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You will have to forgive my extended absence from blogging over the past few weeks. Normal service shall be resumed shortly.

In the meanwhile I thought I would go slightly off topic with this post following the latest pronouncement from Mr Trump.

In case it escaped your notice Glenfiddich has just held its “Spirit of Scotland” Awards where they recognise various individuals across Scotland for their contributions over the past year. There were many notable winners in the different categories from sporting greats such as Sir Chris Hoy, Katherine Grainger and Andy Murray, musician and singer, Julie Fowlis and actress Kelly MacDonald.

Unsurprisingly however it was the public voting for Mr Trump’s arch-nemesis, Michael Forbes of the Menie Estate that caused his ire, proclaiming the result as an embarrassment to Scots and that the vote must have been rigged.

So my question is a simple one. Is Donald Trump correct? And I thought I would keep the question in a style that everyone is familiar with…

‘Don’t vote for us because you think we’re perfect. Don’t vote for us because of what we might be able to do for you only. Vote for the person who shares your ideals, your hopes, your dreams. Vote for the person who most embodies what you believe we need to keep our nation strong and free. And when you have done that you can go back to Seattle and Boston, to Miami, to Omaha, to Tulsa and Chicago and Atlanta with your head held high and say “I am a member of the Democratic Party”.’

As fans of hit American tv show, the West Wing will recall there is a great moment in the episode “2162 Votes” when Congressman Matt Santos makes his speech to the Democratic Convention where he is meant to step aside in favour of one of the other candidates, only to make the speech of his life and grab the nomination.

This afternoon, at the SNP Party Conference in Perth, huddled at the back of the balcony, as I listened to the debate on NATO I couldn’t help but recall that episode. Not being a delegate I didn’t have a vote in the debate and I went into it with no strong feelings on either side, waiting to be convinced by the speakers.

What a debate we were treated to and what an advertisement for our party and how party democracy should work. I had friends on both sides of the debate and speakers that I greatly admired and, to a man or woman, they all argued their case with passion and commitment, with reason and insight. In parallel to watching the debate in the chamber I was also keeping up with the comments on Twitter (#SNP12) and the simple fact that, as a party, we were prepared to debate such a potentially divisive and controversial issue, not just in a full party conference but in front of the television cameras for the World to see was not lost on anyone. Plaudits for the quality of the debate were coming in from members and supporters of other parties including Labour and the Conservatives.

Whether they were in favour of the resolution or not there was a determination from all in the debate to approach it in a comradely manner. Whether in favour of the resolution or not there was also one issue that united everyone in that chamber and that was a clear an unequivocal opposition to Trident and to nuclear weapons. Be under no doubt whatsoever that today the SNP Conference and its members and delegates reaffirmed its commitment to seeing the removal of the nuclear arsenal from Scotland’s waters. The First Minister had already outlined his intention to include an opposition to nuclear weapons into the written constitution of an Independent Scotland.

In the end the resolution that was passed was a very conditional one. The SNP has long taken an anti-Nuclear and anti-NATO stance. Today there wasn’t really any change in political philosophy from the members or from the party leadership. Instead the debate was one of practicality and of political realism. That isn’t meant to be a criticism. The change came about due to a belief that it was a move that would provide comfort both to the Scottish population at large and also to our international friends and neighbours, a recognition, as Angus Brendan MacNeil put it, of a desire to keep the road to Independence as short as is possible.

Independence is about the transfer of powers from Westminster to Holyrood. It is about ensuring that decisions that affect the people of Scotland, decisions on welfare, on pensions, on immigration and defence as well as health, housing and education are taken by the people who care most about Scotland, that is the people who live in Scotland.

Scotland is an existing member of NATO, as it is an existing member of the UN and the EU. Both sides of the debate proceeded on the basis that, post-Independence, Scotland would inherit membership and treaty obligations in these organisations. The question then would be whether, as a party, we believed that Scotland should withdraw from NATO or continue its membership. Today the party voted by a margin of 426 votes to 332 to continue as a member of NATO on the condition that:

“Scotland will not host nuclear weapons and NATO takes all possible steps to bring about nuclear disarmament as required by the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty of which all its members are signatories, and further that NATO continues to respect the right of members to only take part in UN sanctioned operations”.

