Exclusive comment by Nicola Sturgeon: Building back better for Scotland
This is not a normal SNP conference, and these are anything but normal times.
When our party gathered last autumn, none of us could have predicted the year that lay ahead of us.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has taken thousands of lives, upended our society and wrought immense damage upon our economy.
It is a challenge and test of our collective resilience, both here and around the world as a global community, on a scale none of us have ever known before, and certainly not in peacetime.
But it is at times like these that people and societies show how they can rise to the most severe of challenges. And so these dark times have also brought out the very best in people.
Our NHS, carers and other frontline workers have battled to keep Scotland safe. Teachers have worked to minimise the disruption to our children’s education.
Businesses, large and small, have made immense sacrifices to protect their employees and their customers. And countless volunteers have worked in their communities to help those around them.
In these toughest of times people in Scotland have come together to make a difference.
In the months ahead, our priority remains the effective elimination of COVID-19. That will not be easy. But we can now see a way through and out of the darkness.
The prospect of effective vaccines is something which is now clearly on the immediate horizon and gives us all hope that things will soon take a turn very much for the better.
But the key issues that were facing Scotland before the pandemic struck have not gone away. Indeed, in many respects the pandemic has brought those issues more starkly to the fore.
We need to build a more resilient economy with job creation at its heart. We need to protect our NHS.
We need to build a social security system that we can all rely on in times of need. And we need to close the gap between rich and poor.
As well as taking action at home, the value of global co-operation has never been so clear and the idea of leaving the EU never so misguided, in the face of common global challenges such as climate change, which also remain as pressing as they were before the virus struck.
In the midst of this pandemic and economic recession the Tories, unbelievably, refused the opportunity to extend the Brexit transition period, and are therefore imposing yet more economic damage at the worst possible time.
Last December the SNP won a resounding victory in the UK general election. And a whole succession of opinion polls are now consistently showing that independence is becoming the settled will of the people of Scotland.
It is clear that we are heading for a period of fundamental change. The world around us needs to be remade in the wake of the pandemic.
The question for all of us here in Scotland as we look ahead to the Holyrood election next May is this: who is best placed to lead Scotland through the recovery and carry out that task of rebuilding and renewal? And, ultimately, who should be taking the decisions that will shape our futures?
Should it be a Scottish Government, elected by the people of Scotland, with the full powers of independence, or should it be Westminster governments led by the likes of Boris Johnson?
The SNP believes it is the people who live here, wherever they come from, who can best harness Scotland’s immense human and natural resources to the benefit of everyone – leading our green recovery, making our contribution to tackling the climate emergency and building a fairer society.
I am immensely proud of our achievements in government. But I am also more aware than ever of how much more Scotland could achieve with the powers of independence.
Our policy platform is as bold as ever. Earlier this month, the Scottish Child Payment – described as a game changer in the fight against child poverty – opened to applications.
Earlier this week the Scottish National Investment Bank – one of the most ambitious economic development initiatives in the history of devolution – opened for business.
And we are unwavering in our commitment to making Scotland a net zero society by 2045.
Scotland – and indeed the whole world – is heading for a period of change and renewal not seen in decades.
Those key questions still facing Scotland in the aftermath of the pandemic – building a more resilient economy, creating jobs, protecting our NHS and building a fairer society – require experienced leadership and an experienced government.
I look forward to next year’s election, and I relish the opportunity to give the people the chance to weigh our record in office and our ambitions for the future of Scotland against those of the other parties.
We are determined to give the people of Scotland the choice of a better future, as an independent nation.