IN A little over a year’s time, the people of Scotland will decide the future of our nation.
The referendum on 18 September next year will be the biggest opportunity the people of Scotland have ever had.
It will be a chance to transform our country for the better and to chart a new, brighter course as an equal member of the global family of nations.
There is no reason Scotland cannot be a successful independent country – something that even Prime Minister David Cameron, who is leading the No campaign, agrees with.
We have the people, the talent and the resources to make a success of running our own affairs.
All we lack at the moment are the political and economic tools to do the job.
People in Scotland overwhelmingly agree that decisions about Scotland are best taken by the people who live and work in Scotland. And since its restoration 14 years ago, our national parliament has proved time and time again that when decisions are taken here in Scotland we get positive outcomes.
Having our own parliament has ensured we have university education based on the ability to learn, not the ability to pay.
It has allowed us to protect the founding ethos of our NHS, with care free at the point of need, as well as giving us free personal care for the elderly.
In all the areas for which it is responsible, Holyrood has shown the benefits of having decision making here in Scotland. Contrast that with Westminster’s dismal record of decision-making for Scotland. A generation ago, Westminster gave Scotland the poll tax. This generation of Tory-led government has given us the bedroom tax, which we will scrap with independence.
The bedroom tax is just one element of punitive welfare cuts that are affecting people the length and breadth of Scotland, including cuts to child tax and working tax credits that are hitting families hard. Now Westminster is planning on privatising Royal Mail, a deeply flawed decision with potentially devastating effects on Scotland’s rural communities and rural economy.
These and other Westminster decisions are negatively impacting Scotland, while at the same time the UK government plans spending countless billions on a new generation of Trident nuclear missiles on the Clyde. Scotland is one of the wealthiest countries per head in the world, as the official figures show.
Even without our oil reserves counted, our national output is on a par with the rest of the UK – oil is the bonus rather than the basis for the economy of an independent Scotland.
Next September’s referendum has come about following the Edinburgh Agreement, signed by both myself and David Cameron.
The Edinburgh Agreement has now been recognised by the distinguished Political Studies Association, who have honoured it with their Democratic Innovation Award for 2013.
The decision to give the Edinburgh Agreement this award, which will be presented in London next month, followed a unanimous choice of a jury of respected academics and journalists.
The prime minister deserves credit for his role in the Edinburgh Agreement, and this award is due recognition of that.
It also shows that Mr Cameron is central to the entire referendum debate.
As such, it is now very difficult for the PM to continue to avoid a head-to-head debate with myself, given that we are the two principal signatories of the agreement. Mr Cameron cannot, with any degree of consistency or credibility, involve himself so centrally in the referendum process and then refuse to publicly debate the issue. That is why today I am issuing a challenge to Mr Cameron. I am asking him to agree to a live, televised head-to-head debate with myself, as the leaders of the respective campaigns.
I propose that we hold it on 30 November, Scotland’s national day – I can lay out the case for decisions being made here in Scotland and Mr Cameron can make the case for Westminster deciding for Scotland.
A St Andrew’s Day debate will be a great opportunity to lay out the facts, and will be after the Scottish Government’s November publication of the white paper on independence.
If the prime minister is so confident about his case against independence, what has he got be afraid of?
A Yes vote next year is not about any one politician or any one party.
It is about completing the powers of our national parliament and will be the culmination of a home rule journey that began more than a century ago.
We know that the more informed people feel about next year’s vote the more likely they are to vote Yes.
That is why more and more people will move towards a Yes vote in the weeks and months ahead as we enter the next stage of the campaign, including the publication of the white paper.
More than 300 years ago Scotland lost its political and economic independence as the result of decisions made by unelected politicians, when the people had no say.
But in a little over 300 days from now, it will be the people, not the politicians, who decide their own future.
And when that day comes, I believe the people will say Yes.