Referendum Anniversary Speech by Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland.
It may not have been the change we hoped for.
But Scotland did change. It changed for the better – and it changed for good.
The referendum campaign was, without doubt, the most exciting and exhilarating of our political lives.
It energised and enthused, educated and empowered.
It invited us – individually and collectively – to imagine the kind of country we wanted to live in.
It made us realise that the future isn’t set in stone – it is ours to shape and ours to build.
We discovered our voice – and found that as a nation we could make the world listen.
We surprised ourselves. We learned to trust our own instincts and experiences.
We discovered that hope really can be a more powerful emotion than fear.
We started to ask questions that the Westminster establishment, fighting for its own survival, found impossible to answer.
Like why is it necessary to make brutal cuts that impoverish our children when money for new nuclear weapons never seems to be any object?
And we realised, perhaps more clearly than ever before, that the answers to these questions are not inevitable. They are the result of political choices.
The question we all faced exactly one year ago today is who gets to make those choices? Whose voice carries most weight?
And now that we have a Tory government, with just one MP in Scotland, imposing deep cuts on working people, jeopardising our place in Europe and threatening to rip up hard won and long valued trade union and human rights, that question and those choices remain just as important today as they were a year ago.
As we woke up the morning after the referendum the country, inevitably, was divided between those of us who were utterly devastated and those who breathed a sigh of relief.
But there was a new and powerful mood in the air that morning – a mood that transcended the divisions of the campaign, to unite Yes and No voters in a common determination that our voice as a country would continue to be heard.
It was a mood and a moment that was spectacularly misjudged by David Cameron, as he stood on the steps of Downing Street and chose to make Scotland’s expression of self determination all about a Tory obsession with English votes for English laws.
As a somewhat tired and emotional nation watched an arrogant Prime Minister pronounce that it was time for Scotland to know her place again, the determination to make our voice heard more loudly than it had ever been before grew stronger.
The Westminster establishment had asked Scotland not to leave the UK, but to lead it and a majority of Scots had opted to accept the invitation.
Yes or No, we were not now going to be silent.
Today, on the anniversary of the referendum and as we look forward to next May, people will inevitably ask about the possibility of another referendum.
As I have made clear, our manifesto will set out our position on a second independence referendum.
It will consider the circumstances in which it might be appropriate, sometime in the future, to propose such a referendum.
Let me be clear, this is a judgment that we will make carefully. And it is a judgment that will be driven, not by the interests of the SNP, but by the interests of the people of Scotland as a whole.
We respect last year’s result.
It would be wrong to propose another referendum without a fundamental change of circumstances or a strong indication that a significant number of those who voted No last year had changed their minds.
But it would also be wrong – in the face of a clear and material shift in circumstances or public opinion – for any one politician or party to rule out another referendum.
Because the key principle is democracy. Politicians can propose and campaign. But only the people can decide.
Only the people can decide if we will have another referendum.
Only the people can decide when that will be.
And only the people can decide if Scotland will become independent.
And for those of us who want Scotland to be independent, that is our challenge.
If we are to win independence, we must convince a majority of Scots that it represents the best future for Scotland.
That was true last year, it is true now and it will be true at all times in the future.
There are no shortcuts.
Independence won’t happen just because its supporters become more impatient for change.
An even more committed, enthusiastic and impatient 45% is still just 45%.
If Scotland is to become independent, we must build the support for independence.
Just as in the referendum campaign, it grew from 30% to 45%, we must in the years ahead take it from 45% to a clear majority.
That means we must persuade the people we failed to persuade last year.
That means understanding why they voted No. And it means addressing those concerns, patiently, carefully and comprehensively.
That is our challenge.
But there’s also a big challenge here for Westminster.
When people consider whether or not Scotland would be better off independent, they judge independence on its own merits, certainly – but they also weigh it against the alternative.
What does staying part of the Westminster system mean for Scotland?
Right now, what people see at Westminster is a Tory government failing to fully deliver on the vow it made on more powers for our parliament.
They see a Tory government continuing to impose austerity on working people and the disabled – way beyond anything required to reduce the deficit and in spite of Scotland electing 56 anti austerity MPs.
And they see a government arrogantly pressing ahead with plans to renew Trident – at a cost of £100 billion – before the House of Commons has even voted and while our public services suffer the pain of their cuts.
And it is all of that, more than anything, that explains what we now see happening in the polls.
In the last twelve months, there have been 24 polls on independence.
Every single one has shown support for independence higher than it was on this day last year – some have even put independence in the lead.
So, my message to David Cameron today is the same as it was when I met him just after the general election.
What happens to support for independence in the months and years to come will depend as much on what you do as it will on what we do.
And, right now, you are living on borrowed time.
If you continue to ignore Scotland’s voice, if you continue to disrespect the choice that people across this country made in May, more and more people will conclude that Westminster simply can’t deliver for Scotland.
So, it is your choice, Prime Minister – but know that Scotland is watching.
As a party, we have learned many lessons from the referendum campaign and from all that has happened since
But there is no doubt that some of the hardest lessons from the last twelve months have been for Labour.
It is not my place to intrude on Labour’s internal problems. But the referendum has taught all parties in Scotland that the views of the people cannot be ignored.
I congratulate Jeremy Corbyn on his election, but as the new Labour leader he faces some early tests – not least to demonstrate that he can unite his party to take on and defeat the Tories.
