Good morning friends. Thank you very much for coming along: I am really looking forward to today’s discussions and debates and I know that we are all keen that today kickstarts the kind of campaign we need to deliver the change we want to see in our country.
We do, indeed, need to build for independence. Everyday, all around us, we see the consequences of the broken British state, crushing people’s spirits, destroying their lives. We see the stirring up of racism and anti-immigrant feeling by people determined to blame those not born in the UK for the failings of the NHS or the lack of jobs, when we know the real reasons are much more sinister: the British state has been captured by a neoliberal elite determined to run down public services in the interests of private profit.
And, as an immigrant myself, I’d like to thank Nicola Sturgeon for stating so clearly that I, and others from around the word who have chosen to make Scotland home, us Scots by choice, are welcome.
A couple of years before the Independence Referendum in 2014, social attitudes here in Scotland were very much like those in the rest of the UK. However, that has changed. And we changed it. We were able to use the Independence Movement to start to create the kind of Scotland we want and deserve. And we see the evidence for this shift in the rapidly diverging attitudes between us and England in our approaches to immigration, to welfare, and perhaps most clearly in the Brexit vote.
Scotland didn’t need to vote for the Leave campaign’s lies. The hope for a better country and a better politics lies in a genuine movement for change. Not in the duplicitous claims of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage.
It is a good thing that we have secured this shift.
But it is only a start. It is only the beginning of our new future.
The Scotland we deserve has a vibrant political culture, where people feel that political decisions are made through a profoundly democratic process. It means we need not just the incredibly effective national campaigns run by Women for Independence against the proposed new women’s gaol, not just the brilliant campaigners from across Scotland who have helped to stop fracking, not just the achievements of the Living Rent campaign.
But it means giving people power to make as many decisions over their lives as they can, and to support them in doing so.
It means living in the early days of a better nation.
We have a democratically literate society, and it is our job to create the democracy that society deserves. That is why independence matters. It is about democracy. It really is about taking back control.
We need the power to make the decisions about our economy: we say no to austerity, no to passing on cuts to the most vulnerable in our society, no to an economic system that destroys our climate. We want our economy to be based on meeting human needs that harnesses technology and automation to increase human happiness. We must equip ourselves to make best use of our renewable resources, not destroy decent work, plunder our natural environment or destroy our climate. We want a social security system for all and an economy that puts people and planet first.
We need the power to make decisions over our foreign policy: we say no more illegal wars, no more nuclear weapons. Rather, we want a Scotland that leads the world on human rights. We already recognise and stand with people struggling against injustices elsewhere, but I’d like to see Scotland use its soft power to support just causes: I would love to see Scotland officially recognise the Palestinian state, and support the development of a Kurdish state.
In the same way that Oslo is the place people go to negotiate peace, Scotland could be where people come to negotiate on climate change and human rights. When the Scottish Parliament passed world-leading climate change legislation, it gave others the impetus to do something similar.
We already know some of how we can achieve these changes. Many of us have been working on these ideas and today will develop them further.
One of the most exciting developments is the work being done around the Citizen’s Income. But even with the new powers over welfare we will have, it will be difficult to deliver the full benefits of a CI because we don’t have the full powers of an independent state. We must use the powers we have to demonstrate what powers we need.
Every year, we have a fight about Government expenditure and revenues in Scotland: does the money spent in Scotland by government exceed the money received by government in Scotland? Yet this debate takes place in the context of a UK Government which facilitates avoidance of tax for people around the world. From the British Virgin Islands and Bermuda to Jersey and Guernsey, the country that leads the world in helping rich people to avoid paying tax is the country that Scotland is shackled to. In an independent Scotland, we know that we can have a tax system that helps the rich pay their fair share, and a social security system for all.
It is clear to me that, without the full powers of an independent state, we cannot achieve the kind of societal change we want. We must have that democratic power over all aspects of our lives. But more than this. We then need the courage to hand that power away: to people and communities across Scotland. It is clear to me that independence must not be about replacing the broken machinery of Westminster with similar structures in Holyrood. The Scotland I want to live in gives power to people, to communities, and supports and facilitates them to wield it effectively.
So, in our discussions today, we must remember that the policies and strategies we develop must provide the building blocks for a radically different Scotland: a Scotland where power is distributed across different levels of government, and where people always come first.
With the independence campaign in the run up to September 2014, we gave people hope that this was possible. We showed that politics could be different. Importantly, we created a movement, this movement, that was able to shift the opinions of many Scots: a movement that saw record numbers of people turning out to meetings to discuss the political issues that affected their lives. This is a strong foundation for our work today.
And it is something of which we should be proud.
When I go to England, I see people envious of this, shaken that people’s concern for the NHS and its funding crisis can be so easily subverted to deliver blow upon blow to immigrants. At a political economy workshop in Sheffield a few months ago, I was struck by the despondent and depressed mood that was being described in local communities. I think that, if we succeed in our quest for a different Scotland, we can pave the way for communities in the rest of the UK and the rest of the world to develop their own, better, radical future.
So today is really important: not just for us, but for others with whom we share these islands, and for those beyond these islands’ shores.
We have the opportunity over the next months and years to bring people back together, without our only focus being on electoral politics. We must remember this: it is politics in the everyday, not just Thursdays in May, that really matter.
We need to repeat what we did, against all the odds, 2 and a half years ago: bring discussion of political issues into our daily lives.
We need to build an understanding that a radical, popular democracy, can deliver the change that is so badly needed through staples of debate, discussion, and listening to others. This might seem somewhat old fashioned or traditional, but we must escape the empty and vacuous marketing politics that has stripped our society of its ambition and its creativity.
For too long, politics has been reduced to marketing campaigns and slogans that assumed you could not change people’s minds.
We know that our ideas, our values and our principles can change people’s minds. And we know that, in a relatively short space of time, we did change people’s minds.
We now need to do it again. With better ideas, more well-formed policies, coherent approaches, and above all an enthusiasm for and belief in a better world.
I look forward to joining you in this journey, to working hard with you today, tomorrow, and in the days, weeks, months, and years to come.
Together, we can create the Scotland that we all know is not only possible, but so desperately needed.