(N.B. All emphases, italicisation, etc. are mine, and represent my view of significance. They were not present in the SNP transcription of Nicola’s speech.)
NICOLA STURGEON - THE BENEFITS AND POSSIBILITIES OF INDEPENDENCE
In 70 weeks' time, each of us will give our own answer to the question - 'Should Scotland be an independent country?' and the nation, collectively, will decide.
Over the next 70 weeks, people the length and breadth of the country will make up their minds on what is, undoubtedly, the greatest opportunity of our lifetimes. Many will change their minds – perhaps several times – before a final decision puts them in the Yes or the No camp.
Each side will argue its case vigorously and with a determination to win. The campaign will be passionate, noisy and, at times, heated. That is exactly as it should be.
But the division of opinion that is inevitable in a referendum - inevitable in any election - shouldn’t blind us to the fact that, Yes or No, Scotland is one country.
Yes or No, we all care about the future of this nation. We all want the best for the people who live here.
We have different views on how Scotland should move forward. But the day after the referendum, whatever the outcome, we will move forward together.
I have no doubt that, if Scotland votes Yes, those on the No side - elected representatives like Johann Lamont, Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie - will be on Scotland's side, part of the team who will negotiate our independence. And Team Scotland will be stronger as a result.
So, it is with an eye firmly on the day after the referendum that I say this to both sides of the campaign -
We will all do everything in our power to bring about the outcome we desire – but let us also do everything in our power to make the campaign as good, as inspiring and as energising as it can be.
The national opportunity we have over the next 70 weeks - the opportunity to imagine the kind of country we want to be and decide how we best equip ourselves to become that country - is a rare one, and we owe it to the country to rise to the challenge.
Today I will set out the hallmarks of the Yes campaign. The distinctive features of our approach to winning the referendum.
And, be in no doubt, win is what we intend to do.
We have work to do, but our case is reasonable, rational and responsible.
We believe that Scotland should be governed here at home, from our own Parliament not from Westminster; that we should build a new relationship of equals with our friends across these islands; that we should hold the powers in our own hands to shape a nation that lives up to our ambitions of fairness and prosperity; and that we should have no-one else to blame if we fail to do so.
That is the vision that can win the argument and win the referendum.
I am convinced – from talking to people across the country – that there is a natural majority in Scotland for independence. What do I mean by that? I mean that people will vote Yes if we can persuade them that it opens the door to a wealthier and fairer country.
A poll published just last week showed that, even now, with 16 months to go, 47% will already vote Yes or be more likely to do so if we can persuade them that Scotland will be wealthier and fairer - compared to 45% who take the opposite stance.
So my job - our job - is to give people the confidence to be optimistic about Scotland's future; to back ourselves to build a better Scotland. That is our task.
The approach of the Yes campaign will be to inform the debate, while being honest about the judgment Scotland has to make; to set out clearly both sides of the choice people face; and to focus always on the positive contribution Scotland has to make. These are the hallmarks of our campaign; our unique selling points.
The No campaign won't match us - because their campaign depends on fostering a climate of fear and uncertainty, on ignoring the inevitable consequences for Scotland of continued Westminster government; and on talking down what Scotland has to offer.
So, we will work hard to inform the debate - but we won't insult anyone's intelligence. People understand that there are uncertainties for Scotland – as there are for any country – whether we become independent or continue to be governed by Westminster. It is undoubtedly the case that certainty will be maximised if both the Scottish and UK Governments behave responsibly and agree to discuss now the negotiations that will follow if Scotland votes Yes.
But there isn't always an absolute objective truth to be found on issues where negotiation and the policy choices of governments yet to be elected will help shape Scotland. There are facts that will be set out, of course, but the referendum will not simply be a contest of competing ‘facts’.
Instead, when the Yes and No campaigns set out their stalls, people will be asked to make a qualitative judgment about which is more credible and compelling and about who they trust most with Scotland's future.
Is it more or less likely that a government elected in Scotland will reflect the views and priorities of the Scottish people better than a remote government in Westminster that is all too often elected against the clear wishes of Scotland?
Are we more or less likely to build a wealthier and fairer country by taking the powers over tax and welfare into our own hands rather than leaving them at Westminster?
These are the judgments people will make.
Our job is to inform those judgments and that process is already underway.
A range of detailed information has been published already on the structure, platform and potential of an independent Scotland.
In February, we published a detailed paper on the transition to independence - with a timescale described by one of the two legal experts who drafted the UK government's constitutional document as 'realistic' - and plans for a written constitution.
The report of the Fiscal Commission Working Group has set out comprehensive and considered proposals for retaining sterling as the currency in an independent Scotland - a policy described by Alistair Darling as "desirable" and "logical" and supported by two-thirds of Scots.
And a detailed balance sheet shows that Scotland can more than afford to be independent; that our finances are stronger than the UK's; that our share of Westminster's debt will be lower as a proportion of our national wealth than the UK's; that the tax take from Scotland has been higher in every single one of the last 30 years than it has been across the UK; and that pension and welfare costs are more affordable with independence.
