Alex Salmond – 2004 Scottish National Party Conference Speech


Convener – fellow Scots.

This is a speech I never expected to be making.

I never thought to have the privilege of being, once again, the leader of this movement.

But let’s get one thing absolutely clear

I didn’t accept this challenge in the hope things might work out.

Nor did I listen to those of you who were kind enough to ask me to return just for the dubious pleasure of exchanging pleasantries with Mr McConnell.

I sought the leadership of this party because I share your frustration and the anger of every thinking Scot.

We campaigned, shoulder to shoulder, for Home Rule because we believe in Scotland.

We celebrated devolution because it promised to usher in a new era of politics

But instead, we have seen our Parliament devalued by a government, which doesn’t understand the very concept of public service. Which dulls the expectations of our nation and which seeks to bore the electorate into submission.

So to anyone who still doubts why I sought leadership once again let me make it plain.

I’m back to turf out the over promoted Labour machine politicians who demean the Scottish Parliament.

I’m back to rid Scotland of small-minded, managerial administration and deliver a vision capable of touching the soul of Scotland.

And I’m back to give the message direct to the Labour Party in Scotland –

Your time in government is coming to an end.


What I intend to do today is to lay out exactly what we can achieve as a party and as a movement for Scotland over the next few years – and how we intend to go about it. .

But let me first pay tribute to John Swinney. I happen to think that John was badly treated by the press and poorly served by some in this party.

He is a better man by far than all of his critics combined.

Nicola and I – all of us – owe John a democratic debt for the one member, one vote election, which galvanised the SNP over the summer.

All of us here thank you, John, for everything you have done and in particular for that crucial and essential reform.

And I would like to thank the party for the huge mandate, that Nicola and I received.

We intend to harness that mandate to make the changes required to allow the SNP to renew our challenge for political leadership in Scotland.

But let me make one thing clear.

Nicola and I campaigned as a team, we will lead as a team and we will win as a team.

And that team approach extends throughout the party. Every single one of us shares responsibility for the party’s shortcomings and our successes.

We are all now collectively responsible for whether the SNP – indeed whether Scotland – succeeds or fails.

We have a substantial task in hand – I know that – you know that and I will need the help of the whole party – all of you – to succeed.

But I have to say I comfort myself by looking at the state of our opponents.

Charles Kennedy started the week by lambasting the government over health cuts in Scotland – good thing too –

The only problem is that he was attacking the Scottish government – his own government – that is the one his party props up

Charles wants to bring down a Lab/Lib government and replace it with a Lab/Lib government!

Strikes me that if he wants rid of Malcolm Chisholm or any other hopeless Labour minister then all he has to do is to tell his troops to vote them out of office.

Nicola said on Wednesday that she will force the matter to the vote in the Scots Parliament so they will soon have their chance.

Of course, if they are not prepared to do that – if they vote to keep their ministerial Mondeos rather than to save the health service – then people at the coming election can conclude that every liberal vote is not a vote for Charlie’s angels but for Labour’s little helpers.

Then there is Michael Howard. The only thing that has upset him recently is not being invited to the republican convention in New York.

Just think of it the leader of the Tory party is the one man on the planet – who is too right wing to be allowed to meet George W Bush!

Those who the gods seek to destroy, they first render ridiculous.

No wonder David McLetchie is a part time leader.

Best to keep his hand in at the law for after the next Scottish elections.

However, for the art of looking ridiculous none of them hold a candle to Mr McConnell

Forget the pin stripe kilt – did I actually say that?!

How can anyone forget the pin stripe kilt?

Never mind snubbing the D Day veterans – or his cultural minister – that’s right Frank McAveety is his minister of culture – nipping out for pie and beans in the canteen.

Let’s even excuse him telling the Scottish Opera staff they were sacked in a newspaper leak

I want to focus on the one incident that proves Mr McConnell is unfit for office – the day he announce to the parliament during question time that he was waffling and sat down.

Now I have seen many ministers in many parliaments and I’ve seen many ministers waffling but I have never heard of any one – far less a First Minister – actually declare himself to be a waffler.

Usually you leave that to the opposition

It is often said that Mr McConnell is no Donald Dewar – Donald Dewar?

Jack McConnell is no Henry McLeish.

Now delegates I want to say something about the position in Iraq.

There will be no jokes from me about the Prime Minister. I believe that Tony Blair’s conduct puts him beyond the normal banter of politics.

