MY FELLOW SCOTS. It is with great pride that I make this Ministerial address on the Scottish Broadcasting Corporation and commercial channels as the first First Minister of an independent Scotland.Today at noon Royal Assent was granted to the Scottish Independence Act and tomorrow the credentials of Scotland will be presented to the General Assembly of the United Nations. I am pleased to say that all of our international engagements have been negotiated without any great difficulty over these last 18 months and that we have found a warm and enthusiastic welcome for our new democracy in the councils of Europe and the world. To date we have received messages of congratulation from some 200 countries and territories representing virtually all of humanity. Deputy First Minister and Foreign Secretary Nicola Sturgeon has responded to all of these representations of goodwill.
In particular, we wish our friends across these islands well, particularly in their upcoming European referendum; however, it is important to note that our position in Europe will be unaffected by their decision. There are some who have argued that the doubling of international investment proposals in recent months shows that it is to our advantage for the rest of the UK to opt out of the Europe Union but I believe that this welcome trend is much more the result of Scotland’s much higher profile amid the community of nations. I hope that our close neighbours choose to remain within the European community of nations and that Prime Minister May is successful in her campaign.
Whatever the rUK choice they will forever find in Scotland a firm friend and constant ally. Similarly I hope that the upcoming vote in Westminster on Trident shows a willingness to accept the reality that building a new nuclear base in addition to the £170 billion lifetime cost is not a sensible, credible or moral option. I can confirm that whatever the vote it is now accepted that a new generation of weapons of mass destruction will not be located on the River Clyde.
Similarly from January 1 next year we will disengage the administration of the two electricity networks in Scotland and the rUK as we cannot justify paying a share of the extraordinary bill of the new nuclear power stations planned for Hinkley Point. In preparation the Scottish Government has secured the position of Longannet power station which we plan to convert to combined cycle gas generation in the near future. The carbon capture plant at Peterhead will now proceed, supported on a demonstrator basis, by the reinstated renewable obligations certificates, as if it were an onshore wind farm. Furthermore the early go-ahead for both the giant pump storage hydro electric plants at Cruachan and Balmacaan means that electricity supply in Scotland is secure, green and cost effective, with a healthy spare capacity to export through the interconnectors to England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
In looking to the future let us consider what it is about Scotland that will not change, what will change and what will be determined by the people in the coming election campaign.
On the first, as we move through this holiday weekend of celebration, Monday morning will demonstrate that some things will be as they are this week or any week. People will go to work, public services will continue, Her Majesty the Queen will continue as head of state and the pound sterling continues as our currency. Our Scottish Central Bank under the leadership of Professor John Kay has set out the options for the future but whether we continue to use sterling or develop our own currency at parity with sterling, asset values will remain protected.
THE refusal of former Chancellor George Osborne to agree to our offer of a shared currency was a factor in the turmoil which has recently engulfed the English Conservative Party. However this and other negotiations on the distribution of UK assets and liabilities carried the not insubstantial benefit of relieving our new state of close on £150 billion of accumulated UK debt and the interest payments thereon. With the cancellation of our commitments to Trident renewal, Hinkley Point and HS2, Scotland is placed in a sustainable fiscal position despite the decline in the price of oil. We believe that the exploration taxation credits announced last week by Scots Chancellor John Swinney will generate jobs, secure the future of the basin and provide major future discoveries and revenues as the oil market recovers. And as we look forward to another 50 years of oil production let us determine that this time round when prices do recover we shall save some of the proceeds for future generations. The wisdom of such an approach has been amply demonstrated by our neighbours across the North Sea.
It was John Swinney who also set the tone for what shall change in his Budget last week. Despite the savings made by ditching our contribution to the UK’s white elephant nuclear projects, fiscal circumstances are still constrained. Therefore it is all the more important to ensure that no-one can dispute the fairness and balance of what we have done. Hence our decision to protect working benefits for the disabled and the revolution in nursery education. There are encouraging signs in record employment, a surge in productivity and a sharp rise in inward investment.
Of these the rise in productivity is the most encouraging. As has been wisely said in the long run for successful economies while productivity isn’t everything it is almost everything. However, all of us know that we now need to reap our own harvest and ring our own tills. And this nation shall prosper because we shall be a just nation.
Our newly independent parliament has proposed to enshrine our values in a written constitution. We have given notice of our refusal to participate in unjustified conflict but signalled our determination to act collectively to keep the peace and security of the Continent. We have willingly shared the burden of the refugee crisis confronting Europe and enshrined our commitment to international aid in our new constitution, which is currently subject to vigorous popular debate and consultation. It is a matter of great pride for us all that the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe declared our draft constitution as a model for the 21st century in terms of its protection of human rights and dignity.
Finally we come to the choices that each of us will make in the forthcoming election campaign. It is right and proper that 16 and 17-year-olds are part of the process which chooses the first elected independent Government of our new state. They will not be short of choice.
There are no less than eight political parties registered for election intending to contest every first past the post constituency. However, whichever party or combination of parties emerges victorious from the election they will have both a great task and great opportunity.
Whatever policies are pursued they shall be our choice, whatever mistakes are made they shall be ours with our own lessons to learn for the future. Whatever success is earned then it shall be by our own efforts and our own national will. That is the dividend of independence.
With the referendum of 2014 something was born in Scottish society. In 2016 the challenge has been now met and the triumph is there to be won. Scotland’s future is now in Scotland’s hands.
Goodnight and Alba gu brath.