As Scotland readies itself to choose its own future, media from across Europe and the world have their eyes on Scotland.
It’s increasingly clear that the world recognises Scotland’s clear mandate for a referendum – and we’ve pulled together a selection of international coverage here.
France’s biggest newspaper Le Monde has published this article – you can read it here, in French or in English.
Austrian broadsheet newspaper Die Presse says “Boris Johnson’s Conservative British government tore Scotland out of the Commonwealth against its will and led the rest of Britain into a deep crisis”. Read the article here.
Germany’s English-language news service Deutsche Welle also published an article about the October 2023 referendum. Read it here.
Italian public broadcaster RAI News also covered the announcement, and talked about how Scotland being dragged out of the EU justifies a fresh independence referendum. Read the article.
Spain’s major broadsheet newspaper El Pais also covered Nicola Sturgeon’s referendum date announcement, and reported the “landslide victory” in the 2021 Scottish election. Click here to read the article.
Australia’s public broadcaster ABC News has also reported on the referendum announcement and stressed “there is a majority for a new independence vote”. Read the article here.
🇺🇸 United States of America
One of the USA’s biggest and oldest newspapers, The Washington Post, reports that “much has changed in recent years, including Britain’s departure from the European Union. The majority of Scots voted to stay in the bloc.” Read the article.
Nicola Sturgeon’s full statement announcing the 2023 independence referendum
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has now announced the path to Scotland’s independence referendum, set the date to 19 October 2023, and published the Scottish Independence Referendum Bill.
Read her full statement below, delivered in the Scottish Parliament on 28 June 2022.
The campaign to establish this Parliament was long and hard.
It was rooted in the belief that self-government would improve the lives of those who live here. And so it has proved.
There were – and still are – honourable differences about the ultimate destination of Scotland’s self-government journey.
But all who campaigned to establish this place were united in and by this fundamental principle:
The democratic rights of the people of Scotland are paramount.
That principle of self-determination was encapsulated by these words in the Scottish Constitutional Convention’s Claim of Right:
“The sovereign right of the Scottish people to determine the form of government best suited to their needs.”
When the late Canon Kenyon Wright – who led the Convention – addressed Westminster’s refusal to accept the democratic demand for a Scottish Parliament with this question:
“What if that other voice we all know so well responds by saying, ‘We say no, and we are the state’?”
His answer – “Well we say yes – and we are the people” – was simple but powerful.
It is as relevant now as it was then.
Last May, the people of Scotland said Yes to an independence referendum by electing a clear majority of MSPs committed to that outcome. The democratic decision was clear.
Two weeks ago, the Scottish Government started the process of implementing that decision with the first in the Building a New Scotland series of papers.
That paper presented compelling evidence of the stronger economic and social performance, relative to the UK, of a range of independent countries across Europe that are comparable to Scotland.
That should be both a lesson and an inspiration to us.
Scotland – over generations – has paid a price for not being independent.
Westminster governments we don’t vote for, imposing policies we don’t support, too often holding us back from fulfilling our potential.
That reality has rarely been starker than it is now.
The Conservatives have just six MPs in Scotland – barely 10 per cent of Scottish representation – and yet they have ripped us out of the EU against our will.
They have created the worst cost of living crisis in the G7, and saddled us with the second lowest growth in the G20.
They are intent on stoking industrial strife, demonising workers and provoking a trade war.
Businesses and public services are struggling for staff because freedom of movement has been ended.
Our young people have been robbed of opportunity.
Presiding Officer, the Scottish Government will do everything in our power to mitigate the damage.
But that is not enough. Our country deserves better.
And yet this Parliament, looked to for leadership by so many across Scotland, does not have the power to tackle the root causes of the financial misery being inflicted on millions.
We lack the full range of levers to shape our economy and grow the country’s wealth.
We are powerless to stop our budget being cut.
We can’t block the Tories’ new anti-trade union laws, or stop them tearing up human rights protections.
We’re not able to restore freedom of movement.
And while we invest billions in measures to help with the cost of living, tens of thousands of children can be pushed deeper into poverty at the merest stroke of the Chancellor’s pen.
Presiding Officer, it does not have to be this way.
Independence is about equipping ourselves to navigate the future, guided by our own values, aspirations and interests.
It is about helping us fulfil our potential here at home and play our part in building a better world.
And that takes more than a changing of the guard at Westminster.
I fervently hope that the Tories lose the next election. They thoroughly deserve to.
But on the big policy issues of our time, from Europe to migration, to human rights and fairness for workers, Labour is more a pale imitation than a genuine alternative.
Labour won’t take Scotland back into the EU or even the single market. And neither will the Liberal Democrats.
They won’t restore freedom of movement for our young people.
They won’t prioritise tackling child poverty over investment in nuclear weapons.
Presiding Officer, independence won’t always be easy. It isn’t for any country.
But it will give us the opportunity to chart our own course.
To build a wealthier, greener, fairer nation.
To be outward looking and internationalist.
To lift our eyes and learn from the best.
Presiding Officer, now is the time – at this critical moment in history – to debate and decide the future of our country.
Now is the time to get Scotland on the right path – the path chosen by those who live here.
Now is the time for independence.
This parliament has a clear, democratic mandate to offer Scotland that choice.
The UK government, however, is refusing to respect Scottish democracy.
That is why today’s statement is necessary.
The UK and Scottish governments should be sitting down together, responsibly agreeing a process, including a section 30 order, that allows the Scottish people to decide.
That would be the democratic way to proceed.
It would be based on precedent.
And it would put the legal basis of a referendum beyond any doubt.
That’s why I am writing to the Prime Minister today to inform him of the content of this statement.
