge as a united nation – united in recognition of the referendum result; in a shared belief in our potential; and in a hopeful and optimistic view of our future.
Politicians – and media commentators - therefore bear a great responsibility in how we conduct ourselves during this debate. As First Minister, I will fulfil mine.
In doing so, I will continually set out a positive case for independence.
That case is based on a simple, but fundamental, premise.
The people best placed to take decisions about Scotland’s future are the people who choose to live and work in Scotland.
I believe that people in Scotland will be persuaded of that case.
Times poll and devo-plus campaign
It is interesting, in that regard, to look back at the Times’s coverage on the day of the last referendum on Scotland’s future, on 11 September 1997. Magnus Linklater wrote a fine piece, entitled “Scotland opts for optimism”, in which he expressed the view that fundamentally, “the no campaign was against a Scottish parliament because it would be run by Scots”. That negative view of Scotland’s potential was rejected in 1997; I believe that it will be rejected again.
The Times’s editorial on the same day, meanwhile, foresaw two possible futures for the union under devolution. An unsuccessful parliament might lead to demands for independence. Alternatively, under a “successful, efficient, confident parliament…clamours for independence might be stilled.”
My view is that the Times – although espousing a view which was shared by many at that time – failed to foresee what has actually happened. A successful, efficient, confident Scottish Parliament has led to increased demands for independence. People in Scotland have, by and large, liked what the Parliament has done with its existing powers. And as a result, they want more.
The Times polling on this during the last week has been fascinating. The poll published on Wednesday indicated that people’s views on their own personal prospects in an independent Scotland are mixed – there is no overwhelming view as to whether things will improve, stay the same or get worse.
The Times’s poll was carried out at almost exactly the same time as a Panelbase poll for your sister paper, The Sunday Times, which showed that more people than not in Scotland believe that independence would have a positive effect on the Scottish economy, confidence, health, education, culture, the environment and the level of crime.
This mixed evidence demonstrates, I think, that people in Scotland are open to persuasion about the merits of independence.
Alec Douglas-Home once said to Winnie Ewing: “Winnie, I am a nationalist in my heart but not my head.”
It is a similar sentiment to the “wise man” quoted by Fletcher of Saltoun, who stated that “if a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of a nation.”
I suspect that many Scots share a nationalism of the heart, and are persuaded in principle of the case for independence. What they want is the detail.
My firm belief is that potentially within every Scot there is a vote for independence. Clearly, in some people that potential is more deeply submerged than with others! But I believe it to be true. Let me explain why:
First, the Times poll on Wednesday indicates that even those who are less sure about their personal prospects under independence believe that “Scotland’s standing in the world” would be enhanced.
Second, today’s poll demonstrates that there is very strong support for significant additional powers for Scotland – way beyond what is currently in the Scotland Bill, or devo minus, as we must now call it.
In fact, support for the view that Scotland should either be independent or control most of its taxation within the union is currently almost as strong as support for devolution was in 1997. (nb – 71% in the poll against 74% for question 1 in the referendum).
Thirdly, there is a historical progression which is striking. From the appointment of a Secretary of Scotland in 1885; to the upgrading of that office to Secretary of State in 1926; to the devolution referendum of 1979; to the reconvening of the Parliament in 1997. The journey to independence has many stations, but only one terminus. And although the UK government has not yet recognised it, we are already far past the Scotland Bill stop.
Today’s times poll makes it clear that people across Scotland take the view that the current devolution settlement is unsustainable, even if not all of them currently advocate independence. That point is emphasised by the three main opposition parties at Holyrood launched a joint campaign for what they termed “devolution plus”,
That is why the Scottish Government is consulting on whether there should be a question about further devolution as part of the referendum on independence. There is still scope for much further debate on that issue.
However the Times poll published today - which shows a clear majority in favour of having a second question on the ballot paper – at the very least demonstrates why decisions about this must be taken by people in Scotland. The referendum must be designed and built in Scotland.
The strong support for extra powers for the Scottish Parliament, and for a second paper on the referendum ballot paper, also presents a dilemma to the unionist parties. There is a growing need for those parties who are against independence to set out what they actually stand for.
Two weeks ago, David Cameron made the very vague commitment that he was “open to looking at how the devolved settlement can be improved further”. As Mr Cameron himself has subsequently acknowledged, we urgently need clarity on what those improvements might be. information needs to be in the public domain well before the referendum.
It is something of a paradox that the people most urgently calling for an early referendum are the ones who are currently least equipped to argue their case in any campaign.
Without a clear statement of what Scotland might look like in future within the union, the case against independence is inevitably based more on a negative view of Scotland’s potential than a positive vision of the future.
Much of what we have heard so far to spread anxiety about independence has been risible.
- We have heard concerns that the constitutional debate might damage inward investment, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary in the form of investments from Amazon, Michelin, Dell, Gamesa, Aveloq, Samsung and Scottish Power, among others. Indeed, the 2011 Ernst and Young UK attractiveness survey made it clear that Scotland is the most successful place in the UK for attracting inward investment.
