Alex Salmond speech to ALBA Party Spring Conference 2023
Like many of you here today I attended the mass rally in Glasgow Green last week.
It was the biggest demonstration in Scotland since Covid, one of the biggest in history and despite a few downpours and some rival attraction or other down south it showed that the national movement in Scotland was alive and kicking.
And that was important because for the first time in a quarter of a century the network media, the Westminster establishment had started to laugh at Scotland. They saw the trials and tribulations of the SNP as an indication that they could relax and forget about these turbulent Scots except for the odd snigger.
The rally of the 20,000 helped disabuse them of that notion.
Today I want to speak about the future of Scotland, the urgency in taking our country towards independence and the contribution that ALBA should make in getting us there.
To shape the future we have to understand our history and face up to the present.
For twenty years following the general election of 1997 Scotland as a country was moving forward. Our economy was outperforming the UK in good times and in bad, our social policy and social cohesion was much more progressive and the country was on the road to regaining national independence - certainly there was a debate about how far and how fast that would go but the end destination as an independent country in Europe was hardly in serious question. And most Scots were comfortable with that at least in the medium term.
In the last five years that progress has come to a shuddering halt and increasingly it is not just the future but the present which is uncertain.
Now Scotland’s economy lags behind the UK which in turn lags behind the rest of the world. We suffer the same Brexit tax as the rest of the United Kingdom. The debate is no longer how we can march forward with enhanced social provision but whether school meals should be means tested and whether free education can be sustained.
Let’s look at these two issues for a moment - school meals and free education.
I don’t believe for a second that Humza Yousaf really wants to means test school meals. I have known him long time. If the First Minister had been in today’s Young ALBA quiz competition it would not have been too difficult to guess his first job - it was working for me!
So I don’t believe that Humza really wants to mean test school meals. But then why casually drop it in to an interview with a unionist tabloid.
Well it may be a sign of financial pressure on the devolved administration but it is more than that. It is an indication that the new First Minister does not understand the concept of universality.
It is a concept which is designed to promote social solidarity. As First Minister I introduced the social wage - the idea that, yes, those who can afford it should bear the heaviest burden but in turn key social benefits on offer would be universal -available to all.
It was designed to turn a something for nothing economy into a something for something society.
Thus all Scots were entitled to free education, all pensioners to bus passes and all sick people to free prescriptions and many other collective benefits of things we believe to be too important to leave to the vagaries of the market system.
This is the concept now under challenge. This week the Principal of Edinburgh University, Sir Peter Mathieson said that he wanted a “mature debate” on reintroducing tuition fees. Now I’ll leave to one side the irony of Sir Peter calling for mature debate in a University which actually requires to have an organisation called Edinburgh Academics for Academic Freedom because of his failure to protect mature debate in his own University. This is because of the now twice cancelled showing of the film Adult Human Female, of course the University now say that’s dreadful but still the film was cancelled.
Let us just say that perhaps Sir Peter should concentrate on guaranteeing free speech in Edinburgh University before he questions free education in Scottish society.
A record 183,000 Scottish domiciled students were studying at Scottish Universities last year, not enough at Edinburgh University perhaps but that is to do with University greed not policy failure. The policy is an outstanding success and to make it a further success we need the Scottish Government to lift the supported numbers cap in key subjects to enable every single qualified youngster to gain a place in one of our own outstanding Universities.
The political backing of forcing students to pay for their tuition has been embraced by Sir Keir Starmer, junking every single radical Labour policy he inherited, and Sir Keir is now echoed by in The Scotsman by Brian Wilson.
ALBA have to tackle this attack on universality head on. So after mature debate let us be clear on both issues.
ALBA believe that school meals should be provided for all. We believe it is an investment in the future of our country and a bulwark against food poverty.
THE ROCKS WILL MELT WITH THE SUN BEFORE WE ALLOW THE TORY AND LABOUR PARTIES TO IMPOSE TUITION FEES BACK ON SCOTTISH STUDENTS.
These threats to established social provision are Scotlands present reality.
Add to that a health service which is buckling under pressure, an economy which is lagging behind, sky high interest rates crippling business and home owners alike, and population projection which is now heading downwards not upwards.
Let me repeat that. The population projections for Scotland are once again heading downwards.
And yet the Tory Party are so out of touch with Scotland that with the economy and society going down the tubes Rishi Sunak actually thinks that economic migration is the biggest issue facing the country!
The Tory Party have junked every commitment they made in the 2014 referendum - they have destroyed their own case for the Union .