In that letter I will also make clear that I am ready and willing to negotiate the terms of a section 30 order with him.
What I am not willing to do – what I will never do – is allow Scottish democracy to be a prisoner of Boris Johnson or any Prime Minister.
The issue of independence cannot be suppressed.
It must be resolved democratically.
And that must be through a process that is above reproach and commands confidence.
That is why I am setting out today the actions the Scottish Government and the Lord Advocate will take, in the absence of a section 30 order, to secure Scotland’s right to choose.
My determination is to secure a process that allows the people of Scotland – whether yes, no, or yet to be decided – to express their views in a legal, constitutional referendum, so that the majority view can be established fairly and democratically.
The steps I am setting out seek to achieve that.
They are grounded in – and demonstrate this government’s respect for – the principles of rule of law and democracy.
Indeed, these core principles – respect for the rule of law and respect for democracy – underpin everything I say today.
Respect for the rule of law means that a referendum must be lawful.
That, for me, is a matter of principle.
But it is also a matter of practical reality.
An unlawful referendum would not be deliverable.
Even if it was, it would lack effect.
The outcome would not be recognised by the international community.
Bluntly, it would not lead to Scotland becoming independent.
Presiding Officer, it is axiomatic that a referendum must be lawful.
But my deliberations in recent times have led me to a further conclusion.
The lawfulness or otherwise of the referendum must be established as a matter of fact, not just opinion.
Otherwise – as we have seen again in recent days – opposition parties will just keep casting doubt on the legitimacy of the process, so they can avoid the substantive debate on independence which Scotland deserves, but they so clearly fear.
That is not in the country’s best interests.
Let me turn then to the detail of the steps we will now take to secure the objective of an indisputably lawful referendum.
And then ensure that, from today, we can focus on the substance of why Scotland should be independent.
I can announce, first of all, that the Scottish Government is today publishing the ‘Scottish Independence Referendum Bill’.
I will draw attention, in particular, to three key provisions of the Bill.
Firstly, the purpose of the referendum, as set out in section 1, is to ascertain the views of the people of Scotland on whether or not Scotland should be an independent country.
In common with the 2014 referendum – indeed, in common with the Brexit referendum and the referendum to establish this Parliament – the independence referendum proposed in the Bill will be consultative, not self-executing.
Just as in 2014 – and recognised explicitly in the 2013 White Paper – a majority yes vote in this referendum will not in and of itself make Scotland independent.
For Scotland to become independent following a yes vote, legislation would have to be passed by the UK and Scottish Parliaments.
There has been much commentary in recent days to the effect that a consultative referendum would not have the same status as the vote in 2014.
That is simply wrong, factually and legally.
The status of the referendum proposed in this Bill is exactly the same as the referendums of 1997, 2014 and 2016.
The next provision of the Bill I wish to draw attention to relates to the question to be asked in the referendum.
The Bill states that the question on the ballot paper should be – just as it was in 2014 – ‘should Scotland be an independent country’.
Finally, Presiding Officer, the Bill includes the proposed date on which the referendum should be held.
In line with the government’s clear mandate this is a date within the first half of this term of Parliament.
I can announce that the Scottish Government is proposing that the independence referendum be held on 19 October 2023.
These are the key elements of the referendum legislation that the Scottish Government wishes this Parliament to scrutinise and pass.
Let me turn now to the aim of establishing as fact the lawfulness of a referendum – which, as I have already indicated, I consider to be of the utmost importance.
I will start with what we know already.
We know that the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament to pass this Bill in the absence of a section 30 order is contested.
We know that legislative competence can only be determined judicially.
And we know that for as long as there is no judicial determination, opinions will differ and doubt will continue to be cast on the lawful basis for the referendum.
That benefits only those parties opposed to independence, because it allows them to avoid the substance of the independence debate
Finally, we know that if this Parliament does seek to legislate without a section 30 order, the Bill will go to court.
That is inevitable.
The only questions are: when it ends up in court, and at whose hand.
If the issue of legislative competence remains unresolved at the point of formal introduction of a Bill, the UK Government will almost certainly use section 33 of the Scotland Act to refer it to the Supreme Court after it has passed.
It is also possible that one or more private individuals will lodge a judicial review of the Bill.
Indeed, it was reported last week that Tory supporters are already planning to do so.
A challenge by private individuals could also go through successive courts, and so be a very lengthy process.
Either way, at the point of Parliament passing the Bill, there would be no certainty about when, or even if, it could be implemented.
A court challenge would still lie ahead and the timetable I have set out today would quickly become difficult to deliver.
And, of course, between now and then, claim and counter claim, good faith arguments and bad faith fearmongering about so-called ‘wildcat referendums’ will continue to muddy the water, cast up doubt and taint the process.
Presiding Officer, that may well suit politicians opposed to independence.
But none of it would be in the interests of the country.
And none of it would serve democracy.
The fact is neither legal opinions nor political arguments will resolve this point.
We must establish legal fact.
That is why, in my view, we must seek now to accelerate to the point when we have legal clarity; legal fact.
And crucially, in doing so – I hope – establish and safeguard the ability of this Parliament to deliver a referendum on the date proposed.
It is to this end that some weeks ago I asked the Lord Advocate to consider exercising the power she has under paragraph 34 of schedule 6 to the Scotland Act to refer to the Supreme Court the question of whether the provisions in this Bill relate to reserved matters.
This is a power exercisable by the Lord Advocate alone, not by Scottish Ministers collectively.
Whether or not she does so is accordingly a matter solely for her.
However, I can confirm that the Lord Advocate has considered this request.