Like everyone else at this conference and throughout the entire country, I hope and pray for the safe return of Kenneth Bigley but like his anguished family, we fear the worst.

However, I believe that this Prime Minister now operates outside the currency of debate, beyond the pale of decency.

All Prime Ministers tell fibs – Wilson dissembled about Polaris on the Clyde, Thatcher massaged the unemployment figures every single month. But no leader – no Prime Minister – has lied about the reasons for going to war.

I don’t just challenge his policies – I challenge his morality.

18 months ago George Bush declared that the war in Iraq was over. On Sunday, Blair told us that the conflict was ongoing.

18 months ago Blair told us that we had gone to war to uphold the authority of the United Nations Last week Kofi Annan told us that the conflict was illegal.

18 months ago Blair told us that the Iraqi survey group would find the weapons of mass destruction. Now the group’s final report concludes that there were none.

Now this is not a question of this Prime Minister – any Prime Minister – making a judgement call and just being wrong

It is not a matter, as Blair would have us believe, of someone acting in good faith and making an honest mistake.

This is a man who buried the intelligence that was inconvenient,

Manipulated the information to suit his purpose

And entered into a secret pact with the American president to go to war come what may

In addition, as we now know from this last weekend, he even concealed the warnings from the very heart of his own government that the conflict after the war would be nasty, brutish and long.

Blair once said that he would be prepared to pay the blood price for standing shoulder to shoulder with the United States of America

But he hasn’t paid the blood price

14,000 Iraqis, more than 1000 Americans, 66 British soldiers, 69 from other countries, hostages – these are the people who have paid and are still paying Blair’s blood price

Nor has he stood shoulder to shoulder.

Most of the time he has been on his knees.

He has cosied up to the American president, thumbs in the gunbelt down at the ranch –

The sheriff and his sidekick – the Lone Ranger and Tonto.

But George W. Bush is not America no more than Tony Blair speaks for Scotland.

And what loyalty does the Prime Minister show to those he sends into his war.

The Black Watch are currently on their second tour of duty.

As a regiment, it may be their last ever tour of duty.

The Scottish regiments the finest infantry soldiers in the world. They fight Blair’s wars and he stabs them in the back while they stand in the line of fire.

And so let me say this to conference

This Prime Minister needs to be humbled in an election and next year we will take our case to the country.

But this Prime Minister deserves to be impeached and we with others will present the case that he should be required to answer.

What is impeachment – well let us describe it as a weapon of mass democracy- the final democratic deterrent against the abuse and misuse of executive power.

This Prime Minister should be drummed from office and we will use each and every opportunity to remove him.

It is a long way from war in Iraq to the Holyrood project.

Iraq is about people dying while Holyrood is just about money – a building project gone badly wrong.

However, there is one key connection.

At the heart of the war in Iraq is the misleading of the Westminster parliament. And thus the people

The real issue in the Holyrood scandal is the misleading of the Scots Parliament and thus the people.

When the Parliament was told in June 1999 that the price tag was £109 million they voted for it by a wafer thin majority of just three votes

The real price at that stage was over £200 million and the project totally out of control or as Fraser said it was “not in a viable and healthy condition“.

There were three separate Holyrood plots

Plot one was to conceal the costs to get labour through the 1999 election.

Plot two was to conceal the costs to get the project through the parliamentary vote.

Plot three was to conceal the costs to hand it over and then blame the hapless MSPs

According to Lord Fraser, the key decisions were made under Westminster control by civil servants who are still under Westminster control – which makes Mr McConnell‘s claims that he is about to reform them absurd even by his standards.

Civil servants may share the blame but it is ministers, politicians who are accountable.

And the line of accountability should be thus.

Let those who voted for this nonsense like the labour and liberal parties take the responsibility.

And those of us who voted against it learn the lessons by making it impossible to ever again mislead our parliament with impunity.

As for the building itself then it is time to move on.

Whatever its origins there is now a building which feels like a parliament

It is now up to all MSPs to act like parliamentarians

Five years ago the MSPs were cheered into their offices in the mound. Now they must begin the long march back into public esteem.

There are basically two explanations as to why devolution has been one big let down.

Either there is something wrong with Scotland or there is something wrong with the leadership that Scotland has been getting.

To put it simply either Scotland’s rubbish or labour’s rubbish.

I prefer to think that it is New Labour who are the problem and new leadership is the answer.

