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First Minister Alex Salmond <em>Picture: Scottish parliament</em>

First Minister Alex Salmond Picture: Scottish parliament


This address was given to the Scottish parliament by Alex Salmond on his re-election to the post of First Minister for Scotland, 18 May 2011.

When Donald Dewar addressed this parliament in 1999, he evoked Scotland’s diverse voices: “The speak of the Mearns. The shout of the welder above the din of the Clyde shipyard. The battle cries of Bruce and Wallace.”

Now these voices of the past are joined in this chamber by the sound of 21st-century Scotland. The lyrical Italian of Marco Biagi. The formal Urdu of Humza Yousaf. The sacred Arabic of Hanzala Malik. We are proud to have those languages spoken here alongside English, Gaelic, Scots and Doric.

This land is their land, from the sparkling sands of the islands to the glittering granite of its cities. It belongs to all who choose to call it home. That includes new Scots who have escaped persecution or conflict in Africa or the Middle East. It means Scots whose forebears fled famine in Ireland and elsewhere.

That is who belongs here, but let us be clear also about what does not belong here. As the song tells us, for Scotland to flourish then “Let us be rid of those bigots and fools / Who will not let Scotland, live and let live.”

Our new Scotland is built on the old custom of hospitality. We offer a hand that is open to all, whether they hail from England, Ireland, Pakistan or Poland. Modern Scotland is also built on equality. We will not tolerate sectarianism as a parasite in our national game of football or anywhere else in this society.

Scotland’s strength has always lain in its diversity. In the poem Scotland Small, Hugh MacDiarmid challenged those who would diminish us with stereotypes. “Scotland small?”, he asked. “Our multiform, our infinite Scotland, small? Only as a patch of hillside may be a cliche corner. To a fool who cries ‘Nothing but heather!’”

The point is even the smallest patch of hillside contains enormous variation – of bluebells, blaeberries and mosses. So to describe Scotland as nothing but heather is, said MacDiarmid, “Marvellously descriptive! And totally incomplete!”

To describe Scotland as small is similarly misleading. Scotland is not small. It is not small in imagination and it is not short in ambition. It is infinite in diversity and alive with possibility.

Two weeks ago, the voters of Scotland embraced that possibility. They like what their parliament has done within the devolved settlement negotiated by Donald Dewar. They like what the first, minority SNP government achieved. Now they want more.

They want Scotland to have the economic levers to prosper in this century. They are excited by the opportunity to re-industrialise our country through marine renewable energy, offering skilled, satisfying work to our school leavers and graduates alike. But they also know we need the tools to do the job properly.

This chamber understands that too. My message today is let us act as one and demand Scotland’s right. Let us build a better future for our young people by gaining the powers we need to speed recovery and create jobs.

Let us wipe away past equivocation and ensure that the present Scotland Act is worthy of its name.

There is actually a great deal on which we are agreed. The three economic changes I have already promoted to the Scotland Bill were chosen from our manifesto because they command support from other parties in this chamber.

All sides of this parliament support the need for additional and immediate capital borrowing powers so we can invest in our infrastructure and grow our economy. I am very hopeful that this will be delivered.

The Liberal Democrats, Greens and many in the Labour party agree that Crown Estate revenues should be repatriated to Scottish communities. We await Westminster’s reply. Our leading job creators back this government’s call for control of corporation tax to be included in the Scotland Bill.

The secretary of state for Northern Ireland – a Conservative – supports the devolution of this tax, and the cross-party committee of this last parliament agreed unanimously that if the principle was conceded in Northern Ireland then Scotland must have the same right.

But these are not the only issues which carry support across this chamber. There are three more constitutional changes we might agree on. Why not give us control of our own excise duty? We have a mandate to implement a minimum price for alcohol. We intend to pursue that in this parliament come what may.

However, our Labour colleagues agree that it is correct to set a minimum price for alcohol, but they were concerned about where the revenues would go. Gaining control of excise would answer that question. It means we can tackle our country’s alcohol problem and invest any additional revenue in public services. So I ask Labour members to join with me in calling for control of alcohol taxes so that we together we can face down Scotland’s issue with booze.

Another key aspect of our national life controlled by Westminster is broadcasting. All of Scotland is poorly served as a result. If we had some influence over this currently reserved area we could, for example, create a Scottish digital channel – something all the parties in this parliament supported as long ago as 8 October 2008.

We agree that such a platform would promote our artistic talent and hold up a mirror to the nation. How Scotland promotes itself to the world is important. How we talk to each other is also critical.

These are exciting times for our country. We need more space for our cultural riches and for lively and intelligent discourse about the nation we are and the nation we aspire to be.

Finally, many of us agree that, in this globalised era, Scotland needs more influence in the European Union and particularly in the Council of Ministers. At the moment that is in the gift of Westminster.

Sometimes it is forthcoming, more often it is withheld. We in the Scottish National Party argue for full sovereignty – it will give us an equal, independent voice in the EU.