She has taken into account the following factors:
This government’s democratic mandate;
The constitutional significance of this issue;
The fact that the Bill does raise a genuine issue of law that is unresolved; and
The importance of ensuring that this government and Parliament act lawfully at all times.
And she has now informed me of her decision.
I can advise Parliament that the Lord Advocate has agreed to make a reference of the provisions in the Bill to the Supreme Court.
Indeed – as I speak, Presiding Officer – the process for serving the requisite paperwork on the UK Government by lawyers and Messengers at Arms is underway.
I can confirm that the reference will be filed with the Supreme Court this afternoon.
Whether or not the reference is accepted, how long it takes to determine, and what judgement is arrived at, are all matters for the Court to determine.
I accept that.
As I have made clear throughout, this government respects the rule of law.
However, by asking the Lord Advocate to refer the matter to the Court now – rather than wait for others to do so later – we are seeking to deliver clarity and legal certainty in a timely manner, and without the delay and continued doubt that others would prefer.
Obviously, it is this government’s hope that the question in this Bill, proposing a referendum that is consultative, not self-executing, and which would seek to ascertain the views of the Scottish people for or against independence, will be deemed to be within the legislative competence of this Parliament.
If that outcome is secured, there will be no doubt whatsoever that the referendum is lawful.
And I can confirm that the government will then introduce and ask Parliament to pass the Bill on a timescale that allows the referendum to proceed on 19 October 2023.
It is, of course, possible that the Supreme Court will decide that the Scottish Parliament does not have power to legislate for even a consultative referendum.
To be clear: if that happens, it will be the fault of Westminster legislation, not the Court.
Obviously, that would not be the clarity we hope for.
But if that is what the law establishing this Parliament really means, it is better to have that clarity sooner rather than later.
Because what it will clarify is this:
Any notion of the UK as a voluntary union of nations is a fiction.
Any suggestion that the UK is a partnership of equals is false.
Instead we will be confronted with this reality.
No matter how Scotland votes, regardless of what future we desire for our country, Westminster can block and overrule. Westminster will always have the final say.
There would be few stronger or more powerful arguments for independence than that.
And it would not be the end of the matter. Far from it.
I said earlier that two principles would guide what I said today.
The rule of law and democracy.
Democracy demands that people must have their say.
So, finally in terms of process, let me confirm this – although it describes a scenario that I hope does not arise.
If it does transpire that there is no lawful way for this parliament to give the people of Scotland the choice of independence in a referendum – and if the UK government continues to deny a section 30 order – my party will fight the UK general election on this single question: “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
The path I have laid out today is about bringing clarity and certainty to this debate.
Above all, it is about ensuring that Scotland will have its say on independence.
I want the process set in train today to lead to a lawful, constitutional referendum and for that to take place on 19 October 2023.
That is what we are preparing for.
But if the law says that is not possible, the General Election will be a ‘de facto’ referendum.
Either way, the people of Scotland will have their say.
As the Lord Advocate is now referring the question of legality to the Supreme Court, it need no longer be the subject of sterile political debate.
Indeed, the sub judice principle and our own Standing Orders demand that the arguments on competence now be made in court and not here in this chamber.
That means we can – and should – now focus on the substance.
That is what this government intends to do.
In the weeks and months ahead, we will make the positive case for independence.
We will do so with commitment, confidence and passion.
Let the opposition – if they can – make the case for continued Westminster rule.
And, then, let the people decide.
To believe in Scottish independence is to believe in a better future.
It involves an unashamedly optimistic view of the world.
The belief that things can be better than they are now.
Above all, it means trusting the talents and ingenuity of all of us who live here, no matter where we come from.
It is not a claim to be better than anyone else.
It is about looking around at all the other successful, independent countries in the world – so many of them smaller than we are and without the resources we are blessed with – and asking, ‘why not Scotland?’
Think of all of our talents and advantages –
Unrivalled energy resources;
Extraordinary natural heritage;
Exceptional strengths in the industries of the future;
Brilliant universities and colleges;
A highly skilled and creative population.
There is no reason at all that an independent Scotland would not succeed.
Nothing in life is guaranteed.
But with hard work – and the independence to chart our own course – Scotland will prosper.
And the people of Scotland have told us – all of us in this chamber – that they want the right to decide.
Today, we publish the first in a series of papers – “Building a New Scotland” – that will make afresh the case for Scotland becoming an independent country.
An independent country better able to chart our own course here at home and – as the outward looking nation we have always been – play our part in building a stronger, safer, better world.
Today, Scotland – like countries across the world – faces significant challenges.
But we also have huge advantages and immense potential.
The refreshed case for independence is about how we equip ourselves to navigate the challenges and fulfil that potential, now and in future.
In their day to day lives, people across Scotland are suffering the impacts of the soaring cost of living, low growth and increasing inequality, constrained public finances and the many implications of a Brexit we did not vote for.
These problems have all been made worse or, most obviously in the case of Brexit, directly caused by the fact we are not independent.
So at this critical juncture we face a fundamental question.
Do we stay tied to a UK economic model that consigns us to relatively poor economic and social outcomes which are likely to get worse, not better, outside the EU?
Or do we lift our eyes, with hope and optimism, and take inspiration from comparable countries across Europe?
Comparable neighbouring countries with different characteristics. Countries that, in many cases, lack the abundance of resources that Scotland is blessed with.
But all of them independent and, as we show today, wealthier and fairer than the UK
🔷️🏴🔷️ Watch live: 'Building a new Scotland.'
This is a UK government that has no respect for democracy.
And, as we saw again yesterday, it has no regard for the rule of law either.
That means – if we are to uphold democracy here in Scotland – we must forge a way forward, if necessary, without a section 30 order.
For the reasons I have set out, however, we must do so in a lawful manner.
