Today, with the signing of the historic Edinburgh Agreement between the Scottish and UK governments, the journey to Scotland’s Day of Destiny begins. In 100 weeks or so from now, the people of Scotland will be asked to make their biggest and most important decision in more than 300 years.
The choice facing us is straightforward. Do we want to carry on as we are – the option offered by the ‘No’ campaign? Or do we want the opportunity to make our own decisions and shape our own future? This is what independence guarantees.
That is why I am confident that when it comes to choosing the kind of country we want to live in, the people of Scotland will vote ‘Yes’.
Between now and the autumn of 2014, we will be making the case for an independent Scotland. We will lay out in detail not only why we are more than capable of paying our way, but why independence will allow us to grow and prosper and become one of the wealthiest small nations in the world.
We will be pointing out that while Scotland currently receives 9.3% of the UK financial cake for public spending, we contribute 9.6% in tax revenues. What this means is we pay in more in taxes – to the tune of £1,000 per household. In the past 30 years, between us, we have contributed an extra £19 billion over and above what might be termed ‘our share’.
The economic case for independence is vitally important. But it is not the only reason an independent Scotland makes sense.
It will be the people of Scotland who will be in charge. And that’s why I am convinced Scotland will become a fairer and more successful country, co-existing in a stronger and happier relationship with our neighbours in the rest of the UK. We’ll be able to take the right decisions for our future, based on our shared values and priorities and using our wealth of resources and talent.
In short, independence will allow us to build the country we want.
Under successive UK governments, we have become one of the most unequal societies in the developed world. According to research by Danny Dorling, Professor of Human Geography at Sheffield University, the UK is the fourth most unequal society in the ‘rich’ world. And right now we are witnessing a sustained assault by the UK coalition on the welfare state and the most vulnerable people in society.
So the choice in 2014 is about two clearly different directions of travel: independence offers the prospect of a more inclusive, sharing society – the kind of society that most Scots want; the status quo guarantees a continuing erosion of universal services and the collective ethos most Scots prefer.
Devolution has already delivered some valuable social benefits – no tuition fees for Scottish students and free personal care for older people are just two examples. Think how much more we could do if we could set all our own priorities.
It is clear that where we already have control – in areas such as healthcare, education and policing – we have policies that match Scottish values. But where we don’t, we face the prospect of unwelcome decisions on the renewal of Trident, the further dilution of social protection, unfettered banks and restricted investment in renewable energy.
Over the next two years, we will be providing lots of quality information on the benefits of independence. Issues such as North Sea oil and gas revenues and reserves, taxation, borrowing requirements and public expenditure are all vital components in this independence debate.
But statistical comparisons and data analysis are only one part of the narrative. Independence is also about cultural and social transformation. Taking full responsibility for shaping our own future will mobilise and energise the people of Scotland and help us to achieve our full potential economically, socially and culturally.
Building a fairer Scotland that promotes social protection rather than diminishes it, a country that values its young people by ensuring opportunity in education and the workplace, is at the heart of our case. Likewise, creating a Scotland that fosters and attracts talent and skills must be a goal of the real generational change independence and self-determination offers.
For all of these reasons, I believe 2014 will be the Year of Yes.