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09/06/14 11:30

All-female cabinet speech

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
Our Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh
Monday 9 June, 2014

I’m extremely proud to host this first all-women’s cabinet. And thank you all for joining me – I look forward to a lively discussion shortly.

This is an important day for another reason.

There are now 100 days left until the people of Scotland vote on the future of our country.

The vote on September 18 is the greatest opportunity we will ever have to build a better, more prosperous and fairer country.

Today, I want to explain to you why I believe so strongly that independence promises a better future.

And while I don’t think independence benefits only women, or will benefit all women in the same way, I’ll explain why I think a Yes vote promises more for women than a No vote.

The first thing we should all be clear on is that Scotland can be a successful, thriving independent country.

Scotland has vast wealth and extraordinary resources.

We are rich - most of all - in human talent.

We generate more wealth, per head, than Japan, France, the UK and the majority of independent countries.

The ratings agency Standard and Poor’s says that even excluding oil and gas “Scotland would qualify for our highest economic assessment.”

The Financial Times says that in terms of GDP per head we would be among the top 20 wealthiest countries in the world.

We have more top universities, per head, than any other country.

We are a hotbed of cutting edge industries like life sciences.

Our world class food and drink industry turns over £13 billion a year.

And we have strengths across a range of growth sectors such as creative industries, tourism, renewable energy, business and financial services and ICT.

From Dolly the Sheep to Grand Theft Auto, people living and working in Scotland have made significant contributions to the modern world.

And we are blessed to have the huge multi-billion pound bonus of oil.

Scotland has 60 per cent of the EU’s oil reserves and we know this industry will be a continued success story for decades to come.

The question then is not whether Scotland is wealthy enough to be independent.

The great issue in Scotland today is why – under Westminster - so many of us don’t feel the benefit of that wealth.

That is why a Yes vote is so important.

The case for independence is based on a fundamental belief.

A belief in the ability and talent of the people of Scotland.

No-one else will do a better job of running our country.

Certainly not Westminster governments that we don’t vote for and for whom we will always be an afterthought.

Independence means decisions about Scotland will be taken by the people who care most about Scotland – the people who live and work here.

By transferring that decision-making power from Westminster to Scotland we can change our lives for the better.

This won’t happen overnight. We will need a truly national effort. But the prize is worth the effort.

By taking Scotland’s future into Scotland’s hands we can give an independence guarantee.

We will always have the security of being in control of our vast wealth and resources.

We will have the job-creating, economic powers we need – for the first time ever an economic policy designed in, and for, Scotland.

We’ll save around £600 million by not spending money on Westminster priorities like Trident weapons or sending MPs to Westminster.

We will always get the governments we vote for.

Our public services will be protected from Westminster privatisation.

We will be able to tailor economic policy to make the most of our huge strengths.

That means more and better jobs for people by designing a tax system that gives firms in Scotland a competitive advantage.

It means helping people climb the career ladder here in Scotland by attracting and retaining company headquarters.

It means more financial security for households because we can choose to deliver cost of living increases in pensions, tax credits and tax free allowances.

It means making life easier for young families by delivering a transformational increase in childcare – something I will turn to shortly.

The experience of devolution shows that taking decisions in Scotland improves the lives of people who live here.

We’ve protected the NHS.

We’ve implemented world-leading climate change legislation and public health initiatives such as the smoking ban.

We’ve re-instated the principle of free higher education.

We are doing our best to protect the universal principle in the face of an all-out assault on the welfare state by the current Westminster government.

Access to high quality public services and a social security system designed to help people in need – not humiliate them – empowers individuals and builds strong communities.

It is this sense of giving people more control over their lives that drives the case for independence – as much as the idea of having control of policy levers at a national level.

I want to focus now on three areas where, for women, in particular, independence will lead to more security and control in our lives.

First: childcare.

We have an ambitious plan to provide free universal childcare for children aged 1-5 - a policy that could save families up to £4,600 per child per year.

This would improve the early education of our children; help families; and support parents, particularly mothers, to go out to work.

Every woman should have the opportunity to reach her full potential, in whatever field she chooses, and this represents a huge step towards that.

And it makes economic sense.

If we increase female participation in the labour market to levels achieved in Sweden, for example, we can boost economic performance and raise an extra £700 million per year in tax revenue – that’s not just income tax, but National Insurance and corporation tax, too.

Some say we could do this now, and, indeed, we have already expanded free child care.

But this issue illustrates the inherent problems of devolution.

We receive a fixed budget from Westminster. We would not receive the increased tax revenues from more women in the workforce unless Westminster decided we should.

Without that, we could not sustain free childcare long term, unless we made cuts to other services we provide. And Westminster could spend the extra money we raised however it wanted – as things stand, it would more likely fund more nuclear weapons on the Clyde rather than childcare.

