Thursday, 14 May 2015

Westminster must listen following SNP success

Please find below the full text of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s statement this afternoon to the Scottish Parliament on the result of the UK general election:

Presiding Officer,

I am grateful for the opportunity to make a statement on the outcome of the UK general election.

Firstly, let me take the opportunity to congratulate all those elected - or re-elected - to serve as Members of Parliament.

It is the greatest honour to be elected to represent our fellow citizens in Parliament, whether here in the Scottish Parliament or in the House of Commons.

It is also an enormous responsibility and I know that all those taking up seats for the first time will be feeling a combination of pride, excitement and trepidation. I wish them all well as they get down to work on behalf of their constituents.

My good wishes also go to those who lost seats last week. My party may have won the election on Thursday but we also know - from past experience - what it feels like to lose.

So while we may celebrate our success, we take no pleasure in the personal loss that defeated candidates will be feeling.

I wish each of them, and their families, the very best of luck in whatever they choose to do in the months and years ahead.

Presiding Officer,

The result last week was of truly historic proportions.

The SNP now has the honour of representing 56 out of 59 seats – in the north, south, east and west of the country

We secured 50% of all votes cast.

1.4 million people in total voted SNP – the largest number of votes that any party has won in Scotland, ever.

The trust that the Scottish people have placed in the SNP to represent the country's interests at Westminster is unprecedented.

We will now work, each and every day, with determination and humility, to repay that trust in full.

Presiding Officer,

We will also work just as hard to win the trust of those who did not vote for the SNP last Thursday.

As Scotland's government - and as the largest party in Holyrood and now the largest Scottish party at Westminster - we recognise the unique obligation we have to reach out to and speak for all of Scotland.

I pledge today that we will make Scotland's voice heard.

We will stand up for the progressive policies that we put at the heart of the campaign.

But we will also seek - in everything we do - to build unity in our country.

Presiding Officer,

There is one final point I want to make about the nature of our task at Westminster.

During the election I spoke about my desire to build a progressive alliance at Westminster to lock the Tories out of office.

While Scotland voted for that change, Labour failed to win sufficient support in England and I regret that.

But our determination to work with others of progressive opinion across the political spectrum, in and out of parliament, remains undiminished. 

We will build alliances to argue for the protection of the vulnerable against deeper welfare cuts, we will seek to defend our human rights protections, to halt further privatisation of the NHS  and to safeguard the UK's place in Europe.  A  clear majority of people across the UK did not vote Tory last Thursday and they deserve a strong voice in Parliament.

I promise today that the SNP and the Scottish Government will seek to be that voice.

We will be a constructive, principled, determined and effective opposition to the majority Tory government - and we will seek to be so on behalf of people, not just in Scotland, but right across the UK.

Presiding Officer,

The scale of the mandate that the people of Scotland gave to the SNP last week ensures a much stronger voice for Scotland at Westminster.

But it also strengthens the hand of this Scottish Government in seeking to secure the very best deal for Scotland from Westminster - which in turn strengthens our ability as a government to deliver for Scotland.

Yesterday I visited the Emergency Department of Edinburgh Royal Infirmary to thank frontline NHS staff for the work they are doing to improve A&E waiting times and to reaffirm our commitment to support our NHS to make the further improvements that are needed.

The delivery of healthcare and other public services is, of course, the responsibility of my government and we will, rightly, be judged on our performance.

But it stands to reason that we can do more to support and protect our public services if our budget is not being cut, year on year, by Westminster.

It is for these very practical reasons that we put an end to austerity at the very heart of the election campaign. We will now use our mandate to put it at the heart of the Westminster agenda. 

I spoke to the Prime Minister by phone on Friday.  Yesterday I wrote to him to seek a meeting at the earliest possible opportunity and we are looking to meet later this week.

Public spending and the protection of Scotland's budget will be key issues on the agenda when we do meet.

The issue of more powers for the Scottish Parliament must also form part of our discussions.

I want again today to pay tribute to Lord Smith of Kelvin. The work that he and his Commission did provides us with a strong starting point for the further devolution of power to this Parliament that is so necessary if we are to grow our economy faster, support more people into well paid work and lift children out of poverty.

The Scottish Government welcomed the proposals that Lord Smith brokered, but we have also been consistent in our view that they do not go far enough.

The outcome of the election makes abundantly clear that this view is shared by a significant proportion of the Scottish electorate.

If the Prime Minister and his government mean what they say about respecting the outcome of the election in Scotland, they must now agree with us a process that looks again at the Smith Commission proposals, with a view to extending devolution even further.  That must be a process that is made in Scotland – and one that involves wider Scottish society.

As my party's manifesto made clear, we believe that the Scottish Parliament should move to full financial responsibility.

However, as a matter of priority, we want to see devolution of powers over employment policy, including the minimum wage, welfare, business taxes, national insurance and equality policy - the powers we need to create jobs, grow revenues and lift people out of poverty.

It is such a package of priority, job-creating, poverty-tackling powers that we will now seek to build support for and agreement on.

I very much hope that Scottish Labour will now become part of this growing consensus.

This morning I met with the STUC and they agreed to join us in calling for powers over the minimum wage, trade union and employment law, health and safety law, equalities legislation and for greater responsibility on welfare to be devolved as a matter of priority to this Parliament.

For Scottish Labour to want to leave these powers in the hands of a UK Labour government was perhaps understandable – albeit not a position I agreed with – but for Labour to argue that these powers should remain in the hands of a majority Tory government with no mandate in Scotland would be inexplicable to most people across Scotland.

I genuinely hope Labour will now think again and join us in arguing for a Scottish Parliament, equipped with the powers we need to build economic prosperity and foster greater social justice.

The last issue I want to address today is one that was, ironically, talked about much more by our opponents during this campaign than it was by the SNP – the issue of independence.

It is no secret to anyone that the SNP supports independence – we always will.

But I made clear during the campaign that this election was not about independence - it was about making Scotland's voice heard at Westminster.

I said clearly to people in Scotland that I would not take a vote for the SNP as an endorsement of independence or of a second referendum.

And let me be absolutely clear that I stand by that.

There will only be another independence referendum if the people of Scotland vote in a future Scottish Parliament election to have one.

That is democracy.

And, of course, it cuts both ways. I can't impose a referendum against the will of the Scottish people, but nor can David Cameron rule out a referendum against the will of the people.

It will be the people who decide.

And what happens to public opinion on this question in the years ahead will depend not just on what the SNP and the Scottish Government do, but also on the respect shown to the decisions the people of Scotland have made.

How David Cameron, his government and the Westminster system choose to respond to the message Scotland has sent will be crucial to how we move forward.

It is worth reflecting that last week's General Election didn't just result in record high support for the SNP in Scotland.

It also resulted in record low support for the Conservatives in Scotland - it was the lowest share of the vote won by the Tories in Scotland since 1865.

So, it seems to me that the Conservatives now have a clear choice.

They can ignore the voice of the Scottish people and carry on regardless, as if nothing has happened, and let people draw their own conclusions about the ability of Westminster to respond to Scottish opinion.

Or, alternatively, they can choose to demonstrate that Westminster does listen and that it is capable of serving Scotland better.

For our part, we will work in good faith to get that better deal for Scotland.

We will be constructive and seek agreement with the UK government on issues where we can find common ground. And we will act in the best interests of all of the people of Scotland.

Presiding Officer,

We asked people to vote for us in this election to make Scotland's voice heard at Westminster.

People placed their trust in us to make Scotland's voice heard.

We now intend – in the House of Commons and here in the Scottish Government – to get on with that job on behalf of all of the people we are so honoured to serve.

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