On September 18, we’ll have the biggest opportunity in Scotland’s political history. We’ll decide whether we should be an independent country.
The outcome of the referendum will affect not just our futures, but those of our families for generations to come.
As Deputy First Minister of Scotland, I’m asking you to vote Yes. That’s because I believe with all my heart that Scotland can, should and must be an independent country.
Independence will give each one of us, from the youngest to the oldest, the chance to protect and build on the things we value and hold dear.
There are many good reasons why we need to be independent. One of the most important is that we will always get the governments we vote for.
Let’s take the last General Election in 2010. Once again, Scotland overwhelmingly rejected the Tories. They won just one – that’s right, one – Westminster seat out of 59 north of the border.
Yet we are now saddled with a Tory UK Government which is hammering our poor and vulnerable, pushing our children into poverty and harming our economy with austerity.
With a Yes vote, we’ll get our democracy back. We will finally be able to choose the governments we want, based on our own needs and priorities. Scotland’s future will truly be in Scotland’s hands.
You may well ask if we can afford to be independent. It’s a fair question, and there’s a very clear answer – there’s absolutely no doubt that we can. Even now, we’re better off financially than the UK as a whole. According to the Financial Times, Scotland is already one of the top 20 wealthiest nations in the world – richer per head than France and Japan.
We’ve generated more tax per person than the UK for every one of the last 33 years. And we’re blessed with a strong and diverse economy which is about much more than oil – although there’s still as much of that by value to be extracted from the North Sea as we’ve taken out already.
We’ve a fantastic food and drink industry worth £13billion, manufacturing exports alone of £15billion, we’re world leaders in creative industries, life sciences and renewables, and we’ve more top universities than any other country.
With independence, we’ll be able to capitalise on all these fantastic assets and use our wealth to generate more opportunities. No longer will our taxes and best people drain south to London and the south-east. Instead, we’ll protect and develop our own public services and build a fairer, better and more equal society.
By taking action such as removing Trident weapons of mass destruction from the Clyde and opting out of the House of Lords, we’ll save £600million a year – money we will put back into Scotland.
For instance, we already have plans after a Yes vote to introduce free European-style childcare for pre-school youngsters. That will allow tens of thousands of parents to go back to work if they want to – and to pay tax as a result.
We’ll also protect pensions as well as helping the low paid, preserve free over-60s travel and prescriptions, and create thousands of new jobs.
Another thing we’ll do is to keep university education free. That’s very dear to me as it allowed me to get my own law degree.
My mum and dad supported me, but they weren’t wealthy and tuition fees would have made it a real struggle for us. So for me, free education is personal.
So is a guarantee of good healthcare. Independence will also allow us to keep our world-class Scottish NHS properly funded and in the public sector. It’s the only way we’ll be able to avoid the creeping effects of Tory privatisation which are destroying the health service in England.
Of course, a Yes vote won’t bring us a land of milk and honey.
We’ll have to work hard, and we’ll make mistakes. But they’ll be our mistakes, and we’ll learn from them.
The real risk is in staying in a broken and increasingly-isolated United Kingdom which is one of the most undemocratic and unequal societies in the developed world.
I want a country which gives its people the lives they deserve – a country which rewards work, cherishes education, provides for all, gives hope and dignity to the elderly and vulnerable, and allows families to thrive and children to flourish.
A Scotland which allows us not just to dream big dreams, but to turn those dreams in reality.
That’s what I’ll be voting for when I vote Yes. And I want you to come and join me.
Then we can build our new and confident Scotland together. How exciting is that?