First Minister statement
First Minister Alex Salmond
Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Check against delivery
Last week’s referendum was an extraordinary, empowering, exhilarating experience. Huge credit is due to both sides.
It’s worth comparing it with previous referendums. The vote of 1979 was a botched job, where the side which gained the most votes was unable to have its wishes put into effect. In 1997, turnout was 60%.
Last week, turnout was 85% - the highest for any vote of this scale ever held on these islands.
With the exception of a few miscreants, both sides of the debate conducted themselves in an extraordinarily democratic, civilised and engaged manner.
And so to every single campaigner and voter, whatever your view and whatever your vote, I want to say thank you. This has been the greatest democratic experience in Scotland’s history. It has brought us great credit both nationally and internationally.
That overwhelmingly positive side to the referendum is now generally recognised. It is a shame that a few metropolitan journalists concentrated on negative elements.
But the true story to emerge from the referendum is that Scotland has the most politically engaged population in Western Europe. For both sides, that is a significant and positive fact to be reckoned with. We need to retain and encourage the people’s engagement, vitality and spirit. Nothing is more important for the future than that.
I will add a couple of caveats to that point towards the end of my speech. But I want to focus on the positive. And so I will concentrate on two points in particular, which arise from the referendum.
The first is this. There is not a shred of evidence for arguing that 16 and 17 year olds should not be allowed to vote. Their engagement in this debate was second to none. They proved themselves to be the serious, passionate, committed citizens we always believed they would be.
Everyone in this chamber should be proud of our decision to widen the franchise. There is an overwhelming and unanswerable case, for giving 16 and 17 year olds the vote, in all future elections in Scotland and across the UK. All parties in this parliament should urge Westminster to make this happen in time for next year’s general election.
The second point, or the second question, is one which has already been asked by many people. Where do we go from here?
From the moment the result of the referendum became clear, Section 30 of the Edinburgh Agreement came into effect. That means that both the UK Government and the Scottish Government are committed to accepting the outcome of the referendum, and working together in the best interests of Scotland and the rest of the UK.
I believe strongly in section 30. I put it into the Edinburgh Agreement. The Scottish government will stick to it.
That means the Scottish Government will contribute fully to a process to empower the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish people. We will bring forward constructive proposals for doing this.
I relayed this intention to the Prime Minister within minutes of the result being confirmed. That is how the Scottish Government intends to proceed.
I welcome the appointment of Lord Smith. He is a trusted person who has given great service to Scotland, and whose oversight of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee was outstanding.
But I should say that David Cameron surprised me - and I suspect others in this chamber - with his statement on Friday morning, less than an hour after the outcome was confirmed. He said that change in Scotland should be in tandem and - in case we didn’t understand what that meant – at the same pace, as change in England and the rest of the UK.
That condition, as all of us know, would throw the entire process into delay and confusion. It would directly contradict the clear commitments made in the campaign.
The briefing from yesterday afternoon was decisively different from the Friday morning statement. That suggests that the UK Government recognises the importance of meeting its commitments. It’s crucial that they do so.
This parliament now has a responsibility to hold Westminster’s feet to the fire to ensure that the pledges are met. That’s not just a job for the Scottish Government – it’s one for all parties. In fact, there is a special obligation on the unionist parties. They promised further devolution; it is essential that they deliver.
But all parties should understand, that the true guardians of progress are not the political parties at Westminster, or the parties here at Holyrood, or Lord Smith – they are the energised electorate of this nation, the community of Scotland, who will not brook or tolerate any equivocation or delay.
I was struck by the statement yesterday by Graeme Smith of the STUC. I suspect he captured the feelings of many people in Scotland.
“The vast civic movement for meaningful and progressive change that has built up in the last two years is impatient for change and will not accept minimalist proposals developed in a pre-referendum context handed down on a take them or leave them basis…
“They are not going to be passive participants in the process or tolerate political obfuscation or compromise. The sooner the politicians recognise this and get down to working with civil society and the communities and people of Scotland to deliver a comprehensive new devolution settlement the better.'
The referendum debate engaged people in every community of the country. Its final outcome cannot be a last-minute deal between a small group of Westminster politicians.
Lord Smith has recognised the need to capture the energy of the referendum debate. All of us should support his commitment to consultation.
After all, one thing we now know is that proper consultation and debate energises people, rather than distracts them.