In 2014 they told us that we would be safe In Europe. Now we are out of the single market and every household in Scotland is paying the price - the Danegeld of Brexit.
In 2014 they told us we would be safe in Sterling. Now Sterling is kept afloat by sky high interest rates and every household in Scotland is paying the price - the Danegeld of Sterling.
In 2014 they told us that staying in the UK would mean lower energy bills - falling by £50. Now every household in Scotland is paying thousands extra - the Danegeld of higher heating bills.
The Tories have not just wrecked the economy - they have wrecked the case they argued for the Union with it. The NO campaign in 2014 sneaked home on a false prospectus - they conned Scotland out of independence.
The Union is placing Scotland on the road to ruin and the SNP seem too preoccupied with their own problems to do anything about it.
With independence support running at 48 per cent Scotland must not be duped by a false prospectus from the unionists or by the endless permutations of a hung Parliament.
Scotland needs to drive forward on an independence agenda.
I cannot think of anything dafter than placing your eggs in a hung Parliament basket and the ever moving red lines that we have heard about. In the space of the last week we have been told that the objective in such a situation would be variously to move Labour to the left, to undo Brexit or to secure an independence referendum.
The danger of talking up the importance of replacing the blue Tories with the red Tories is that people might well decide that if the key objective is to replace the Tories they may as well vote Labour.
Do the SNP seriously think that Sir Keir Starmer has just been waiting for the SNP to persuade him to become more socialist, to concede an independence referendum or to reverse his European policy?
Instead of undoing Brexit, we should be undoing the Union.
Let me say this to my SNP colleagues. Why go cap in hand to unionists when we should be campaigning head held high with fellow nationalists?
Why are we trying to organise coalitions with the British Establishment? The only coalitions we should be organising are with Scottish Nationalists - with the parties and the movement
Unionists will never deliver for Scotland. Not in Westminster, Not in the Supreme Court. That is the lesson of recent history - so learn it.
Ten years ago support for the SNP was at 45 per cent but supporting for independence was below 30 per cent. Now the position is reversed. Support for the SNP is in the 30s but support for independence is still near 50 percent.
In these circumstances logic and personal survival should tell SNP parliamentarians to downplay the Party and stress independence.
The correct course for Scotland winning the Westminster election is for the independence parties to unite to put up one candidate in each seat. That is an agreement that ALBA are willing to promote. Thus I have written today to the leaders of all parliamentary pro independence parties suggesting such an arrangement by which each constituency has one independence candidate standing All Under One Banner.
In a novel touch designed to get them to read the letter I have sent it by post. That was quite deliberate - I don’t want a flip on line response from a spin doctor. I want them to think about it and about what is best for Scotland.
As ALBA we have only one real requirement for agreement. That is that the first paragraph in each of the party manifestos must be to seek a mandate to negotiate independence for Scotland.
The cause of Scotland is bigger than that of any one political party. Indeed, it is bigger than all political parties. It is time for the independence movement to unite to declare its own independence from any political party.
Last Saturday at Glasgow Green, the national movement demonstrated that it is the most powerful force in Scottish politics. Within that movement there are organisations who promote the rallies, think tanks which develop policy ideas, groups which emphasise sovereignty or promote the detail of an independent currency, people who believe in taking Scotland’s case to the international courts and there is the wider YES movement of ordinary people across our land, ready to mobilise and campaign.
All of these flowers should be encouraged to bloom.
But to be most effective, this effort has to be co-ordinated. Right now there are moves under way to bring the national movement together. ALBA will support or indeed, if necessary, initiate these efforts. There is much work to be done to bring together the Independence Convention required to lead the nation forward.
A nation where half of the population supports independence, has to be ready to seize political opportunity. We have moved into a position where the people are ahead of the politicians, and therefore the people have to take the lead.
There has to be an agreed position on how we pursue the political mandate for independence, on how to democratically force Westminster’s hand to negotiate, on the Scottish platform during the negotiations, on the constitutional framework to establish the new state. These are the essential building blocks of a new Scotland and they now require to be brought into place.
I PLEDGE THAT ALBA WILL BE PART OF THE INITIATIVE WHICH BRINGS SUCH AN INDEPENDENCE CONVENTION INTO LIFE
Meanwhile the new First Minister needs to sort out his Government. Back in 2014 not even our most bitter opponent attempted to argue that the SNP Government did not run a competent administration at Holyrood.
Now the failings of the SNP/Green administration are used by our opponents to attack independence.