We know that in these circumstances the competence of the Scottish Parliament to legislate is contested.
That is the situation we must navigate to give people the choice of independence.
That work is underway and while I do not intend to go further into the detail today, I can say that I hope to give a significant update to Parliament very soon.
The principles of democracy and the rule of law are fundamental.
They should unite all of us, regardless of our politics.
Indeed, democracy within the rule of law is how differences of political or constitutional opinion should always be resolved.
The fact that these principles are now so deeply disrespected and disregarded, day and daily in the UK, is itself an indication of how broken Westminster governance is.
It has become part of the argument for independence – and it is to that substantive case that I now return.
The choice people arrive at on independence must be an informed one.
The case we make must speak, not just to those who already support independence, but also – indeed even more so – to those not yet persuaded.
It is an obvious point but one that always bears repetition – Scotland will only become independent when a majority of those who live here vote for it.
It is in that spirit that we publish this first in the ‘Building a New Scotland’ series of papers.
Today we set the scene.
I can confirm that papers to come later in the series – and which are already in preparation – will include the issues of:
Currency, Scotland’s fiscal position and how with independence we can build a more sustainable economy and therefore stronger public finances, pensions and social security, EU membership and trade, and defence and security.
In these papers we will set out how Scotland can benefit from the opportunities that independence will present.
We will also confront the challenges. We will not shy away from tough questions.
We will address key issues relating to the transition from a yes vote to independence and the infrastructure that will be required for the governance of an independent country.
Of course, on that latter point, Scotland has already come a long way since 2014.
A great deal of nation building has been done.
Scotland now has our own tax and social security agencies, an independent fiscal commission and a national investment bank.
In other words, substantial parts of the infrastructure that an independent country would need, and which did not exist in 2014, are now in place.
Scotland now is even more prepared for independence than we were in 2014.
Of course, any case for change starts with an analysis of the status quo – and that is the purpose of the paper we are publishing today.
It is not difficult to list the many ways in which Westminster governance is currently failing Scotland and holding us back.
We have a Prime Minister with no democratic authority in Scotland, and no moral authority anywhere in the UK.
Brexit has ripped us out of the EU and the single market against our will, with massive damage to trade, living standards and public services.
Thanks to Brexit, the cost of living crisis is worse here than in any other G7 country – inflation in the UK is double that of France.
UK growth is now projected by the OECD to be the second lowest in the G20 next year – only sanctioned Russia will be worse.
The end of freedom of movement has left our businesses and public services struggling for workers.
It has also robbed young people of opportunity.
And, to compound all of that, we face the real risk of an EU trade war due to the UK government’s threat to breach international law over the Northern Ireland protocol.
That this is the same UK government that negotiated and signed the protocol – which is actually delivering significant economic benefit to Northern Ireland – only adds to the absurdity.
In short, the case for Scotland charting our own course – a better course – is strong and compelling.
But the evidence we set out today shows that this case does not just rest on recent or temporary developments.
In today’s paper we look in detail at 10 comparator countries – Ireland, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Iceland, Sweden, Austria, Belgium and Finland.
The evidence is overwhelming that these countries – now and over time – perform better than the UK.
Compared to these countries, many of them smaller or similarly sized to us, Scotland – under Westminster control – is being held back.
With independence, we too would have the levers and the autonomy that these countries take for granted to help fulfil their potential.
Let’s look at the evidence presented today.
Every single one of these comparator countries is wealthier than the UK – and that wealth gap has been maintained over the long term.
All of these countries have greater income equality than the UK.
Poverty rates are lower in all of them – with fewer children living in poverty.
Most of them have a smaller gender pay gap.
All of them have higher social mobility.
And they have more productive and innovative economies too.
All of them have higher productivity.
Most of them spend more on research and development. Business investment is higher too.
The evidence set out in this paper is clear and unambiguous – all of these countries are wealthier, fairer and more productive than the UK.
And all of these countries are independent.
So as we look to the future the great question before us is this: if all these countries can use the powers of independence to create wealthier and fairer societies – why not Scotland?
With our vast energy resources, why not Scotland?
With our globally recognised record of innovation, invention and learning, why not Scotland?
With our exceptional food and drink industry, extraordinary natural heritage and strengths in advanced engineering and cutting edge industries of the future, why not Scotland?
Above all with the talent and potential of all the people who live here, why not Scotland?
Independence doesn’t guarantee success for any country – we should never pretend that it does.
But for Scotland, independence will put the levers that determine success into our own hands.
It will mean we can work in partnership with our friends in the rest of the UK – but not be subject to decisions of Westminster governments we don’t vote for and which are taking us in the wrong direction.
It will give us the ability – just like these other countries – to fulfil the vast potential we have and build the wealthier, fairer, happier country we know is possible.
That is the prize. Building a better nation – now and for the future.
That is the whole purpose of independence.
Grasping that prize will not be without challenge. Nothing worth doing ever is.
So in the months ahead we will set out in detail how we can make the transition to independence.
How we can navigate and overcome these challenges so that this precious prize – the opportunity of a better country – can be won.
Scotland – now and for the generations that come after us – deserves the very best.
“For countries of Scotland’s size, independence works”
First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon tells the SNP conference that “democracy must, and democracy will prevail” as she confirms the timetable towards a new Independence Referendum.
STV NEWS REPORT
‘Nicola Sturgeon will ask the UK Government to agree to another Scottish independence referendum “in the spirit of co-operation”.
Scotland’s First Minister will tell SNP members that “democracy must – and will – prevail” to allow another vote on Scottish independence.
Sturgeon, who is due to deliver the closing speech of the SNP conference shortly before midday, is expected to say that she hopes to adopt an approach of “co-operation not confrontation” in her attempts to secure a second referendum.