Essentially today the SNP moved from being anti-NATO to being NATO-sceptic. Because of a recognition of the importance of continuity and of mutual co-operation between nations and, in particular the nations of northern Europe NATO has been given a chance, a chance to prove itself as an organisation that can work in the interests of Scotland and of all its members.

Be under no illusion that today was a significant day in the life of this party. As Kenny MacAskill put it we have moved from being a party of protest to a party of Government and today’s debate exemplified that. Whatever the result had been the real winner today was party democracy and I believe that can be a real example to other political parties, both in Scotland and elsewhere and a sign to the people of Scotland of the kind of government that they should expect post-Independence. The SNP may, of course, be voted out at the first election post-Independence but today we set an example. We may not always agree with each other but, where we do disagree, we should be able to have an open, comradely and reasoned debate.

So on Sunday we can go back to Glasgow and Edinburgh, to Dundee, to Aberdeen, to Inverness and Orkney and Ayr with our heads held high and say, “I am a member of the Scottish National Party.”

So yesterday we marched and we rallied. We took to the streets of Edinburgh in celebration. A celebration of a campaign, a celebration of an opportunity to make our country all that it can be.

Despite a long interest in politics this was my first march and rally and what an experience it was. Although I wanted to attend I didn’t know for certain that I would head down until that morning. As is often the case life can get in the way. Sometimes we cannot always be where we would like and I know of many a keen supporter of Independence who was unable to make it for one reason or another.

I am so glad I made that effort though to turn up and march with my fellow Scots for a cause we all believe in. Listening to the speeches at the rally the diversity of opinions and ideas across the support was clear. SNP members, Green Party members, members of the Scottish Socialists, Solidarity and even Labour party members, members of all parties and of none united in a common cause, a common belief that decisions about a nation are best when they are made by those who care about that nation most, those who live there.

And yet, for all my effort, minimal though it was to get in the car and drive down from Perth there were others whose effort was significantly greater. Marching behind the Venetian nationalists I was struck by the international reach of this campaign. You could not fail to be impressed by the organisation, the chanting and the colours of this group who had come so far just to march with us in our own cause. The international reach extended further with a sizeable group over from Flanders and flags also in evidence from Ireland, from the Basque Country, and, of course from Catalonia where they so recently held a massive march for Independence, over 1.5 million strong.

By comparison this gathering in Edinburgh was much smaller. Official estimates from Lothian & Borders Police put the figure at 5000. Now I am not an expert in judging the size of a crowd but I would be lying if I didn’t say it seemed much larger than that to me, perhaps 10,000 to 15,000 strong all in. Naturally those who support the no campaign are keen to talk the numbers down and over the course of the day an initial figure of “less than 7000” had suddenly been downgraded to “a couple of thousand” by one keen critic.

I am sure the debate will rage on for those interested in such things. This was just the kick off for the campaign, a chance to come out in celebration and solidarity. With the First Minister announcing that 100,000 people have signed up to the Independence Declaration to date it is clear that the reach of this campaign extends far beyond those of us in Princes Street Gardens and, rather surprisingly there were still significant numbers at the rally signing the Declaration who had not yet done so. There were people there who have long championed the cause of Independence and there were those who are recent converts, people who, a year ago would not have been supporters.

Congratulations must go of course to Jeff Duncan and his small team of committed volunteers who organised this event themselves. It is worthwhile noting that this was not an event put together by Yes Scotland and it wasn’t an event devised by the SNP. It came about because a group of Independence supporters decided that it would be a good thing to do. There are plans for another two marches and rallies, one next year and one in 2014. One thing I can say for sure is that I will be at both of them.

