THIS week marks a key moment in the debate on Scotland’s future. And I firmly believe it will go down as a decisive moment in the referendum campaign.
On Tuesday, I will be in Glasgow with the First Minister and other Cabinet colleagues to launch the Scottish Government’s White Paper on independence.
The document is a comprehensive guide to an independent Scotland. We are confident that it is without parallel, as the most thorough and detailed blueprint for an independent country ever produced.
It sets out, in five parts and 10 chapters, and over the course of more than 170,000 words, the economic, social and democratic case for independence. It demonstrates Scotland’s financial strengths, and details how we will become independent – including the negotiations, preparations and agreements that will be required for the transition from a Yes vote in September 2014 to Independence Day itself, which we have proposed should be on March 24, 2016 – the point the Scottish Parliament is currently set to be dissolved for the elections which will take place in May that year.
In the event of a Yes vote, those will be the first ever democratic elections to an independent Scottish Parliament.
The White Paper describes what a newly independent Scotland will look like – and it illustrates through a set of Scottish Government policy choices how the powers of independence can be used to benefit individuals, families, communities and the nation as a whole. It also answers a range of detailed questions that we have been asked about the practicalities of independence.
There are two categories of policy choice contained in the paper. Firstly, the things that we will negotiate in the transition period – as the government leading the negotiations as part of a Team Scotland approach – and which will therefore provide the starting point for an independent Scotland. Secondly, there are policy choices we will make if we are elected in 2016 as the first government of an independent Scotland.
The White Paper has economic growth, jobs, social cohesion and fairness at its heart. The route to a successful Scotland is greater economic growth that benefits all. Supporting greater participation, particularly amongst women, in the economy and ensuring that work pays – for example through a decent minimum wage and promotion of the living wage – is central to our economic and social approach. We won’t succeed and reach our full potential as a nation if we remain locked into an unbalanced UK economy that disproportionately benefits one region and one section of society.
Westminster government has seen the UK evolve in recent decades into one of the most unequal and unfair societies in the whole of the developed world. This is a trend that has accelerated year on year whichever party has been in office in London. Whether Labour, Tory or Lib Dem ministers have been in charge of the economy and welfare, the growing inequalities in the UK and the over-concentration of wealth in and around London have continued apace.
A Yes vote next year, and the new independent Scotland which will follow, is the only prospect for our country to escape that stranglehold of deep inequality and to chart a new, better and fairer course.
The White Paper will set out the strong financial position that an independent Scottish Government will inherit. But it will also make clear that the key to long-term prosperity is sustained economic growth – and OUR growth prospects will be substantially boosted by having all of Scotland’s huge resources and economic levers in our own hands.
Tuesday’s publication is, above all, a document designed for the public. We already know what the No campaign will say about it – their script is written. We decided at an early stage that Project Fear wasn’t going to drive the document. Instead it sets out to give the public the information they need. So, for example, on issues where negotiation will be required, we set out the rational, reasonable and responsible case that serves the interests of both Scotland and the rest of the UK.
Our message to the people of Scotland is: read it, compare and contrast it with the increasingly bizarre scaremongering of Project Fear, and make up your own minds. The publication of the White Paper is the moment the scaremongering of No comes head to head with common sense and a clear vision of the future.
We want as many households in Scotland as possible to have a copy of this guide to independence, and I will be setting out next week in more detail the plans for informing the public about the paper and everything that is in it.
The White Paper will now be the document that drives the debate. It sets out the vision and the detailed plan. Indeed, it is the only detailed plan for Scotland’s future because there is no equivalent on the No side spelling out what will happen to Scotland in the event of a No vote.
The opponents of independence rely ever increasingly on scaremongering. With the White Paper providing the positive case for Yes, that will no longer be enough – the dynamic, shape and momentum of the debate is poised to shift decisively in the week to come. «
Nicola Sturgeon MSP is Deputy First Minister of Scotland