25 years ago today I sat in another auditorium in this city, listening in awe to the great Nelson Mandela.

It was an extraordinary occasion. One that no one who was present will ever forget.

The people of Glasgow were the first in the world to grant Mandela freedom of their city.

And in so doing, they led the global fight against apartheid.

It was shortly after his release from prison, that he came here to say thank you.

Nelson Mandela knew then what we all know now.

People really do make Glasgow.


There are many privileges that come with the job of First Minister.

One of them is being patron of our women’s national football team.

I was given that honour two years ago.

And what do you know – shortly afterwards they qualified for the European Championships.

This year – under the brilliant leadership of Shelley Kerr – they’ve gone one better.

Don’t worry.

I’m not about to break into a chorus of – “we’re on the march with Shelley’s army.”


But what a fantastic achievement.

At long last, Scotland is going to a World Cup.

And it’s our women leading the way.

The achievement of Shelley and the team is just one of many memorable moments for Scottish sport this year.

Jamie Murray winning another US Open.

This city playing host to the European Championships.

Our rugby team lifting the Calcutta Cup at Murrayfield.

It’s always brilliant watching our athletes succeed at the highest levels.

Their achievements inspire us.

Very few of us can be world class sportsmen and women

But we can all learn lessons from those who are.

Setting goals. Perseverance. Resilience.

Eyes on the prize, no matter how hard the path, at times, might seem.

For many in the SNP’s long history, our goal – the goal of independence – would have seemed a long way off.

But the dedication to building a better Scotland never wavered.

Over the decades, victories in Motherwell, Hamilton and Govan laid the foundation for the success we enjoy today.

We are a much more privileged generation – our goal is clearly in sight.

It is now up to us to honour those who went before and win our country’s independence.

In government now, we’re building a country that plays its part in meeting the global challenges of our age.

Climate change. Automation. An ageing population. Countering the forces of intolerance.

How we respond to these challenges will affect how we live, work and interact with each other for generations to come.

Much of the pressure politicians face today is for instant answers and short term action.

But governments have a duty to plan for the long term.

The Scottish Government is living up to that responsibility.

By contrast, the Westminster Government stumbles from disaster to disaster.

It is a shambles.

It’s hard to watch that unfolding calamity with anything other than horror.

Let’s be frank – a political system that throws up Jacob Rees-Mogg or Boris Johnson as contenders for Prime Minister has clearly gone very badly wrong.

That is why it is up to us – now more than ever – to offer optimism and hope.

It was once said that –

“To be truly radical is to make hope possible, rather than despair convincing”.

Never giving in to despair. Making hope possible.

That is the difference between our party and Westminster.

Of course, making hope possible is not just about words.

It’s about action. Delivering progress in the here and now.

Giving a secure home to those without a roof over their head.

Helping families on the lowest incomes.

Supporting children at risk of going hungry.

Our goal is to create a fairer, more prosperous Scotland where that sort of intervention is no longer necessary.

But in government we’re working, day in, day out, step by step, to change lives for the better.

And that is something to be proud of.

It might not always be recognised by the doom-mongers in the opposition parties.

OK, I’ll rephrase that – it is never recognised by the miserable doom-mongers in the opposition parties.

But though there is so much more to do, the groundbreaking work already being done here in Scotland is recognised across the UK and around the world.

Our actions to tackle climate change have been called ‘exemplary’ by the United Nations.

And they will make Scotland one of the first carbon neutral countries anywhere in the world.

The work of the Violence Reduction Unit has won plaudits from the World Economic Forum and is now being replicated by the Mayor of London.

Even the UK Tories praise our approach to community sentencing and reducing re-offending.

It’s just a pity that the shameless opportunists in their Scottish wing continue to oppose it at every turn.

Our work to tackle period poverty has drawn praise from the United States.

“Awesome and important. Thank you, Scotland, for leading the way.”

That was Chelsea Clinton.

And just two weeks ago, Bernie Sanders praised our actions on fair work.

Of course, in the interests of balance, I should point out that the current incumbent of the White House hasn’t said anything nice about us at all!

Maybe we should take that as a compliment.

And then there’s Labour.

Now, if you don’t mind, I won’t waste too many words on Scottish Labour – except to say that “branch office” now seems to be a gross exaggeration of their status.

But the UK Labour conference two weeks ago was like an SNP policy tribute act.

So here’s an offer, Jeremy.

You say you want to bring water into public ownership.

The next time you’re in Scotland, I’ll show you how to run a public water company.

And while you’re here…

I’ll show you how to abolish prescription charges.

I’ll show you how to get rid of tuition fees.