I look forward to him working with us against continued austerity, in a way that his predecessor refused to do.
I hope he and his party will also work with us to oppose the renewal of Trident.
This week our parties stood together in the House of Commons in opposing draconian trade union legislation and the SNP will argue against that legislation across the whole of the UK every step of the way.
But, sadly, the Tories won that vote.
So at this crucial time I urge Labour’s new leader to show that his party will put the rights and protections of workers in Scotland before partisan opposition to further powers for our parliament.
When the Scotland Bill returns to the Commons the SNP will propose the devolution of powers over trade union and employment law.
Jeremy Corbyn must reverse Labour’s opposition to the devolution of powers, back our amendment and enable our parliament and this government to take a different approach.
The Scottish Parliament should not be left in the position of protesting in vain over the erosion of rights in Scotland. We must have the powers to prevent it.
Of course, one of the issues that may influence Scotland’s attitude to independence over the next couple of years is the looming referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU.
Last year we were promised our place in the EU was safe – but only if we voted No. How times change.
I have said before – and I repeat again today – that if Scotland was to find itself facing a EU exit that we hadn’t voted for, demand for a second independence referendum could well be unstoppable.
It would be a material change to the circumstances in which last year’s vote was taken.
For our part, we will be campaigning for the UK to remain within the EU.
I have listened to the Labour debate in recent days hoping to hear a similar, unequivocal commitment to the UK remaining part of the European Union. Thankfully, that now appears to have been given, though the uncertainty about it has caused concern.
It would be, in my view, an abdication of responsibility for Labour not to give its whole-hearted support to the campaign to remain in the EU.
And it would be a rejection of the social and economic benefits the EU has helped to secure.
The EU is not perfect, but it has made a huge contribution to protecting and enhancing employees’ rights – from working time regulations and parental leave to sickness pay and health and safety rules.
We must defend these hard won rights from within the EU rather than leave David Cameron with the unfettered ability to erode them.
So I say to Labour today – no more equivocation. Put the issue beyond any doubt and commit to campaigning in all circumstances to stay in the European Union.
There is a new mood in Scotland – the evidence of that new mood is sitting here in this room and can be felt in every part of our country.
In the hours, days and weeks following the referendum, our party membership surged.
At 5pm a year ago today, we had 25,642 members.
Today, our membership stands at 112, 208.
And then, of course, that surge in membership became an SNP landslide in the general election.
56 SNP MPs – joining our 64 MSPs – now form the biggest combined parliamentary group of any party in Scotland in the devolution era.
A party that was seen to have confidence in Scotland now enjoys the confidence of an unprecedented number of Scots – including many who voted No.
That is our achievement and we should be proud of it.
But it is also our responsibility.
That responsibility is to lead Scotland forward – confidently, progressively and as one country.
That is the job of me as First Minister and of our Scottish Government, each and every day.
And it is the task of all of us as we seek to win the Scottish election next May.
The Scottish Parliament election is 230 days away.
Today, I am firing the starting gun on our campaign.
I have asked John Swinney, the Deputy First Minister to be campaign director.
Our deputy leader, Stewart Hosie, will oversee the development of our manifesto – a manifesto that will set out, not just policies for the next parliament, but a vision for this country for the next decade and beyond.
I have also asked our youngest MP, the talented and inspirational Mhairi Black, to spearhead our youth campaign.
Next May will be the first ever opportunity for 16 and 17 year olds to vote in a national election.
The participation of our young people in the referendum last year was one of its resounding successes.
And I am determined that the views and priorities of our young people – of Scotland’s next generation – will be at the very heart of this election.
We go into this contest with record approval ratings in the polls.
But we will take nothing for granted.
We will campaign harder than we have ever done to win – again – the trust of the people.
We will stand proudly on our record.
Over the past eight years, while Westminster has cut our budget, we have delivered better services.
Our school leavers do better than ever before.
We have rebuilt or refurbished one fifth of all school buildings.
Crime is at a 41 year low.
We have higher employment than the rest of the UK. Youth employment is at its highest level in a decade.
And NHS waiting times are among the lowest ever recorded.
We have abolished prescription charges, maintained free personal care for the elderly and restored free tuition for our students.
We have made necessary, and radical, long-term reforms to police, to colleges, to health and social care services, and to our school curriculum.
The foundations are strong. Our manifesto will set out how we will build on them.
It will set out how we will address the challenges of the future.
And it will put before the people of this country a truly progressive policy programme to support our economy, create a fairer society and improve our public services.
Let us understand the significance of what we are now seeking to achieve.
Next May, I will have the privilege of asking the people of Scotland, for the first time, to elect me as First Minister.
And we, collectively, will be seeking a historic third term in office.
We will do so with humility, but with a determination to win.
My task – our task – is to convince the people of this country that I will be the best First Minister, that we are the best team, and that we have the best policies and the best vision to lead Scotland into the next decade.
And, if we do that, we will not just win. We will win another majority.
And let me be clear today. That is our aim.
What I have seen in the last twelve months in every corner of this country has been truly inspirational.
We are a country energised and empowered.
There has never been a more exciting time to lead this country.
And if we can win Scotland’s trust again – as I am determined we will – we will lead it forward with pride, with confidence and with an unshakeable belief in the people we serve.
Let’s get on and do it.”