I am proud to have just made the last speech in the last debate in the Scottish Parliament’s chamber before our historic referendum.
But the overwhelming sense of Scotland as she stands now is how much of this debate is not in the chamber, or amongst political parties, or activists or the “usual suspects”.
The overwhelming sense I have – having been across Scotland – is how engaged in the arguments and debates so many of our fellow citizens are.
And – contrary to the wilder reports in the media – how well informed, reasonable and civilised this debate is. I am also extremely proud of that, and of our country.
But today I have taken the last opportunity to emphasise the key points in favour of independence to my parliamentary colleagues.
In essence this whole debate can be boiled down to a simple question of “who decides?”. To borrow the words of Canon Kenyon Wright as reported in the Scotsman: “Where should the final word over Scotland be – in Westminster or in Scotland?”
Take the NHS.
Of course the management of the NHS is fully devolved to Scotland. That has allowed us to avoid the privatisation and constant reorganisation of management of the NHS that UK Governments have pursued in England.
Instead the NHS in Scotland has been run in line with priorities of the people of Scotland and the needs of a nation of 5 million people.
That demonstrates the advantages of self-government. Of making decisions in Scotland for Scotland in accordance with Scottish needs and wishes.
But we do not control our resources. We hand our money to the Treasury. And it decides how much we have to fund our NHS and our other public services – we have no say.
That is why protecting the NHS as a fundamental reason for independence. So that cuts from Westminster don’t damage our NHS and instead we have the opportunity to decide for ourselves the resources we give to the NHS and other public services.
As for health so for welfare. We are currently in the ludicrous position of having to use our limited block grant to mitigate the effects of the ‘Bedroom Tax’ and other UK welfare reforms.
Who decides? The DWP. The Treasury. We are left trying repair the damage these decisions wreak in our communities.
It would clearly, unanswerably be better for us to make decisions about welfare here in Scotland in the first place and to control our resources. That would give us the opportunity to shape the welfare system we want and need.
As for welfare so for our economy.
Again it would clearly, unanswerably be better for us to have the opportunities of control of our own resources to plan and invest in our economy in line with our national priorities and strengths. Not to rely on the Secretary of State for Scotland winning a bureaucratic battle within Whitehall to secure back some of our own money.
And as for the economy so for immigration, or retaining our taxes to invest in childcare, or our representation in EU farming negotiations.
In all these areas we are currently dependent on decisions made elsewhere. With independence we will have opportunities: to reinvest in transformational childcare; to encourage talented migrants to say here and to provide opportunities for Scottish young people to remain; to argue Scotland’s case directly in Brussels.
And let’s be clear that none – not one – of the proposals for further devolution from the other parties will improve this position.
They show no ambition, no sense of the powers the people of Scotland want for us here.
They do not provide the opportunities we need to grow our economy or preserve our welfare system.
We believe in independence – that decisions about Scotland should be made in Scotland – for two simple reasons.
First, that is right and democratically proper. Second, no one is better placed to take advantage of the opportunities for our country.
We do not – and never have – claim that we will get every decision right, or that independence is a magic wand. But we have the talent, the resources, and the incentive to do a better job than anyone else.
Before the final weeks of this historic campaign, let me end on a note of consensus.
I believe that we can confidently expect three things after a vote for independence.
First, that this Parliament will come together to argue the case for the interests of Scotland. We might not agree on every detail of the best settlement for our country, but we will work together as we take this next step on our national journey.
Second, that the negotiations between Scotland, the rest of the UK – and others such as the EU – will be timely and constructive leading to two friendly and viable states.
A moment’s thought tells us that this is in the interests of all concerned. Both governments will want to help citizens and businesses across the UK navigate the path to a new constitutional future as easily as possible.
Third, that an independent Scotland and the rest of the UK will be the closest of friends and neighbours. Once the rhetoric of the campaign has faded the enduring bonds of family, history, geography and common interest will remain. As nations and individuals we will be as close as we are today.
The next time we meet in Parliament, Scotland will have taken its historic decision. When we return I am sure we will all work together for the good of our country – whatever the outcome.
And I am convinced the opportunities of independence will win the day and Scotland will be on its journey to independence.