Alex Salmond will today insist that the fight for independence is not over, claiming the referendum will be seen as a key moment in the break-up of the UK.
At the SNP autumn conference, Mr Salmond will urge activists to step up recruitment to their cause so that party membership breaks through the 100,000 barrier.
In his outgoing speech as SNP leader, Mr Salmond will say that if his opponents had thought Scotland would be “quietened” by the No vote, they were mistaken.
“They thought it was all over … well it isn’t now,” he will say, playing on the famous commentary when England won the World Cup in 1966.
Despite the No side recording a victory in September’s referendum, Mr Salmond will say that history will regard the independence poll as the day Scotland took control of her destiny.
With membership of the SNP soaring since the referendum, Mr Salmond’s address will be seen as an attempt to reassure his grassroots supporters that their dream is still alive.
Having seen SNP membership grow from around 25,000 to more than 80,000 since the vote, Mr Salmond will set a six-figure target before May’s General Election.
Last night, after a day that saw Mr Salmond appear in Holyrood at his last First Minister’s Questions, his opponents said he should respect the referendum result.
There was anger among pro-Union parties at the tone of Mr Salmond’s speech, with Labour accusing him of “breathtaking arrogance” and ignoring the views of the majority of Scots.
Today, Mr Salmond will hand over leadership of the SNP to Nicola Sturgeon before taking to the podium in the Perth Concert Hall to deliver his valedictory address. On what is bound to be a highly charged occasion, Mr Salmond will reflect on a referendum that saw his bid for Scottish independence defeated by the 55.4 per cent who voted against it.
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Mr Salmond’s speech will include a reference to WB Yeats’s famous Easter, 1916 poem about the armed rising of Irish Nationalists during the Great War.
He will say: “In truth, delegates, everything in Scotland is now different.
“All has changed and changed utterly.”
His language will echo Yeats’s poem which said times had “… changed, changed utterly: a terrible beauty is born”.
Mr Salmond will argue that the strength of the Yes vote had come despite the pro-Union parties throwing everything at the campaign.
“The referendum Yes vote was 45 per cent, not 55 per cent, but let us proclaim what each of us knows with a greater certainty than ever before – Scotland will become an independent nation.”
Mr Salmond will claim that despite losing the referendum, the Yes side “won a great deal”.
“The 18th September, 2014 will come to be seen as the day Scotland took control of her own destiny,” he will say.
“It was a day of empowerment. Of engagement. Of confidence. It reawakened in millions of Scots a sense of purpose and of hope.
“It ended – forever – the top-down politics of the past and ushered in a new era of participative politics the envy of the democratic world.
“So regardless of Yes and No, let us all agree that from the 18th September 2014, the clear winner can be Scotland.
“And when the history of Scottish independence is written, be in no doubt that the 18th September 2014 will be remembered as the most significant breakthrough in Scottish political history.”
Explaining why he believes that referendum defeat offered hope for independence, Mr Salmond will argue that Yes attracted more support than his opponents had bargained for.
“Despite everything that the Westminster establishment threw at Scotland, 45 per cent of the people – 1.6 million women and men living and working in Scotland – chose hope over fear. A much higher number than our opponents ever thought possible when we started this campaign.”
In a passage that will dismay those who fear that Scotland will be plunged into a cycle of “neverendums”, Mr Salmond will say: “After the referendum, those very opponents believed that Scotland had been quietened, that we’d had our day in the sun and we should be politely put back in our box.
“They thought it was all over … well it isn’t now.
“Because of the 55 per cent who voted No, many did so on the last-minute promise of radical constitutional reform within the Union.”
He will add: “Let us set ourselves a target. Our party has tripled in size but it can grow further yet by reaching out further to the people.”
Setting an ambitious target for party membership, he will add: “Let us ensure that by next May’s election, the SNP reaches something which has never been done in Scottish politics – 100,000 members representing the national cause.”
A Labour spokesman said: “Two months ago, more than two million Scots voted to remain part of the UK. Now, only a few weeks later, in a display of breathtaking arrogance, the First Minister decides their views are not relevant as he ploughs on with his politics of grievance and division.
“The sovereign will of the people of Scotland is clear and that is to remain part of the UK. The SNP should accept and respect this and get on with the job of using the powers they have now to make Scotland a better place.”
The Scottish Conservative leader, Ruth Davidson, said: “Alex Salmond does his best to rewrite history but, the fact is, the people of Scotland voted decisively to remain part of the UK.
“He said it himself, that the referendum was a ‘once in a lifetime opportunity for Scotland’.
“Alex Salmond is playing to the gallery by declaring independence will now happen within a matter of years.
“The people of Scotland voted against independence for good reasons because they realised Scotland has a better future as part of the UK, while seeing right through Alex Salmond’s flawed economic case and his scaremongering on the NHS.
“It’s about time he accepted the democratic decision of September’s vote and let Scotland move on rather than continuing to sow the seeds of division,” said Ms Davidson.
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