I’ll take you to Dalzell steelworks or the Fort William smelter to show you how to deliver an active industrial policy.

And while you talk about a fairer tax system, I’ll show you how the SNP has already delivered a fairer tax system.

You see, for the SNP it isn’t just rhetoric.

We win public support, we get ourselves elected, we put our money where our mouth is and we improve lives in Scotland each and every single day.

And just think how much more we could do, free of the chaos and incompetence of Westminster.

Just think how much more hope will be possible when we take Scotland’s future into Scotland’s hands and become an independent country.

An independent Scotland, just as Scotland is now, will be a beacon for progressive values – equality, opportunity, diversity and fairness.

Indeed those values feel more important today than at any time in my life.

In the face of rising prejudice and intolerance across the world, I am proud that our party welcomes those who come here from other countries.

To everyone who has chosen to make Scotland your home, no matter where you come from, let me say this again today.

We value your contribution.

Ours is a better country for having you here and we want you to stay.

And to the Prime Minister, my message is blunt.

It is great that the son of an immigrant is your Home Secretary.

But don’t expect praise when you are denying others the chance to build a life here.

Actions, Prime Minister, speak louder than words. End your hostile environment policy and end it now.

The SNP is meeting the challenges of the future head on.

That means building a fair and inclusive economy.

We’re providing more help to business than ever before.

We know that without sustainable economic growth, there can be no sustained social growth.

So we will always champion Scotland’s businesses.

But we will never accept a Tory race-to-the-bottom on wages and workers’ rights.

We are committed to fair work.

More security, decent pay and a greater voice for workers in the companies whose wealth they help to create.

Fair work is good for everyone. It drives innovation and productivity.

And that makes for better businesses and higher profits.

Of course, Westminster still controls employment law.

And Labour and the Tories want to keep it that way.

I know why the Tories don’t want the Scottish Parliament to protect workers’ rights.

But Labour backs that position too.

Proof it were needed that Labour isn’t the workers’ party.

Labour is just Westminster’s party.

Only with the powers of independence can we give the full force of law to our aspirations.

But we’ll push the boundaries as far as we can.

We’ve already made payment of the real living wage part of our procurement process.

We’ve extended it to adult social care workers.

And we will soon do the same for early years workers.

As a result of all of that, I can confirm today that Scotland now has the highest proportion of employees paid the living wage of any UK nation.

But we must do more.

Last month, we said business support grants from Scottish Enterprise would have living wage, zero hours contracts and gender pay criteria attached.

Some saw that as a challenge to companies like Amazon.

Well, last week Amazon announced that it would pay the living wage.

So, I can announce today that, working with unions, business and the public sector, we will extend that approach.

We will adopt a new default position. Fair Work First.

The support Amazon received is just one type of business grant that public money pays for.

By the end of this parliament, we will extend fair work criteria to as many funding streams and business support grants as we can.

We will also extend the range of Scottish Government and public sector contracts that fair work criteria will apply to.

And we will maximise the benefit of public contracts to small businesses and local supply chains.

Yes, details will vary depending on the size of companies and the circumstances of different sectors.

But let me be clear what our Fair Work First approach means.

Investment in skills and training.

No exploitative zero hours contracts.

Action on gender pay.

Genuine workforce engagement, including with trade unions.

And payment of the Living Wage.

We may not yet have the constitutional power to make fair work a legal requirement.

But we do have the financial power of government to make it a practical reality.

And we will make that count.


We’re doing even more to boost the economy for the long-term.

By the end of this Parliament, Scotland will have a new government-owned National Investment Bank.

That will be transformational.

We will be well on the way to meeting our new target for infrastructure spending.

That commitment will mean £7 billion of extra investment in schools, hospitals, housing, transport and low carbon solutions.

That will be transformational too.

A new Infrastructure Commission will advise us on investment priorities.

And I can confirm today that the Commission will explore the feasibility of a government-owned National Infrastructure Company – a policy backed by this conference in June.

We are building a new Scotland here at home.

And we’re putting Scotland firmly on the map.

While the UK Government turns inwards, the Scottish Government is looking outwards – building our nation’s reputation and connections.

We’re expanding our international presence to boost exports.

We now have permanent operations in Dublin, Brussels, Washington, Beijing, London and Berlin.

Last month we opened an office in the capital city of Canada.

And I can confirm today that our new office in Paris will be open for business next month.

Not so much an auld alliance – but new alliances, not just in France and Europe, but right across the world.

Winnie Ewing’s prediction is coming true.

We don’t even have to stop the world. Scotland is just getting on.

Over the past year, our overseas goods exports have grown faster than in any other UK nation.

