Mr Convener, thank you for the introduction and thank you all for the invitation to speak today. I’m delighted to be here to support your commemoration of Wallace, his life and the impact he had on our history.
And I’m glad to be here because a nation that doesn’t know its history cannot know itself. And if a nation doesn’t know itself how can it know its place in the world?
I was thinking as I was writing this speech about what Wallace would make of us today. Look, I even wrote it on an iPad, what sorcery we take for granted! What would he make of Scotland today, our lives and the wider world, the EU?! Jings.
Obviously, we don’t know and we can barely even guess. There’s some debate on the extent of his travels of course, and it is often difficult to separate myth from fact, but what is clear is that he was travelled, multilingual, multicultural and was no stranger to international affairs.
He had a letter of safe passage from Philip the Fair of France when he was captured. The letter was to Pope Boniface in Rome asking him to aid Wallace and the Scots and the supposition is that Wallace would have sought to travel to Rome to see Balliol, then a guest of the Vatican, who he regarded as the rightful King of Scots. He may have spent as much as six years overseas between known actions in Scotland.
He was captured on August the 5th, 1305 at Robroyston and was carrying the letter from Philip of France as well as a safe conduct letter from Haakon V of Norway.
The first thing he and the Scots did after the first victory at Stirling was to send the Lubeck letter to the Hanseatic League to tell them that Scotland was open for business again. The first thing that Scotland did on independence was to open up to international trade after it had been closed down by union with England.
Of course, the world’s changed. Wallace lived in pre democratic times but the fundamentals he fought for are the same as we seek now.
To choose our own government;
To see that government with the full range of powers to do the job;
To set our own priorities; and
To speak for ourselves in the world, working with our friends and neighbours to our mutual common interest.
And we’ve never been closer, and where he had to fight, we might be on the verge of achieving everything he sought, without so much as a bloody nose. Setting the basis for a new relationship across these islands, good neighbours, and good friends.
Because where I say a nation must know its history, and that’s true, Independence for me isn’t about history, it never has been. It’s not about flags, songs, language, culture, ancient battles seen through the blood soaked mists of time. Independence needn’t be - we have all that right now and we always will.
Independence for me has always been about what we don’t have: Power.
The power to put people back in charge of their own lives, to protect the vulnerable, because we can all be weak, we can all stumble and what is the Common Weal if it isn’t us working together with our neighbours;
The power to grow our economy, because too many of our people are too poor and too many of our communities are blighted by the symptoms of poverty, all the more shaming in one of the world’s richest countries. The part of Glasgow I’m from has a lower male life expectancy than the Gaza Strip! I'm angry, but I've learned to channel that anger into winning our country back and fixing it.
And, of course, the power to promote our interests and speak with our own voice in the world;
Independence isn’t about being separate, it’s about joining the world, taking part as ourselves, having decided how best to run our own affairs at home.
Since the re-establishment of our national Parliament, we’ve regained a bit of Power – a significant bit, a very welcome taste of independence, and we’ve used it well. Our new democracy, grafted onto ancient sovereign roots, is flourishing. And growing.
So where I’m sitting over in Brussels, with 700-odd fellow representatives from states that didn’t exist, as states, in Wallace’s time, I hope he’d approve. He might not be up for a 9 hour trialogue negotiation meeting on the Horizontal aspects of the Rural Development Pillar of Common Agricultural Policy Reform! But I hope he would see the value in the thing we’re part of, the family of nations that the EU is.
We live in a democratic, technocratic, interconnected world. Challenges cross borders, the threats we face as a species are bigger than any country, however large or small, can cope with alone. He took every chance he had to reach out to the wider world, so do we.
And I say we’re part of the EU, we are, by virtue of being part of an existing Member State, but for 40 years we’ve allowed successive Westminster governments to set our priorities and argue them on our behalf. No wonder people are disillusioned with the EU! Well mark me well: there’s nothing wrong with our EU membership that won’t be put right by Independence. Speaking for ourselves, making our greatest contribution and getting the best deal.
And in the next year, almost exactly, we’ll have two votes that will crystalise all that. The first, in May, which six people Scotland will send to Brussels to speak for Scotland. I’m privileged to be one of the SNP candidates and I tell you, we are up for the big league and I’m relishing the debate.
The second vote, in September, is bigger. More fundamental. What sort of country we want to be? Independent, or a region of a state governed from a Palace by the Thames by a political elite that neither shares our interests and isn’t serving the people of England well, much less my country. Well we’ve another option, and we, the people of Scotland will make a choice, for good or ill.
We don’t fight with spears and swords any more, thank goodness. I do what I do not out of hate, for anything or anyone, but of love, for my neighbour, my countryman and woman, and the total conviction that there’s nothing wrong with Scotland that won’t be fixed by what is right with Scotland. Setting free the energy, dynamism and passion of Scotland to put our own resources to the benefit of the people who live here, and in the wider world being the good global citizen I know we could be.
I hope that Wallace would approve. Wallace had a phrase to keep his feet on the ground but to also get him through the bad times. That phrase was "This too will pass". Well this time we live in will pass too, let us make sure that these are the early days of the better nation he sought and all of us still seek.
So as we commemorate his life and legacy today, lets remember Scotland remains a cause unwon, and we have business to attend to.