The SNP leader has called for another referendum by the end of 2023 when the coronavirus pandemic is over, although the UK Government remains opposed to another vote.’
"For countries of Scotland’s size, independence works"
First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon tells the SNP conference that "democracy must, and democracy will prevail" as she confirms the timetable towards a new Independence Referendum.pic.twitter.com/PYpJo3d8Vz
Nicola Sturgeon’s address to #SNP21 Conference 13/09/21
“This is the first gathering of the SNP since our election victory in May.
So let me begin with a big, heartfelt thank you.
Firstly, and most importantly, to the people of Scotland – thank you for again putting your trust in me as First Minister and in the SNP as your Government.
As I say often, we don’t – and won’t – get everything right.
But I give this guarantee.
We will work as hard as we can to make your lives better and retain your trust.
And thank you to SNP members across the country.
You did so much to secure victory in what was an election like no other.
You are the heartbeat of our party.
You know, in recent months, I’ve attended far too many funerals of much loved party stalwarts.
We miss them all.
Most recently the SNP family bid farewell to our dear friend, and sheer force of nature, Calum Cashley – taken from us far too soon.
Calum wasn’t a household name. He wasn’t an MSP or MP or councillor.
But his tireless, energetic contribution to the cause of independence was immense.
His brother said of him:
“My brother was a man driven to see Scotland become all it could be.
“It wasn’t just an independent Scotland he longed for, it was a better Scotland.”
Calum, like all of you, worked day in, day out to bring about that better country.
Let us take inspiration from his life and resolve that everything we do will be dedicated to making Scotland all it can be.
And that word “all” is important.
It is about everyone in Scotland.
It is about those born here, and those who honour us by making this country their home.
The Scottish election was the first time refugees and all foreign nationals with leave to remain had the right to vote.
That was important for its own sake.
But it is also a symbol of the country we are seeking to build.
Open, welcoming, diverse.
Refugees from Syria and elsewhere have settled in Alloa, on Bute, in Glasgow, in the Highlands, and many places in between.
They are a part of who we are.
They enrich our society in so many ways.
We should take pride from the fact that people who came here to escape persecution and war could, often for the first time in their lives, exercise what should be a universal democratic right.
One of the lessons that humanity seems destined to have to relearn time and again is that the rights we enjoy today can never be taken for granted.
That feels especially true just now.
But sadly for many people across the world – especially women and girls – these rights are still a distant aspiration.
Not just the right to vote, but the right to go to school, to freedom of expression, to be treated equally.
In recent weeks, we’ve heard heart-breaking stories from Afghanistan.
And we have witnessed scenes of extraordinary bravery.
People risking all in desperate attempts to save their children.
Women demonstrating in defence of the most basic rights – in the face of a truly barbaric regime
We can only imagine the courage that takes.
In Scotland, we are committed to welcoming and supporting those fleeing the Taliban.
The UK has a heavy responsibility, particularly to those who supported British interests over the past 20 years and now face mortal peril.
They must not be abandoned.
There must be a credible plan to bring each and every one to safety and security.
And we also have a continued moral and humanitarian obligation to provide hope and support to those who remain, particularly those striving to preserve the progress of the last two decades.
The Afghan crisis has also shone a spotlight on the UK Government’s wider asylum policy.
I know that speaking out about this issue is not always popular.
But offering asylum to those in dire need is an expression of our common humanity.
The UK Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill fails that basic test of humanity.
It could criminalise those seeking sanctuary from oppression simply for claiming asylum.
The UN refugee agency says the bill would violate the 1951 Refugee Convention.
These proposals are a stain on this Westminster government.
They run counter to the kind of country we are seeking to build.
And I look forward to the day when our asylum and migration policy is decided here in Scotland, not by a government in Westminster that sees it as an opportunity to show how tough it is, rather than how much it cares.
In May, the people of Scotland placed their trust in us again: in our values, our beliefs, in our welcoming vision of Scotland and in the practical actions we are taking to improve lives.
Their verdict was decisive.
And it was truly historic.
Judged by any standard of democracy, our victory in May represents an unarguable mandate to implement the manifesto we put before the country.
And that is what we intend to do.
It is called democracy.
During the election we said that tackling the pandemic would come first – and it will.
We said we would pursue the most ambitious programme for government ever put before the people of Scotland – we are doing exactly that.
And we said that when the covid crisis has passed, we would give the people of Scotland the choice of independence – and we will.
Let me take these in turn.
As First Minister my overriding priority every day is to keep Scotland as safe as possible.
Leading the country through the COVID crisis is the most important job I have ever had.
It has dominated my life over the past 18 months, as it has done for most of us.
It will continue to do so for as long as necessary.
Earlier this year, vaccines gave us renewed hope and they are providing us with life saving protection.
But just as vaccines have been a positive gamechanger in our battle against Covid, the much more transmissible Delta Variant has been a hugely negative one.
The recent, sharp rise in cases in Scotland, though we hope it is now slowing down, is a reminder of the risks we still face.
The collective, national effort over these past months has been nothing short of extraordinary.
I am acutely aware of the sacrifices people have made and the hardships many are still enduring.
I will never find the words to adequately express my gratitude.
But that great national effort is needed still.
To save lives and protect our NHS we must drive infections down again.
The government must lead – but we need the help of every person and every business in Scotland.
And vaccination is key.
Getting vaccinated is the most precious gift any us can give our loved ones.
It makes us and them so much safer.
To the millions across the country who have rolled up their sleeves – thank you.
To those who haven’t done so yet because you’re worried about things you’ve heard about vaccines, it’s not too late – please drop in to a clinic and speak to an expert.