Margo MacDonald made the excellent point in her speech that if each supporter of Independence convinces just one more person to vote yes then we would secure a comfortable majority. The same can be said for the march and rally. If everyone who was there comes back next year and brings just one friend then the next rally will be twice the size. If this campaign is to be won then it needs to extend beyond the reach of the political parties. Victory will be down to every supporter of Independence and the part we play in securing that victory. So go out and tell your friends. The vote on Independence is coming. Tell them that you support it, tell them why you support it and, in a year’s time bring them along and we can once again meet and celebrate together.

“I want to do so much more than lobby an unresponsive UK Government for a sane economic policy. I want to be in a Government with the power to make for ourselves the decisions we need to take to get our economy growing… I have believed for all of my adult life that Scotland should be an independent nation. For me it has never really been about flags or status symbols. It’s all about how we make this country of ours the best that it possibly can be. It is based on the fundamental belief that if we want a strong economy we must have access to all of Scotland’s resources, not just to that portion of Scotland’s resources that the UK Government chooses to give us. It is based on the inescapable reality that if we want to tackle, once and for all, the scandal of child poverty then we must be able to make our own decisions on tax and benefits and… we must be able to prioritise spending on the early years of our children’s lives over spending on weapons of mass destruction. And it’s based on the irrefutable logic that if it is right, and it is right, for this Parliament to take decisions on Health, Education, on Justice then how can it be anything other than right for this Parliament also to take decisions on the Economy, on Welfare and Defence?”

Nicola Sturgeon MSP, Deputy First Minister (Government strategy and the constitution) and Cabinet Secretary for Infrastructure, Investment and Cities. Scottish Parliament, 5th September 2012

Fine words from the Deputy First Minister just a fortnight ago, and words that mark a shift in the debate on Scotland’s constitutional future. Since then we have seen a quickening of the pace of the discussions between the two Governments and there is the expectation of an agreement being reached soon. Once agreement on the process issues can be reached then the proper debate can begin, a debate on what Independence would mean for every one of Scotland’s citizens.

Independence is not an idea that lives in a vacuum. If the case for Independence is to be won then the argument needs to be more than just constitutional. For the people of Scotland to vote for Independence then the case needs to be clearly made that Scotland, and its people, would be better off outside the Union than in it. Last night on the most recent of Professor Curtice’s many appearances on both Newsnight Scotland and Scotland Tonight he summed it up on economic grounds. If Yes Scotland and the SNP win the argument on the economics then Independence will be won. If they don’t then it will be lost. Now to an extent I agree with him but I don’t think it is simple enough to be boiled down to a purely economic argument. There are many other issues, political and social, that will play on people’s minds when they cast their vote – questions about the sort of compassionate society Scotland could become; questions about the foreign policy and external outlook an Independent Scotland is likely to have; questions about our place in the World.

Make no mistake, the Scottish Government are well aware of this and it was to this debate that the Deputy First Minister was referring in her speech. The latest British Social Attitudes survey has just been released and when asked 72% of respondents said that they wanted more powers for the Scottish Parliament with 43% saying they wanted all decisions to be made by the Scottish Parliament. This last figure may seem a surprise when you compare it to the figure of 32% who provided a positive answer when asked if Scotland should become Independent. In reality though it frames the debate ahead. When asked about any number of issues, from currently devolved matters like the NHS, education or housing or currently reserved matters like pensions and benefits the overwhelming response is that people want these matters decided here in Scotland. There remains, however, some trepidation about the perceived finality of “Independence”, an uncertainty about what would lie ahead, an uncertainty which those in the “Better Together” campaign will attempt to exploit. In reality though Independence is exactly what those 43% of respondents are looking for, whether they realise it yet or not.

If the Scottish people are presented with a positive and clear vision of what Independence means and the difference that it could make to all our lives then I have no doubt that a yes vote will be forthcoming. It is rare for me to quote Tommy Sheridan but he was right in his excellent speech at Glasgow University Union this Saturday past when he said we should:

“…stand up and be counted and not listen to those who would have you feart to be a country, feart to be independent, feart to take decisions that affect our everyday lives ourselves.”

