CHRISTMAS came early this year as we were treated to our party’s annual conference this past weekend. Although it’s not quite the same having it virtual, it is testament to the times we live in that we are still able to meet and discuss policy. Once again, we saw the democratic strength of the SNP in full force as members debated and discussed how to build a better Scotland now and with independence.

You don’t need me to tell you how difficult it is to replicate the cut and thrust of an intense debate virtually. When you speak virtually, you have your monitor in front of you with your reflection for company. In person, you have the eyes of hundreds of delegates on you underneath the glare of the spotlight.

In a virtual speech, you can have your say without interruption. In person, you might be cheered or jeered in equal measure. Virtually, you have a four-minute wait for a vote to be announced. In person, there are few feelings more satisfying than seeing the raise of hands and passes as you witness democracy in action.

Yet as much as you, me, your gran or the First Minister long to have these conferences in person again, we cannot simply wish the pandemic away. The emergence of a new variant in the past week reminds us that we are not out of the woods yet. As the First Minister noted in her closing speech, it’s important to continue exercising caution: wear a mask in enclosed spaces, wash your hands regularly and get vaccinated if you’re eligible and haven’t done so.

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Action on Covid does not mean inaction on the independence front though. This conference saw a number of resolutions put forward and endorsed by delegates which will help bring about a better Scotland now and as a future independent country in Europe. Our party is an inherently democratic one where policies are discussed and decided by the members.

Contrary to those who might desire a quick fix to our problems, this conference, like many before it, showed a democratic maturity amongst our membership and underlines why we have been the party of government in Scotland for 14 years. We saw people discuss how we should go about establishing a civil service in an independent Scotland. Others helped refine the currency and monetary argument further by calling for a Scottish Reserve Bank Establishment Bill. More immediately, we saw motions calling for the improved safety of elected representatives and parity of esteem for local councillors. And there were motions of international significance as well, such as how to go forward with dealing with the climate emergency, maintaining and developing our close ties with our EU friends and putting a just transition to work.

These latter issues in particular show that Scotland has much to offer the world. It is important that we shift the perspective away from an economy which works only for GDP, stocks and shares, to one that focuses on wellbeing, fair work and a just transition.

Just yesterday, I spoke on this subject in Westminster in a debate which explored how a wellbeing economy approach can help us meet our climate goals. The debate exposed once again that behind Bojo’s bluster there is nothing substantial. As he rambles on about the merits of (checks notes) Peppa Pig to business leaders in these islands, perhaps he could look north for an example of a functioning government in action?

Independence and a wellbeing economy are both radical SNP policies. One cannot and should not be done without the other. Scotland is already a global leader in this field, having been a founding member alongside New Zealand and Iceland of the Wellbeing Economy Governments group in 2018.

Moreover, our Covid Recovery Strategy is a shining example of this innovative approach. It will form part of our plans for a just transition to ensure that no-one is left behind as we progress through the green and digital revolutions.

A total of £2 billion of capital funding will be invested over this parliament to deliver low-carbon and natural infrastructure to drive demand in key markets for the transition to net zero. At least £8bn is being invested to transform the heat and energy efficiency of buildings, supporting up to 5000 jobs and boosting Scottish supply chains. The Climate Emergency Skills Action Plan and the introduction of a low-carbon skills guarantee will support Scottish workers to take advantage of new economic opportunities through learning new skills.

We are in the beginnings of a rapid and radical transformation as we recover from Covid and work to save our planet from climate disaster. It is important that we do not leave people behind in the process.

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This is why fair work will be at the heart of Scotland’s wellbeing economy. We will ensure that new jobs are good jobs, pay fair wages and maintain high standards which protect our environment and our citizens. We will protect our workers, protect our businesses and protect our planet.

These policies are radical within the constraints of this antiquated Union; with independence, the full economic levers will be unleashed, turbocharged with membership of the EU. We wait with expectation for the next independence referendum to be called but this does not mean we should be idle.

We are working on refining the independence prospectus, updating the white paper for a post-pandemic, post-Brexit world.

Our party has waited 87 years for an independent Scotland. We can wait a little while longer so that we can hold a referendum without being restricted by Covid. In the meantime, we continue with our other goal – making Scotland the best place it can be for the people who live here and standing up for Scotland’s interests at Westminster and abroad. Then, when the time comes, it will be clear to the people of Scotland that independence in Europe is the best way forward.