A month or two back the Party Chair and I debated for independence at the Oxford Union. We did pretty well - one third of the vote in the heart of the English establishment - although not as well as Neale Hanvey who won the vote for independence at the Cambridge Union!.
At any rate at Oxford I was struck by the number of talented young Scots students arguing against the motion except they weren’t really arguing against independence at all. They were attacking the failures - real and imagined - of the SNP/Green administration.
This must change and the new First Minister needs to get a grip.
So here is some unsolicited advice.
Firstly the things to bin:
One bin the the Highly Protected Marine Area proposals. They are causing consternation around the fishing communities. Bin them now.
Two bin the proposals for juryless trials. They are causing consternation amoung every decent lawyer in Scotland. Bin them now.
Three bin the pursuit of self-identification. The proposals have caused consternation among the majority of people in Scotland. You can’t beat Westminster by dividing Scotland. Bin them now.
Then there is the things to concentrate on - health, education, housing and the cost of living. The Scottish Government does not have the political bandwidth to pick unnecessary fights with the rest of Scottish society. Concentrate on what matters to people and re-establish the Scottish Governments reputation for competence.
Humza has been left with a tough job but he volunteered for it. And note,..just about every single bungle in recent Scottish governance - the bottle return scheme, self identification, failure to duel the A9 and A96 to hear the capital of the Highlands. All of these failures have Green Party fingers all over them.
Perhaps it is time to bin the Bute House Agreement with the Green Party.
And then there are the issues on which the cause of independence can be won.
ALBA as a political party are but two years old but at each of our Conferences we have focussed on the potential of Scotland’s reservoir of clean, green affordable energy. We heard a great deal of that in the debates this morning.
The seas around Scotland will easily yield FIVE times our own electricity production. However last year’s Scotwind auction was a national disgrace leasing off vast areas of Scotland’s resources for a fraction of what they are worth - a £700 million once and for all payment for an asset which soon will be worth £11 billion a year.
The model we should follow in handling Scotland’s energy wealth is that of Norway. There needs to be a public stake as of right in every major wind development.
We lost out in dramatic terms in the first energy windfall. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is expecting £80 billion in North Sea revenues over the next few years - £16,000 a year for every man, woman and child in Scotland.
This remember is the self same resource they said was finished, all done, in 2014!
A long time ago I described the theft of Scotland’s oil and gas resources as the greatest act of international larceny since the Spanish stole the Incas gold. But that larceny was the fault of the UK Government. If we allow it to happen again with our own renewable resources we will have no-body to blame but ourselves.
Friends Alba is a young party. We are but two years old and we have but two members of Parliament.
Neale Hanvey brought to the Westminster Parliament, a Bill promoting Scottish sovereignty and in doing so made one of the finest speeches on Scottish independence ever heard in that place.
Kenny McAskill has been relentless in explaining the true extent of Scotland’s energy resources, and defending ordinary Scots against the extortion of greedy power and energy companies.
NO PARTY COULD WISH FOR FINER REPRESENTATIVES
With Kenny and Neale in the vanguard, the ALBA machine has started up and the engine is now moving us forward.
As we were told this morning, we are now the fourth largest party in Scotland by membership but closing fast on the Green party in third place. Our Chair has set us a task. By our Annual Conference she intends us to be the third biggest party in Scotland and thus the second biggest independence party.
I love the ambition but it does not stop there.
In the early 1960s America, Avis Rent-A-Car was the second second biggest car rental company in the United States. Then they hit on an advertising campaign which was to transform their prospects from being a minor player to a major one. They proclaimed to Americans that they were the second biggest car hire company in the United States.
They mobilised the power of the underdog. They said “We are second so we are trying harder”
ALBA are about to become Scotland’s second biggest independence party, so therefore we will try harder to become the first.
It won’t happen this week or next week or perhaps even over 5 years. But come it will - for a’ that.
ALBA is now answering the call of a movement which is crying out for leadership.
LEADERSHIP IN OPPOSING WESTMINSTER RULE IN SCOTLAND
LEADERSHIP IN BRINGING INDEPENDENCE PARTIES AND THE MOVEMENT TOGETHER
AND LEADERSHIP IN RESTORING NATIONAL SOVEREIGNTY TO OUR COUNTRY OF SCOTLAND
We are a small party on our way to becoming a large one. We will get there and so will Scotland.
LEADERSHIP NOW, SOVEREIGNTY NOW, INDEPENDENCE NOW