I’m confident they’ll put your mind at rest.
Lastly, to the small but noisy minority who knowingly spread fear and misinformation about vaccines, I say this – stop being selfish and irresponsible.
Stop putting the health and well-being of the country at risk. It’s time to cease and desist.
Getting vaccinated is an expression of love and solidarity. It is about helping each other, and helping the NHS.
We do still have difficult days ahead of us in our fight against this virus.
My job in steering us through is not to do just what is popular.
It is do what is right to keep us as safe as possible.
No responsible leader should give false assurances.
But as we head into winter, our objective is clear – to get and keep infection down while keeping our economy and society open.
Our chance of success depends on all of us.
We need to keep doing the basic things that we know reduce the spread.
As well as getting vaccinated, please keep wearing your face masks, keep washing your hands, keep windows open when you gather indoors, keep a sensible distance from people in other households, and keep working from home if you can.
All of these basic mitigations make a difference.
So too will the limited system of vaccine certification approved by Parliament last week.
I hope it won’t be necessary for long.
But if the simple act of showing that we’ve been vaccinated helps keep businesses open and our lives free of restrictions, then I believe it will be worth it.
The sacrifices we are all being asked to make now may not be as great as a few months ago – but they’re still hard.
They also make a big difference.
So let’s keep going.
And soon, I hope, we can look ahead with greater confidence to better days ahead.
The pandemic is one of those rare moments in history when there is intense focus both on the world as it is now, and how it could be in future.
In Scotland – as elsewhere – this is a time for reflection, for hope and for action.
We are in some ways a young democracy.
Our Parliament is just over 20 years old.
It was brought into being by an overwhelming desire for a better country, and a belief in the value of self-government.
At the birth of our Scottish Parliament in 1999, there was a powerful sense that co-operation and not just confrontation was the way forward.
That is the spirit in which we embark on this new phase of SNP Government.
We seek to do so, not as triumphant victors, but as constructive partners.
Standing proudly for what we believe in, yes, but debating difference with civility and respect, and seeking as much common ground as we can find.
I believe that’s what most people in Scotland want.
And, to be frank, it’s what is badly needed as we face up to the great challenges ahead.
Honest reflection is important for any party, even after election success.
It is especially important in the wake of heavy defeat.
The SNP understood that after of our loss in 2003.
We thought hard about the message voters had sent us, and what we had to do better to earn their trust.
That’s why we were able to win in 2007.
It utterly astonishes me, baffles me completely in fact, given the number and scale of their defeats, that Labour, the Tories and the Liberal Democrats show absolutely no inclination to do likewise.
Instead of adapting positions that voters have rejected time and again, they are doubling down and expecting voters to adapt to them.
These parties demonstrate no sign at all of learning the lessons or making the changes necessary to move from opposition to government.
Which can lead to only one conclusion – they don’t aspire to be in government.
Now, all of that may be good for the SNP.
But it is bad for democracy.
Oppositions hungry to be in government are more effective.
And effective opposition matters in a democracy.
But that is not what we have in Scotland.
Instead, on virtually every issue, we have opposition simply for the sake of opposition.
It’s not about achieving or improving anything, or even holding power to account.
It is just about blocking the SNP at any cost.
It is crude, it lacks principle or consistency and it is utterly counter-productive.
The country deserves so much better than that.
The times we are living through and the challenges we face demand a better way of doing politics.
That’s why after this election, instead of taking what might have been the easy option – to carry on as before – we decided to be bolder and seek co-operation with the Scottish Greens
I am delighted that we were able to reach an agreement.
It means a change of gear for our Parliament and our country.
It means, after three terms of government, that the SNP is not resting on our laurels.
Instead we are challenging ourselves in the interests of those we serve.
And it means a renewed spirit of co-operation from two parties interested above all in changing our country, and the lives of everyone who lives here, for the better.
That ambition and determination is evident in the Programme for Government I set out to the Scottish Parliament last week.
A programme to kick-start and drive recovery from COVID, and build a greener, fairer, better future.
At the heart of the programme is our National Health Service.
The NHS is our most precious public service and once again I pay tribute to the incredible efforts of all those who have worked heroically to tackle the pandemic.
That work continues.
Because of Covid, the NHS is facing more intense pressure now than it has done at any time before.
The single most important job that our government has at this time is to support it through the difficult winter months that lie ahead.
It is one we will do with the utmost sense of responsibility.
But we must also look ahead and rebuild.
So we are implementing an NHS recovery plan.
It will be supported by record investment. By the end of this Parliament, the frontline health budget will be at least £2.5 billion higher than it is today.
We will also undertake the single biggest public service reform since the founding of the NHS – a new National Care Service.
Just like the creation of the NHS in the wake of the Second World War, the National Care Service will be a fitting legacy from the trauma of Covid.
It will enhance the quality and consistency of care and ensure that social care workers are better rewarded and treated with the respect they deserve.
To support the reform, we will increase funding for social care by at least £800 million – or 25% – over this term of Parliament.
Of course, last week, the Tories announced a UK wide hike in National Insurance Contributions.
It doesn’t just breach their own manifesto – it hits young people and those on lower incomes hardest.
It fails the basic test of fairness.
The SNP has taken a different approach.
With the very limited tax powers at our disposal we introduced an income tax system with fairness at its heart.
Those on lower incomes pay less, while those with the broadest shoulders pay a bit more.
It is progressive, transparent and demonstrates clearly the different vision of society we in the Scottish Government have from those at Westminster.
The pandemic has shone a harsh light on the deep inequalities that exist in our society.
That is why the Scottish Government is giving money directly to those who need it.
Our unique Scottish Child Payment already pays £10 per child per week to low income families with children under six.
