The world’s nations are governed by a remarkable clan of women, from Erna Solberg, Prime Minister of cash rich Norway, and Prime Minister Beata Szydło of Poland, to Angela Merkel commanding Germany’s prosperous economy.
Like men, some are good at their job, some outstanding, and others like Theresa May bereft of leadership qualities or a single good idea. “Let women rule the world and we shall have no wars” goes the epithet but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee professional ability or Utopia is the outcome. Luckily we have the best in Scotland’s politics, a product, our enemies should acknowledge, of our much derided education system.
Here in Scotland we have Nicola Sturgeon, whom our scavenging press are determined will become unpopular by the simple masterstroke of telling their readers she must be unpopular largely because they says so.
I have no idea why the SNP decided to hold their annual conference at the start of a week rather than finishing on a Saturday, other than it stops the right-wing press filling the weekend’s papers with opinionated drivel in an obsessive effort to belittle Scotland.
At this year’s annual conference Sturgeon delivered a powerful speech full of common sense and caring, a speech following on from other senior female politicians of her party. If she missed anything at all it was the memorable phrase. In that she is deficient, in all else highly proficient. She speaks direct with an uncomplicated honesty, a determination to serve her nation and no other.
One orator was the doughty Mhairi Black, the 23-year-old SNP MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire, who has an unerring ability to speak with unadorned clarity, straight from the heart, no contrivance or rhetoric.
For those unable to attend the conference I’ve reproduced below the salient sections of Black and Sturgeon’s speeches. Each reaffirmed their belief in a society fit for Scotland, not a second-hand one handed down by England.
Mhairi Black made a straight talking attack on Jeremy Corbyn, saying his leadership of the Labour party has bitterly disappointed her despite her initial high hopes. She was pleased to see Corbyn elected as Labour leader in 2015, a “normal, sensible” person for the SNP to work with in Westminster.
However, in a pointed section of her speech, Black reeled off a list of reasons why Corbyn has let her down since he was elected as leader in 2015, including his party’s support for the renewal of Trident nuclear weapons.
“Jeremy Corbyn and I actively agree on quite a lot of things which is why I hope what I’m about to say is taken with the sincerity with which it’s intended,” said Black to the conference. “I am so disappointed with Jeremy Corbyn, so disappointed. I was heartened to see Jeremy Corbyn elected as leader of the Labour party because I thought ‘finally someone normal and sensible to work with in London’. But instead we’ve got more of the same London spin and nothing more than talking a good game.” She was disheartened to see Corbyn come to Scotland to spread “fear and utter drivel” about the prospect of an independent nation, and she rejected Corbyn’s facile accusation of independence leading to “turbo-charged austerity.
If you’re going to call for an end to austerity, don’t release a manifesto scrapping only £2 billion out of a total £9 billion’s worth of planned Tory cuts. Don’t tell the vulnerable that you’re fighting for them while you choose to keep 78% of Tory cuts.
Don’t tell young people you’ll scrap tuition fees but turn a blind eye to Labour who hike them up in Wales. Don’t tell us you’re different and then still sign up to waste billions of pounds on nuclear weapons. Don’t come to Scotland like so many before you and condescend to us by claiming the Scottish government with 15% of welfare powers can somehow undo Tory austerity when your party voted against devolving the real powers that matter.
But most of all … don’t dare spread fear and utter drivel about an independent Scotland meaning we would suffer turbo austerity because while you’re doing that, our Scottish government is saddled with paying £453.8 million mitigating and protecting people from the very worst of the Tory policies that we never voted for in the first place, and they have a cheek to say it’s our fault.
I’m sick to the back teeth of British nationalists perpetuating the myth that Scotland could not afford to thrive in the world as an independent nation.”
One of the shortest slogans in political history sat atop the lectern for Nicola Sturgeon’s speech – “Progress”, a succinct summing up of Scotland’s determination to achieve the antithesis of England’s regressive ambition to remake itself as an island.
In essence Nicola Sturgeon let us know independence reinstated is the written goal of her party for the manifestly unassailable reason it is the only way Scotland can develop. We are a country expressing itself as a nation state awaiting only full democratisation.