- Nor should we allow the legitimate questions of companies about the independence process to be spun as arguments against independence itself.
- Sources close to the Chancellor of the Exchequer briefed that Scotland may not be allowed to use the pound – ignoring the fact that as a fully tradeable currency, the UK Government would have absolutely no power to stop an independent Scotland from using it. And those sources further ignored the point that our economic strength - and the huge contribution of our oil and gas sector and our whisky exports to the UK’s current balance of trade - means that any UK Government would derive huge benefits if Scotland stayed in a sterling zone.
- Those stories, though ridiculous, were at least on relatively weighty issues. The same cannot be said of the stories such as William Hague threatening that if Scotland became independent, British embassies would no longer promote Scotch whisky.
- As the Scottish Government already knows to its cost, receptions to promote Scotch whisky or any other goods at British embassies are already charged by the Foreign Office! But I rather suspect that the whisky industry would in any case get by without the promotional efforts of the British foreign service!
- And it was even argued that if Scotland voted for independence, the Edinburgh Zoo pandas might somehow be seized by the UK Government.
- As a result of that threat, I decided to grant Tian Tian and Yang Guang political asylum, while reflecting of course that the UK Government did not contribute a single RMB to the cost of the pandas’ arrival in our capital city.
Of course, we have heard much of this before. To return to Magnus’s piece in September 1997, he talked of a speech from William Hague in Glasgow which amounted to “a long series of “nos. Devolution would make no difference to schools, to hospitals, to jobs or business. The tartan tax would lead to foreign investors saying no to Scotland… what all this betrayed was not just a bleak view of Scotland’s prospects on its own, but a profound distrust of the people who would be running Scotland’s parliament.”
Such scaremongering proved to be unfounded in 1997, and is equally untrue today.
My firm belief is that the positive vision of Scotland’s future which we will articulate in our campaign will win people over. As in 1997, and as so often in politics, a positive campaign will beat a negative one.
The constitutional debate in Scotland is a century old, but in reality it is 100 years young. The pace is quickening and the lines of engagement are already drawn.
Despite their protestations to the contrary, the No campaign remains mired in negativity. Every old discredited jalopy of an argument from the 1970s and – as we have just heard – the 1990s - is being wheeled out of the garage. No sooner had the Prime Minister attempted to reel off a lineage of Scottish heroes than his junior Europe minister was talking about passports at the border!
But Scotland has changed, and changed for the better. The campaign for independence will stay on the high ground of vision and confidence in the future.
The Yes campaign accepts our obligation to spell out in comprehensive detail our independence plan, and that is what we will do.
This morning I want to set out the Scottish Government’s positive case for independence by looking at three key themes – prosperity – which was a big element of the Times’s polling - fairness and partnership.
Scotland is already a prosperous nation. Even excluding oil and gas output, we are the third most prosperous part of the UK outside London and the south east. With a geographical share of oil and gas revenues, in terms of GDP per head we would be the sixth wealthiest nation in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. And from 2005 to 2010, we would have had a relatively stronger fiscal position as an independent nation than as part of the UK to the tune of £7.2 billion.
And the Scottish government has already used its current economic powers wisely in the face of the economic headwinds of the last few years – for example by
- bringing forward capital spending;
- encouraging private sector investment through the Scottish Investment Bank;
- maintaining the most supportive business tax environment anywhere in the UK;
- and supporting our development agencies - with great success, as I mentioned earlier - to create an attractive climate for inward investment.
As a result, the recession in Scotland was shorter and shallower than elsewhere in the UK.
At present, however, we are effectively trying to promote economic recovery with one hand tied behind our backs.
In particular, we have to cope with the consequences of an austerity budget from the Westminster coalition which very few people in Scotland voted for. The UK Government, for example, is slashing capital expenditure by about a third over the spending review period.
With independence we could do far more to promote prosperity. In particular, within the monetary stability of a Sterling zone, we would be able to control fiscal policy to meet our own needs.
- We could borrow, if appropriate, to improve our infrastructure and to promote economic growth – a vital step in allowing bodies such as Scottish Water to bring forward capital investment.
- We could support sectors which are important to Scotland, but which Westminster has not prioritised to the extent that we would like – for example the creative industries.
- We could adjust corporation tax – not to create a race to the bottom, but to give ourselves the fiscal edge that small countries sometimes need – in our case to counteract the centrifugal force exerted by London and the south-east.
- We could amend taxes such as Air Passenger Duty to encourage the direct communications links that would boost our prosperity.
- We could, when fiscal circumstances allow, establish an energy fund to ensure that future generations benefit from the trillion pounds of oil and gas reserves which still lie below our seas.
