Nicola Sturgeon: SNP government has hit the ground running

Nicola Sturgeon MSP <em>Picture: Mark Sutherland/Scottish Parliament</em>
Nicola Sturgeon MSP Picture: Mark Sutherland/Scottish Parliament

The following is an article by Scottish deputy first minister Nicola Sturgeon, first published in yesterday’s Sunday Times.

Scotland has moved on decisively and irrevocably as a nation. Perhaps that is the fundamental truth that Labour’s prolonged post mortem into their comprehensive election defeat to the SNP in May fails to grasp.

Because, for all of Douglas Alexander’s deliberations in the last few days as to why his party were “well and truly gubbed” at the polls – his choice of phrase – the fact is that most people in Scotland are far more ambitious for their country than Labour or any of the Unionist parties acknowledge or allow for.

The SNP’s majority in Holyrood is unprecedented and unexpected, but it is also symptomatic of a profound change in mood among the people of Scotland as a whole.

The SNP government was re-elected convincingly on the back of our campaign message of record, team and vision, and perhaps the most important of those three components is vision, because without a positive vision for the future, no political party can hope to enthuse and persuade voters to support them.

This weekend the Scottish government published the latest Scottish social attitudes survey. And the results of this snapshot of national opinion are deeply revealing.

It shows that almost three-quarters of Scots, 74 per cent, thought that the Scottish government should have the most influence over how Scotland is run. That compares to just 16 per cent who thought that the UK government should have the most influence in their everyday lives.

Similarly, 61 per cent of people said they trusted the Scottish government to act in Scotland’s best interests – a figure that has remained consistent from the last annual survey.

But this is almost three times as many people who said the trust Westminster to act in Scotland’s best interests. Just 22 per cent said they believed the UK government could be trusted to properly look after the nation’s affairs – down 3 per cent on the previous survey.

What do these findings tell us? They signify a profound desire on the part of the people of Scotland to take charge of their own destiny – and only the SNP matches those aspirations.

Opinion poll after opinion poll shows a clear and decisive majority of people in favour of radical constitutional change and progress for Scotland of the kind that the social attitude survey findings point to.

While not all of those people share the SNP government’s vision of an independent Scotland – although very many do – all of them want a country that has far more control over its own affairs and responsibility for its own resources than the status quo allows.

The Scotland Bill which is currently going through Westminster goes nowhere near satisfying those aspirations. Indeed, it is merely a reaction to the SNP’s last election win, in 2007, rather than a reflection of where public opinion is now in 2011 in the wake of our landslide success of five months ago.

The Unionist parties risk behind left behind totally by the people and their ambitions for Scotland – the SNP government recognises those ambitions and will give the people the chance to choose independence in the referendum we have promised.

That independent future will still be able to rely on vast oil wealth from the North Sea, as this week’s multi-billion pound investment by BP testifies – with even David Cameron conceding that Scotland’s oil will be around for “many, many years” to come. That is in addition to the vast renewable energy reserves we enjoy and the most important resource of all – the ingenuity, creativity and industry of our people.

This can be the independence generation because – as the social attitudes survey shows – Scots are increasingly resistant to the idea of Westminster control, whether that is over the economy or decisions of war and peace.

Devolution meant we could no longer have something as unpopular as the poll tax foisted on Scotland. Independence will mean we no longer face having our troops sent to fight in an illegal war like Iraq.

The SNP goes into our annual conference this week in Inverness in great heart, but conscious of the great responsibility we have been handed. And the re-elected

SNP government has hit the ground running, as our record since May shows. Our jobs market continues to outperform the UK as whole, as we have pushed ahead with major infrastructure projects while in health we have continued to meet targets, with 99.9 per cent of patients now waiting 12 weeks or less for their first outpatient appointment, and in education we are upholding our election promise of no tuition fees for Scots-based students.

The SNP has set itself a goal of doubling membership by the start of the referendum campaign. That is an ambitious goal, but one we have already proved we can meet after already doubling our numbers since 2003.

Many of the new members coming our way in the weeks, months and years ahead will be those who have had enough of Westminster control of Scottish affairs and who have decided that they want to be part of the independence generation.

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