And so if we are to replace the Labour Party as the government of Scotland in 2007 then we have to present principle where there is none and vision where now there is only vacuum.

Nicola and I have asked shadow cabinet members to develop our policy programmes for the election next year.

We have to make progress next year to win in 2007, and we have to win in 2007 to move forward to Independence.

To make progress we will demonstrate that only the SNP can be trusted with Scottish interests

It is not only that SNP MPs work harder although we do.

When the Commons Library compile the annual stats for which MP has asked the most questions or made the most speeches the only thing that changes is which of my colleagues comes out first and which of the Labour Party comes out bottom.

But it is more than work rate. It is that we can always be trusted to represent and defend Scottish interests.

Foundation hospitals south of the border were bad for Scotland but labour MPs voted them through

Tuition fees south of the border were bad for Scotland but labour MPs voted them through

Strip stamps were bad for a great Scottish industry but labour MPs voted them through.

And the contrast when the SNP is moving forward is clear for all to see.

Martin Sixsmith blew the whistle at the centre of the labour spin machine but in 1999, he was working for GEC.

He has now set out the inside story of how it was fear of the SNP, which saved the Govan shipyard from closure in 1999.

And therefore delegates if we can save Govan in 1999 then SNP advance can save the fishing industry and the regiments in 2005.

We can make Westminster dance to a Scottish tune.

But progress next year is to a greater purpose.

When Mr McConnell became first minister of Scotland he said he wanted to do “less better”

Some have criticised Blair for just wanting power – McConnell just wants office and position in a nation without power – it’s even less forgivable.

What a rallying call that is to the nation. “Let’s do less better” – well he has managed to fulfil the first part of that boast

He certainly does less.

When the SNP brought to the parliament a debate the impending war in Iraq our opponents used their time on the same day to talk about dog fouling!

When the SNP first forced the issue on Iraq the first minister chose not attend. He sent someone else to tell the people of Scotland that Iraq was a reserved matter.

When we argue that, we have to save our fishing communities from disaster in the European constitution we are told to that that is a reserved matter.

And when we join with Scots across the country in our outrage that children have been and can again be imprisoned, at Dungavel we are told again that it is a reserved matter.

Well First Minister, Dungavel is about values, fishing is about communities and war is about conscience.

And values, communities and conscience can never be reserved matters.

They are Scottish matters and we demand a parliament with the power to do something about them.

We intend to lift the ambition of Scots. – to set our sights on the Scottish horizon.

We are building a programme to march that ambition

We will develop an economic policy, which lifts the Scottish growth rate.

We will restore the people’s faith in Scotland’s public services

We will introduce the fresh air of democracy into Scottish institutions.

And we shall restore this ancient land to its rightful place as a free and equal member of the community of nations.

Now Mr McConnell says that growth is his top priority.

In fact, he has as much control over the Scottish economic growth as Heather has over the weather.

To make Scotland work we need a competitive economic environment, we need an infrastructure fit for the 21st century not for the middle of the last century and we need capital markets which allow Scots with ideas to bring their products to the international marketplace

And the stakes are high.

If the Scottish economy had hit the UK rate of growth over the last 25 five years we would all be £2000 better off.

If we had hit the European level, each of us would be £5000 better off

And if we had grown at the level of independent Ireland, we would all be £20,000 a year better off.

One key to growth is infrastructure.

We will establish a Scottish trust for public investment to launch a new age of improvement in Scotland.

It will provide the financial mechanism to transform Scotland’s infrastructure into one fit for the challenges of today’s economy and tomorrow’s society.

Provost William Smith used his opening speech to the conference to lobby us on dualling the A9. He is right. This is the capital of the highlands. It has two major road connections to the south and the east. One is a dirt track and the other is a death-trap and both are totally unacceptable.

The trunk roads in the south west and north east of Scotland are a disgrace while central Scotland still awaits the linking of the motorway network.,

We don’t even have rail links to our major airports or a bullet train between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

In 1905 it took 1 hour to travel between Edinburgh and Glasgow. A century later we have improved by 12 minutes.

The journey time should take 20 minutes.

A few days back I received a letter from a liberal MSP asking how it could be possible to fund a bullet train between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Then her own party transport spokesman said he wanted one between Edinburgh and London.

The Scottish Liberals really should try and keep up!

Our country, this nation, found the right financial mechanisms to fund the westward expansion of America.

Is it really said that we can’t do the same to transform Scotland?