Over the last few days I have been trying to decide what to write my next blog post on and then, out of the blue and with a little help from a certain fresh-faced Labour MSP, there it was.

Now, as some of you will no doubt be aware, Neil Bibby MSP was running a poll on his website asking whether people thought that Scotland should be independent. He is certainly not the first person to run this poll. It is, after all, the question that is on everybody’s lips. What was special about this poll was that it showed absolutely overwhelming support for Independence. Now I am sure that everyone accepts that an online poll is not the most scientific means to measure support. Nevertheless, when faced with a result of around 94% in favour of Independence (in fact, when I looked it was 94.4%), instead of laughing it off Mr Bibby and the Labour Party rather embarrassingly decided to take the whole site down.

At the time of writing this post the site is still down:

I have therefore decided, in the spirit of democracy, to revive the poll and I would even encourage Neil Bibby to be one of the first to log on and cast his vote.

Now, as some of the more observant of those of you interested in the Independence debate may have spotted, there have been occasions, believe it or not, when the No campaign have attempted to scare the people of Scotland away from the idea of Independence.

Ever keen to avoid the specific terminology “too small, too weak and too poor” the message nevertheless looks strikingly similar. Quickly recapping over some of the “classics” we were told that passport controls would need to be put in place on the border between Scotland and England, that we would no longer have a National Health Service, mortgage rates would rise, we would lose our AAA credit rating and, on top of all of this England would have no choice to bomb Scottish airports in order to defend itself from attack.

Now whilst some of these may cause you to smile (I certainly find them amusing), there is a serious side to all this. Labour MSP, Patricia Ferguson herself acknowledged that the Labour campaign is based on playing on people’s fears. A growth in national self-confidence means a growth in support for Independence, a belief that we can move forward on the international stage. On the other hand damaging national self-confidence and making the Scottish people doubt themselves could have the opposite effect. Perhaps that is why, after the huge successes of Scotland’s Olympians last month, a Panelbase survey indicated that people were more likely, rather than less likely, to support Independence. The Olympics produced a groundswell of positivity, making it hard for Unionists to play a negative game.

Now one of my favourite negative stories from the No Campaign is that an Independent Scotland would put off big companies from investing in Scotland – all this constitutional “uncertainty” is damaging to Scotland’s economy. Yet despite these apparent fears, evidence for which, when challenged, the Unionists have failed to provide, another company has today confirmed that Scottish Independence would make absolutely no difference to their decision to invest. Paul Walsh, Chief Executive of Diageo, was keen to point out that a decision to invest in a country or a product, in this case whisky, would be made on purely economic grounds. Constitutional affairs have no bearing whatsoever. Indeed, when you are talking about such a huge company as Diageo why should it? They trade in approximately 180 markets and employ 20,000 people with offices in 80 countries. Why should Scottish Independence be a barrier to them?

The same can be said for GlaxoSmithKline. In March this year they announced an investment of £100 million in its two sites at Montrose and Irvine. Rather than welcoming the news the Unionist politicians chose to focus on the decision by GSK to also invest at Ulverston in Cumbria. It was claimed that Scotland lost out on this investment because of the Independence debate. Sir Andrew Witty, Chief Executive of GSK was quick to refute these claims on BBC’s Good Morning Scotland however stating:

“Obviously the very big investment we’re making in Montrose and Irvine signals our confidence in the future of Scotland. What we’ve done speaks louder than words.”

I remember listening to the interview in my car at the time, blood pressure rising at the notion that such a question would even be asked, that, in the face of such a positive news story there would be a desire to desperately seek out the negative.

Investments from Diageo and GSK are just the tip of the iceberg for Scotland in recent years. There have been recent significant investments from a host of other international companies including Taqa, Avaloq, Ineos and PetroChina, Dell, Gamesa, Amazon, Mitsubishi Power Systems, Hewlett-Packard, Mitsui, Life Technologies and many, many more.

Far from frightening away international investors Scotland tops the table for inward investment in the UK outside of London. This has been borne out by a study from Cardiff Business School, by the Ernst and Young UK Attractiveness Survey (PDF) and by Channel 4 News’ invaluable “Factcheck” blog – which I would encourage you to explore.

