Conference, We gather here today in Perth. Perth – known to many as a “capital” of Scotland and a “gateway to the highlands”. Perth – a city steeped in history, and a city with which the SNP enjoys an affinity. From hosting many a National Council of the SNP to its well kent local SNP politicians John Swinney, Roseanna Cunningham and Pete Wishart to name just a few. And now Perth – the host of the 2020 National Conference of Young Scots for Independence. Friends, Our Country stands at a crossroads. The difference between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom could not be clearer. We have a Tory Prime Minister, with a majority UK Government, steamrolling over the devolution settlement and with a track record that would make your eyes water. Boris Johnston presides over a Government that had a Chancellor of the Exchequer who delayed a Budget, forcing Scotland’s Government to set one blindly and similarly for our Local Councils. A Chancellor who then goes one step further on Tory chaos and quits a month before the delayed budget is due. Conference, This Conservative Government could not run a bath – let alone a Country – and it is high time that Scotland escaped this Eton Mess and shaped a different future for itself. Boris has recently adopted that well known line of “get on with the day job” – we have all heard this before. The Tories genuinely believe that asking the SNP to “get on with the day job” of running Scotland – is a wise argument for them to make. It. Is. Not. Your SNP Scottish Government delivers for the people of Scotland day in and day out. As we move ever closer to the next Holyrood Election – the focus will turn to what we have done in Government. And whilst there are a vast many achievements of this SNP Government. Here are a few: On Employment, under the SNP, Scotland’s unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest rate on record and we have reduced youth unemployment by 40 per cent – four years early. And all of this whilst we are paving the way on fair pay with over 1300 organisations now accredited Living Wage employers – over one quarter of the total across all of the United Kingdom. On Health, Scotland’s A&E services are the best performing in the UK, and have been for almost four years. Under the SNP, the number of staff in our NHS has increased by almost 13,600, or over 10 per cent. On Justice, since taking office, recorded crime is down 42 per cent in Scotland – the lowest level ever estimated by the Scottish Crime and Justice Survey. On Education, all children in primaries 1 to 3 – around 135,000 pupils – are now benefiting from free school meals, saving families around £380 per child per year. And we have launched the Scottish Attainment Challenge, with investment in that programme reaching £750 million over the life of this Parliament – to help close the attainment gap and deliver the best possible outcomes for our young people. We are committed to giving our children the best start in life, and have ensured all babies in Scotland are now provided with a Baby Box in a bid to reduce infant mortality and help families at the start of a child’s life. Our actions to create a fairer Scotland mean that since the launch of Social Security Scotland last year, we have successfully delivered the Carer’s Allowance Supplement to over 77,000 carers and are shaping a social security system with dignity, fairness and respect at its heart. On the Environment and Transport, we have connected Glasgow to Edinburgh via the £500 million investment in the M8 M73 M74 Improvement Programme and delivered a stunning feat of engineering with our £1.35 billion Queensferry Crossing. We have doubled the walking and cycling budget to £80 million per year and we take very seriously our role in the Climate Emergency with Scotland’s emissions almost halved since 1990 and continuing to outperform the UK in delivering reductions. And we will continue to go further. Friends, we have so much to shout about. Let us never tire in sharing our record. Conference, our future is in the balance. Scotland wants to be a European Nation. Scotland continues to vote for Hope. This message was re-asserted at the General Election in 2017, the European Election in 2019 and it was unequivocally declared in December when Scotland voted for the SNP – to send 47 MPs to Westminster, not to settle down, but to settle up for Scotland and ensure that our voices are heard.
Westminster has ignored people in Scotland for three long years and in December – we said enough is enough.
Our success at the General Election would not have been possible, if it wasn’t for the hard work of SNP Activists all across the Country. Giving their time to make it happen. Of course, YSI Activists are crucial in those campaign efforts. Pounding the streets. Knocking the doors. Stuffing the envelopes. Delivering the leaflets. And having the conversations. YSI Members serve as an inspiration to all during our campaigns. With selfies and smiles in rain or sunshine - as we work to elect SNP politicians and work to deliver a better future for Scotland. Your work sends a message to others – that they too can get involved and help us to win. The work done in each Region across the General Election was truly impressive and I want to take the opportunity to thank each and every one of our Regional Associations and all those who gave their time. Thank you for your work in helping not just to want that better Scotland, but, to encourage people to get out and vote for it. Conference, The YSI has come a long way in recent years. Evolving from a National Organisation to one which has its strengths in our Regional Associations across the Country. Our organisation is always learning and evolving and can always go further. But we are the strong organisation we are today – because of our team. Because of all of us working together. Because of our Regional Associations and because of each and every one of you here today and indeed those who cannot be with us today at our National Conference. We should be proud of this organisation and the potential it has to shape policy and make a difference. From championing key campaigns on policy issues to our Conference activities with fringes and resolutions and events. To our challenging stance on Military Recruitment and asking the Government to go further on Mental Health Support for Young People. Our success has recently seen us raise awareness about preparing Young People for life beyond school and learning with a School Leavers Toolkit; and our work to ensuring that the Scots Language continues to grow and thrive in our Modern Scotland. From Policy to Action – the YSI is a vehicle for influencing real change within our Party and none of us should ever doubt our organisations potential – especially in the days ahead. Conference, I’ve been a Member of the SNP for approaching a decade; and a YSI NEC Member for half a decade. Having served as Political Education Officer, Treasurer and National Vice Convener. I’ve served under two YSI Conveners, Gavin and Rhiannon and worked alongside even more Office Bearers over the years, many of whom will be friends for life.
It’s been my privilege to work on behalf of the YSI in that time and to champion this organisation and the power it has to make an impact and change policy to improve lives. At times that has been challenging, placing strains on my own well-being and testing friendships - but always we arrive at the outcomes that make the difference.
From my first ever conference speech on the TIE Campaign for LGBT Inclusive Education where I spoke about homophobic bullying that caused me to self-injure and began my journey living with anxiety and depression; to more recently being empowered to speak openly about my Mental Health as an Elected Member in front of thousands at our Conference. The YSI and its Members have been a pillar of strength and often friendship.
As many of you will know, this Conference marks my last as an Office Bearer. I’d like to place on record my sincerest thanks to all for their support and friendship over the years.
Friends, Have you noticed? People are mobilising across Scotland. People across our Country are coming together in their communities, to discuss Scotland’s future and our independence. YES Groups are re-forming and initiatives that have been quietly preparing since 2014 are kicking off. And what are they preparing for, what is our offer to the people of Scotland. Our offer is Independence. Our offer is a better future for Scotland. Our offer is for a fairer society for our Country. A Country with a world-class food and drink industry, with thriving life sciences, fantastic creative industries, more top universities, per head, than any other and so much more to boot. A Country that with Independence – can join the family of Nations in the EU and have a seat at the top table. Working to improve the lives of all of the people of Scotland. And the people of Scotland are on our side, with tens of thousands, indeed a hundred thousand, of our fellow citizens having joined us to march to demand our right to choose Independence. And be in no doubt, it is our right to choose. Friends, that demand for the right to choose means we need new people to take the YSI on the final steps on our journey to Independence.
I’ve been in this game a long time; and now it’s time for our next chapter.
Conference, Scotland will have a choice on its future. Independence is within our grasps. Let us reach out and take it.
Conference, It’s Your Time.