Half of our exports come from manufacturing.

Another of our long term commitments is a National Manufacturing Institute.

Based in Renfrewshire, linked to Strathclyde University and backed by £65 million, it’s been called a factory for the future.

Today, I can announce even more support.

To spread the benefits of the new Institute, we will target up to £18 million of European funding to set up an Advanced Manufacturing Fund, helping small and medium sized businesses modernise and grow.

In the 1980s, the Tories did their best to wipe out Scottish industries.

The effect was to de-industrialise our country.

Now, as we approach a new decade, we are rebuilding.

The SNP is re-industrialising Scotland.


We are building an economy for the future – making hope possible.

That starts in the earliest years, with our commitment to double childcare.

And it runs through our work to close the school attainment gap – this government’s top priority – and ensure equity of access to university.

Providing world class education and flexible skills is the best long term plan to tackle poverty.

But every decent society also needs a strong social security safety net.

Social protection is a collective endeavour.

A national expression that we care for each other.

That we belong to something bigger than ourselves.

The wilful damage being done to social protection by the UK Government is a scandal.

The two child cap and the rape clause. Attacks on disability support. Sanctions that leave people destitute.

It is callous. It lacks heart. It is the hallmark of a government that just doesn’t care.

Universal Credit is causing misery – that is now beyond doubt.

Even the Minister responsible says that it could cost families £200 a month.

While the Prime Minister tries to claim that they are ending austerity.

Shame on them.

The experience in areas where Universal Credit is already implemented – like the Highlands, Dundee, East Lothian and South Lanarkshire – is of rent arrears and increased reliance on food banks.

Next in the firing line is this city of Glasgow.


It is unacceptable that in 21st century Scotland, people are unable to eat as a direct result of Westminster government policy.

So to the Tories we say this.

Find some compassion.

Halt the roll-out of Universal Credit now.

With our limited new powers over social security, we’re building a modern, rights based system.

We’ve set up a new agency, Social Security Scotland.

It will employ 1500 people between its Dundee HQ and its base here in Glasgow, and a further 400 in local communities across the country.

Which just goes to show –

More powers for the Scottish Parliament means more services delivered in Scotland.

And that means more jobs for people who live here.

Just one more reason why Scotland should become independent.

The new Agency has made its first payments already.

Over the last few weeks, more than 76,000 people have received the first instalment of the new Carers’ Allowance Supplement.

That’s an SNP policy giving carers more than £400 a year extra.

Let me share with you a message I got from a carer the other day. One of many.

She said:

“I just received my carers allowance supplement and I’m not ashamed to say I had a wee cry to myself. This is the first time I’ve been thanked for what I do and not questioned.”

Now, I’m pretty certain that won’t make headlines.

But it’s real. It makes a difference. It speaks to the kind of country we are working to build.

And – just like the Baby Box, the £100 school clothing payment, the new Best Start Grant – it is happening only in Scotland.

And it is happening only because of the SNP.

It is making hope possible.

That is what our government is about.

And I am proud of it.


Building houses that people can afford is another strand of our long term work.

In her speech last week, Theresa May made a big deal about lifting the borrowing cap on local councils.

The SNP has never applied a cap in Scotland.

Which maybe goes some of the way to explaining this quite remarkable fact.

Over the last five years, more council houses have been built in Scotland than south of the border.

Not proportionately. In absolute terms.

We’ve built more council houses than a country ten times our size.

Overall, we’ve delivered 78,000 new affordable homes in our time in government.

And I can confirm today that we are on track to reach our 50,000 target in this term of parliament.

That’s vital to meeting our moral responsibility to eradicate homelessness and rough sleeping.

Of course, many people who become homeless have complex needs that require specialist support as well as a home.

Traditionally the approach has been to provide support and get a person ‘tenancy ready’ before giving them a house.

That means they can spend long periods of time in temporary accommodation, making it harder for them to address the other issues they face.

We want to change that.

We’ve joined with the charity Social Bite to introduce what is called Housing First.

With that, the priority is to help people into settled accommodation first, so that they can access support from the security of their own home.

Social Bite is contributing money raised at the Sleep in the Park event last year, which saw 8000 hardy souls – including our own Deputy First Minister – sleep outside on one of the coldest nights of the year.

I say, that’s what deputies are for.

Social Bite’s investment will enable 200 people with some of the most complex needs to be supported into permanent accommodation.

People are already benefiting.

One man, who has been homeless on and off since the age of 16 said this:

“Housing First has given me the key to a whole new life. Before, every day was a struggle, but now I’m so happy here.”

We want to help Social Bite go further.