And over the next few months, we will publish reports on a range of issues including Scotland’s vast economic potential, welfare and pensions, financial services, defence and foreign affairs.
The UK government is publishing its own papers - but it is already clear that their purpose is less to inform than to frighten.
The inherent weakness in that approach, in my view, is not just that the politics of fear has a limited shelf life.
It is that for the scare stories they tell to come to pass, the UK - presumably in a fit of pique after Scotland votes Yes - would have to act contrary to its own interests. That doesn't stand up to any serious scrutiny. And that's why the UK government won't sit down now and discuss, in a grown up way, the issues we will require to resolve between us after a Yes vote - something they would do if their concern was about informing the public rather than scoring partisan points.
But they won't do it because they know as well as we do that sensible discussion, entered into in good faith, will demonstrate the common sense of our plans for Scotland's transition to independence and our continued relationship with our partners across the UK, and therefore strip them of their ability to peddle fear.
I believe that, as we set out our case, people will increasingly see the tactics of the No campaign for what they are.
The Yes campaign will also set out the clear choice that people face - the benefits of independence and the prospects for Scotland if we don't vote Yes.
This referendum is more than just a decision between the status quo and independence – it is a choice between two very different futures.
One in which we take the power to shape our future into our own hands and another where we leave that power in the hands of a Westminster establishment that is set on a political, social and economic path that most people in Scotland would not choose - austerity and cuts in social protection, privatisation of public services, and possible withdrawal from the EU.
The No campaign won't set out that choice. They will attack the case for independence, but they won't be honest about the implications for Scotland of staying subject to Westminster government on issues like welfare, the economy and nuclear weapons.
I'm told they have asked us 500 questions about independence. I welcome that. The more the focus is on the opportunities of independence, the better.
But the fact is No has its own questions to answer. For people to make an informed choice about whether Scotland will be better off as an independent country, they need to know what the alternative is – what the future holds for Scotland in the UK.
So, let me today ask some very direct questions of the No campaign.
Questions about what will happen to Scotland if No gets its way.
Let's call them the UK 2020 questions.
Will the UK still be a member of the European Union in 2020?
How much more means testing will have been introduced into the UK benefits system by 2020.
What will the UK retirement age be in 2020?
How many more children in Scotland will be living in poverty by 2020 as a result of Westminster welfare cuts?
What will have happened by 2020 to funding for Scotland’s NHS, via the Barnett formula, as England’s NHS is increasingly privatised?
Will there still be a bedroom tax in 2020?
How many more billions of pounds will have been spent by Scottish taxpayers on keeping UK Trident nuclear weapons on the Clyde?
Will the UK still have a Human Rights Act in 2020 and, if not, what will the implications be for Scotland's distinctive legal system?
Will the UK still be the 4th most unequal country in the developed world in 2020 or will it have moved closer to the top spot, with the gap between the richest and poorest even wider?
Will Scotland’s long term economic growth rate still lag behind our competitors in 2020?
Is there any guarantee that Scotland will have voted for the Westminster government that is in office in 2020 - or will it be yet another government elected against the wishes of the Scottish people?And will the Scottish Parliament have any additional powers, beyond those in the Scotland Act, by 2020 – and, if so, what will they be?
To those in the No camp who say these questions can’t be answered because they depend on the policies of future governments, let me gently point out that exactly the same can be said of many of the 500 questions asked of the Yes campaign.
And while the exact answers might be beyond reach at this time, the direction of travel for Scotland under continued Westminster government is all too clear.
In relation to a No vote, this quote from our national bard Robert Burns sums it up best: "An' forward, tho' I canna see, I guess an' fear!"
Ever greater cuts in public spending, a welfare state dismantled beyond recognition, people working longer for less, higher levels of child poverty, a growing gap between rich and poor, billions more wasted on nuclear weapons and no real prospect of any more powers for our parliament.
That is the bleak prospect of sticking with Westminster government - and that’s why a No vote is a real gamble with Scotland's future. A massive gamble with our children's future.
There is a better way. Scotland 2020 can be a better place. It won't happen overnight. We will need to work at it, use the powers and the resources at our disposal to change things for the better.
But it can be done.
Take social protection. We know the welfare state is under attack by Westminster like never before. And we know that welfare is more affordable in Scotland than in the UK, not less.
Independence will give us the chance to recast our social security system for the future. To see it - alongside our NHS and our education system - as the commitment we make to each other in a mutual society, a way of helping people to live full and independent lives, to help people into work, but also to make sure they have a safety net when they can't. A system that supports a growing economy, not one that is written off as a drain on it.
That will take time - but, make no mistake, it can only be done with independence.
And we will be able to make some changes immediately.
A few weeks ago, I pledged that an SNP government in an independent Scotland would scrap the bedroom tax.
Today I am making the second in a series of announcements that will set out our intention to undo the worst impacts of the Tory welfare cuts, particularly as they affect women and children.
