Credit: Scottish Government

“The UK stands still”, declares First Minister in speech at Glasgow University

The speech is billed by First Minister, Humza Yousaf, as the first in a series which will “expand the economic case for independence”.

In a speech at the University on Monday 8 January, First Minister Humza Yousaf outlined his party’s vision of the industries of a future independent Scotland. The speech is the first in a series which will expand on the Scottish National Party’s plans for the economy in an independent Scotland. 

“I have a working assumption for you. The working assumption is that there will be an absence of a substantial policy debate at Westminster…I think it’s fair to say that what is best for Scotland is likely to be a distant afterthought, as battle wages over slogans such as stop the boats. That means for Scotland and indeed all of the UK,” began Yousaf as he criticised the focus of political debate in Westminster.

“There is a gap, firstly, for a party that amidst that ugly, insular Westminster context will stand up for Scotland’s interest in all constitutional, and secondly, for a plan to build a stronger and fairer economy, and with that, a better country, one that offers a more hopeful, a more optimistic future, and one that is very much rooted in evidence.”

Humza Yousaf’s speech was framed as a more intellectual rather than purely political endeavour, with everything from Yousaf’s references to academic studies, his choice of host in the economist Graeme Roy, to his setting in an institution of learning. However, it remains to be seen if this strategy will be successful in winning over voters to the cause of independence.

The First Minister argued that the cost-of-living crisis is the most important issue in the minds of voters, but said that “it is through independence, and in particular, the powerful combination of independence and EU membership, that we can raise living standards. That doesn’t mean shouting independence even louder.”

Much time was dedicated to expanding on specific industries that an independent Scotland could rely on, such as “long standing capabilities of nuclear, advanced engineering, food and drink, life sciences, creative industries, our finance sector, business sector which are recognised the world over, as well as these traditional industries, you have specialisms and industries of the future, digital technology, including artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. Building on Edinburgh’s international province in data and AI, aims to be the data capital of Europe.”

The speech also involved a global focus, with Yousaf praising both the industrial policy of the United States and of China: “Made in China 2025, launched in 2015, is the Chinese Government’s ten-year industrial plan to rotate their manufacturing base away from low value, low wage activities towards higher-tech, higher value, future-facing industries.

“Industrial policy is back on the table and the world’s great economic powers are intervening at a rate and scale not witnessed for decades. In all this, where does the UK stand? Well, the answer very simply is that the UK stands still.”

Industrial policy returned to Western economic policy in the past few years: Joe Biden’s flagship Inflation Reduction Act injected billions of money into the sustainable energy industry, while the Chips act brought a significant portion of the microchip supply chain back to the US. The European Union has responded with similar legislation. Whether or not these policies will be successful is a subject of intensive debate among economists.

Humza Yousaf concluded his speech by declaring that “We must have higher ambition, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because of the enormous benefit it could have for Scotland’s economy and for our planet.”

At a parallel event held in a Labour constituency in Lanarkshire, Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar said: “We may ultimately disagree on the final destination for Scotland, but on this part of the journey, let’s unite to change our country and get rid of this Tory government. 

“Give us the opportunity to show you that we can make the UK work for every corner of our country, including here in Scotland. The chance to show you that change is possible, and that this isn’t as good as it gets.”

The announcement of these series of speeches comes at a difficult time for the First Minister’s party. Polling from the second half of last year shows support for independence dropping as low as 38%, and the Scottish National Party have recently been embroiled in a financial scandal involving the former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon as well as criticism over controversial views held by a major SNP donor. Moreover, the party lost a Westminster seat in October at the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election in which the party’s main rival Scottish Labour won with a resounding 58.6% of the vote.

The First Minister’s speech can be read in full here

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