So I am delighted to announce today that the Scottish Government will increase our investment to £6.5 million.

This will allow, not 200, but 800 people to be lifted out of homelessness for good.

That’s making hope possible.


The National Health Service is our most precious public service.

All political parties say the same.

But not all political parties are the same.

To those itching to open up our NHS as part of a trade deal with Donald Trump, let us be clear.

If you go down that road, prepare for the political fight of your lives.

We will never allow you to put Scotland’s NHS in danger.

Like health services everywhere, ours faces big challenges.

With our commitment to record investment and vital reform, we are determined to meet and overcome them.

Of course, at the heart of the NHS are all those who work in it.

Every patient, every parent, every family, in every home in Scotland knows how much we all owe them.

So let us thank them again for all that they do.

But thanks alone won’t ensure that we have the staff we need to keep the NHS going strong.

That’s why we have given our nurses the best pay rise in the UK.

And it’s the reason for another commitment that I am making today.

In England, the number of trainee nurses has fallen dramatically as a result of the decision to scrap the student nurse bursary.

In Scotland, we retained the bursary. It is not means tested and its value today is £6,500 a year.

But recruitment is a big challenge. And it will get even bigger as Brexit bites.

So we need to attract more people into nursing.

That is why I am announcing today a three stage plan to increase the support we provide.

At our last conference I said that all care experienced young people at college or university would get a bursary of £8,100 – equivalent to the real living wage.

This year we will match that for all care experienced student nurses.

From next year, the payment for all student nurses – care experienced or not – will rise to £8,100 a year.

And then from the year after, every student nurse will get a bursary of £10,000 a year.

We know the value of our nurses. We know the value of our NHS.

And to anyone from across the UK attracted to a career in nursing, our message is simple.

Come to Scotland.


Our government is taking action to improve lives now and prepare Scotland for the future.

But all of that is happening in the shadow of Brexit.

Labour and the Tories promised us in 2014 that Westminster would provide strength and security.

That boast was at the very heart of their Project Fear campaign.

Now it lies in the Brexit ruins.

Westminster hasn’t delivered strength and security.

It has brought chaos, incompetence and confusion.

And it has killed off any Project Fear campaign against independence, once and for all.

Brexit is costing jobs and hitting living standards.

Our young people are losing the opportunity to study, travel and work freely across the EU.

The work of our world class universities, researchers, creative artists and so many others is already being damaged.

And for what?

In 2014, we were told we had to reject independence to protect our place in Europe.

Today, we face warnings of medicines shortages, grounded aeroplanes, gridlock at ports and a haemorrhaging of investment.

They’ve even appointed a Minister for Food Supplies, for goodness sake.

We haven’t had one of those since Winston Churchill was Prime Minister.


It brings to mind those immortal Churchill words about the sacrifices of the RAF in World War 2 –

“Never was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Well when the history books tell the story of this Tory government, selfishly driving the UK towards a hard Brexit just to appease its own ideologues, the verdict will be damning.

Never has so much been lost by so many to satisfy so few.

The SNP supports membership of the European Union for a simple reason.

Independent nations should co-operate for the common good.

The EU isn’t perfect – but it’s one of the world’s best examples of that principle in action.

And whatever disagreements there are about whether the UK and Scotland are better off inside or out of the EU, one thing is surely beyond doubt.

This UK Government’s handling of these negotiations has been shambolic, chaotic, and utterly incompetent.

838 days since the Brexit referendum happened.

Just 171 days until exit.

And yet no one has any idea what the UK’s future relationship with the EU will be.

That is a disgraceful failure of leadership.


These negotiations have also brought into sharp focus the difference in status between Scotland and independent members of the EU.

Independent Ireland has received nothing but solidarity from its European partners.

Westminster has shown Scotland nothing but contempt.


The independence we seek is the very opposite of Brexit.

Brexit is about turning inwards, pulling up the drawbridge, retreating from the world.

Independence is about being open, outward looking, aspiring to play our full part in the world around us.

And it is about partnership.

Real partnership – with our sister nations across the British Isles and with our friends in Europe and across the globe.

You know, it seems to me that one of the lasting casualties of Brexit is the notion that the UK is in any sense a partnership of equals.

Our vote to remain in the EU ignored.

The Scottish Government’s compromise plan to stay in the single market dismissed.

Our request for a role in the negotiations cast aside.

A raid on our parliament’s powers.

And when the Scottish Parliament said no to that raid, the UK Government could and should have respected that decision.

Instead they took us to court.

That’s not partnership. That is Westminster control.

Scotland deserves better.

And now we have Tory and Labour politicians queuing up to tell us that the decision about Scotland’s future belongs, not to the people, but to Westminster.

