Nicola Sturgeon: The SNP can deliver for Scotland
Writing for Holyrood ahead of SNP conference, Nicola Sturgeon says the party has to remain positive in the face of Brexit negativity
Nicola Sturgeon - David Anderson/Holyrood
The SNP meets for its 84th annual conference as the second biggest party in the whole of the UK.
With around 125,000 people in our ranks, we now outnumber the Tories’ entire membership north and south of the border – an incredible statistic which simply underlines the way in which our party and our movement has grown in the last decade or so.
It demonstrates that we are stronger as a party than we have ever been, with a commanding position in government at Holyrood and a majority of Scottish seats at Westminster.
And we gather in Glasgow after a period in which we have opened up debate within our mass membership on what Scotland should look like once we are independent.
The national assemblies held across the country have been an opportunity for ordinary members to give their thoughts on how the findings of the Sustainable Growth Commission should be implemented.
But of course, we meet amid a UK-wide political backdrop as febrile as anything I can recall in my lifetime.
Brexit remains the all-consuming issue, and the Tory government’s handling of it is, again without question, the worst that I can ever remember by any government.
The fact that we have reached a point where a no-deal outcome seems not just possible, but likely and, quite possibly, the most probable destination, almost beggars belief.
And let there be no doubt as to what a no-deal outcome would entail.
It would deal an absolutely devastating blow to the whole UK economy, including Scotland, threatening countless thousands of jobs, deterring investment and hitting living standards.
It is, almost literally, unbelievable that we have reached a point where the UK Government is now actively preparing for the likelihood of food and medicine shortages, and has appointed a minister for food security, raising fears that we could see a return to rationing for the first time since the post-Second World War era.
It is a long way indeed from the ludicrous promises of the Brexiteers in June 2016, and the fatuous, vacuous boast of an extra £350 million a week for the NHS if the UK voted to leave the EU.
There is still time, just, for common sense to prevail and for an agreement to be reached.
But it must not be an agreement based on the utterly false choice being perpetuated by the UK Government – that is, a forced choice between no-deal and what has become known as a ‘blind Brexit’, where there is no meaningful detail on future trading relationships.
For all the talk of the Prime Minister being ‘ambushed’ at the Salzburg summit, the truth is that neither Theresa May nor anyone else should have been surprised at what took place there.
EU leaders had been telling the UK Government repeatedly in the run-up to the gathering in Austria that the Chequers proposals were simply not acceptable, in that they would undermine the integrity of the single market and its four fundamental freedoms.
However, while the chances of a no-deal outcome have increased greatly in recent weeks, the one glimmer of hope is that that prospect has also meant that the sensible outcome which the Scottish Government has pressed for – namely, continued membership of the single market and customs union – comes back into play.
As time now rapidly starts to run out before the end of the Article 50 process, increasingly, the option of single market and customs union membership will appeal to many, including business, public service leaders and academic institutions.
It was one of those academic leaders, Professor Anton Muscatelli, principal of Glasgow University and chair of the Russell Group of leading universities, who last week said that a hard Brexit outside the single market “would represent the most unhinged example of national self-sabotage in living memory” and that there is “a moral obligation” to avoid it.
Speaking at a summit on the impact of Brexit in Glasgow, he added that there was “no comparable experience” similar to a no-deal Brexit and the consequences would be “dire”.
Further, he said that any politician refusing to try to soften the pain of Brexit by making the case for single market membership – which, it should be remembered, is around eight times bigger than the UK market alone – was guilty of “a serious dereliction of duty.”
I agree with all of those sentiments.
But while Brexit inevitably dominates the news agenda, the SNP in government is getting on with the job of delivering for Scotland.
There are significant achievements to reflect on and a number of them are world leading, including our implementation of minimum unit pricing for alcohol, a policy now finally in place after being held up for years by a legal challenge.
Meanwhile, our move to offer free sanitary products to students at all schools, colleges and universities underlines our unwavering support for women’s rights and builds on the Domestic Abuse Bill, passed earlier this year, which aims to tackle harmful, coercive and controlling behaviour in relationships in Scotland.
We have also marked a historic moment in devolution, launching Social Security Scotland – a new public service that will deliver a social security system that treats people with dignity, fairness and respect.
Our new social security agency is a genuine demonstration of the SNP’s commitment to fairness, and that principle extends to the new Scottish income tax system where we have instilled a progressive approach. Our reforms protect the lowest earning taxpayers in Scotland, whilst those earning more pay a little bit more, helping to protect our NHS and other public services, support our economy and tackle inequality.
We are also implementing radical policies to grow our economy and support businesses, taking steps to establish a Scottish National Investment Bank and a National Manufacturing Institute.
That work to drive economic growth is paying off – Scotland remains the top UK destination for foreign direct investment outside of London and we have seen a 12 per cent increase in the value of goods exported overseas, the fastest growth in any part of the UK.
Unemployment is close to record lows, onshore and offshore tax revenues are rising, and our recent GDP growth has been faster than the rest of the UK.
All of this work is vital – but all of it is being undermined by the Conservatives’ catastrophic handling of Brexit.
If there is one thing, however, that is becoming clearer amid the Brexit fog, it is that the case for an independent Scotland has never been stronger.
Not only do we face being taken out of Europe against the express democratic wishes of the people of Scotland, we have been ignored at every turn over the last two years as we have tried to bring our influence, and common sense, to bear.
The much repeated unionist claim of the UK being a partnership of equals has been first undermined and then utterly destroyed by the Tories’ actions.
I said earlier this year as the SNP gathered for our conference in Aberdeen that we needed to concentrate on the ‘why’ of independence, demonstrating to people the need for Scotland to fully govern its own affairs. In the weeks and months to come, as Westminster shows with every day that passes that it is incapable of protecting Scotland’s interests, we will redouble those efforts.
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