By the end of next year we will extend it to all children in low income families under the age of 16 – with bridging payments between now and then.
And we intend to double the payment from £10 to £20 a week just as quickly as we can.
We know we have much more to do, but the SNP Government is lifting children out of poverty.
Shamefully, Boris Johnson’s government is about to do the reverse.
In a few weeks’ time the Tories intend to cut Universal Credit by £20 per week.
This will be the biggest overnight reduction to a basic rate of social security since the 1930s.
It will affect millions across the UK – and hundreds of thousands here in Scotland.
In Scotland alone it risks pushing 60,000 people – including 20,000 children – into the formal definition of poverty.
Most of those affected are either in work or not able to work due to health or caring responsibilities.
The loss of more than £1,000 a year will be utterly devastating.
It will quite literally take food out of children’s mouths.
It will drive people into debt and, in some cases, to destitution and despair.
And the Tories know all of this.
This is what a UK government official has said – and I quote:
“The internal modelling of ending the Universal Credit uplift is catastrophic. Homelessness and poverty are likely to rise, and food bank usage will soar. It could be the real disaster of the autumn.”
To even contemplate a cut like this displays a lack of basic understanding of the reality of life for those on the breadline – or maybe it’s actually a lack of care.
But to go ahead and implement this cut would expose an absence of basic humanity and moral compass.
Now, it’s no secret that I’m not Boris Johnson’s biggest fan, and no doubt the feeling is mutual.
But I really struggle to believe that anyone’s conscience would allow them to proceed with this.
So if this deeply cruel cut does happen, the only conclusion it will be possible to reach is that Boris Johnson simply has no shame.
Please, Prime Minister, for the sake of millions of desperate people across the country, do not let that be history’s verdict upon you.
Where Westminster imposes unfair tax rises and catastrophic cuts for those on the lowest incomes, the Scottish Government provides real, practical help.
We will invest a further £1 billion in this term of Parliament to tackle the poverty related attainment gap in education, and support the recruitment of 3,500 additional teachers and 500 classroom assistants.
We will secure our Young Person’s Guarantee – providing a job or a place in education or training, or a formal volunteering opportunity for every young person aged 16 to 24.
And we will deliver 110,000 more affordable homes across Scotland, helping ensure that everyone has a safe, warm place to call home.
Our programme is about putting values into action – building the fairer, more prosperous country we know is possible.
A country where everyone has security, a warm home and the chance to get on in life.
Making that vision a reality is what drives all of our work in government.
Last month I had the great pleasure of introducing Scotland’s new Makar, our national poet, Kathleen Jamie.
One of Kathleen’s best known poems is ‘Here Lies Our Land’.
In it, she talks movingly about the land around us.
She says: ‘if the land could speak, I’d wondered, what would it say? Something welcoming, hopefully. Something that opened out our vision and sense of ourselves. Something about belonging not to those who ‘own it’ but to those who love it.’
Today more than ever we must steward and protect this land of ours. It does belong to all of us.
The actions we take over the next few years will determine the state of the land and the world that we pass on to future generations.
The floods, wildfires, extreme heat and storms that have raged across the globe this year should be a wake up call.
We do indeed face a ‘code red’ for humanity.
But it is not too late to avert catastrophe.
In a few weeks’ time world leaders will gather here in Glasgow for the UN Climate Change Conference – COP 26.
Make no mistake, this summit represents the world’s best chance – probably our last chance – to limit global warming to 1.5°C in line with the Paris Agreement.
No-one underestimates the scale of the challenge.
But no-one should underestimate the impact on lives – particularly the lives of the world’s poorest – if we fail to meet it.
As we approach COP26 some of the strongest voices pushing for urgent global action are those of children and young people.
They are speaking up to fight for their future. Their commitment is inspiring.
One of the most important events in the run up to any COP summit is what is called the Conference of Youth.
It is a coming together of young people from 140 countries around the world, specifically mandated by the UN to set out their asks of world leaders.
The Conference of Youth, which is now 16 years old, has always been funded by the government of the UN member state hosting COP.
Except this year.
Now I don’t know why the UK Government has decided not to fund it – and it doesn’t really matter – but I do know that we cannot allow the world’s children and young people to be silenced in Glasgow on an issue so vital to their future.
So I can confirm that the Scottish Government has decided to fund the Conference of Youth to meet for four days in Glasgow in the run up to COP.
Young people from Scotland will be invited to participate, and they will join with young people from across the globe to present their demands to the world’s leaders in the opening weekend of COP.
Scotland may not be the biggest country in the world. But we are one of the wealthiest.
And through our innovation, ingenuity and enterprise, we led the world into the Industrial Age.
We can – and we must – show that same leadership now as the world transitions to the net zero age.
A transformation of our national life is required – in transport, in how we build and heat our homes and buildings, in how we power industry, and in how we ensure that the transition is fair, both here at home and globally.
Leading this transformation is a moral obligation that we owe to future generations.
But done well, building on core Scottish strengths, natural resources and tapping once again into that spirit of innovation and enterprise, it can also be job-rich.
We were one of the first countries to declare a climate emergency and our targets and plans are among the world’s most ambitious.
Almost 100% of our gross electricity consumption already comes from renewable sources.
By 2030, our aim is to generate 50% of all the energy we use from renewables.
By 2050 we intend to have decarbonised our energy system completely.
We’re investing heavily in large scale, low carbon technology.
And in our natural economy too – restoring more woodlands, peatlands, and other natural habitats.
And we are doubling our Climate Justice Fund, helping to tackle climate change in the world’s poorest countries.
Of course, while we are increasing our commitment the UK Government has cut its overseas aid budget.