That they will decide if and when we can choose to be independent.

Well, let us send this message today.

You can oppose independence – that is your democratic right.

But you cannot – and you will not – deny Scotland’s right to choose.


Scotland chose to remain in the EU.

We did not choose this Westminster fiasco.

In recent days, we have argued for the Article 50 process to be extended to allow disaster to be averted.

That would allow more time for a sensible single market option to be pursued.

And it would allow time for another vote to take place.

On that, let me make our position clear.

If there is a proposal for another EU referendum, SNP MPs will vote for it.

But let’s not kid ourselves.

There is no guarantee that another vote won’t deliver the same outcome.

Scotland choosing to remain but still facing exit against our will.

Brexit is a serious problem for Scotland.

But that is only because of a more fundamental issue.

Our future is not in our own hands.

Scotland’s future is in Westminster’s hands.

And the only solution to that is to become an independent country.


I said earlier that independence is the opposite of Brexit.

The way we make and win our case must also be a stark contrast to a Leave campaign that was shameful, deceitful and very possibly illegal.

People look at how parties campaign and conduct themselves, and they make judgments about who we are, the values we hold dear and the kind of country we want to build.

So let us resolve today – in everything we do – to embody the positive, progressive, inclusive change we want to see.

The passion in our movement – demonstrated on the streets of Edinburgh at the weekend – is wonderful.

It gladdens my heart.

To those who say there is no demand for Scotland to have a choice over our future, I say – the polls and the people are telling a different story.

Our job is to take that passion and blend it with pragmatism, perseverance and patience to persuade those not yet persuaded.

If we do that, then believe me – the momentum for independence will be unstoppable.

So let the passion shine through.

But let us always strive to see the argument from the other point of view.

We have a duty to answer questions as fully as we can.

We owe the people of Scotland no less.

The future relationship between the UK and the EU will determine the context in which Scotland would become independent.

And so the detail of that will shape some of the answers that people want.

But as we wait – impatiently, at times, I know – for this phase of negotiations to conclude and for the fog of Brexit to clear, be in no doubt about this.

The last two years have shown why Scotland needs to be independent.

And I am more confident than ever that Scotland will be independent.


Our task now is to step up our work to update and strengthen the case.

The Sustainable Growth Commission set out the opportunities that are there to be grasped in an independent Scotland.

We must show people that with the powers of independence we can fully realise our country’s vast potential.

And take our case to every home, community and workplace across the land.

With independence we can turn our wealth and resources into better lives for everyone who lives here.

We are a renewable energy powerhouse.

Our universities are among the very best in the world.

Our food and drink industry is the best in the world.

Our tourism industry is booming.

We’re at the cutting edge of the technologies of the future.

Above all we are a talented and educated people.

So, yes, let’s debate Scotland’s economic future. Let us address concerns and answer questions.

But never, ever, let anyone tell us that Scotland doesn’t have the talent and resources to be a successful independent country.

The economic potential of our nation is enormous.

And more people now think the Scottish economy will be better off with independence than staying with Westminster.

It’s our job to build on that growing sense of confidence.

So that when the time comes – and it will – the choice facing the Scottish people will be this.

The ever tightening grip of Westminster control.

Or a hopeful, outward looking independent country.

An independent country in a modern partnership of equals across our islands.

A country with the ability to take our own decisions.

To invest in our economy, our schools, hospitals and our people.

And not waste a single penny on weapons of mass destruction on the River Clyde.


I don’t really think of Scotland as a small country.

I think of it as a big family.

And, yes, that does mean the occasional disagreement.

But throughout it all, we care for one another.

We fight each other’s corner.

We’ve got big hearts.

And we’re not afraid to show love.

And there is so much about Scotland to love.

The majesty of our landscape, the humour and ingenuity of our people and the huge contribution we’ve made and continue to make across the globe.

But pride in who we are today must never stop us believing in and working for an even better country and a fairer world.

That’s why all of us are in this party.

I joined the SNP in 1986 – trust me, in those days you had to be an optimist to join the SNP.

We’ve come so far since then – both our party and our country.

And we’ll keep moving forward, by using the privilege of government now to change lives for the better.

And by offering a vision of even brighter days ahead.

I was an optimist back then.

And I am an optimist still.

Optimistic for our country.

And hopeful, yet, for that better world.

Our goal is simple.

A fairer country, for all those born here.

For those who have chosen to make this their home.

And for the generations yet to come.

That is why we believe in an independent Scotland.

So know this.

Believe in this.

Work for this.

Hope is possible.

A better future is within our grasp.

And together we are going to make it happen.