Tuesday, 09 October 2018 20:02


Conference, I am addressing you for the last time as Business Convener of the SNP.

The party I joined at 16, and have been privileged to serve as you convener for the
last 7 years.

Chairing the party through referenda, elections, a surge in membership which saw
the SNP become the second largest party in the whole of UK.

Not always the easiest job in the world, Gerry, but as the longest serving Business

Convener the party has had, I say this to you, to my SNP family, thank you!

But don’t worry Conference I’ll be back! As Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Economy
and Fair Work.

You see, the First Minister has expanded my ministerial brief, as well as Finance I
now take on the economy.

And I’m looking forward taking forward the economics of independence.

I’d also like to pay tribute to my predecessor as Economy Secretary, Keith Brown
who was a true champion for Scotland’s economy and in particular should be proud
of his efforts to firmly establish the concept of fair work in Scotland.

Conference I’m supported by three fantastic ministers, Kate Forbes, Jamie Hepburn
and Ivan McKee.

We are relishing the challenges and opportunities that comes with responsibility for
the economy.

But what of my opposite numbers – well there’s been a few

For the Tories my counterpart is Murdo Fraser – you know the difference between
me and Murdo? Yes, there more than one. I’ve never lost an election. Murdo has
never won one!

And what of the Labour Party, the former opposition to the Tories.

Well, there’s not been a Murdo, there’s been a reshufflue.

My opposite numbers have been Kezia Dugdale, Jackie Ballie, James Kelly and now
Richard Leonard.

Conference, despite my political differences I respect them all. The question is does
Richard Leonard have any respect his colleagues? Or even more importantly does
he have any respect for Scotland?

On the subject of respect, the UK Government is supposed to give the Scottish
Government ten weeks’ notice of the date of their budget, to allow us to prepare
properly for ours.

That we got less than five weeks’ notice, and we were only informed after the
chancellor had written to a Westminster sub-committee says everything you need to
know about the ‘respect agenda’.

Chancellor, we are a nation, not a sub-committee.

And a nation that opposes your austerity agenda that has harmed so many people.

Despite our new powers the single biggest single factor in determining the Scottish
budget remains the block grant from Westminster that has been under Tory attack
for the best part of a decade.

Over the ten years to 2019-20 the Scottish Government’s budget is being cut by £2.6
billion as a direct result of the Tories obsession with austerity.

Austerity is the price of the Union.

They choose to balance the books on the backs of the poorest in society. Austerity
by choice, not economic necessity.

Theresa May announced the ‘End of Austerity’ at the Tory Party Conference – given
their track record, forgive me if I don’t take her word for it.

For us that means an increase in public spending and reversing pernicious welfare
cuts, stimulating economic growth, for the Tories that means tax cuts for richest.

We must see support for Scottish industry and the UK Government to match our
commitment to 100 per cent coverage of regional growth deals.

And above all we must see an end to the welfare cuts that has seen £3.7 billion
taken out of our economy and cause such misery to the poorest and most vulnerable
in our society.

That would be an end to austerity

So I say to the Prime Minister – Spare us the soundbites – show us the money!
You see, Scotland does well in spite of the UK government, not because of them.
Whether it is our food and drink sector, our energy industries or the new and
innovative digital businesses, Scotland’s economy is brimming with talent,
enthusiasm and potential.

Sparks of innovation and ingenuity are firing right across our economy.

I have become even more convinced of our country’s massive potential and how
independence is the key to unlocking it.

We are winning the argument on the economics of independence.

According to a recent survey from the National Centre for Social Research,
Confidence in the economy of an independent Scotland has “soared”
It found that 41 per cent of people view independence as a positive for Scotland’s
economy – up from 26 per cent in 2014 – and for the first time outnumber those who
believe the economic prospects would be worse.

And little wonder, when you compare Scotland’s prospects under independence with
the dismal future of an isolated, austerity-obsessed, London-centric United Kingdom.

We are pulling ahead in more ways than one.

Our economic growth is now outperforming the rest of the UK.

Over the last year our onshore economy grew by 1.7 per cent, compared to 1.3 per
cent for the UK.

You would think that this would be something that would be welcomed by all
politicians in Scotland, sadly not.

When stats showed Scotland’s economy doing less well than the UK there was a
queue of unionist politicians telling us we were all doomed and it was the SNP’s

Now that we are doing better than the UK they have mysteriously gone quiet.

The reason for this of course is that they are petrified of Scottish success as they
see it as a threat to their ‘precious union’.