The new universal credit system discriminates against women. It undermines the independence of women. Unlike the current system, which makes payments to individual claimants, it will be paid in one single household amount - which will more often than not mean to the man in a household. And because it applies a single earnings disregard when people move into work, it reduces the incentive to work for second earners in a household - who will usually be women.
So when a woman, whose partner already works, gets a job, she will gain very little in return - her marginal tax rate will be upwards of 60%.
It is no wonder that Universal Credit has been described as reinforcing the notion of the male breadwinner - a concept that is outdated and totally out of touch with the reality of many modern families.
So, I can confirm today that we would move away from single household payments and give women back the ability to receive support in their own right. And we would equalise the earnings disregard between first and second earners, making work more attractive for women, more rewarding for women and more likely to lift children out of poverty.
It is just one, very specific change, but the start of a series of policy announcements that, over the months to come, will illustrate clearly and vividly the benefits and possibilities of independence.
Because the fundamental difference between Yes and No is this: No leaves these choices in the hands of Westminster governments – Westminster governments that all too often Scotland doesn’t vote for.
It is only with Yes, with the powers of independence, that Scotland can decide our policies in these and all other areas according to the votes and views of the people who live and work here.
It is only with a Yes vote that we get a parliament and government 100% accountable to all those living and working in Scotland. That is the essence of independence.
It is why I so passionately want Scotland to vote Yes next year.
But, whatever the outcome of the referendum, I also want Scotland to emerge from it as a more confident and self-assured country.
And that is why the Yes campaign will always be positive about Scotland and about the ties that bind us - the ties will always bind us, no matter our constitutional arrangements - to our families, friends and partners across these islands.
What I find deeply troubling about the No campaign is not its opposition to independence - it is absolutely legitimate for anyone to argue that Scotland is better off staying with Westminster government, if that is what they believe.
What troubles me is the No campaign's apparent willingness to paint Scotland as the poor relation that would have nothing to bring to the table as an independent nation. When they say that Westminster wouldn’t want us in a currency union, or the EU wouldn’t want us as members, they write off at a stroke the massive resources, talents and attributes that mean that we would - in reality - be a welcome member of the international community and a valued partner to our friends across these islands.
Yes, we will have to pay our way and drive hard bargains – but we will do so with the massive advantages we have as a nation and we will be able to speak with our own voice to better protect our own interests.
To suggest otherwise seems to me to wilfully diminish the country and all that we are for purely partisan reasons.
So there is no doubt that an emerging divide in the referendum debate is between those of us who attach merit and value to Scotland in its own right, and those whose case appears, increasingly, to devalue what Scotland has to offer.
Indeed, one of the great ironies of the referendum debate so far is that the tone and content of the No campaign is actually the antithesis of the traditional case for the Union in Scotland.
The theory of Unionism from 1707 through to the 20th century - although not the actual Scottish experience - was that Scotland was an equal partner within a wider venture, just as good and just as worthwhile as our larger neighbour south of the Border.
But the entire approach of the No campaign disparages and destroys that notion.
Given that the core content and arguments of the No campaign are based on material produced by a Tory government at Westminster - with George Osborne in the driving seat - that should come as no great surprise.
But the fact is that the entire No campaign appears to have completely abandoned any pretence that the Union is about an equal partnership between Scotland and England.
According to their notion of 'Union', an independent Scotland is not equal at all - according to them, we have no entitlement to the shared assets of the UK, such as the currency and central bank - though we would be expected to shoulder our share of the national debt!
Presumably it is this thinking that led the UK government to publish a paper earlier this year suggesting that Scotland had been "extinguished" in 1707. But the ideology of Union - if not the reality - was that, far from being extinguished in 1707, Scotland was enhanced as a partner with England.
No seems to have abandoned any pretence of believing in that idea - and it is why as a campaign it is empty and disconnected and, when the scares no longer work, will find itself with nowhere else to go.
Ironically, but significantly, the Scottish aspiration to equality of status which is daily disparaged by the No campaign is what the Union was meant to establish but didn't. And, today, by openly denouncing the very notion of equal status within the UK, the No campaign is proving the point that only a Yes vote can and will deliver equality for Scotland.
In that and so many other senses, independence represents a continuation of Scotland's journey as a nation.
Independence is the right choice for the 21st century.
Our job over the next 70 weeks is to persuade and inspire people across Scotland to make that choice.
And I believe that people do want to be inspired to vote Yes, not frightened into voting No. That is our opportunity.
So, our task from this day forward is to lift the campaign out of the foothills of fear that others want it to languish in. To lift it to a new height where we can see clearly the choice that is before us and the possibilities that independence opens up.
The Yes campaign will be one of optimism and aspiration. It will represent the best of Scotland. That is why I believe it can win and will win - and when it does, Scotland will never look back.
END OF SPEECH
(N.B. All emphases, italicisation, etc. are mine, and represent my view of significance. They were not present in the SNP transcription of Nicola’s speech.)