Here greatly abridged are the main points from her speech.
“Ten years into government, the verdict of the Scottish people is clearer than ever. They trust the SNP to deliver for Scotland. And we will work each and every day to retain that confidence.
It may take us a bit of time to fix Labour’s mess [from decades governing Glasgow] but I make this promise today. Fix it we will. The injustice suffered by low paid women in this city will be put right. Equal pay for equal work, denied for too long, will be delivered by the SNP.
The racism, misogyny and sectarianism within the ranks of our political opponents has been on full, ugly display. The disgusting views that have been expressed by too many Tory politicians have no place in public life. It’s time Ruth Davidson found some backbone and kicked the racists and bigots out of her party.
We have rebuilt the country’s infrastructure too. From Lerwick harbour in the north. To the Border Railway in the south. From the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in the west. To the magnificent new Queensferry Crossing in the east. And what an amazing feat of Scottish engineering that is. Look and travel across our wonderful country – the evidence is all around us. Improved rail connections the length and breadth of Scotland. The new Aberdeen bypass, upgrading the M8. Dual-way the A9 and making it our first electric-enabled highway. Superfast broadband being extended to 100% of premises.
Last week, Theresa May said she would freeze tuition fees in England. She said they won’t rise above £9,250. I can announce today we will match that commitment. We will also freeze tuition fees. But we will freeze them at zero.
We will establish a publicly-owned, not-for-profit energy company to deliver low-cost renewable energy. We will fulfil our manifesto commitment by delivering a government owned energy company to work for the collective good. The company will buy energy wholesale or generate it here in Scotland and sell it to customers as close to cost price as possible.
To deliver transformational change in early years’ education and childcare, by the end of this Parliament we will have doubled spending to £840 million. We have already increased free, high quality childcare to 16 hours a week for all three and four year olds and extended provision to vulnerable two year olds. We will now extend provision to 30 hours per week – saving working parents around £350 a month on the costs of childcare.
We will deliver new support for children leaving care, by exempting care experienced young people from Council Tax. Last year the First Minister announced an independent, root-and-branch, review of the system that supports children in care. That review is already underway but we won’t wait to act – we’ll help young care leavers financially by exempting them from Council Tax.
Free sanitary products will be provided in schools, colleges and universities from the beginning of the next academic year. Scotland is already one of the first countries in the world to tackle ‘period poverty’ through a pilot scheme in Aberdeen. We will now provide free access to sanitary products to students in schools, colleges and universities from August next year.
We are committed to delivering 50,000 affordable homes over this Parliamentary term – including 35,000 for social rent. If councils don’t use all the funding allocated to them to deliver new housing, the Scottish Government will take back the balance and give it to one that can.
The Scottish Government has given consent for a community right to buy bid to proceed for the Island of Ulva. The residents of Ulva, an island off the west coast of Mull, have sought permission to buy their island. The Scottish Government will now give the go-ahead for their community right to buy bid to go to the next stage.
A new fund will support popular tourist destinations in rural Scotland. Scottish tourism is going from strength to strength. To help our most popular rural destinations deal with the additional pressures of increased tourism, over the next two years we will establish a £6 million Rural Tourism Infrastructure Fund to help meet the pressures.
We will protect our public services from Brexit, by ensuring we continue to benefit from the estimated 20,000 EU citizens who help deliver them. If the UK government imposes charges on EU citizens forced to apply for settled status, we will ensure that devolved public bodies meet these costs for those working in our public sector. This will give practical help to the individuals concerned and it will also help us to retain the doctors, nurses and other valued public servants that we need.
The late Canon Kenyon Wright once said this: “There is another way. It is marked ‘The Road of Hope’. Hope for a new nation at ease with its past, confident in its present and hopeful for its future.” This is the time to believe in and work for that better future. To put ourselves firmly in the driving seat of our own destiny. That is what the people of Scotland deserve.
That is what we will deliver.”
And in the interests of gender equality here is one extract from John Swinney’s speech, Deputy First Minister for Scotland:
“We rededicate ourselves to Independence – the best possible future for Scotland. We rededicate ourselves to a future filled with possibilities for our young people and for our nation.”