Confidence in the economic decisions of a Government are what attracts inward investment. Time and again the decisions of Scotland’s Finance Secretary, John Swinney MSP have proved to bear fruit, even with our currently limited powers. In contrast, George Osborne’s economic austerity policies show no sign of lifting the UK out of recession. Scotland is a nation that should be buoyed by self-confidence. Far from damaging Scotland’s economy, the Independence debate is putting us on the World stage as never before. International companies are taking note and are setting up shop here. Holywood is also noticing – and let’s not underestimate the benefits that could bring to Scotland’s tourism industry.

The rest of the World can see the immense value that is in Scotland. Don’t let us be the only ones who don’t.

From Ian Davidson’s now infamous “Newsnat” spat to Willie Rennie’s bizarre claims that the SCVO and their Chief Executive, Martin Sime, are SNP stooges just because they happen to be in favour of a second question in the Independence Referendum it is clear that, with the end of the Olympics, the Unionist parties are trying to ramp up their attacks on those of us who support Independence for Scotland.

Joan McAlpine’s column in the Daily Record this week attracted the attention of Alex Massie in the Spectator who expressed discomfort at the language that Joan chose and her suggestion that Davidson and his fellow Labour MPs are delivering for the Tories with their opposition to Independence. When you examine the evidence though then it is hard not to reach the same conclusions as Joan.

Whilst I am 100% convinced that Independence would be the best option for Scotland I would never suggest that it is not possible to be a proud and patriotic Scot whilst at the same time arguing that Scotland is best off within the Union. Such a suggestion would be ridiculous and more than a little reminiscent of McCarthy. Scotland is a rich and diverse nation and it has a wide range of political views that are all valid. Indeed it is that very point that the Scottish Government acknowledged in their willingness to look at a 2nd question for the Referendum ballot paper, a recognition that there are those that would like to see constitutional reform for Scotland but who are not certain that Independence is the best way forward. Accepting the idea of a 2nd question doesn’t mean a lessening in the desire for Independence. It is a recognition that healthy debate is good and a sign of confidence that the case for Independence can be won.

When Scotland’s former First Minister, Henry McLeish, argued earlier this week that there was a danger that the Unionist parties could be seen as anti-Scottish he wasn’t doing so because they are arguing against Independence. What McLeish was warning about was a lack of vision from the Labour leadership and a lack of a willingness to engage on the constitutional question. Indeed there is an inability from any of the Unionist parties to provide a clear outline of what they think would be best for Scotland and why. This “vote no to Independence and then we may look at what other powers the Scottish Parliament could get” is simply not good enough.

If the Labour party wants to avoid the tag of being “Tory” or “in bed with the Tories” then they need to articulate a clear message of their own. They need to say why they believe in the Union and what their alternative to Independence would be. Gordon Brown’s vague statement this week in Edinburgh on being happy for “more powers” for the Scottish Parliament without articulating what these powers should be and why they should be transferred will just not cut it. The perception is that it means whatever powers they need to transfer in order to defeat the SNP, and nothing more. Therein lies the problem and that is why McLeish is arguing that Labour and the other Unionist parties are in danger of appearing anti-Scottish. They need to be putting forward a positive case based on actual political beliefs rather than just a panicked reaction to the SNP.

If they believe that things are best exactly they way they are then they should say so. If they believe that the latest Scotland Bill is the optimum solution for modern day Scotland then they should say that. If they think that Devolution was an error and power should be returned to Westminster then they should not be afraid to say that too.

Political beliefs should always be motivated by a positive vision of how you want the World to look. Each one of us should be interested in politics through a belief that we can make the world we live in a better place, that we can help those who need it and see our society and our culture thrive. That is not unique to Scotland. It is the same the World over. Politics is about making positive changes in society and arguing your own case. Unless the Labour Party regain a vision of their own then they will continue to risk being seen as “anti-Scottish”.

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