- And we could reindustrialise Scotland’s economy. In addition to those trillion pounds of oil and gas reserves, Scotland also has up to 25% of Europe’s tidal power potential, 25% of its offshore wind potential and 10% of its wave power potential. We will be able to harness marine and offshore wind energy better and cheaper than anywhere else, giving us a huge competitive advantage in the transition to a low carbon economy. So using our energy resources, our world class university research base, and our manufacturing and engineering expertise, we have the opportunity to lead the world in this transition. And as we design, engineer and manufacture the turbines which will power Scotland and the world in the future, we will be creating fulfilling skilled employment opportunities for tens of thousands of our young people.
Scotland is severely constrained at present by a constitutional settlement which does not even give us control of the Crown Estates Commission, which determines the licenses, and collects the revenues, for much of our offshore energy.
Yet the sorts of powers I have just outlined are ones which are used routinely by nations around the world. Under independence, Scotland would be able to take decisions to support the prosperity and wellbeing of our people, just as Switzerland, Norway or New Zealand do at present.
And we would be able to do this according to our own priorities and values. Both David Cameron and Ed Miliband, in recent speeches in Scotland, have made much of the notion of fairness. I understand why, since they know that it is a concept which has a deep resonance here. But arguing that fairness is best served by remaining in the union is made more difficult by some of the current UK Government’s own policies.
All one has to do is to look at the NHS and Welfare reforms currently being enacted at Westminster. Does anyone in Scotland seriously regret for one second that we now have the power to organise the National Health Service according to our own priorities? And wouldn’t it be better if we had the same freedom to shape welfare policy, rather than having reforms imposed on us by a Government which currently has 13 MPs in Scotland, and whose dominant party only has one?
The Scottish Government has already taken steps to ensure that the state provides certain goods and services – for example free tuition fees, and free prescriptions – which are no longer prioritised by other governments on these islands. These steps have been made possible by devolution. Independence, which would give us full control over fiscal and welfare policy, would provide further opportunities to shape our society in accordance with the values determined by people in Scotland.
Scotland’s best contribution to the common weal of all of these islands is not to send MPs to London in the hope that they may sometimes be in government – it is to build a progressive nation here, which can influence by its example rather than by its 9% share of Westminster seats. Independence is the only method of government which gives us all of the powers we need to do that.
An independent Scotland would also, of course, act in partnership with other countries around the world. I have always believed that civic nationalism should go together with internationalism. We would embrace the interdependence of the modern world, but we would do so on our own terms.
The European Union has been one area of scaremongering from “sources close to the UK Government”. Shortly after suggestions that Spain might veto Scottish entry into the EU, the Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo, said: “At no point has any unease been conveyed to the British Government”.
In reality, of course, we would continue to be a full member of the European Union, trading freely with our neighbours.
An independent Scotland would no longer have nuclear weapons in our harbours, and I find it inconceivable that an independent Scotland would have had any part in the invasion of Iraq.
But in the vast majority of cases, where our values and interests coincide with those of our neighbours, we would work closely together.
Earlier this week, here in Edinburgh, I opened the office of the secretariat of the British Irish Council, whose purpose is to allow the governments of these islands to discuss issues of shared interest. The Council currently includes the governments of three island groups, three devolved nations and two independent states. Does anyone really believe the Council would look very different with two devolved nations and three independent states?
During last summer’s riots, Scottish police sent reinforcements to help forces in England. Last winter, Scottish Water sent 160,000 litres of water to Northern Ireland during the water scarcity there. That sort of co-operation would continue after independence, because it’s what good neighbours do.
And we would hold many things in common. We would still share a currency zone and a monarchy.
We would still share close ties of family and friendship with people from across these islands. We would still discuss the same television programmes, be drawn to the same sporting occasions, and share many of the same interests. People would continue to move from Edinburgh to Leeds or London and then back again.
What would be different is the context of our partnership.
We would work closely with our neighbours, on these islands and in the wider world, as a close friend, an equal partner, and a responsible international citizen.
And we would join an international community where 6 of the current members of the European Union did not exist in 1990; where the number of nations in Europe has increase from 35 to 50 since 1990; and where membership of the United Nations has grown from less than 50 when it was founded to almost 200 today.
I do not want Scotland to be independent because I think we are better than other nations; I want Scotland to be independent because we are as good as other nations.
An independent Scotland would finally have the power to do what nations all around the world do. We would use our vast potential – in our case our unparalleled energy resources; our world-class further and higher education system; our international reputation for culture and history; and the skills, talents and ambition of our people – to improve our collective wellbeing.
Ultimately, independence is the best means by which people in Scotland can shape their own future. It is the best means by which our economy can grow more strongly and sustainably; by which we can fulfil our potential and realise our aspirations; and by which we can take our rightful place as a responsible member of the world community.
I am confident that in autumn 2014 people will recognise that; and that they will choose an independent future for Scotland. Scotland will again opt for optimism.
Have your say on the Referendum Consultation
Read the Referendum Blogs