We will never stop celebrating Scottish success and we will do everything to ensure
the success of our economy continues.

And yes, we are doing it deliberately.

Our pro-growth, pro-business agenda will deliver inclusive growth, fairness and
equality too. They go hand in hand.

A more prosperous society, a more equal country.

And Conference, I am filled with pride to have used our new tax powers to make
Scotland the fairest taxed part of the UK.

As a government, we are investing for the future.

We have increased our investment in the economy this year by 64 per cent.

£2.4 billion investment in enterprise and skills.

£1 billion in city region deals, which will create thousands of jobs.

And £600 million investment to make superfast broadband a reality for every home
and business in Scotland.

Our economic actions will touch every part of Scotland.

Beyond our cities, we want growth deals for every part of Scotland.

For the South of Scotland we will legislate to establish a South of Scotland enterprise

And conference, next year I will introduce the legislation to build the Scottish
National Investment Bank.

Focused on providing long-term patient capital for key economic investments, we
have committed to capitalise the bank with £2 billion over the next 10 years.

We have also confirmed plans to increase Scotland’s annual infrastructure
investment until it is £1.5 billion per year higher by the end of the next Parliament
than in 2019-20.

This increase is an additional 1 per cent of current Scottish GDP per year, raising
Scottish investment to internationally competitive levels.

Further boosting broadband, transport, and low-carbon energy. And supporting
inclusive economic and business growth.

By 2025-26 this commitment will mean around £7 billion of extra infrastructure

As Michael Matheson set out on Sunday, and as recommended by the Growth
Commission, we will establish an infrastructure commission to advise the Scottish
Government on how this investment can deliver maximum benefit for our economy
and public services.

This will deliver a step change in infrastructure and business support.

It will deliver for the economy of today and lay the foundations for the opportunities of
the future.

By the end of the month I will launch an economic action plan.

New actions to support business.

We are investing more to support Scottish exports and we are developing a single
digital point of entry for business support, along with quicker, technology-driven
decisions on financial support.

We are also introducing criteria to ensure that business support grants such as
regional selective assistance deliver on our ambition to be a world-leading fair work

If we give you that financial support we expect conditions around fair work to be met.
We do believe that government can be a catalyst for regeneration and economic

Our new social security agency will be based in Dundee and Glasgow, creating 1500
new jobs, with 750 in each city and hundreds more based right across the country.

I’m particularly pleased to announce today that we will be supporting the
regeneration of the East End of Glasgow with a grant of £730,000 to Clyde Gateway
to support the development of a new £2 million headquarters for the STUC.

It is our job to ensure that the country’s finances are strong, but we also want to
ensure our citizens’ finances are strong too.

I can announce today that from next month we will launch a Financial Health Check
for older people and low income families.

Over the next two years this will be backed by £3.3 million of Scottish Government
money over next two years.  

Working with Citizens Advice Scotland, the Financial Health Check should help an
additional 15,000 people.

It will cover things like access to free school meals, school clothing grants, benefit
uptake, and cheaper deals on energy and other utilities to reduce household costs.

A positive step, from a progressive government that is on the side of the people.
Scotland’s economy is threatened by Brexit. It was a Tory gamble, then a guddle,
now an act of economic self-harm. A political slow motion car crash.

Against the will of the Scottish people and against all economic evidence we are
being dragged out of the world’s biggest, most lucrative market.

A poll at the weekend found that only 22 per cent of Scottish Businesses have
confidence in Westminster’s ability to negotiate a ‘good deal’.

Time is running out. But it is not too late to avoid catastrophe, a deal must be struck
that keeps Scotland, and the UK in both the single market and customs union.

We have shown how we can end austerity, grow our economy and deliver a fairer

We are living through a period of major economic and political change.

We know that our economy is strong and we know that our potential is great.

We know that we have a government, your government that will always be on
Scotland’s side.

The actions we are taking now, many of them world-leading, will ensure that our
economy and our public services meet the needs of today, whilst preparing us for the
challenges of tomorrow.

We have achieved so much with devolution, we oppose the UK government power
grab, and call upon those who wish to protect Scotland’s democracy to work with us
to protect the powers of our parliament.

We need the powers of independence to give the people, the parliament and the
government of Scotland the ability to act in the national interest.

This country isn’t full, we are building a better Scotland and we welcome the new
Scots who want to join us on our journey.

This party is massive, but we aren’t full. If you care for Scottish democracy come and
join us.

We offer hope.

But don’t just hope for a better future. Build it.

And together, lets show the world that Scotland means business.

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