Nicola Sturgeon announces candidacy for leadership

As the membership of the SNP rises to 60,000 Nicola Sturgeon MSP made a speech today confirming her candidacy for the leadership of the party and thus to be the next First Minister. This is the text of the speech:

I am announcing today my candidacy to be the next leader of the SNP and the next First Minister of Scotland. I have also notified the SNP National Secretary of my intention to stand down as Depute Leader at the Party conference – thereby allowing a contest for that post to take place in parallel with the election for leader.

To be the First Minister of my country, especially at this exciting and optimistic time, would be both a great honour – without doubt, the greatest honour – and an immense responsibility. 

I am putting myself forward for two simple reasons: I want to serve my Party and my country. And I believe I am the best person for the job. 

I also hope that my candidacy, should it succeed, will send a strong message to every girl and young woman in Scotland – no matter your background or what you want to achieve in life, in Scotland in 2014 there is no glass ceiling on ambition. 

When I joined the SNP back in the mid 1980s, there was no Scottish Parliament. 

Our standing in the polls was barely in double figures.

An SNP membership card back then was no passport to high political office – in fact it was often a basis for severe criticism

Listening to the No campaign over the last few weeks, it seemed that some things never change!

But what has changed is that today we are Scotland’s largest political party – we have doubled in size in the last week alone.

We hold a majority in the Scottish Parliament

We are – and for the last 7 years have been – Scotland’s government.

This is a party, and we are a nation, on the rise.

That I stand here today seeking to be the second SNP incumbent of the office of First Minister is testament to how far we have come and a tribute to the extraordinary achievements and leadership of the man I aim to succeed.

Alex Salmond transformed the SNP and as First Minister he has made Scotland a better place. He also helped to make me the person and politician I am today. 

The personal debt I owe him is immeasurable. 

I will be proud – if given the opportunity – to build on his remarkable legacy. 

However, at risk of stating the obvious, I am not Alex Salmond. 

His are big boots to fill, but if given the opportunity to lead, I will wear my own shoes – and they will certainly have higher heels! 

I will be my own person and set my own course.

We would not have come so far as a nation without Alex’ vision, tenacity and statesmanship.

But the challenges and opportunities of tomorrow require a different approach. They will demand the ability, not just to argue a case with determination and conviction, but also to reach out, to work with others and seek common cause on the issues that unite us.

I believe as strongly today as I did last week that independence is the best future for Scotland. And I am more convinced than ever that we will became an independent country. But that will happen only when the people of Scotland choose that course in the polling booth.

I accept that last week the majority did not choose that future at this time. 1.6 million people is a remarkable number – but it wasn’t enough.

So my task will be to lead Scotland into an exciting new chapter in our national story. To unite our nation around a common purpose so that we can write that story together – and do so in a way that lives up to the hopes, aspirations and expectations of a country that is, on both sides, engaged, inspired and empowered by the referendum experience. 

As a candidate for First Minister of all of Scotland – not just for those who voted Yes – my responsibility is to look at the result of the referendum and find, not the dividing line, but the interests that unite us.

To reach out and make common cause, not just with those in the Yes coalition of which I was so proud to be part, but with all those who want progressive change in our country, even if they are not yet persuaded of the case for independence.

The fact is that those who voted Yes, combined with those who voted No on the promise of substantial extra powers, form a powerful majority for real and meaningful change in this country. 

It is that change that must now be defined and then delivered.

If I am elected to lead, I pledge today that the SNP and the Scottish Government will be full, active, genuine and constructive participants in that process of change, wherever it happens – in Holyrood, in meeting rooms and, most importantly of all, in discussions across Scotland.

There will be no sitting on the sidelines. 

But let me be equally clear what I believe Scotland expects of that process in return. 

First, that it is open and participative – in short, that it lives up to the democratic example of the referendum. It cannot be left to the Westminster establishment. The role of the Scottish Parliament must be respected and the voice of the Scottish people listened to. The days of back room deals are over.

An early statement of good faith would be a commitment to immediately pass control of its own elections to the Scottish Parliament – so that we can ensure that 16/17 year olds, whose participation so enhanced our referendum, retain their right to vote in all subsequent elections. I will today write to the Prime Minister asking him to agree this change.

Second, that it delivers new powers for Scotland capable of making a real difference to people’s lives. We must seize the opportunity to design a comprehensive and coherent package that will allow us to create jobs, ensure proper fiscal accountability, protect our public services, deliver fair social security and tackle the inequality that scars our nation.

It must be a package that maximises devolution in substance not just in rhetoric. That is what I believe the majority of people of this country now want. 

Through Gordon Brown – speaking we were told with the authority of each of the parties in the Better Together campaign – the promise was clear and unmistakable.

This package would be ‘home rule’ and ‘something near to federalism’.

Well let me say this to Westminster on behalf of Scotland – it had better be. 

If the UK parties move forward in that spirit, they will have, in me, a willing partner for progress.

If not, they will pay a heavy political price – not because I say so but because the people of Scotland will make it so.

So the process of strengthening and empowering the Scottish Parliament must now get underway in earnest.

But let me also make this clear – as that process unfolds, as First Minister it will also be my job to govern wisely and creatively using the powers we already have.

The people of Scotland have made clear that the need for new powers is urgent and irresistible.

But as First Minister, my responsibility will also be to use those powers we already have to make life better – now – for those we serve. 

Any Government I lead will always take seriously its responsibility to make the very best of the limited powers at Holyrood, whilst also arguing Scotland’s case for greater authority and the tools capable of transforming our nation. Those positions are not mutually exclusive – rather they are the essence of responsible national leadership.

My guiding ethos is a social democratic one and that will be the ethos of any government I lead. I believe that a strong, sustainable economy with a vibrant business community, and a fair society with strong public services are two sides of the same coin. We cannot succeed and flourish as a society without advancing both. 

My Scottish nationalism is one of aspiration and hope. If elected, I will see it as my job to help Scottish business grow, to champion Scotland as a place to invest and to support well paid sustainable employment as the central plank of our future prosperity. 

Only with a strong economy can we tackle, effectively and for the long term, the deep rooted social ills which drove me into politics in the first place and which came to light so starkly in the recent campaign.

I have emerged from that campaign with a sense of two over-riding priorities.

First, we must find new ways to harness the democratic energy unleashed by the referendum, not just in our big constitutional debates, but in our day to day decision-making as a nation. It was clear to me on my travels around the country that for many people – particularly those in our island and rural communities – the decisions that shape their lives feel too distant. We must find ways of bringing them closer and handing them back.

It is time to make genuine participative democracy a reality.

And secondly, with whatever powers and resources we have, we must renew and recharge our efforts to tackle the poverty and inequality that blights the lives of too many of our people. So many people who have been so let down by society voted Yes last week because for the first time in their lives it gave them hope of something better. Yes didn’t win but their hope must not die. 

They need to know that there remains a purpose in politics, a point in voting – that it can and will lead to a better future for them and their children.

If the SNP chooses me as its leader and the Scottish Parliament then elects me as First Minister of our country, these priorities of democracy and equality will be at the heart of all that I do.

It is hard to overstate the sense of opportunity that I feel as I contemplate what will be – if my Party and Parliament so decides – the biggest challenge and greatest privilege of my life. If elected, I will bring to this job seven years of experience in government but also a real sense of new and different possibilities. I can’t wait to get to work. 

For now, though, I look forward to subjecting myself to the democratic process of my Party – a process enhanced by the more than 30,000 new members who have joined us in the last few days – and asking them to do me the honour of electing me to be their leader. 

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