Only by controlling both spending and revenue can we make the changes needed to help women back into work.

And it’s not enough to get women into work – the kind of work matters, too.

So my second point is that with independence, we can take control of employment policy.

What happens to the minimum wage really matters to the standard of living of women and their children, because the fact is that women today are more likely to work in low paid jobs. With independence, we can guarantee that the minimum wage will rise at least in line with inflation every year.

If this had happened over the past five years, the lowest paid would be £600 a year better off than they are now. That's money they’ve lost because we cannot take these decisions ourselves.

And that’s only one part of what’s possible.

We would be responsible for implementing the Equal Pay Act to address the still scandalous inequality in women’s pay. And we could build on our support for social partnerships to increase trade union and employer collaboration, and examine options for employee representation on boards.

Finally, we would take action, backed by legislation if necessary, to ensure that a clear target - I would argue at least 40% - of places on public and company boards were occupied by women.

What I’ve outlined so far will help to build a fairer society. However, the mark of a truly fair society is how we protect those in need.

So my third point is about the welfare system in an independent Scotland.

In the short term, we could protect the independence of women in the benefits system.

Westminster is introducing Universal Credit as part of their so-called welfare reforms to replace payments like working tax credit and child tax credit. It will be paid in a single household payment, meaning, in many cases, it will go to the man of the house.

It's like going back in time to the 'male breadwinner' notion of society. In some households, it could lead to real hardship for women and children.

Women - if they are the second earner in a house - will also lose their 'earnings disregard', the amount they can earn before losing benefit.

We would reverse those changes, protect the right of individuals to receive payments in their own right and ensure women have the same incentives to work as men.

But there is a chance to do more. Last week, our Expert Working Group on Welfare published their second report.

They identified principles – fair, personal, simple – that should inform the development of a Scottish welfare system. And they made the crucial point that, instead of the complex patchwork of welfare systems we will inherit, an independent Scotland could build a new system that needs the needs of a country of five million people.

I was happy to agree with many of the group’s specific recommendations, but more than that, their work shows the exciting possibilities for an independent Scotland to address long standing issues in new and innovative ways.

Those are some of the reasons we should be independent.

But they are part of the larger reason we must become independent.

The UK is one of the most unequal societies in the developed world. OECD analysis shows that, since 1975, income inequality among working age people in the UK increased faster than any other developed country

And it’s a country with some of the biggest regional differences in economic performance of any EU nation.

Every year nearly 40,000 young people leave Scotland.

It is great that our young people have the opportunity to work and live elsewhere.

Those opportunities will be there whether we are independent or not.

But with independence we will have the powers to use our vast wealth to create more job opportunities here in Scotland.

And the decisions of the current Westminster government are increasing the gap between rich and poor.

That makes it much harder for people from ordinary backgrounds to get on in life.

Up to 100,000 more children in Scotland could be raised in poverty.

And there are now 43 food banks in Scotland.

In 2011, there was one.

It’s a shameful increase, driven by welfare cuts, benefit delays, benefit sanctions and falling incomes – this is true, no matter what Westminster might say about people using them out of choice.

And remember, all this is the result of existing welfare cuts. There’s another £12 billion to come.

We will try to mitigate these – as we have mitigated the bedroom tax. But we did so by taking money from other services.

This obviously makes no sense: taking money from our own priorities to prevent harm caused by policies Scotland overwhelmingly rejected.

Only independence can prevent this.

We already know further devolution won’t.

Last week, the Conservatives published their proposals for further devolution. This confirmed what we all suspected. None of the UK parties would give us the competitive powers to grow the economy, set our taxes and fund public spending. Welfare will continue almost entirely in the hands of Westminster, and Westminster will continue to decide immigration and set Scotland’s budget.

That is why independence is the greatest opportunity we will have for a future where we can realise our full potential and build a more equal society.

The people of Scotland will decide and build the sort of society they want to see.

So that is my argument: Scotland’s huge wealth and extraordinary resources mean there is no question we can be independent.

We should be independent because by being in control we can improve the lives of people, families and communities.

We can do that because there is an independence guarantee.

The security of having control of our vast wealth and resources.

The job-creating, economic powers we need - so we all feel the benefit of that wealth.

Savings of £600 million a year by not spending money on Westminster priorities such as nuclear bombs.

The governments we vote for – every time.

Our public services protected from privatisation.

In 100 days’ time when the polling booths open, for the first time ever the future of our country will be in the hands of the people who live here. We will be in control of our destiny.

When the polling stations close let’s resolve this – let’s not hand that control back.

It’s time to take Scotland’s future into Scotland’s hands.