However, short of that, the Scotland Bill could be changed to improve our position. When the first Scotland Act was debated in Westminster in 1998, there was a proposal, as I remember, from the Liberal Democrats, to include a mechanism to give Scotland more power to influence UK European policy. It was defeated then, but why not revisit it now? Let Scotland have a guaranteed say in the forums where decisions are made that shape our industries and our laws.

I have outlined six areas of potential common ground where there is agreement across the parliament to a greater or lesser extent: borrowing powers, corporation tax, the Crown Estate, excise duties, digital broadcasting and a stronger say in European policy.

I think we should seize the moment and act together to bring these powers back home. Let this parliament move forward as one to make Scotland better.

Norman MacCaig observed that when you swish your hand in a stream, the waters are muddied, but then they settle all the clearer. On 5 May the people of our country swished up the stream and now the way ahead is becoming clear.

We see our nation emerge from the glaur of self-doubt and negativity. A change is coming, and the people are ready. They put ambition ahead of hesitation. The process is not about endings. It is about beginnings.

Whatever changes take place in our constitution, we will remain close to our neighbours. We will continue to share a landmass, a language and a wealth of experience and history with the other peoples of these islands

My dearest wish is to see the countries of Scotland and England stand together as equals There is a difference between partnership and subordination. The first encourages mutual respect. The second breeds resentment.

So let me finish with the words of Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, who addressed this parliament in 1706, before it was adjourned for 300 years. He observed that: “All nations are dependent; the one upon the many.” This much we know. But he warned that if “the greater must always swallow the lesser,” we are all diminished. His fears were realised in 1707.

But the age of empires is over. Now we determine our own future based on our own needs. We know our worth and should take pride in it.

So let us heed the words of Saltoun and “Go forward into the community of nations to lend our own, independent weight to the world.”

Want to discuss other issues? Join the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum

By John Knox

<em>Picture: Helico</em>

Picture: Helico

The party manifestos are more than just a list of policies, they try to outline a general philosophy.

Thus Labour’s 75 page manifesto is called A Future, Fair for All and it emphasises what the government can do to get the economy going again and sustain public services.

The Conservative manifesto, on the other hand, places the emphasis on what citizens can do for themselves. It’s a 130-page Invitation to Join the Government of Britain.

The Liberal Democrats take up Labour’s theme of “fairness” and, in 108 pages, spell out what it means for individuals as taxpayers and consumers.

The SNP manifesto argues the case for Scottish independence in the long run but, in this election, it wants as many “Scottish champions” elected as possible to protect public services in Scotland from what they say are £30b worth of cuts coming from the other parties over the next five years.

Taxes

The Conservatives say they will reverse Labour’s planned 1p rise in National Insurance contributions. That will cost £6b, which they say would be paid for by efficiency savings. They also want to raise the inheritance tax threshold to £1m and to give married couples a £150 a year tax break.

Labour have already introduced a higher 50 per cent tax rate on earnings of over £150,000 a year. The party says it won’t extend VAT to food or children’s clothes or books or newspapers but, like the other parties, it has not ruled out a general increase in VAT.

The Liberal Democrats say they would raise the threshold for income tax to £10,000 a year, lifting 3.5 million out of income tax altogether and making most earners £700 a year better off. It would cost £17b a year, to be paid for by a mansion tax, a 1 per cent levy on houses worth over £2m, closing tax loop holes for the rich and taxes on fuel and air passengers.

The SNP want control over taxation to be given to the Scottish Parliament. North Sea oil revenues, they say, should be put into a special Scottish Oil Fund for future investment in public services and infrastructure.

The deficit

Labour have promised to halve the £167b budget deficit over four years, starting next year, once the economic recovery is under way.

The Conservatives want to start reducing it immediately, saying an urgent plan to cut the deficit is the way to restore confidence in the economy. They say this can be done by using half of the £12b efficiency savings they expect to make by re-negotiating public contracts and a pay freeze in the public sector next year for everyone earning more than £18,000.

The SNP say public spending should be maintained next year to help Scotland climb out of recession. They say if the government is looking for efficiency savings, they should start by scrapping Trident and ID cards.

Labour also want to limit public sector pay rises to 1 per cent or below.

The Liberal Democrats want a cap of £400 on any pay rises for public sector workers. They say £15b worth of savings will have to be made if the government is going to get to grips with the deficit.

Services

Labour say they will maintain spending on the NHS, schools and the police in England but will have to look for cuts in other services. They have however outlined a new National Care Service for England which will provide free personal care for the elderly. They are consulting on how it should be paid for but have ruled out an earlier idea of a “death tax.”

The Conservatives have promised to protect the NHS from cuts but elsewhere there will have to be savings, notably a complete review of incapacity benefits.

The Liberal Democrats say the Child Trust Fund will have to be scrapped and tax credits will have to be targeted on the very poor.

On schools, south of the Border, all parties want better individual support for struggling pupils. Labour want failing schools to be taken over by their more successful neighbours and the Conservatives want parents to be given more encouragement to run their own independent schools.

