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Marco Biagi

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.”

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Aberdeen Central <em>Picture: Richard Slessor</em>

Aberdeen Central Picture: Richard Slessor

The second in our series on key swing seats for the 5 May election.

Aberdeen Central
Labour’s Lewis Macdonald has represented the centre of Aberdeen since the parliament opened in 1999. However, his majorities have been going down with each election as the SNP has chipped away at the Labour vote.

At the last election, Mr Macdonald only secured the seat with a majority of 382 over the SNP – and, according to one authoritative assessment, this has been eroded even more by boundary changes so that the SNP now actually has a notional majority of 349.

Either way, this is a very tight contest. Mr Macdonald has worked very hard to keep this seat, but in Kevin Stewart he is up against the deputy leader of the city council.

If even a small fraction of the pro-SNP swing detected in national polls is translated through into this constituency, then Mr Stewart will be elected on 5 May.

Also standing: Sheila Thomson (Liberal Democrat), Sandy Wallace (Conservative), Mike Phillips (National Front).

Prediction: SNP gain from Labour.

Argyll and Bute
There is one issue dominating the election in this west coast constituency – school closures.

The council proposed a series of school closures a year ago, which caused a massive backlash. Then the SNP group on the council (after taking advice from Mike Russell, the education secretary) decided to start opposing the cuts.

Mr Russell – whose wife is a teacher in the area – is now the SNP candidate. The issue of school closures – which ones will actually close and who is to blame – is still swirling around Mr Russell and the SNP and has the potential to damage the SNP vote.

However, this seat did elect an SNP MSP in 2007 in the popular Jim Mather, and Mr Russell will be hoping that he can take over where the retiring Mr Mather left off.

He does face a strong challenge, though, from Alison Hay of the Liberal Democrats. Privately, senior Lib Dems have been talking up her chances, but she will have to buck the national trend of anti-Lib Dem voting to take this constituency.

Also standing: Jamie McGrigor (Conservative), Mick Rice (Labour), George White (Liberal), George Doyle (Independent).

Prediction: SNP hold.

Caithness, Sutherland and Ross
The Liberal Democrats have a very good record of getting elected then working an area so well that they guarantee their re-election for many years to come.

That happened here with Jamie Stone, the Liberal Democrat MSP from 1999 until his decision to retire from politics this year.

Without that personal vote for Mr Stone, the Nationalists believe this seat is vulnerable, and although an assessment of the boundary changes gives Lib Dem Robbie Rowantree a notional majority of 2,500, SNP strategists believe that is vulnerable.

The SNP candidate is the experienced list MSP Rob Gibson, who is well known in the area.

The Liberal Democrats expect their vote to decline, but are hoping enough of their supporters stay with them to keep the SNP at bay.

Also standing: John MacKay (Labour), Edward Mountain (Conservative).

Prediction: SNP gain from Liberal Democrats.

Edinburgh Central
This appears to be one of the most open constituencies of all in Scotland. All four of the main parties now appear to be within 3,500 votes of each other, so – conceivably – it could go to any of them.

Labour’s Sarah Boyack is the sitting MSP, but she holds a notional majority of just 719 over the SNP.

Nationalists have been suggesting that Ms Boyack knows she is vulnerable: why else, they ask, would she put herself on the regional list as well?

But it appeared to Labour before the campaign started that the Liberal Democrats would be their main rival in Edinburgh Central, and that was why Ms Boyack was worried about her position.

With the Lib Dem vote falling away, Labour managers hope they will attract enough wavering Lib Dems to head off Marco Biagi’s SNP challenge.

Also standing: Iain McGill (Conservative), Alex Cole-Hamilton (Liberal Democrat).

Prediction: Labour hold.

Edinburgh Southern
This should be one of the most comfortable Liberal Democrat seats in the country. Sitting MSP Mike Pringle enjoys a notional majority of nearly 4,000 – but, ever since the campaign started, Labour strategists have been insisting that their canvass returns show a big swing from the Lib Dems to Labour.

Labour leaders believe it will be enough to send Paul Godzik, their candidate, to Holyrood for the first time, while the Lib Dems think that Mr Pringle has a strong enough personal vote to confound the national anti-Lib Dem voting patterns.

Labour will need to start picking up seats from the Lib Dems in Scotland’s urban areas if they are to match the SNP’s success in doing that in rural Scotland. This would be as good a place as any for them to start.

Also standing: Gavin Brown (Conservative), Jim Eadie (SNP).

Prediction: Labour gain from Liberal Democrats.

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