Alex Salmond: Free Scotland to do its duty to its people

Ahead of his SNP conference speech today, the First Minister takes aim at the Prime Minister for cashing in on the financial crisis
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The Independent Online

My vision for Scotland has always been founded on the basic principle that as a nation we deserve the same normal independent status as other nations. As indeed does England. The case for Scottish independence of course rests on much more than that simple but compelling premise. We are a fortunate country, blessed with abundant natural resources, a skilled workforce and a rich tradition of innovation and invention.

The Unionist case has relied not on hard facts and informed judgement but on smear, fear and misinformation. In recent days there has been a succession of commentators suggesting that the turmoil in the global financial markets and banking system vindicates those smears.

The current crisis is affecting all nations around the world, large and small. In the United States, the biggest and most powerful economy on the planet, no fewer than 17 banks have been laid low. Russia, Japan and Germany – all large countries – are also being affected. Size has not afforded immunity from the market maelstrom.

The fear and smear tactics employed by one side in the constitutional debate in Scotland rest on the premise that the country is uniquely unable to run its own affairs. The claim has always been preposterous. But the fear and smear tactics have now lapsed into outright slander. For instead of merely insulting Scots – and by seizing upon the manifest and particular problems of Iceland – the Unionist case has now seen fit to besmirch the reputation of some of the UK's closest friends and neighbours.

Touring the studios to belittle the achievements of countries such as Ireland and Norway, as both Gordon Brown and Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy have recently done, is not just crass and inept diplomacy: in the Prime Minister's case, it also amounts to rank hypocrisy. It should be remembered that Gordon Brown was the Chancellor who presided over the UK economy for an entire decade, trumpeting "no return to boom and bust" at every turn. This weekend that boast looks at best ridiculous, at worst the height of hubris. The age of irresponsibility in the City which Gordon Brown so recklessly encouraged has now come to a crashing halt.

But let us return to those claims about some of our near-neighbours. The nations that Mr Brown and Mr Murphy have spent their time traducing are among the most successful in the world, borne out by the fact that they regularly appear at the top of the international charts on standards of living.

Norway, a country with a smaller population than Scotland, is now sitting on an oil fund worth £200bn. That fund, only begun in 1995, means that Norway has in effect a perpetual national pension which guarantees its wealth for all time coming. If only it were so for Scotland. The North Sea oil wealth that the SNP Scottish Government wants to invest in a similar fund has been frittered away.

When we turn to Ireland, it almost beggars belief that UK ministers should see fit to decry the achievements of a country which has been an exemplar when it comes to running a dynamic economy. Yes, Ireland has moved into recession. But it comes after years of phenomenal growth, far outstripping that of the UK. As a result, they face their problems nearly 40 per cent more prosperous per head than the UK.

And it was to Ireland that many people in Britain turned when they wanted peace of mind over their savings. The Irish Government's prompt and responsible action to guarantee all deposits in the country's banks brought much-needed stability to the sector – showing just how effective smaller independent countries can be.

We in Scotland do not yet have the ability to take similar action. But the SNP Government is already taking steps to usher in a new age of responsibility. We are moving away from the wasteful PFI model of funding capital projects – schemes which are the equivalent of credit-card borrowing on an epic scale, with the public locked into high-interest repayments for decades to come. We are doing everything we can within our powers to help businesses and families cope with debt.

The age of irresponsibility, sadly, has not been confined to public finance. It has also given us the mother of all foreign policy disasters, the illegal invasion of Iraq. The financial costs of that debacle are gigantic; the human ones simply incalculable.

Again we need to turn to some of our smaller European neighbours to show the way. Norway has acted as a beacon for peace and reconciliation in seeking to bring together conflicting factions and acting as an honest broker in the Middle East. And it is Norway, along with its Nordic neighbours Denmark, Finland and Sweden, that the International Monetary Fund predicts will still keep on growing this year and next. The same forecast puts the UK firmly in recession.

The commentators who have seized on the global financial crisis to talk down Scotland's prospects should remember one thing above all. This happened on the UK Government's watch and it happened within the Union. The age of irresponsibility is now over. The new age of responsibility means Scotland taking charge of its own destiny with independence.

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