In Scotland, none of these reforms to the public services apply. The SNP say they will try their best to protect public services from cuts but they warn that the Scottish budget will probably be cut by £500m a year, whoever wins the election – unless there is a strong contingent, of 20 or so SNP MPs at Westminster and a finely balanced parliament. They have pledged to keep free personal care and the guarantee of a maximum waiting time for NHS treatment of 18 weeks.

Jobs

Labour say maintaining public spending is the best to save jobs and create new ones. It wants to expand the youth training schemes and to guarantee that anyone coming off welfare benefits and into work will definitely be better off.

The Conservatives say reversing the planned increase in National Insurance contributions is the best way to save jobs. They want the government to do less and free the private sector to create new jobs.

The Liberal Democrats argue that thousands of jobs could be created in the renewable energy industry. For example, they would establish a £400m fund to help shipyards diversify into building off-shore wind turbines.

The SNP agree that “green jobs” should be a priority, saying 25,000 jobs could be created in off shore wind, wave and tidal power. They are committed to creating 50,000 apprencticeships and to keeping free university and college education.

Banks

Labour say they have saved the banks from collapse and taught the bankers a lesson with a levy on bonuses. The SNP say the Royal Bank and the Bank of Scotland should be returned to independent Scottish ownership as soon as possible.The Conservatives would impose a “Robin Hood tax” on bank profits and would also try to sell off government shares in the banks as soon as possible to ordinary savers. The Liberal Democrats want to break up the banks, dividing them into retail High Street banks and riskier investment banks.

Environment

Labour have created a £2b green investment fund to encourage firms in the renewables industry. Like the Conservatives they want to see a new generation of nuclear power stations. The Liberal Democrats are against new nuclear and say the money should be spent on renewable energy and energy conservation instead.

Both Labour and the Conservatives have plans for a new high speed rail link – to replace air travel – between London and the North of England but disagree on the route.

The SNP say they have passed the most progressive climate change legislation in the world. They oppose new nuclear power stations, saying Scotland should put its money into becoming the “renewables powerhouse” of Europe.

The Green Party says none of this will achieve Britain’s agreed target of cutting carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.

Defence and foreign policy

Both Labour and the Conservatives want British troops to stay in Afghanistan until the Afghan army is able to take over responsibility for security. The Liberal Democrats say we should start talking to moderate Taliban leaders now. The SNP want a review of our role and strategy in Afghanistan, including the option of early withdrawal.

The Conservatives want a complete defence review but they have promised to renew Trident. Labour also want to renew Trident and build two new aircraft carriers. The Liberal Democrats say renewing Trident is a waste of £100b and they say Britain should be cutting its number of nuclear warheads.

The SNP want to get rid of Trident altogether.

None of the parties are placing much emphasis on the European Union. The Liberal Democrats are the most positive towards it, even wanting a referendum to decide, once and for all, whether Britain should play its full part in Europe or not. Labour did not think the recent streamlining of the EU was fundamental enough to hold a referendum. The Conservatives remain sceptical, promising a referendum on any future reforms. The SNP say Scotland should be an independent member of the EU and thus better able to defend its special interests in energy, farming and fishing.

On overseas aid, Labour say they have doubled Britain’s aid budget to 0.5 per cent of GDP. That’s well short of the 0.7 per cent target agreed, internationally, 40 years ago. All parties are still committed to that target. The Conservatives say they will protect overseas aid from the cuts but they will carry out a review of how the £9b budget is spent.

Constitutional reform

All parties have promised to clean up parliament after the expenses scandal. The Conservatives say they will give local voters the right to sack their MP mid-term if he or she misbehaves. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats both say they want to reduce the number of MPs from the present 650. Labour have promised to introduce fixed terms of parliament.

Labour have also suggested a referendum on a proportional voting system, the single transferable vote. Here they will have the Liberal Democrats’ support.

Labour have promised to introduce the Calman reforms to devolution, including more tax powers for the Scottish Parliament. The Conservatives say they will come up with their own devolution proposals.

The SNP welcome more powers for the Scottish Parliament but are planning a referendum on outright independence.

Other parties

The Greens: They want a big switch from economic growth towards a “sustainable” economy: more energy conservation, investment in renewables, local food production, better railways, no more road building. They oppose the public sector cuts, saying taxes should go up instead. They also want a basic “citizens income” for everyone to try to close the gap between rich and poor. They have about 300 candidates standing across the UK, 20 in Scotland, where there is a separate Scottish party.

UK Independence Party: also fielding around 300 candidates, 20 in Scotland. The party wants Britain to withdraw from the EU.

Scottish Socialist Party: wants Scotland to become an independent Socialist republic. 10 candidates standing.

Trade Union and Socialist Coalition: led by Bob Crow of the RMT. It wants no cuts and no privatisation. About 40 candidates are standing across the UK, including Tommy Sheridan in Glasgow.

British National Party: wants a stricter limit on immigration and wants “British jobs for British workers.” Running 300 candidates UK wide, 14 of them in Scotland.

Alliance for Democracy: an alliance of the Christian Party, the Jury Team and English Democrats. Contesting 360 seats across the UK, one in Scotland, in the Western Isles.