The Covid pandemic has required every nation to reimagine its future and how best to recover from the biggest crisis of our times. Most countries have the ability to chart that recovery for themselves, in cooperation with international partners. But instead, imagine this. Imagine a country seeking to recover from Covid, without the ability to control the key economic and social policy levers needed to rebuild, while the bulk of social security powers, tax, employment, borrowing and migration powers are held elsewhere. For good measure, imagine that country was taken out of the EU and the huge European single market against its democratic will.
It is ludicrous to assume any country would contemplate for a single second being put in such a position, yet that is where Scotland finds itself. We are being told that we must leave the key powers needed to shape our recovery in the hands of a Westminster government, led by Boris Johnson, which we did not elect.
In 10 days’ time, I am asking people to re-elect me as first minister to provide the experienced leadership I believe is required for these serious times. And at this election the SNP is putting forward a serious and ambitious plan for government, to kickstart recovery.
Rethinking how we provide economic security will, I believe, be one of the biggest legacies of the pandemic and one of the dominant challenges for governments everywhere. So now is the time to think big and to be pioneers.
Insecure work, one of the scourges of the pandemic, must be tackled and we will use all our current powers to do so. If we are re-elected, we will take the first steps towards what is known as a minimum income guarantee by assessing what would be a minimum acceptable standard of living for people in Scotland and we will make whatever progress we can with existing devolved powers. I welcome the support of the Greens and the Labour party, in Scotland if not at Westminster, for such a move.
But only by fully controlling tax, social security and employment powers will we be able to do more than lay the groundwork or paper over the cracks. We will remain hamstrung when it comes to fully delivering on that guarantee or putting in place a citizens’ basic income.
And while we will use the current powers of the Scottish parliament to the max to bring about a more prosperous and fairer country, Westminster is pulling Scotland in the opposite direction. Brexit, Tory austerity, welfare cuts and hostility towards migration will all make recovery harder. The Tories’ aim is not to build back better, it is to return to the same damaged system they have presided over for a decade and reshape Scotland in their own rightwing image without the consent of the people who live here.
So the question people face at this election is this: what kind of country do you want to build and where should the decisions about that recovery be made?
The choice is a stark one. Scotland faces two very different futures. We can decide to take the powers we need to rebuild our economy and society into our own hands, with a future as an independent country, working with our friends in Europe and building a fairer economy. Or we can remain tied to a Westminster system that is dragging us in the wrong direction and which with every day that passes is slipping deeper into a mire of Tory sleaze.
That is why, when the Covid crisis has passed, people in Scotland must have the right to choose to become an independent country.
Tackling the pandemic and getting the recovery underway come first. However, if there is a majority in the Scottish parliament after this election for an independence referendum then Scotland must have the chance to put the recovery into Scotland’s hands.
For the UK government to seek to block it would be unsustainable. For it to try to take legal action, as has been suggested, would be asking a court to effectively overturn the result of a free and fair democratic election. That would be an appalling look for any prime minister. More to the point, it didn’t work for Donald Trump and it wouldn’t work for Boris Johnson.
Scotland’s future must, and will, be decided by the people of Scotland.