That might go down well with the right wing of the Conservative party.
But it will be the world’s poorest who pay the price.
And it is, of course, part of a bigger picture.
Too often these days, issues that were once just obsessions of the Tory right, become mainstream polices of the Tory government.
These policies are then imposed on Scotland against our wishes.
Brexit is a case in point.
It is now the defining article of faith for the hard-liners in charge of the UK Government.
Against Scotland’s will we have been taken out of the EU and the European Single Market.
The obsession is now so dominant in Tory ranks that they imposed a hard Brexit right in the midst of a global pandemic – when people and businesses were at their most vulnerable.
It was an unnecessary and unforgivable act.
And the impact is now being felt.
The short-term damage is all too real.
Brexit is a direct Tory hit on some of Scotland’s key strengths.
Our world-leading food and drink sector has been knocked for six.
Our brilliant universities have been damaged.
Manufacturers face increased costs.
The impact on daily life is becoming clear.
There are already shortages of some foods – yes, really, food shortages in one of the richest countries of the world.
That is what this Tory government has done – and there may yet be worse to come.
The combination of the pandemic and a deeply hostile immigration policy is also causing labour shortages across many sectors.
So the short-term costs are very clear – and very bad.
But even greater damage will be felt in the long-term.
Compared to continued EU membership, Brexit will make us poorer, year after year.
Trade with Europe will decline.
Our working population is likely to fall.
Who knows what will happen to our NHS in future trade deals.
All of that will be bad enough.
But there’s a double whammy that Scotland must be alert to – and resist with all we’ve got.
And it is this.
Westminster will use all that damage that they have inflicted as an argument for yet more Westminster control.
By making us poorer, they’ll say we can’t afford to be independent.
By cutting our trade with the EU, they’ll say we are too dependent on the rest of the UK.
By causing our working population to fall, they’ll say the country is aging too fast.
They want us to believe we are powerless in the face of the disastrous decisions they have taken for us and the damage those decisions is doing.
They want us to look inwards not outwards.
And the reason?
They know – and are terrified by the prospect – that when we look outwards we see all around us the evidence right there in front of our eyes.
The evidence that independence works.
For countries of Scotland’s size, independence works.
Our neighbours in north-west Europe are wealthier than the UK.
All of them.
They are more equal than the UK.
They have lower levels of poverty.
They have higher productivity, which drives better living standards.
All of them recovered better from the financial crash of 2008.
They have stronger public finances.
As a proportion of pre-retirement wages they all have higher pensions.
And of course they all get the governments they vote for.
In measure after measure the evidence is overwhelming and conclusive – independence works.
It works for Denmark, for Ireland, for Austria, for Norway, for Finland – and for so many others beside.
These are disparate countries with different resources and economies.
But independence works for all of them.
With all our resources and talent it will work for Scotland too.
It is up to us to show the people of Scotland how.
The Scottish Government is now re-starting work to make sure that the choice about our country’s future is a fully informed one.
No-one is saying there won’t be challenges to overcome.
We will set those out openly and honestly.
Nothing will fall into our laps.
But, like all countries, we face challenges whatever path we take.
The question is this: which option – becoming independent or being governed by Westminster – equips us best to meet these challenges.
The choice facing people in Scotland has never been clearer.
A Westminster Tory government rejected by the people of Scotland and taking us in the wrong direction.
A Tory government, happy for its Brexit obsession to damage our economy and content to take money from the poorest at the worst possible time.
Or an independent Scotland with governments people vote for and the full range of powers needed to make our country all it can be.
An EU member state in our own right – treated as an equal in a huge market seven time the size of the UK.
In May, people in Scotland elected a new Scottish Parliament.
That new Parliament has a clear and substantial majority in favour of an independence referendum.
As we emerge from the pandemic, decisions fall to be made that will shape Scotland for decades to come.
So we must decide. Who should be making those decisions: people here in Scotland or governments we don’t vote for at Westminster.
That is the choice we intend to offer the Scottish people in a legal referendum within this term of Parliament – Covid permitting, by the end of 2023.
I said earlier that my approach to government and to politics will be, as far as possible, co-operation not confrontation.
The experience of the pandemic and the challenges we face as a result reinforces my view that this is the right approach.
So it is in that spirit of co-operation that I hope the Scottish and UK governments can reach agreement – as we did in 2014 – to allow the democratic wishes of the people of Scotland to be heard and respected.
But, this much is clear. Democracy must – and will – prevail.
The United Kingdom is after all a voluntary union of nations.
Until recently no-one seriously challenged the right of the people in Scotland to choose whether or not they wished to become independent.
Frankly it is not up to a Westminster government which has just six MPs in Scotland to decide our future without the consent of the people who live here.
As an independent country, co-operation between Scotland and our friends across the rest of the UK will continue, but it will be on a better basis: Scotland will be an equal partner.
This is a time for reflection on the extraordinary experience we have lived through, in these last, difficult 18 months.
The sacrifices have been heart-breaking.
The crisis is not yet over, but we will get through it.
And then it will the time to think not of the past but of Scotland’s future.
To decide who should be in charge of that future.
And if we are ready to grab the opportunity to play our full, positive part in the world – as a welcoming, open European nation.
People in Scotland have the right to make that choice.
To decide to take our destiny into our own hands and shape a better future.
Trust me – the time for that choice is approaching.
So let us look to it with confidence, ambition and resolve.
This is the results page for the Scottish Parliament Elections held on the 6th of May 2021.
The SNP will form the next Scottish Government – a historic fourth consecutive win for the party.
Pro Independence parties also carried a majority of seats with the SNP and Greens winning 72 of the 129 seats in the parliament. Continue reading →