It’s worth remembering that since the Edinburgh Agreement was signed in 2012, the number of people unemployed in Scotland has reduced by 40,000; the economy has come out of recession ahead of the rest of the UK; Scotland has outperformed every part of the UK outside London and the south-east for foreign investment; visitor spending in Scotland has increased; exports have grown; the Scottish Government has introduced 30 new bills into this parliament; and we have delivered the most successful Commonwealth Games in history.
I mention that because in the last Parliamentary debate before the referendum, Johann Lamont expressed concern about “the way in which Scotland has been on pause on the big decisions facing our country.”
Scotland wasn’t on pause for the referendum; it was on fast-forward. Asking ourselves what sort of country we want to be isn’t something that is separate from good government; it’s part of good government.
Political confidence and economic confidence gang thegither. All of have a responsibility to maintain that political confidence and self-belief - to involve our empowered and engaged electorate in delivering meaningful changes to devolution.
Any improvement of the devolution settlement will require a legislative consent motion here at Holyrood. So there is a clear role for this parliament in considering what new powers should be delivered.
There will doubtless be a range of views and proposals. The Scottish Government’s view is that an enhanced devolution settlement should meet three key tests.
They should enable us to make Scotland a more prosperous country – in particular, genuine job-creating powers are important.
They should allow us to build a fairer society. We need to address the deep-lying causes of inequality within Scottish society.
And they should enable Scotland to have a stronger and clearer voice on the international stage.
The Labour Party, less than two weeks before the referendum, promised “home rule for Scotland inside the United Kingdom”. We need to ensure that the powers delivered to this parliament match - not just the rhetoric of the Westminster parties, but also the ambitions of the people of Scotland.
It is also vital that new economic powers do not disadvantage Scotland. The vow made by unionist party leaders was absolutely clear that “because of the continuation of the Barnett allocation for resources, and the powers of the Scottish Parliament to raise revenue, we can state categorically that the final say on how much is spent on the NHS will be a matter for the Scottish Parliament.” But the Westminster parliamentary motion on further devolution, released over the weekend, failed to repeat that promise. The Barnett formula is essential – as the unionists’ vow acknowledged – until or unless Scotland has control of all of our resources. We need absolute clarity that the UK parties will stay true to their promises about Barnett.
We also need to ensure that the Scottish Parliament is entrenched in legislation – that it can never be abolished by Westminster. This was clearly promised before the referendum, but is again missing from the Westminster Parliamentary Motion. And while making that important change, the UK Government should finally give a statutory basis to the Sewel Convention of Legislative Consent Motions.
Overall, there is a great opportunity for this parliament. We can work together to help the UK government to deliver its promise of significant extra powers for this chamber; and we can do so in a way which deserves, sustains and encourages the interest and engagement of the people of Scotland.
I did say that there were two caveats that I wanted to add to the hugely positive nature of the referendum process. Both involve the criminal law, and so they are worth including in this statement.
There is still the outstanding matter of the briefing by the Treasury on the evening of 10 September, 45 minutes before an RBS Board meeting finished. We need to establish the full circumstances and justifications for the briefing, and how it can be anything other than contrary to Section 52 of the Criminal Justice Act 1993.
Secondly, the scenes we saw in Glasgow around George Square on Friday night cannot be tolerated. We expect and know that Police Scotland will take the necessary action against those who indulged in mindless thuggery against a peaceful demonstration.
Overall, however, although those caveats are important, they are relatively minor, when set against the significance of what Scotland has experienced.
When Donald Dewar spoke at the opening of this Parliament in 1999, he reflected at one point on the discourse of the Scottish Enlightenment, as an echo from the past which helped to shape modern Scotland.
What we have seen in the last two years is a new discourse of democratic enlightenment. Scotland now has the most politically engaged population in Western Europe, and one of the most engaged of any country anywhere in the world.
This land has been a hub of peaceful, passionate discussion in the workplace; at home; in cafes and pubs; and on the streets. Across Scotland, people have been energised and enthused by politics in a way which has simply never happened before.
We have seen a generational change –in attitudes towards independence and greater self-government, and also in how politics should be carried out. We have a totally new body politic, a new spirit abroad in the land – one which is speaking loud and clear. All of us must realise that things cannot ever be the same again.
Wherever we are travelling together, we are a better nation today than we were at the start of this process. We are more informed, more enabled, more empowered.
As a result, our great national debate will help to make us a fairer, more prosperous and more democratic country. All of Scotland has emerged as the winner.