If McConnell and Wallace had been in charge of Glasgow in the 19th century they would still be waiting for running water in Govan.

Of course, infrastructure is more than roads, railways and broadband. It is also providing the platform to exploit this country’s natural resources.

Right now Scottish oil revenues are running at £8,000 million a year.

That’s right £1,500 this year for every man women and child in the country and its all disappearing into the maw of the treasury, into Gordon Brown’s back pocket.

And the oil and gas will flow for another 50 years.

But delegates we have won the energy lottery again- this time in renewables. Scotland has 25 per cent of Europe’s potential wind power, 25 per cent of its tidal power and 10 per cent of its wave capacity.

The Pentland Firth has been described as the Saudi Arabia of tidal power.

And this is offshore potential.

If a community owns an onshore wind farm or there is a perceived community benefit fine. But onshore wind will never meet the energy requirements of Scotland

Just one offshore project could generate 5 times the electricity of all the onshore wind projects put together.

So what is stopping this new Klondike – or as one company put it the “biggest single threat to viability” and the billions of investment and thousands of jobs that will go with it.

What is stopping it is a proposal from Offgem, a government agency, after a period of grace, to charge generators in the north of Scotland £20 a kilowatt to connect to the grid while they propose to subsidise projects in London by £9 a kilowatt.

That is a proposal from the national grid and Offgem. If you want to build a windfarm offshore in the Moray Firth they will charge you. If you want to build it on top of Big Ben, they will pay you.

They should remember that offshore Scotland there is lots of wind. Around Big Ben there is only hot air.

All of which proves there are three great lies in life. Darling I’ll respect you in the morning – the cheques in the post and I’m from the London treasury and I’m here to help Scotland. . The challenge for his party is clear. London government has filched thirty years of oil revenues.

We shall not let them sabotage our future in renewables.

An SNP Scotland will become the renewable capital of Europe.

We want to see the nation prosper but the Scotland we seek is one, which defends the public interest, the common weal, the sense of community, which protects the vulnerable.

To restore faith in Scotland’s public services we need to revitalise social democracy in Scotland.

We pay social democratic levels of taxation, we spend social democratic levels of funding but we do not have social democratic levels of service.

Take the crisis in the health service. The health service should not be run for the convenience of the health boards, or the consultants or the government.

It is not the Health Boards’ health service or Malcolm Chisholm’s health service it is the people’s health service

In order for Scotland’s health service to function, it requires a national strategy but it also needs public confidence and support at local level.

That is why we will make health boards elected to prevent them being the lickspittles of central government

But we will go further. People despair that the current consultation process is a sham.

We say that when a closure is threatened then petitioners should have the ability to call a time out.-

To stop the process while it is examined properly to make protest count.

We have to engage real people in a real democracy

Real democracy doesn’t begin and end with a parliament. It begins and ends with the people.

In the summer Nicola and I caused a stir when we suggested allowing the public the opportunity to nominate one subject for debate in the parliament each week.

Vested interests were outraged. How could we possibly trespass on the preserve of parliamentarians and their right to choose to debate dog fouling and hedge rows.

Well it ain’t the politician’s parliament. It is the people’s parliament and it is time – well past time – to let the people in.

So we now intend to go further. Not only should there be direct nomination of subjects for debate but the petitions committee will be charged to bring forward, where appropriate, legislative proposals from the best supported petition each year which then can be put to the MSPs for debate and decision.

A new economic policy for Scotland. Revitalised social services a real citizen’s democracy.

These are the building blocks for inspiration and success

But they are set in a context – and that context is this ancient land as a full and equal member of the community of nations.

Devolution is yesterday’s news. It has not responded to today’s reality never mind the challenges of tomorrow.

Independence is about equality.

The same rights – the same responsibilities as other nations.

The right to choose between war and peace.

The right to choose between stagnation and economic progress.

The right to choose to live in a society which protects those who stumble along life’s path.

The responsibility to ensure that the distinctive contribution of Scotland is not silenced or ignored in the councils of Europe and the world.

And our responsibility. To defend and have faith in the idea of Scotland.

In ancient times the city of Sparta had no walls – it didn’t need any The people were the walls of Sparta – its defenders its strength and its faith.

At this particular moment, you – all of you – the people are the walls of Scotland – its defenders, its strength and its faith.

Faith that we can build a better future.

Faith that we can transform this nation.

Faith that our ambitions of today will become tomorrow‘s reality.

Equality, responsibility, Independence.