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
Today’s paper – and those that will follow in the weeks and months ahead – is about substance.
That is what really matters.
The strength of the substantive case will determine the decision people reach when the choice is offered – as it will be – and it is time now to set out and debate that case.
After everything that has happened – Brexit, Covid, Boris Johnson – it is time to set out a different and better vision.
It is time to talk about making Scotland wealthier and fairer.
It is time to talk about independence – and then to make the choice.
How we secure that choice – as we are committed to doing – is of course a highly pertinent question, so while today is very much about substance, let me address briefly the issue of process.
I was re-elected as First Minister just over one year ago on a clear commitment to give the people of Scotland the choice of becoming an independent country.
And the people of Scotland elected a Scottish Parliament with a decisive majority in favour of both independence and the right to choose.
The Scottish Parliament therefore has an indisputable democratic mandate, and we intend to honour it.
A referendum though, if it is to be deliverable, command confidence and achieve its objective, must be lawful.
It is the parties opposed to independence who would benefit from doubt about a referendum’s legality.
These parties don’t want to engage on the substance of this debate, because they know how increasingly threadbare their arguments are. So they prefer to cast doubt on the process.
Those of us who relish the opportunity to make and win the substantive case for independence mustn’t let them do so.
Of course, if this UK government had any respect at all for democracy, the issue of legality would be put beyond doubt, as in 2014, through a section 30 order.
I make clear to the Prime Minister again today that I stand ready to discuss the terms of such an order at any time.
But my duty, as the democratically elected First Minister, is to the people of Scotland – not to Boris Johnson or any Tory Prime Minister.
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.
And independence is how we can secure it.